So in my ever-ongoing quest to eat better at breakfast time, I decided to make another batch of my awesome Make Ahead Oatmeal Blueberry Pancakes. These things are probably the best things I’ve ever made. It’s great being able to grab something healthy and quick on my way out the door. Life is good.
Except when you eat the pancakes at your desk, and the blueberries get all hot and gooey…but you don’t have a fork so you just roll them up and eat them with your hands. And then you bite into a very large, juicy blueberry, and the juice shoots across your desk. Onto a product you’ve been working on for the better part of a week and is due to your boss today. And he walks into your cube before you have time to print out a new cover sheet.
As I prefer to avoid situations that leave me juice-stained and unprofessional, so I needed an Option.
Options are the best thing ever. They’re what lets you adapt to life, to mold otherwise imperfect situations into your own personal Utopia, culinary or otherwise.
The pancake batter was pretty thick, so I figured it’s strong enough to stand up…maybe not on its own, but definitely IN A MUFFIN TIN!!!!
Who’s a fan?
As an added variation, I tossed in five mini-bananas I bought at the international market last week. I know they have a ‘real’ name but I can’t pronounce nor spell it, so for now, they’re “mini-bananas.” They were also about to turn brown, so I cut them up and added them into the batter before I let the stick blender do its stick blender job.
After the batter was all happy and blended, I chopped up about two big handfuls of dried apricots. I wanted to add some additional nutrition and change up the texture a bit. (SF Note: Be careful what kind of dried fruit you buy. A lot of manufacturers add in a gazillion cups of sugar during the drying process, and that’s not healthy at all.)
I ladled the batter into muffin tins using a 1/4 cup measure–this is the same measuring cup I used to measure out my pancakes when I made them the first time. If two 1/4 cup pancakes equal one serving…then two 1/4 cup muffins must equal one serving too!!
Finally, years after my formal education has been completed, those math skillz are starting to kick in. I wonder if I can retake any of those Geometry tests Mr. McCormick failed me on…
Guess who can’t wait for breakfast tomorrow?
This weekend was awesome. Pure, over-scheduled awesomeness. Saturday was chock full of gunpowder-scented family bonding and last minute hair cuts (12 inches off!!). Sunday rocked my socks in general.
A few weeks ago, my coworker asked me to go halfsies with her on a full share at Great Country Farms, out in Bluemont, Va. GCF is a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA). What that means in practical terms is that you pay some money for a ‘share’ of their produce. Every week, for twenty weeks, beginning 31 May, two boxes will show up at my coworker’s condo, stuffed with homegrown goodness.
I am particularly excited for the deliveries to begin. Like all the other yuppies around here, I’m trying to become more ecologically conscious while being as healthy as possible. I want to get back to living as close to the earth as practically possible. Part of this involves eating only in-season produce.
Unfortunately, figuring out “in season” based on what’s available in the grocery stores is near impossible. Yay instant gratification. Demanding strawberries in December means hot house growing or international transportation from far away countries. In an attempt to offer a bigger and better product, growers lace their foods with hormones and genetically modifications, all of which get passed on to us, the unwitting consumer.
On top of that, when you shop in big chain stores, you usually get food from the big super farms from very far away. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather support the mom and pop local farms, with pesticide-free produce. Buying a share in the CSA means I’m forced to eat in season and local.
My half of the full share is $514, for twenty weeks of delivery. After signing up, I realized that even with the half share, I won’t be able to eat everything I’m given—especially during peak growing season. I want to eat locally, but I don’t want to waste food! I thought about canning it all—and I’ll probably can/vacuum seal a lot—but I have to be realistic about what my kitchen can do. It’s a kitchenette. As much as I try to deny it, the laws of physics do apply to me.
So I called Flay and asked if she wanted to split my half-share. She did. So for $257, or $12.85 per week, I will have what I hope to be the perfect amount of fresh, organic, locally grown produce delivered right to my door.
Well, my coworker’s door, who will then bring the food to work so I can take it home.
Sunday was the kick off weekend for GCF’s season, so all share holders were invited out to visit the farm. They offered hayrides to shuttle visitors throughout the fields so they could see *exactly* where our food would be grown.
I am living in the wrong zip code. Despite my SUV and deep-seated love of stiletto heels and the Smithsonian, I will always, deep down, be a country girl. I just feel more rested and relaxed when I’m out of the hustle and bustle of DC. I love the smell of grass (not that kind!), the rolling hills, and people are just…nicer out there. One day, I’m going to live there. Unfortunately, my job is in DC and probably always will be. So for now, I’m here.
Going out to the country and running around on the farm was just bliss for me. I could feel my heart rate slowing a bit as I drove out of the traffic-logged Northern Virginia streets and onto the gentle rolling highways.
