Monday, May 27, 2013

Three Ways to Get Ready for Summer!

In the words of Alice Cooper....school's out for summer.

For my kids, that is.  Not for me.  I start a new term tomorrow, and most of my classes will be bakery-oriented.  I hope to learn a lot, but I expect to be outstripped by my more creative classmates.  I'm not one for elaborate cake decorating, mind.

And with relatively young children in the house, the beginning of summer always involves a look-over of the kids' summer wardrobes...and of especial interest this year, our 12-year-old daughter's.

This morning, I discarded three pairs of Peanut's shorts, because when she put them on and let her arms hang at the sides, her fingertips went past the hem.  Surprisingly, she didn't raise much fuss...probably because I let her keep two other pairs for "around the house" and "bedtime".  That puts me at +5 ranks in Parenting, useful for the next time I need to do a Teenage Diplomacy check(to all those non-D&Ders who don't get the reference, no apologies).

And now, onto food.

I spent much of my summer break playing with recipes for work.  While I'm still looking to perfect my beef skewer marinade and my spinach steak roulade, I'll share with you two "little things" that I am particularly proud of this week.

The winery is ordering Stonewall Kitchen's Spicy Parmesan Corn Sprinkle (or some other similar name), but it hasn't come yet.  After looking at the ingredient list online (cheese culture or Maltodextrin, anyone?), I thought I'd try putting my own Sweet Corn Seasoning together.

2 Tbsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. onion powder
2 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Two dashes of cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.  Sprinkle liberally on grilled or steamed corn.
My family and myself REALLY enjoyed this addition to our buttered corn on the cob.  Not a reliable sample group by any means, I know, but a place to start.  My oldest son thought it "covered" the corn taste a little bit, but to me, that means sprinkle less.  I will definitely be trying it again, with corn, or on other vegetables.

This next recipe is a dry rub that I adapted from one at macheesmo.com.


Smoky Spice Rub for Beef
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
1 Tbsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1/2 Tbsp. salt
1/2 Tbsp. black pepper

Mix all spices together and store in air-tight, waterproof plastic container or Ziploc bag.  Sprinkle liberally and rub into beef before cooking.  Makes a scant 1/4 cup.

It's not too grand, I know, but the fact is, I did the tweaking and testing and tweaking and trying.  Finally putting some o'dat intuition to work.  I really liked the smoke of the paprika, but I would definitely recommend rubbing it into the meat before cooking it...then it would be more noticeable.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I Know, I Know!

I left you all hanging, didn't I?  Ranted and raved about some great culinary book I've started, made promises to talk about it, and then I didn't.

My apologies.  I had every intention of making remarks, but well, this book got in the way...

Image courtesy of St. John's Source
I'm at the library with the two younger Nelsons, and I have no intention of getting anything, except what my kids decide to check out.

But, I pass by the New Non-Fiction! section, and I am drawn to this book.  And yeah, I hardly every turn down the pull when it comes to a certain book.

So, now you know where I've been and what I've been up to.  Let's talk a little bit about the book I promised I would.

As a reminder, the book I've started is titled Ruhlman's Twenty: 20 Techniques, 100 Recipes, A Cook's Manifesto.  I don't really know much about Michael Ruhlman, but that he's collaborated with chefs like Thomas Keller, done an extensive amount of food writing, and made appearances on some Food Network shows (which puts me off at first, until I realized an appearance is way different from being in every single episode because it's your show).

The first chapter of this book is called "Think", and I think it's a pretty profound place to start.  With all the preprocessed, prepackaged, and precooked foods in our supermarkets, consumers don't think much about food.  Recipes and cookbooks produce a similar side effect.  Now, don't get me wrong, I love my cookbooks and I do follow recipes, but think about it, we're just following directions.  We're not doing much thinking at all, unless we stray from the recipe (which a good many of us do).  We don't stop much to consider reactions or processes of food and why the recipe says to do it a certain way.

Ruhlman implores us to begin doing just that.  He starts with an idea that is VERY familiar to me and my classmates - Mise en Place or Keeping Everything In Its Place.  It's what allows restaurants and home cooks alike to move effortlessly and efficient around their workspaces, and ultimately, put out a good product.

