Thursday, April 01, 2010

Latest Makes

What's been going on these past two weeks? Besides getting really sick of SXSW and bad sound mixes, and not really wanting to participate another year, I've been waiting patiently on The Company to get back to me about the internship, which happens to start in May. Can't say I've been job searching very heavily, since I've got my mind set on that position. I'm also looking into volunteer opportunities around town. Something flexible that I can reduce or break off once I get a job. I'm gonna talk to the guys at Space12 next week (did you know that B came up with the name?). I've also been doing 99% of the cooking as of late. As I mentioned before, I like baking, not cooking. To me, there is too much margin of error in that, and I really hate to fail and waste ingredients. But it's been good for me to get more practice. Cooking is actually one of B's hobbies, but he'd much rather have a hot meal ready for him when he gets home from a long day at work. Some of the new recipes I've tried have let us down, but I also have the tendency to use a recipe as a guideline and botch it. I'm still familiarizing myself with different spices, as I bought bay leaves and paprika for the first time last week. Also, B is a really discerning taster and loves flavor and robustness in his food. I grew up eating a lot of stirfried and steamed dishes, all prepared with minimal amounts of oil and salt. Finding a good compromise is key. I think I should keep a little log of what I make, so that I will make better versions of recipes each time.

Tonight, after zoning out in front of the telly with a chocolate toffee bar and vinegar and salt chips, I saw that the clock read 7:20 and rushed to find a meaty recipe for dinner. Since yesterday, after a trip to Natural Grocer (meat and dry goods) and Wheatsville (veggies), I spent an hour preparing a chard pie (recipe from
Everyday Food). It looked easy enough- saute diced onions, chard stem and garlic, remove from heat, add parmesan cheese, lemon juice, salt, and a bit of flour, make a crust out of flour, olive oil and water. When I informed B of my project, he balked and reminded me that he is not into vegetarian meals. So, I froze it for later. This is what it should look like.

source: The Everyday Food blog

I googled "ground beef recipe" and settled on this Shepherd's Pie recipe by Paula Deen. I usually don't follow anything created by the Queen of Butter, but it looked pretty easy and not disgustingly fatty. Instead of 2 cans of tomatoes (that's a lot!), I used a few teaspoons of concentrated tomato paste from Mandola's. I also substituted sweet potato for regular potato, since it is much more nutritious. It was the first time that I had boiled a potato unwhole (it loses a good deal of its nutrients that way), but I was on a time crunch. I also had no milk or sour cream. Usually we have some alternative milk lying around in the fridge, but all we had was oat milk, and it had 19 grams of sugar per serving. I've learned my lesson from using sweetened milks in savory dishes- don't do it! The mixed vegetables I put in with the beef to cook together. I tried to make it a good meat to everything else ratio, since B nearly threw a fit the last time I made a coconut curry that was too heavy on the potatoes, carrots, and onion. (To be fair, it was the first time I had made a dish in our crock pot, and the recipe was written by a white person and did not taste anything like Thai curry.) The biscuit on the top took some extra time to cook all the way through, so by the time it was done, B's stomach was grumbling. He loved it! He said it was the best thing I had ever cooked, and that I should stick to English/European foods. Ha! The way to his bellyheart is through lots of meat, butter, salt, and bread. I'm all for delighting your basest taste buds, but I also want us both to live a long life together. All in all, I'm happy that my second try cooking meat "pies" had a good ending, as opposed to the first. This is what it looked like.

source: boydknife flickr

I also picked up a package of phyllo dough at the store, since we had a bit more left in our budget for the week. A well-made baklava is delectable, and I wanted to see what I could do with those flaky sheets. Using the pear recipe at the bottom as a guide, I had an old Fuji apple lying around that I wanted to use to make apple triangles. Unfortunately for me, it wasn't after I had peeled it that I chopped it up and found a bad core. Luckily, I had half a bag of frozen peaches that I defrosted, diced, and tossed in a pan with a handful of sugar and cinnamon. The phyllo dough itself was more of a challenge to handle. The box said to defrost it by leaving in the fridge overnight, but I didn't want to defrost the whole roll, yet it was too hard and fragile to peel off any layers. Other recipes said to put a damp towel over the layers you weren't using, as the dough dries out very quickly. Thanks to Alton Brown (video), I learned that I could throw it in the microwave for 60 seconds and forget about the paper towel- just work speedily. Also, that you can't use regular melted butter with phyllo dough, you have to boil the water out until it is clarified. I let it sit too long on the stove as I was running around the kitchen, so it became browned butter, but that has a nice nutty taste anyway. Some of my layers ripped as I pulled them apart, and it was not the prettiest dessert. I layered 7-10 sheets with butter drizzled in between each one, then I spooned the peach mixture on one end and folded them up. The triangles looked sorta like this (pre-baked).

source: greek food

B also thought these were very tasty. The filling was quite tart, as I did not add that much sugar, but I just sprinkled some powdered sugar on the finished product. He was impressed with all those flaky layers of crust, but it wasn't any of my doing. It was rather labor intensive, but I aim to try for a savory meat filling next time.