In addition to what promises to be great produce, the farm also has your typical barnyard animals in a petting zoo for the kiddies…or 27 year old food bloggers!!! Just ask my coworker—I was giddy over the whole experience. They had pigs (WITH PIGLETS!!), ducks, donkeys, cows, a pony, emus (EMUS!!!!), PEACOCKS!, turkies, sheep, goats…you name it, they had it. (Pictures scattered throughout).
I was excited.
Misplaced punctuation excited.
After spending nearly $80 tonight at Harris Teeter on mostly produce, I can not wait for those deliveries to start!!
I would also like to apologize [again] for the inconsistent posting. One of the leasing agents downstairs totally called me out today for “being quiet” on the blog. I have a few recipes to work up this week, so don’t worry Rob, you’ll have more reading material soon!
Well, this morning was a crappy morning. It was a crappy morning because I weighed myself.
I’ve been pretty open about the fact that I have a weight problem. Part of this is tied to my metabolic disorder, but really, let’s own the problem and say that I also eat too much. It happens when you love food like I do…and write about it.
I gained 10lbs since November. I’m sure part of this is fluid retention and stress (stress alone will make me gain 5lbs overnight. Fuck you, hormones!!) but ten pounds is ten pounds. I felt like crying when I saw those numbers. That’s not a fun thing to feel before coffee.
I joined up with a newer, cheaper gym on Saturday and have worked out four times since then, so I know I’m at least partially on the right track. And today I had my free introductory personal training session with the athletic training director…which of course turned into a year-long agreement since the prices are WAY cheaper than my old gym, and its more convenient. I did so well with my former trainer, so I figure having a coach again could do some good.
So I basically have the exercise back on track. Now I gotta get ahold of the foodage.
Starting with breakfast.
I suck at breakfast. I think I suck at breakfast because I suck at mornings in general. If I had my way, I’d never see them. Ever. I love to sleep and hate to wake up. When you hate mornings so much, you tend to run late a lot. When you run late, you make sacrifices. Like breakfast.
Usually I end up grabbing some crappy institutional food on the breakfast line in my work cafeteria. Not exactly the healthiest thing I could be doing, y’know?
So I’m making the change, thanks to a little pre-planning and a cast iron skillet.
Make Ahead Oatmeal Blueberry Pancakes
2 ½ cups Irish oatmeal
6 egg whites
1 cup skim milk
1 Tablespoon flaxseed
1 Tablespoon safflower oil
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Handful of blueberries (optional)
This is stupid simple. Put everything into a bowl. With a stick blender, blend until it’s smooth. (You can also use a food processor or a blender. My food processor only holds 3 cups at any one time, so I used the stick blender and things turned out great).
Studio Foodie (SF) Note: DO NOT BUY GROUND NUTMEG OR I WILL STOP BEING FRIENDS WITH YOU!!!
Nutmeg has a delicious, spicy flavor that can’t be replicated by anything else. Usually, when you take a bite of something—anything—and go ‘mmm this has a special something to it, but I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is,’ chances are, it’s nutmeg. However, that wonderful taste dissipates very quickly after it’s grated. What that means is that when you buy already ground nutmeg, you’re paying good money for an already stale product.
I wouldn’t buy stale bread. Don’t buy stale spices.
Go ahead and buy the nutmeg in its natural nut form, and grate it as you need it. It’s a little more work, but definitely worth the labor.
In order to keep my portions under control, I used a ¼ cup measure to ladle the batter onto a heated cast iron skillet. (To keep the pancakes from sticking, I sprayed it with some cooking spray first—less fat than butter!) Before the pancakes set up too much, I sprinkled a few blueberries on top.
Usually, you should wait until you’re about ready to flip before adding the berries. However, this is thicker than a traditional pancake batter, so I added them early. Give the berries a little tap down so they get more into the middle. If they just sit on top, you run the risk of burning them. Plus you’ll get a more uniform flavor.
After a few minutes, I checked the bottoms to make sure they were beautifully golden brown. A quick flip, a few more minutes in the pan, and the pancakes were done!
This whole recipe made 9 pancakes. I saran wrapped them in sets of two, with one lonely guy left over for a snack. The whole lot of them are currently in the freezer—in the morning I can grab and go. After my nearly hour commute to the office, they should be about thawed. I hope I can do a little sneaky sneaky by running them through the industrial toaster down in the cafeteria.
I’m going to try skipping the syrup—it’s just boiled sugar, anyway. I think these are great plain anyway, and the blueberries add a little burst of something special every bite or so. If they get too dry in the toaster, I can always add some sugar-free jam or natural peanut butter for some protein. And you know, when I make these again, I might just throw the peanut butter in there anyway.
So now I have a healthy breakfast with complex carbs and a little sweetness from the fruit. (This would be a great way to use up any fruit that on its last legs of freshness, actually!) If I listen to the experts, this will get my metabolism and up and moving. And that’s what I need right now.
Today is a cooking day!
Cooking calms and energizes me, all at the same time. It’s like that perfect massage—you’re relaxed but ready to greet whatever comes your way.
