Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Chocolate. Because, Summer.

With the 4th of July come and gone now, us Americans have entered into that gray void-like time of the summer I call "The Restless Gap".  Vacations have been taken, all camps and the like are done, summer sports are done or close, sports or band practices for the new school year are just weeks away, and the fall plans are now being thought about (or worse, entered into Google Calendar).  There's not much to do, a lot of time to do it in, and the days and weeks stretch out...waiting to be squandered, or put to good use.

So, chocolate.

It's hot here.  Like, stupid Midwest hot.  And humid too.  I spent a whole ten minutes outside today, pulling out those clumps of weeds hat had grown in the cracks of my driveway. I come back inside, and I feel wet, dirty, and uncomfortable.

So, chocolate.

If you were to ask my husband his favorite pie, he'd say French Silk.  And while that is a great pie choice, French Silk is incredibly heavy and rich.  Kind of like the weather outside.  So, no French Silk. 

However, a nice, light, airy, Chocolate Chiffon would do nicely.

For the record, a French Silk is straight-up chocolate, butter, sugar, vanilla, and eggs.  A Chocolate Cream pie is the next step down in terms of heaviness: milk, sugar, egg yolks, cornstarch, sugar, butter, vanilla.  A Chiffon pie is the lightest of them all: chocolate, egg yolks, sugar, gelatin, and whipped egg whites.

And remember, it's light it is.  Besides, it's been quite awhile since I've done a chiffon pie.

When that day comes that I start actively looking for a new house, I will put "excellent natural lighting in the kitchen" at the top of my list.  Because it would make my photographs here look a little better.  Anyway.  I present the cast above: chocolate chips, egg yolks, sugar, gelatin, egg whites, more sugar.  Funny that these little quantities will increase here soon...

When beaten together, egg yolks and sugar become this thick, pale-colored ribbon of goodness.  Agitation can be a good thing (but please don't tell my children this).

Once upon a time, long ago, the concept of folding whipped egg whites into any kind of batter seemed daunting to me.  After all, it seemed so precise and delicate, which meant I would probably mess it up.  These days, though, it's a technique I'm no longer afraid of.  In this chiffon, I've tempered the eggs and chocolate, beaten in the softened gelatin, and above, I'm folding in those magnificently sugared egg whites.  That graham cracker pie crust I found in my pantry stands by, waiting to receive the airy chocolaty goodness.

And once I pour it in, it's off to the fridge to set up.  Later on tonight, I'll quick-whip up a topping and
be done with it.  There may be leftovers for breakfast tomorrow, there may not.

This, friends, is how you deal with the Restless Gap.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Spaghetti Cake

Yes. You read that right.  Keep reading, friends, it's about to get good.

Photo by Brent Nelson...who doesn't quite know about shadows and things in photography.

Photo by your trusty author, who doesn't quite know about taking knockout food pictures.

So, the caboose (Elliot) was in charge of meals this part of his requirement for one of his Boy Scout badges.  Even though we'd be eating meals easy for a 12-year-old to put together (usually not healthy), I was totally ready to hand over the reins for the weekend.

Saturday night's dinner was supposed to be simple.  Spaghetti.  But then, I remembered I had Justin's Chapple's Mad Tips article for Pasta Bundt Loaf.  I handed that over to the Boy Scout...and things just got awesome.

The ingredients here seem to be a cross between those of a lasagna and an alfredo.  One pound of spaghetti noodles is cooked, and to which a bunch of cheese, milk, eggs, and seasonings are added.  All of this is then packed into a super-greased Bundt pan and baked for 35-40 minutes.  And then, really slices like the picture above.  It really is spaghetti cake.  It is love.

Never doubt the Boy Scout.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Holy Pozole Rojo

Today's blog will cover two things:

1. Assonance
2. Hominy

Assonance is a literary device in which words with similar vowel sounds are placed close together.  Example: I feel the need...the need for speed.  The repeating sound? The long 'e' sound.  Especially fetching in poetry (see what I did there?).

Holy Pozole Rojo.  Ho-lee Po-zo-lay Ro-ho.  All those long 'o' sounds...

In the Mexican Aztec language, 'pozole' means 'hominy'...and thus, we're looking at a traditional soup/stew that contains a lot of....wait for it...hominy.  And typically pork, chile peppers, garlic, broth.  Along with some other good stuff.

Rehydrated guajillo peppers, cocoa powder, and garlic constituted my pozole's "base", to which I added the sautéed onions, hominy, black beans and veg broth...

Oh yeah, and those weirdo Boca veggie crumbles (number one ingredient: Soy Protein Concentrate) since it's Vegetarian Week at Chez Nelson.

While all this yumminess simmers for several minutes (or hours, if I have the time), I prepped the garnishes...which is one of my most favorite things (think, raindrops on roses for Maria).  Radish matchsticks, chopped cilantro, sliced avocado and scallions.

Oh, and cheddar cheese for the kids.  *eyeroll*  But, I made the strapping 17-year-old grate it.