But he takes it one step further.  He says it's not only important to get yourself ready mentally for the culinary task at hand by thinking about what should be there, he says it's equally important to think what shouldn't be there.  Clutter, your car keys, garbage, etc.  If your workspace is a mess, so is your brain - and you're basically screwed then from the get-go.

This chapter was short, and really did not contain any new information...but it reinforced the importance for me of organizing, planning, and envisioning the entire process from start to finish.

One does not just simply walk into a kitchen and whip up good product.  Indeed.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Been A Long Time Since I Had "That" Feeling...

the feeling that I am reading a book SO all-absorbing that I am compelled to come right here and blog about it.

And yet, here I am.

I purchased Michael Ruhlman's Ruhlman's Twenty (and rest of title) about three weeks, and after a quick flip-through, I made his Mac and Cheese with Soubise (discussed here at Be Food on May 1) and Braised Fennel (OMG).

But tonight, I forced myself to sit down and actually begin reading this book instead of referencing it.  The table of contents contains chapters titled 'Salt', 'Water', 'Vinaigrette', 'Poach' and 'Acid' (among others).  Because I'm reading it, I began with Chapter One - 'Think'.

I cannot think of the last book I've read where a chapter has so ardently either A.) reiterated knowledge I already deem important or B.) introduced other key knowledge in an impactfully clear way.

I am actually dying to tell you all about it, but alas, my brain is becoming fogged with the advent of Sleep.  Tomorrow, then.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

So Many Clever Titles...So Little Time!

I try not to play favorites.  I guess it comes from years and years of public education teaching and trying to keep things fair.

And that's why today's post has the title it does.  Because honestly, how could I choose from these potential headings?

Rubik's Cube Steaks

Fingerling-a-Ding-Dong Potatoes

Looking Dressed to Grill


You see my dilemma.

Anyway.  It's a lovely sunny Sunday here in the Midwest.  I don't have school tomorrow, but the kids do.  Severe storms are on their way.  My environs are lovingly arrang'd.  There's nothing left for me to do today except cook dinner.  And my heating method of choice - The Grill, because remember, fire and meat no longer daunt me.

Fingerling potatoes here, soon to be halved, oiled, seasoned, and roasted on a Pampered Chef Veg Tray over the open flame for 25 minutes.  Purple potatoes?  PURPLE potatoes!


Next up.  Ten cube steaks (minute steaks, blade steaks, etc.), prepared two different ways.  The first five spent half the day in a red wine-olive oil-garlic-lime juice marinade before being thrown onto the grill (after I'd taken the potatoes off and removed them to a warm oven to hold).  The second five were done in the manner of American housewives, circa 1982 = dredged in a seasoned (salt, pepper, thyme) flour and pan-fried.

The tell-tale golden brownish crust from the pan-fry.
The marinated meat was juicy and tasty, but were very fragile when turning on the grill.   Something to keep in mind if that bothers you...steaks that fall apart when manhandled improperly.  Then again, the same could be said for the human race, yes?

The tell-tale juicy look and grill marks from the grill.
From a personal standpoint, I preferred the grilled version.  I thought the marinade flavors came through better (subtle, though), although it was hard to miss the thyme in the pan-fried version.  Grilling the steaks is a little healthier as well...but of course, you all knew that!

Happy Grilling and Hail, Summer!

My Patriotic Breakfast!

Good, happy Sunday morning!

It has been the most beautifully cool weather as of late for sleeping.  Windows open, gentle breezes, the sounds of rustling trees to lull one to sleep, and upon awakening, the happy twittering of birds in their nests.

And if I were Bob Ross, I would now paint happy little trees and such.

But I'm not...so I will have to settle for having a lovely, quiet breakfast on my screened-in porch.  Which actually looks like a disaster, with my kids' soccer detritus, random gardening equipment, portable fire pit, winter leftovers, and a damned ficus tree that wants to shed strewn about the entire porch...one can hardly relax.