Life has been uber stressful for me lately. Work is booming. There’s no other word for it. In addition to my usual client-related work, I was volun-told to start working on a lot of other projects. I’m excited about the new opportunities, and given the current economy, I’m well aware I have absolutely nothing to bitch about, but everything starting at once makes my head buzz a little. When work overwhelms me, all I want to do is come home and sleep…which tends to take up the time I’d usually reserve for cooking and blogging. Add that to a couple bad dates, overly barfy cats, and just overall exhaustion, well, that’s a lot of sleeping.
I think I’m back on my game today.
Chef Matt sent me another, more involved recipe to test out for his upcoming cookbook. I thought this was a perfect opportunity to invite my friend Missy (same Missy from Oscar Night shrimp and grits) for a high quality lunch.
Not gonna lie, I was pretty intimidated when I saw the recipe Chef Matt had laid out for
me. Italian pork involtini is a pork cultlet pounded then, rolled up with beautiful happiness, and cooked to utopian doneness. I wasn’t so much scared of the skill involved. I’m pretty confident (sometimes too confident!) and would attempt anything at least once. It was the space!!
I don’t need to over state the fact that I have like, 2 feet of counter space. The recipe wasn’t complicated, but it involved a lot of ingredients—first I had to make a peperonata (basically sautéed bell peppers with some other stuff). Then I had to find a place for that to hang out while I pounded out the cutlets. Those had to go somewhere else while I prepped the other ingredients to be rolled.
Today’s lesson: a well-cleaned sink is an excellent place for prepped ingredients to hang out before everything gets mixed together.
The meal turned out wonderfully! Foodie Cat was incredibly jealous that we got involini and she didn’t. (Even small scraps of prosciutto didn’t placate the little beggar. FC sat on my feet the whole meal, hoping I’d either drop or throw down a morsel for her. Nothin’ doin’, kitty.) Beautiful strawberries with mascapone cheese for dessert? Bliss.
And now I need to go clean the kitchen.
I just got an email from my good friend and dedicated reader, Linder. (Same Linder who went to the Maple Sugar Festival with me a few weekends ago.) She tried out my family’s recipe for Texas chili, and it was a success!
After making it for her husband, the consensus is the beans make the difference–so if you’re not totally against them, they’re a must-have.
Glad to know the recipe turned out well for someone else too!
I am so grossed out.
You should know that I have a love affair with Netflix. After moving into my studio two months ago, I decided not to order cable. As in, I have no television service at all. I have a television, which I use for watching dvds and blu rays, but other than that, it is completely non-functional. I watch a lot of Netflix movies/shows (currently obsessed with Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” and have decided that I want to be him when I grow up), but honestly, I don’t miss television. I do miss Food Network and the Cooking Channel, however those are available online too. Yay saving money.
Tonight, the Netflix algorithm suggested, based on my prior movie watching choices, that I might enjoy Food, Inc. For those of you who are uninformed, Food, Inc., a documentary by filmmaker Robert Keener, delves into the big business side of the food industry. I’d heard about it before (not much, obviously) and figured it would be a good way to spend a dead Wednesday night. So I hit ‘play now’ and settled in with my lasagna cupcakes (recipe to come later, still needs tweaking.)
Gross. Me. Out. First, watch this documentary. Secondly, don’t eat while watching this documentary.
Another thing you should know about me is that I am a perpetual cynic. I question nearly everything anyone says or writes. No matter how hard someone tries, their product is always going to be skewed, even if only marginally, in some way. I question facts, myths, theories, and proven knowledge. I love to research, and while I don’t always get to the bottom of the true story, it makes me feel better that I’m not one to be spoon fed anything.
Food, Inc., is now making me do more research.
Basically, Keener describes how the food industry is controlled by a handful of large corporations, all large-scale food processors. They put profit ahead of everything—worker safety, farmer livelihood, the environment, and consumer health and knowledge. It seems that the big food businesses like McDonalds, Tysons, and Perdue are more concerned with efficiency than consumer health.
Our own government aids them in these abuses. According to the documentary, in 1973, the USDA and FDA conducted approximately 50,000 safety and health inspections of American food processing plants. In 2006, they conducted only 9,164.
It’s a vicious cycle—corn is genetically modified and fed to livestock destined for the slaughterhouse. The animals absorb the hormones, and are exposed to more chemicals (both in their feed or outright injected into them). This causes bigger and cheaper-produced meat for consumers…but then we absorb the hormones too. Humans aren’t made for digesting unnatural additives like this, and some experts have pointed to artificial growth hormones as one of the major causes in the obesity spike in America.
What made me really start to pay attention, though, was the following quote from Eric Schlosser.
“The industry blames obesity on a crisis of responsibility, but when you’re engineering food, you’re pressing our evolutionary buttons…this diet of high fructose corn syrup and refined carbohydrates leads to these spikes of insulin and gradually a wearing down of the system by which our body metabolizes sugar.”