So, here's the thing about me and taking pictures...I often forget to do it.  I am usually more focused on eating.  At any rate, I was halfway through my bowl of pozole when I remembered to take the photo...and forgot to get that yuuuuge silver spoon out of the way.

There's a lot of partytimes here in this bowl right now.  And what about those darkish-yellowy Cornuts-looking things?

Hominy.  And topic #2 here at TTOSBF.

Maize.  Dried.  Soaked in lye (not the stuff in soap). Washed.  Canned.

And later...put into my pozole and my belly.

All the soaking softens the corn, which gives it a pretty unique texture, sort of chewy, sort of not.

When it's dried, hominy can be ground down for grits  Even finer yet, it becomes masa, used in authentic tortillas and tamales.

A lot of good things happening here today.  English language and food.  These are two of my favorites things (garnishes come in third place here).

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Girl Friends Are Great!

About a year and a half-ish ago, I stumbled into a parent organization called Choir Boosters.  Just about every learning institution in America has one (or several).  If there's a sport or activity, there are parents who want to be involved because their kid's in it.

My daughter, who was a freshman at the time, joined her high school's choir.  Actually, she was asked to join the elite Chamber Choir, and for the first time in my parenting history, I had a child in an organization with a booster club I wanted to join.  My oldest son, who is two years older, participates in minimal activities, and not any with booster clubs, so no chances there.  Until now...

A very pleasant side benefit of doing this "stuff for my kids" is that I've grown close with a few of the other women, so much so that when our big fundraiser was done in December, we wanted to keep getting together.

Thus, the Mad Moms (our big fundraiser is called a Madrigal Dinner..."Mad" for short) were born.  The inaugural meeting was this last Friday at my house, and I took the main dish, while the other ladies brought salad, dessert, and appetizers.  The best thing, for me, is that all three ladies are pretty open to foods, no picky-pickys or anything.  And I've had my eyeball on an Ina Garten Moroccan tagine for some time (see it here).  I didn't have lamb, but I did have beef, so I used that.  The recipe calls for lime wedges, which was a little odd to me, but I did the future, I'd leave out.  They bring no discernible pizzazz to the dish as far as I can tell.

Always brown the meat before stewing/slow-cooking it. Always.  Caramelization is goooooooood.  Then, into my Dutch oven with some sweet potatoes, potatoes, tomatoes, seasonings, etc...three or so hours later at 300 degrees, I had meat falling off the bone and vegetables that held their color but still melted in the mouth.  Tagine is a dish found in many Mediterranean and North African countries, and has as many varieties as there are countries in the region.  The primary spices in this one was cardamom, cinnamon, and turmeric, so while it is spicy, it is a warm spicy as opposed to a spicy spicy. 

Just after I'd browned the meat ribs and chunks.  There was quite a bit of fat in the meat, but I left most of it, and it became all melty and rich with the process.  The potato-tomato mixture is underneath and the meat is all nestled in cozily.

Three or so hours later.  A delicious savory stew that I served over farro (would have liked Israeli couscous, but alas, my small town grocery doesn't carry it).  Still, warming and amazing!  Thank you, Ina!

Go Mad Moms!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Respect The February!

In my wise and well-researched opinion, February is the month with the most haters.

Because: 1. Valentine's Day.  There's a lot of pressure on men and women alike.  What if you really hate the color red?  Or are allergic to chocolate?  Or just don't enjoy the contrivedness of fresh flowers? Or you treat your man/woman special EVERY day of the year? February is the month those people just wish would go to a galaxy far, far away.  And, 2. Weather.  Here in the temperate Midwest US where I live, February is the grayest, coldest, gloomiest month of the year.  January is great...we're all still riding that Christmas high.  We have something to live for - paying our Christmas credit card bills, usually.  But, with February, the harsh, cold, bitter truth slaps us many times across the face: Winter has just truly began. Your suffering has just began.  It is the month of dirty, slushy roads, bitter subtundra-like winds, and SAND-BUT-NOT-BEACH EVERYWHERE!  Finally, 3: Post-Holiday Letdown.  Ever since Halloween of last year, we've been on this wave of holiday hedonism.  Food, drink, family, and good times become the normal as we all slide along rivers of fudge, cranberry sauce, and wine through Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year's.  And then February is like, Hey, Fatty, are you going to do something significant with your life or what? Hence, we diet, we exercise, we lament our bad choices from the past two months.

We curse, shake our fist, and totally disrespect the month of February.  But not me, not anymore!  Because it doesn't deserve it!

'Cause why?  Because I've just realized that three people I love very much were born in February...within two weeks of each other!  Plus also, there's about four more people close to me who are Aquarians as well.  I, for one, am very lucky to be related to some phenomenally far-sighted people who sometime in April said to their significant other...hey, know what would be fun?  Let's make a February baby!  It'll give us something to look forward to during that crummy month.

And that's what happened yesterday! (Erm...the looking-forward to something...not the baby-making bit, that is.  I'm afraid that ship has sailed.)  We gathered, we ate, we celebrated life. Nothing says We Love You, February more than: Fried Dill Pickles, Pork Roast & Sauerkraut, Roasted Potatoes, and Apple and Chocolate Pies.