But I'm trying.  And what I'm pondering on this beautiful Sunday morning is my utter befuddlement in attempting to pick out a breakfast cereal whilst grocery shopping last night.  I have a list of "to-go cereals": Cheerios, Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes - cereals that I know aren't totally *the best* for me, but they're affordable and they go great with bananas, which is my fruit topping of choice.  However, I was in the mood for something a little different this week, and I began to scour the top shelf, because, after all, we all know the healthy, "old people" cereal are up there (to all old people, please don't be offended, I'm referring to a stupid stereotype).  I'm looking at boxes of granola, and I'll be damned if one of the top three ingredients isn't "brown sugar" or some healthy-sounding variant thereof.  And then, cereals that sound healthy, with splashy phrases like "heart-healthy", "whole-grain", etc. are all over the top shelf, and as I look at the ingredient list, the words of Michael Pollan come back to haunt me (if there's more than five ingredients or if there are ingredients you can't pronounce - it's bad).

So I'm despairing a little, when I come across this...



I am strongly reminded of the "King Vitamin" cereal I remember seeing on the shelves in my youth...the one with the cheesy-looking older guy on the front?  But, I'm older now and more open-minded, so I pick it up and look at the Nutrition Information - Whole Wheat Kernels, Whole Flaxseed, Salt, and Barley Malt.

Of COURSE I put it into my cart!  It took quite a bit of willpower not to rip into it when I got home from the store, but I didn't.

And that's where I'm at this morning...on my quiet, disorderly porch, enjoying my coffee and Uncle Sam cereal with bananas.  The taste reminds me of Bran Flakes, but denser, nuttier, and more compact, and now and then I get a little flaxseed between my teeth, and that makes me happy.  Serving size is 3/4th of a cup, which looks really meager in my bowl until I pile on the slices of bananas.

Uncle Sam Cereal is a product of Attune Foods, which is a company that focuses on promoting digestive health.  (And honestly, isn't that something we could all use a little more of?)  Attune Foods was recently acquired by Post Cereals, and that makes me a little nervous (another example of big corporation taking over little companies), but judging by the reading I've done, Attune Foods is still pretty self-sufficient and does its own thing.

And that's good, because I'm Uncle Sam Cereal's newest fan.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Cf. April 1, 2011 - REDUX!

Okay, here's the original post that I will be referencing. 

Back in Spring 2011, I'd begun keeping an inventory of my freezer, pantry, and refrigerator contents.  My intention was to update that inventory (done on Excel) every week, so that I'd know what was in my fridge...and thus, prevent overbuying of foodstuffs.

However, you know how things go, one week became two...two became a month.  I updated the spreadsheet about once a month, until about nine months ago, when I took up the call again to regulate the frequency (look at me, Ma, sounding all scientific!)  With a renewed interest in being frugal and resourceful, and having some free time to consider matters such as these, I realize it is indeed time for another Refrigerator Purge.  After all, as of right now, there's roughly 50+ pounds of beef, pork, and chicken in my freezer that needs to get used...along with 30-some cups of cheddar and mozzarella cheese (a great deal at your local Costco).

My goal in the next weeks is to "eat down the fridge", in which I devise family menu plans based on what's in my fridge.  As I make my weekly trips to the supermarket, I buy only what is absolutely crucial (i.e. perishable) to the family's eating patterns.

So.  Week One looks like this:

Tuna Noodle Casserole and Sweet Potatoes (gone: two cans of tuna, a can of Cream Mush soup, and a half-bag of egg noodles.)

Beef Cube Steaks, Fingerling Potatoes, and Salad (gone: steaks and potatoes)

Hamburger Helper (I feel dirty even admitting that we're having this, but it was my daughter's idea of bargain purchase.  She had a coupon and my husband had no willpower.  Of course, I wasn't there!!  Anyway, gone: the box of Processed Satan and the last pound of ground beef)

Chicken Enchiladas and Arizona Baked Corn (gone: a whole chicken bought on sale several months ago, tortillas, jarred jalapeños, guacamole, frozen corn, and one of the many 2-cup servings bags of mozzarella cheese)

Dijon Chicken (gone: about half the breasts out of a bag of individually sealed and frozen breasts from Costco)

This isn't a complicated menu, nor is it particularly refined.  It is my hope that in 40 years' time, I can do this same exercise...except I will have years of wisdom and knowledge along with my desire.  Imagine the exquisite, fine dining dishes that will be before you.