As I mentioned in an earlier entry, I was diagnosed with a metabolic disorder last year. Basically, my body doesn’t process refined sugars and preservatives the way a ‘normal’ body does. I just turn it to fat almost instantly. For much of my life, I’ve been overweight. Last year, with the help of a personal trainer and a shit ton of blood, sweat, and a hell of a lot of tears, I lost nearly 50 pounds. I still have about another 20-30ish pounds to go, but I still resolve that eventually I’ll get there.
I figured that this was just my lot in life. Somewhere along the way, my body changed the way it processed things. Shit happens, figure out a way to deal with it and move on. I was pretty hard core with my eating habits for a while and stopped drinking (that sucked a lot), which helped in losing weight. But now, after watching this documentary, I want to do more research into the metabolism, how it works, and how it’s affected by unnatural foods. My inability to process frankenfoods may have stemmed from poor eating habits as a child.
In my introductory blog entry, I stated that my mother was a stay-at-home mom. This isn’t 100% true. Mom actually worked until I was 5. My father had been laid off from managing a Radio Shak a few months after my birth, and decided to go back to college to pursue an engineering degree. Mom worked to put Dad through school, and once he was able to get a job, she quit.
During this time, my dad’s parents, Richard and Maria (but pronounced Mariah), lived nearby. As the oldest grandchild on both sides, I was quite the doted-upon princess, and Maria adored having a granddaughter. She loved spending time with me. As in, picked-me-up-from-the-babysitters-every-day-and-took-me-to-McDonalds-for-a-Chicken-McNugget-happy-meal loved spending time with me. When we got back to her house to wait for my parents to pick me up, I had run of the kitchen. If I wanted it, I could eat it. Cookies, cake, chocolate milk—anything, you name it. To her, food was love. In her mind, she loved me too much to deny me anything.
My parents, unaware of the McDonalds runs and cookie binges, would take me home and nearly have to force food down my throat. Thinking I was just being a picky eater, I had to sit there until the plate was clean. I wasn’t hungry, but I didn’t dare say a thing about the happy meals. Maria told me it was ‘our secret.’ And the weight piled on. I’m not a mother and won’t be for some time, but I have a suspicion my hypothetical children will never be held to the Clean Plate Club rules.
My mom’s mother, Grandma Rose, would often feed me sugar sandwiches—cinnamon sugar on buttered white bread, folded in half. I pretty much got what I wanted at their house too (and still do, quite honestly), but I do remember being told “no, that’s too much sugar for a little girl,” on more than one occasion.
Now, looking back, I’m wondering if that set me up for a lifetime of weight problems. If my body was being conditioned to crave the fat, sodium, and sugar that makes up a majority of fast food, why wouldn’t I eventually have problems processing unnatural food additives? Opening too many applications on a computer eventually slows it down until it stops processing anything. Why wouldn’t a body work the same way?
I’m not passing the buck here. I don’t blame my grandparents or my parents for my eating habits or my weight problem. I am an adult, and I am 100% responsible for the food I put in my mouth. And how much. But it also helps to get to the root of the matter before charging ahead with a solution, so I know I’m fixing a problem rather than treating a side effect.
I could go on for pages and pages describing what I’ve seen in Food, Inc. I don’t need to regurgitate it for you. I will say again, however, that it’s enough to make me want to learn more. Because I am really, really grossed out. Never before had I seriously considered anorexia as a way of life.
In the meanwhile, I’m issuing myself a challenge. For the next 30 days, any additional produce or meat that I buy will be from a local, organic farmer. I have a lot of meat in my freezer, so I don’t need to replenish that for a while. I have two year-round farmers markets near me, so I know I can get produce and maybe start up a friendship with a local grower or something. Who knows!
Is this going to turn me into a hippie? God, I hope not. If you see me on the street and I’ve stopped showering, am wearing tie-dye, and urging you to ‘feel the love, man!’ you have my explicit permission to slap me. Hard.
I saw a quote I liked the other day. “To live well is to eat well.” I guess this is just another step in the journey to find out if that’s true.
I have a restaurant review to write tonight, but instead I think I’m going to do what every other blogger is doing tonight. Write about relationships. Not romantic relationships. Just general ones.
We live in a very weird, weird world today. As a society, we’re completely plugged in and connected almost 24/7, and yet we’re more isolated than ever. We have smart phones, multiple IM programs, email, Facebook, Twitter, message forums, blogs, text messages, not to mention good old fashioned, real life phone calls. And letters, if you can find a stamp. We even have phones that will funnel all these communication channels onto one screen. Never before in history have we had so many easy-access, low cost ways to communicate. And yet we don’t.
I think we’re losing our ability to just talk.
We’re so concerned with getting ahead at work, running the kids to soccer practice/ballet/piano/extra tutoring, writing food blogs, trying to get the cats to the vet, and rushing out the door before we miss our traffic window that we forget how to make those connections with those who should be closest to us. Our friends. Our family. Our neighbors. It’s like that saying—water, water everywhere but nary a drop to drink. So many ways to connect to people, but we’re still wrapped up within ourselves.