All of which I have NO pictures of.  Instead, I have this.  Family.

Friday, February 3, 2017

My 46th Attempt. #notreally

I keep asking for forgiveness from my readers every time I take an extended break from TTOWBF, and I'm not sure why.  Like reading my daily sound-off about food was the only thing you all lived for and cared about in this universe.  Very self-centered of me.

Sounds like the only person I need to forgive is myself.

Very well.

Shortly before the holidays, my sister-in-law bought me this book.  I'd heard of it before, but never beyond a passing interest.  Then, I start reading, and suddenly, I am reading recipes and instructions out loud (not in front of my children, natch).  Yes, the schtick is profanity, and there is plenty of it in this book.

But, the recipes are actually really really decent!  And clever and easy.

And vegan.

Right?!  Not a cookbook genre I normally pick up, and I don't know if my sister-in-law knew it as well.  So, yes, there's a few unusual ingredients (nutritional yeast, tempeh, seitan), but the beauty of it is...if you need the meat, use the meat.  Nobody is judging you, much less cookbook writers who use the f-word a lot.

So. I'm going to share with you the results of one of those recipes, mostly because I've wanted to try it for some time now.  Horchata.  If you've ever wondered how rice milk, cashew milk, etc., is made - horchata.

And I'll be damned if it isn't just kind of a fun word to say.  Horchata. Hoooorchaaaaaata. Its origins are not American (like most foods in America)...and the rice variety is most popular in Mexico and other Latin American countries.  Essentially...

Brown rice, almonds (although I reckon you could use whatever kind of nut you like...I had almonds in my freezer), and a cinnamon stick are soaked in water overnight.  After it's all blended up in some kind of high-powered Cuisinart, it's strained through a cheesecloth.  I did not have any around my house, so I used the finest mesh strainer I had (and gurrrrrl, it was sooooo fine!).

At which point, I get something that looks the ivory, creamy goodness that you see in the second photo below.  Except, some of the grainier bits of the rice got through, and it wasn't as creamy as the horchata you might buy at your local Mexican grocery store.  Meh, details...

This is a two-for-one recipe, folks.  In one glass, I get the liquid called horchata.  In another glass, I get the cinnamon-y strained-off horchata paste.  The liquid horchata is straight up drinkable right then and there.  I will add a special note here: the liquid is super in your coffee or with rum.  Good to know.  The junior varsity horchata leftover is great in your rice pudding, panna cotta, over your oatmeal.  You're only limited by your imagination and how much time you spend reading political news on the Internets.

The mythbusting element of this recipe appeals to me in the sense that I've seen horchata in the store, I've had it in taco restaurants, and I love knowing there's no complicated mystique behind it.  Horchata, like most other food things that are good and worth dying for, calls for whole, simple ingredients and simple preparation methods.

And that is something we could all use a little more of around here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Yummus Hummus

Remember a few days ago when I confessed that I'd eaten a whole sleeve of whole-wheat Ritz crackers?  Not my finest fifteen minutes (yeah, that quick).  I realize now that it was induced by hormones.  That monthly inundation of hormones.  You know.

I feel as if I've redeemed myself, though, today. 

Two days ago, this Tupperware relish tray thingy was full of cucumbers, carrots, cherry tomatoes, and green bell peppers.  This morning, the carrots, tomatoes, and bell peppers were the only things left.

And as of three minutes ago, there is nothing left.  Except a smudge and swipe of dip there at the bottom of the container.

I feel much much better after this chowfest.

Hummus is one of my favorite things (cue Julie Andrews music).  It's hard for me to remember that hummus was not as ubiquitous as it is now.  I'd never heard of it until I was probably in my 20s or even 30s...or at least, it wasn't mainstream around here where I live.

And now, my kids have grown up eating a lot of it, not to mention knowing what's in it and how to make it.  That makes me pretty happy.

But you know me.  I can never let well enough alone.  Case in point, my youngest son says to me a few days ago, "You know, Mom, you never make us anything straight up.  Like, we never just have hamburgers, you do something like...mushroom and Swiss or something..."

Not sure if he meant it as a compliment or not...but I will take his words as a symbol of his admiration.  Also, mushroom and Swiss?  That doesn't sound that crazy at all to me...nothing like the ground lamb, beef, and bacon burgers I'd done a couple of weeks ago.

It's my hope that my kids look back and realize all these things I do in the kitchen is, in fact, preparation for the awesome tastes, foods, and dishes that wait for them out in the real world.

Anyway, back to hummus.  Super easy to make and perfect.  Chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, salt, olive oil.  Blend to deliciousness.  Hummus Redux: one cooked sweet potato, chickpeas, lemon juice, salt, olive oil.  Blend to deliciousness.

Yep.  Sweet potato hummus.  Excellent with chips, pita bread, vegetables.  BUT NOT CRACKERS, folks...we don't need that nonsense around here.