If you're still subscribed to this blog, that is.  If there is still a Blogger.com.  If there's still the Internet.  If we're all not dead by that time, for crying out loud!

Hopefully, by that time (at which I'll be a nubile, spry seventy-eight years young), I'll have an idea what to do with such things like:

Oyster sauce and clam juice
or
Two packages of beef liver
or
Two packages of rice paper
or
Two pounds of flax seed

Because it's likely those items will still be in my fridge 40 years from now.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Producers and Consumers

I try to refrain from hopping aboard the technology bandwagon most of the time, because I don't want to try to keep up with the Joneses.  I truly believe most good things can be done with our own hands and minds...rather than the gadgets, gizmos, and whatnots we put into our hands and in front of our eyes.

So, when I take a moment here to wax adulatory about my Kindle...you should know the you-know-what is about to get real.

I have not always loved my Kindle.  In fact, when I received it as a Christmas gift a few years ago, I regarded it quite tepidly.  I love books.  I love touching them, smelling them, pawing them, collecting them, organizing them...and a Kindle sort deprived me of that pleasure.  But, even I couldn't ignore the incredible amount of space the books took up, and the clutter they could trigger.  I mean, I was just running out of room to store them all, and many of them remained in the boxes they'd been packed in a few years before.

And so, I began my Kindle ownership in a state of half-heartedness.  And I might have continued on so until I received from a friend the entire electronic set of Harry Potter books.  And then I found Project Gutenberg's veritable collection of e-books...and I finally had all of Shakespeare's plays - IN ONE PLACE. 

And when I discovered I could rearrange, reorganize and restructure my Kindle title categories...that's it.  I was gone.

The latest great thing is Kindle's Lending Library, at which I can "check out" e-books (one per month).  Much like an electronic library.

But the thing I really love about my Kindle is the ability to download free samples of books.  Say I'm browsing non-fiction books about food (of which there are thousands), and I'm overwhelmed by the amount of choices, because after all, it's so easy to get published these days - and I want legitimately good non-fiction that will present new information and get me to think and maybe even change my lifestyle.  Instead of shelling out the money to download a new book and hoping I made a wise investment, I can download a free sample of the book I'm considering buying.  Enough of the book is now available to me to determine whether I want to buy it or not.

With food writer Michael Pollan, honestly, I know I'll probably buy whatever he writes.  But, I still downloaded a free sample of his latest book "Cooked" anyway.  And naturally, as I expected, I was provoked (in a thoughtful, introspective way, not a non-violent way) at least three times - JUST in those few pages accessible to me.

1.  The Cooking Paradox - that Americans spend less time in the kitchen, preparing their own meals...but they spend MORE time watching cooking shows or live demos in which someone else is cooking food.

2.  The industrialization of the world and particularly our country, has led to a dangerous kind of specialization.  We've all become pushed into these "little jobs" (aka careers), so we pay for other tasks to be done for us (taxes, carwashes, oil changes, and yes...cooking our meals).  This specialization and subsequent parceling out of skills to others actually takes away our knowledge and power.  We begin to depend on others, because we've stopped doing things for ourselves.

3.  We have, over time, morphed more into a nation/world of consumers, and less of a world of producers.  We consume pre-made or quickly made foods or we sit in front of a screen and consume YouTube videos, Facebook statuses, etc.  We fritter away time like it's pennies.  But what we do produce?  What do we make? What do we actually give back to people?  In conjunction with how much we take (from humans or machines or a combination of both)?

Yeah, pretty provocative stuff.  But that's Michael Pollan for you.  And it's a double-edged sword - even he admits that.  We consume this technology, and it allows us to do great things (for me: maintain this blog, read Pollan's book now, etc.).

However, the technology consumes us too, and is taking away our ability/desire to be producers.  So, do me a favor...try to reverse this trend, if even for just one day.  See if you can consume/take/spend less and produce/make/create more.