People are afraid to reach out anymore.
There’s no real debate in the role of family dinners in the development of children. Studies show that the more often families eat together, the lower the rate of adolescent suicide, depression, smoking, drinking and other general destructive behavior. Grades go up, confidence soars, and children are more likely to believe their parents are proud of them than their solo dining counterparts. I don’t think this importance ends in childhood. Just because you reach the age of 18 doesn’t mean you stop growing and developing. The shared meals, now encompassing our friends beyond our family, are still a vital part of our ability to flourish as adults.
I found this Times article discussing the importance of shared meals, with a very interesting quote by Robin Fox, an anthropologist who teaches at Rutgers University.
“Something precious was lost, anthropologist Fox argues, when cooking came to be cast as drudgery and meals are discretionary. ‘Making food is a sacred event,’ he says. ‘It’s so absolutely central—far more central than sex. You can keep a population going by having sex once a year, but you have to eat three times a day.’”
And so, I’m starting a movement. Operation: Dinner Party. For the next 30 days, until 15 March, lets share at least one meal with someone each week. I’m talking a Real Meal. Real food, real people, real conversation. None of this grabbing a bite for twenty minutes at a fast food joint before rushing off to soccer practice. Real. Meals. And let’s see how big we can make this–email this post to your friends and family, and urge them to do the same.
Bonus points if it’s a new friend OR super old friend you haven’t seen in forever. Double bonus points if you make it at home and triple bonus points if you make it together (or if it’s potluck. The idea is shared effort for the meal.) If you’re a family and can get your kids involved with helping to prep the food, you win my undying love and affection.
Email me at email@example.com with your menu, photos, and any recipes you’d like to share, and I’ll post them on the blog.
Today, like yesterday, was an Auspicious Day. (The chili kicked ass, bee tee dubs. Not a drop left. One of our offsite guys had four bowls. I counted.) But not because a coworker was leaving for parts unknown. No, today is my parents’ 28th wedding anniversary. Either they really love each other, or they’re just too damn stubborn to leave.
I think it’s both.
In a world where plenty of marriages end in less than six months, this is something to be heralded. Plus, if they didn’t get married, I wouldn’t be here, and you wouldn’t have a perky new food blog to read during your down time.
It’s like ripples in a pond.
My family isn’t really into gift giving occasions. We’re a “doing” type of family. As a rule, we’d rather do something with a celebrant than buy them a gift that will most likely go in a closet for a while before being given away to the thrift shop. To us, it’s not about the toys you accrue, but the memories you leave behind.
In keeping with the family tradition, my brother, Buttface, and I made dinner. We’ve done this over the past several years, much to our folks’ delight. When we began this venture in sibling collaboration, I did most of the heavy hitting. I’m nearly eight years older, so obviously there’s going to be a bit of a skill difference between a seven and a fifteen year old. But as he’s gotten older and his fine motor skills increased, I have to admit he’s done quite well for himself. Buttface has become a champion brownie baker.
We’ve always made great dinners for our parents’ celebratory meals. We really had no choice. If we didn’t produce a home run, our culinary-inclined mother would be standing over our shoulders, asking, “can I make a suggestion?” (It’s a long standing family tradition. Apparently her grandmother said “come here, let Grandma show you how to do it” more often than not. I supposed when I have kids and grandbabies, I’ll be saying it too.) But now that I started the blog, I want to make something that would make their tummies think they had died and gone to epicurean heaven.
After much gchatting, Buttface and I decided upon The Menu. For an appetizer, bruschetta, and for the main…roasted red snapper with smoked garlic paprika sauce, roasted new potatoes and brussel sprouts. The snapper recipe is Bobby Flay’s via foodnetwork.com, which I’ve linked to here.
Buttface and I headed to our favorite hometown grocery store, Q Mart. If you can get over the fact that they’re not as clean bright and cheery as your typical American chain supermarket, the international markets are amazing. I find that the produce is better, fresher, and cheaper (yet oddly, most of them are actually from the same distributor) than a large-scale chain. I don’t know why, but when I can feed myself on $30 a week, I don’t ask questions.
One of my favorite things about the international markets is that they have real fish mongers and butchers. I can go in, pick out a whole fish of differing varieties, hand it to the man behind the counter who will then scale it, bone it, filet it, and basically do what I want to it for free.
The kicker here is that you need to be very clear in what you want. I’ve been to several different markets in the Northern Virginia area, and each have a sign above the fish counter with the typical preparation offerings. A number one will get you a fish, no head. A number two will get you a butterflied fish, no head. A three will be butterflied with the head, and so on and so forth. It looks like a raw fish value menu, actually.
We picked out two healthy looking red snappers, and handed it to the man I’ve come to call the Fish Butcher.
“Number two, please,” I asked, holding up two fingers just in case he misunderstood. He nodded, took the fish, did his thing, and handed me back a neatly wrapped paper bag. Here’s where I did wrong—I forgot to ask him to debone it. I thought that was included in the process, but apparently not. This is important later.