I purchased the book Green Smoothie Revolution and a Oster blender in my last Amazon order. Green smoothies are a growing raw/health food trend. Basically, you make a fruit smoothie and add some leafy greens to it, since the latter is chock full of good things for your body. Americans don't eat enough greens, and even when having a salad, you don't chew it enough to release all the nutrients. In a green smoothie, start off with a heavy fruit to greens ratio, and then work your way up to making it 60/40. In principle, I love it. I have grown to despise the taste of most raw leafy vegetables, but I know I should eat them. Somehow. And this may be it. My first few tries to make a green smoothie were, shall we say, less than desirable. B served as one of my guinea pigs, and he eagerly explained to me what was wrong with each of them. The oranges were too pulpy so you had to chew each bite, blended lettuce tastes gross, raspberry seeds are annoying in a drink, I gotta peel the apple, add ice to make it cold, etc. We finished them both but I could not bring myself to make a third. I even ordered one from a raw food restaurant in town (so expensive!), and also did not love it. But it was much better because they are supposed to be made in 1000+ watt blenders, like the Vita-Mix, which are $300-500. Not only does it make a truly smooth drink, these powerful blenders supposedly break down cell walls to make the nutrients more easily digested. Additionally, you are not supposed to eat any food with this smoothie, and you are not to eat for 40 minutes after you consume it for efficient digestion. I don't have hundreds of dollars just lying around, but I am thinking about saving up for a Vita-Mix as an investment in our health. Here's what my first green smoothie looked like.


SuzyFormager said...

I recently did a smoothie tasting game with the kids I babysit where I sneaked vegetables into several different smoothies that I made for them and had them try to guess the "secret ingredients." They were surprised and (luckily) amused to learn that their smoothies contained carrots, spinach, and avocados.

Since you like baking, you might want to check out the book "Baking Illustrated." The instructions are detailed and precise, and the authors explain how they developed the recipes and why they use certain ingredients, techniques, etc. It's a fun read and all of the recipes we've tried so far have come out very well - especially the French baguettes that Brandon made. They were a masterpiece on his first try, despite being notoriously challenging to make.

Fern said...

Thanks for the cookbook tip. I don't usually buy cookbooks, I just google recipes, but lately that has been really hit or miss. I'll add it to my Amazon wishlist. One of our friends reads Cooks Illustrated, which initially made me think he was an old grandma, but I guess that publication is pretty good, huh?

Also, a belated great big thanks for telling me about barkeeper's friend. it really does a number on those stubborn stains that i had grown so accustomed to! and it's so cheap!

Rachel B said...

I just went to Beets Cafe last week and had their kale/other green things drink, and while I enjoyed it, it would get old really fast if I drank them more than every once in a while.

As a fellow cooking married person, I would suggest that you be careful about completely catering to your spouse's preferences because if you do, their taste bud horizons will never expand. I had to learn to cook more well-rounded meals when David and I got married (I tended to choose meals without meat too, and he loves meat). But now he's learned that he doesn't always have to have meat. Besides, cooking beans or lentils or something else meatless is less expensive. I make pretty much all of our food, and when I do it, I consider both of our preferences. Some meals he enjoys much more than I, and I enjoy some of our meals more. There are only one or two things I like to eat that I don't fix at home because he hates it. Everything else is fair game, if only every once in a while (a person can deal with anything for one meal). If I'm cooking something he doesn't like, such as carrots, I'll roast them with potatoes and turnips, which he likes. If we're going meatless for dinner, I make sure he has meat in his lunch and we might have eggs for breakfast for extra protein. I feel strongly about this because differing food preferences was one of our first marital conflicts.

If you want any ideas for recipes, I've been cataloguing recipes I've tried and liked for everyday meals at:

Fern said...

Oh, I totally don't just cook what he wants to eat. Otherwise I'd barely be eating, ha. He's come a long way, actually, and I rarely make anything fried or super greasy, and he eats plenty more veggies than he used to. Sometimes I just get overzealous and make a meal that tries to be vegetable heavy, when I should just make meat meals and veg meals and not try to be sneaky.

Cool, didn't know you had a recipe blog!

SuzyFormager said...

I tend not to buy cookbooks either; I got Baking Illustrated from the public library.

As for Cook's Illustrated, I am definitely an old grandma at heart so maybe your friend is too.