Back at the house, we set to work. I sliced two small baguettes on the bias and laid them on a baking sheet. A quick brush with some olive oil, and into a 450 degree oven they went to get all nice and toasty.
While that was happening, Buttface chopped three roma tomatoes, and mixed them with some olive oil and a couple schlocks of garlic. This went in a baking dish and into the oven long side the bread.
I pulled the bread out 10 minutes later and the tomatoes ten minutes after that. Arrange the now-toast on a serving platter and spoon the tomato garlic goodness on each slice. Traditional bruschetta has fresh basil and mozzarella on top. But we didn’t have any of that, so I skipped the herbs all together and substituted a four cheese Mexican mix instead. And it was fabulous. The parentals loved it.
And then it was time for…dun dun dun…the snapper.
Before I go much further, I want to send props out to Daddicus Maximus (that’s Big Daddy in Latin, for the uninformed. My father is a history nerd, in case you were wondering) for the photography work!
Whole Roasted Red Snapper
2 whole red snapper, gutted, butterflied and BONED.
1 bunch of parsley
1 orange, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
Salt and pepper
After pre-heating the family oven to 350 degrees, I laid the fish open on the cutting board, and filled the cavities with the sliced orange, lemon, and parsley. I drizzled a little olive oil, salt and pepper onto the skin and laid it in a roasting pan.
Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!! Seriously, this is probably the prettiest prep I’ve ever done. I loved the colors—green parsley, orange, well, oranges, yellow lemons and red skin of the snapper all melded together. It really was like a page from a food magazine. That’s never happened to me before. Of course, I bumped the pan as I put it into the oven, which flipped one of the fish over a bit so the fruit spilled out, completely ruining the effect.
Into the oven for about 35 minutes, and out came slightly jarred perfection!
The sides were easy enough. Dice the potatoes into whatever size chunks you think are appropriate. I try to keep it to about an inch, to an inch and a half. Just remember that the larger the chunk, the longer it will take to cook. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, then into a 450 degree oven for 30-45 minutes.
For the brussel sprouts, cut the ends off and peel away the tough outer layers. Slice in half, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and like the potatoes, into a roasting dish and slide it into a 450 degree oven for 15-20.
I was kinda lucky tonight in that I was cooking at my folks’ house again, and they have a double oven so I could have one at 350 for the fish and another at 450 for the sides. Obviously, this wouldn’t happen if I were cooking at home. This is just a matter of timing—if you have one oven, keep it at the lower temperature. Roast the potatoes for an hour, the brussel sprouts for 30 minutes and keep the fish the way it is.
I thought I had timed the meal so that everything would come out at the same time. Unfortunately, I was wrong. The fish was done a good 20 minutes before the rest of the meal. I didn’t want to let it burn, so I pulled it out, hoping it wouldn’t get too cold. It was definitely room temperature when I finally got everything to the table. It wasn’t a disaster, per se, but not what I wanted, either. Looking back, I would have either tented it with foil to keep the heat in, or just lowered the oven temp to 100 and left it in.
While the potatoes were finishing up the last bit of browning, I prepped the fish for the platter. The citrus and parsley went into the trash, and as I was transferring the filets to the serving dish, that’s when I noticed them.
Them bones, them bones.
I had forgotten to ask the Fish Butcher to take out the bones.
That’s ok, Mel. A lot of times, if you pull on the spine, all the rib bones come out with it. I’ve seen this done on the French Chef reruns all the time, and of course there’s that shot from the Little Mermaid when the singing chef goes “first I shop off zeir heads/zen I pulls out za bones…” and the entire fishy comes out in one piece. If it happens in an animated Disney classic, it must apply to real life, right?
It took a little bit of manipulation, but I eventually did get most of the bones out. I completely ruined any semblance of fish filet there may have been previous to my clumsy surgery, but still, most of the bones were gone. I warned the family before sitting down, so they were aware of any choking hazards. They understood, but it did suck to see them pull the more-than-occasional fish rib from between their teeth. I wanted everything to be perfect for their dinner, but sometimes the best laid plans don’t work out.
Bobby’s recipe also included a paprika garlic sauce. The recipe called for a quarter cup of sherry vinegar, which my mother didn’t have and I couldn’t find at the Q. I substituted balsamic vinegar instead, and um, well…the result wasn’t exactly Iron Chef material. So instead I melted about six tablespoons of butter with a tablespoon of lemon juice. There was left over, so I definitely could have decreased the amount (but kept the ratio because it turned out fantastic).
All in all, the dinner was a resounding success. The food looked great, and even though the fish was cold at the table, it all tasted wonderfully. My parents loved it, and it was fun working with my brother on a meal. Tonight was the first time in months that the four of us were able to sit down and have a meal together. Buttface is pulling through a work-intense engineering degree at college, and my weekends are packed doing whatever it is I can’t get done during the workweek. It was really, really nice.
What a culinary night.
It started out wonderfully—I had a nice, relaxing dinner with my Baby Cousin, her boyfriend, and their adorable little two year old. She is, by far, the most beautiful, brightest, happiest little girl that ever walked the face of this earth. I might be slightly partisan considering she’s my godbaby, but that’s neither here nor there. We went to Sweetwater Tavern, and I had a lovely salmon salad with dried cranberries and new potatoes. I need to figure out what was in that dressing because it was wonderful.
Around 8pm, we parted ways. They drove home for baths and bedtime stories and I headed off for, where else, the grocery store.
Tomorrow is a very auspicious day at the office. One of our tech heavy hitters is moving on to greener pastures. (This is a recurring theme, for some reason. We lost two others last week.) As her send off, the boys and Shelley have organized a Black Tie Rodeo. Participants are invited to wear formal attire or western garb. Yours truly will be snookering out with a pair of jeans and a plaid shirt, but there is a promise of a tuxedo, so I will keep you posted.
However, as the resident food blogger, my main contribution to the war effort will be a kick ass cowboy-style chili for the conference room happy hour tomorrow afternoon. This is a tried and true recipe, courtesy my mama.
I was so excited to make this chili tonight. I practically skipped through a blissfully Ghetto Mama-free Shoppers, gleefully popping this and that into my basket. I envisioned myself producing a fabulous conglomeration of hearty meat, spices, and tomato puree that would forever win my colleagues love, respect, and affection. Promotions and pay raises will be offered and I, shocked and honored, will be unable to resist.
Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?
And so, I submit for your gastronomical approval, my mother’s recipe for chili. This is a special recipe in our family, made during football games and cold winter nights. Usually served with rice and/tortilla chips with cheese and sour cream.
Mama’s Texas Red Chili
3lbs stew meat
1 large onion (I hate onions but Mom says I have to.)
1 schlock of garlic (Note: A ‘schlock’ is my father’s term for ‘however much garlic looks like enough.’)
2 cups tomato puree
1 can kidney beans
2-3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp coriander
4 Anaheim chilies, seeded and chopped
4 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
I know it’s unnecessary, but I like to chop and prepare all my ingredients before I actually start cooking. I know that for a lot of dishes, I could probably get away with prepping as I go, but that’s just not me. I put all my spices, veggies, sauces, and other miscellaneous meal requirements into these Pyrex prep bowls I bought on clearance at the William Sonoma outlet out in Leesburg last summer. I work in a small space so sometimes I have to be creative with counterspace, but they make everything look so damn cute.
Plus I like to pretend like I have my own cooking show, and the prep bowls make it just that much more believable.
First, I cut the meat. For convenience, I bought the already cut up beef you can get pre-packaged at the store, but I still cut them even smaller. (To me, bite sized it something you can put in your mouth and not look like a chipmunk). These went to the side while I worked on the veggies. I like to put it back on the foam plates they came in. It’s neater and cleaner—no extra dishes to wash and no icky meat germs hanging out in your kitchen.
Then, it came time to chop The Onion. I have always disliked onions with a passion that bubbles from the depths of my
soul. I don’t know why, I just don’t like them. I’m even ambivalent about the mock news source that everyone in DC is so obsessed with. I’ve tried to like onions. I really have. Unfortunately, I think it’s like trying to put a thong on an elephant. It just won’t work. But, my mother says I have to have an onion, no negotiations. So, look. It’s an onion.
Once that was done and I stopped sobbing, it was time to seed and chop the chilies and jalapenos. If you like an extra bit of oomph to your chili, you can throw some of the seeds in once everything starts to dance in the pot. The seeds hold most of a pepper’s heat. And be careful with the chopping—peppers secrete an oil that doesn’t wash off with soap and water.
Trust me, it is not fun to rub your eyes in absentminded sleepiness, then suddenly remember you chopped peppers that evening. About a year ago, my parents gave me a box of exam gloves as a gag gift because I make a big stink about touch raw meat. I loved them tonight. I just rubbed my eye and not a single shred of burning!
You know, why don’t I just open up the cans, since I’m prepping everything else. It might make a nice picture for the blog or something, I thought. Can opener. Can…opener. Where the hell is my can opener?
I pawed through my utensil jar. No can opener. I rooted through my one, 6 inch drawer. No can opener.
No. Can. Opener.
HOW THE HELL DO I NOT HAVE A CAN OPENER?!!?
It’s a basic kitchen essential! Even the most inept of bachelor cooks, one whose repetoir consists of ramen and baked beans, owns a can opener. I, however, a family-and-self-taught home cook, do not. I had a can opener. In fact, I had two. But that was at my old apartment. They are either still there or with my former roommate.
I can bone a duck but I can not open a can.
Luckily for me, I live right around the corner from a Safeway. It was 945 at this point, but I will not be foiled by missing kitchen gadgets or late night hours. I had a chili to make a blog to write. Twenty minutes later I was back in the apartment with a new can opener and a box of razors. (Told you I need a list.)
Finally, the cans opened and chili fixins’ fixed, it was time to cook.
My French oven went over high heat with a bit of olive oil. You know it’s hot enough when you can’t hold your hand 3-4
inches above the surface for more than 5 seconds. The meat got seared on all sides, but not cooked all the way through. Don’t worry, it’ll get done during the two hours of simmering later. Depending on how much meat you got going on or the size of your pot, you may need to do this in more than one batch. It’s important that you DO NOT CROWD THE PAN. You won’t get a good sear if you crowd that pan.
I did this in two steps, because I wanted to be the good little foodie and not crowd the pan for that even brown color. Five minutes into searing the first batch, I noticed a funny odor permeating my apartment.
Is something…burning?! I had left the stove momentarily to check my email, so I rushed back to the range. No, nothing burning. The meat had only begun to turn brown on the bottom, actually. The smell was getting stronger. I knew the meat was fresh, so there was no way that I bought bad food. It wasn’t an all out unbearable, horrific smell, like melting plastic or something, but it wasn’t all that pleasant either.
Yeah, I’m not messing around with this, I thought, and switched burners. Leaning down as close as I could get without burning my eyebrows off, I examined the electric coil where my pot had once sat. It was there that I found the culprit. There, far down below the burner, close to where the element meets the stovetop, was one lone kibble of cat food. Well, it wasn’t a kibble anymore. It was mostly ash, but it was still the same size and shape as the special cat food for sensitive kitty tummies I have to buy for those damn barfy cats of mine.
Stuff like this only happens to me.
With the pot now on the back burner (Aw, back burner on the stove, but never in our hearts! Ha!) and the sliding glass door open for ventilation, things were good and right with the world once more.
It took a few minutes to get the heat going again, but once it did, the second batch seared perfectly. Yay! There really is nothing more uplifting that getting that perfect crust on a piece of meat.
I removed the meat and held it to the side. The onions, peppers, and garlic went into the pot to sauté—this time, crowd the
pot all you want. Everybody gets to dance together. Lower the heat a few notches, and after about 5-10 minutes, the onions should be a pretty translucent color. When you can smell the garlic more than you can smell the onion, you’re good. (Of course, that’s always good where I’m concerned, but Mom says I have to have the onion).
At this point, the skill-requiring part is over. Dump in the tomato puree, beans (which are actually options but I enjoy them), and seasonings into the pot and stir.
Ordinarily, you’d simmer this for about two hours, with the occasional stir here or there to keep stuff from burning on the bottom of the pot. However, this is now a make ahead meal for me, as I will be transporting the chili to the office. So instead of simmering, I will be refrigerating it over night, then transferring to a crockpot in the morning. When I get to the office, I’ll plug it in and let it go til about 3 or 4pm.
So. There’s the chili. I’ll definitely let you know how it turns out!
So cooking the duck this weekend got me to thinking—I challenged myself to make as much use as possible out of the bird. I boiled the hell out of those bones for stock, and used the stock in the soup. As I type, I’m rendering duck fat in the crockpot. Even though the stock took about three hours, and the stew took another couple hours on top of that, the effort was pretty minimal. I’d put something in the stew, go do something else, come back and check it, go do something else—other than the actual deboning, I just put things in a pot.
What if I could take that level of resourcefulness and economic frugality, and apply it to everything, food wise? No wasting anything—I’d be like a pioneer woman, creatively using every bit of game her husband brought back to the wagon on their long trip to settle the west. Except I live in a studio apartment near DC. And I don’t have a husband who brings me wild game. Or a husband who doesn’t bring me wild game.
But that’s neither here nor there. I’m an alright shot when I can use a gun rest. If I want wild game, I’ll get it myself. I need to adapt to my space.
So what about an apartment garden? When the weather warms up, I can start a few vegetable plants in clay plots out on my balcony—nothing too ambitious or over the top to start. I mean, I gotta move those suckers in a year when my lease is up. I think I can handle some pepper plants, tomatoes and…whatever else grows well in pots. I don’t know, I need to do some googling.
Yay for (sort of) growing my own food!
On top of that, I’m going to compost. Or at least try. (In case you can’t tell, this is more of a musings blog, not one with a ton of research behind it.) I’ll be able to put most, if not all, of my food scraps into the compost pile where it will eventually make great food for my vegetable “garden.” It’s the circle of life! [holds up a baby lion as the animal kingdom celebrates at my feet]
I searched for actual composters online, and I think I’m going to make one on my own. First, the ones available are fricken huge. The smallest I could find was 37 gallons, and that turned out to be $300 without shipping. I have neither the space nor the cash. So yeah, that’s not happening. Secondly, all I really need is a medium sized container with some air holes. Hello Rubbermaid and a drill!
So we’ll see how this goes. I definitely need to do some research on creative uses for all parts of food, and how to get a compost bin started, but I’m excited for the potential!!