Right on.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Peanut Butter Is The Foundation of Most Governments

If peanut butter were a U.S. President, it would be John Adams.

John Adams' unyielding, unwavering nature and work ethic made him at times an unpopular president and politician.  I would say the same is true for peanut butter...its obstinate denseness finds many of the same critics.  John Adams did a great deal of legwork in writing the Constitution, but we often overlook him in lieu of the giants Washington and Jefferson.  Peanut butter is often the neglected foodstuff, passed over for the sweet jams, Nutella, and "healthier" nut butters.

Argument: John Adams should have been carved into Mount Rushmore.  So should peanut butter.  I think I've offered a pretty sturdy argument for this hypothesis, and I shall be soon writing my Congressman.

Peanut butter is a pretty ubiquitous product here in the U.S.  Wikipedia refers to it as a "food paste", and perhaps that is why so many of us 30-somethings and beyond ate paste in school...we were looking for some amazing peanut experience.  Alas...

Anyway.

My daughter spied this in the $1 clearance cart at our local grocery store.  Of COURSE we needed to jump all over it.  After all, it was the last jar...


Powdered peanut butter.  I know, right?  Seems to go against everything we were taught was right in this world.  But times have changed...

According to the label on the back, the peanuts are slow-roasted and pressed to remove 85% of the fat and oil...as opposed the grinding and processing that happens in a regular jar of peanut butter.  Adding water to the powder reconstitutes the paste, which then can be enjoyed on bread, etc.  Seems easy.  Weird, but easy.


As it turns out, the taste is not that far off...although I did miss the creaminess of processed PB.  There's a little something right there at the end, tastewise, but I was the only end who noticed it.  Otherwise, my youngest son, who we'll refer to as 'Bean' liked it, as did the oldest, who we'll call 'Monkey Boy'. 

The numbers are compelling comparing the powder PB to a jar of regular Skippy...

PB2 - one serving = 2 Tbsp                  Skippy - one serving = 2 Tbsp
Calories: 45                                            Calories: 190
Total Fat: 1.5g  (0g Sat Fat)                  Total Fat: 16g (3g Sat Fat)
Sugars: 1g                                              Sugars: 1g

Of course, price is a significant factor here.  We bought the PB2 for $1.  Clearance, mind you.  Brent saw it on the shelves some time ago for at least three to four times that.  Peanut butter in general is expensive...and the powder form is no exception.  Perhaps, though, it doesn't matter so much when the ingredient list is considered:

PB2: Roasted peanuts, sugar, and salt.
Skippy: Roasted peanuts, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils, salt

Funny, isn't it?  Peanuts are naturally oily...so why add more oil, Unilever?  To prevent separation of the oil from the solid in the final product.  Oh.  It's a cosmetic addition.  Nothing to do with flavor.

Maybe I would rather go with the funky powdered stuff.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Mac and Cheese...and Soubise!

You know, dear readers, that I am always a sucker for the clever, subtle rhyme...but the title of today's blog post might just bring me to tears.

A comfort food near and dear to many of us Americans

+

A fancy French term for a white béchamel with onion infusions

=

Today's entry title

The inspiration today comes from Michael Ruhlman's Ruhlman's Twenty: 20 Techniques, 100 Recipes, A Cook's Manifesto.  This book was added to my collection last weekend, and as I was flipping through it, the recipe for "Mac and Cheese with Soubise" jumped out at me.  In my Stocks, Soups, and Sauces class this term, I'd just been taking notes on Béchamel - one of the mother sauces, basically flour, butter, and added milk.  A Soubise is an offshoot of a Béchamel, with caramelized, pureéd onion.  

Talk about a serendipitous dovetailing of school learning and real life.  I knew straight away that I'd need to make this dish.  And soon.

But let's get one thing straight.  If you've made mac and cheese from a box most of your life and you love that Velveeta cheesiness, this dish is going to be tough.  There is a significant amount of intuitive sautéing, stirring, chopping, pureéing, etc.  In the end, though, the product is pretty amazing, and tastes like no mac and cheese you've ever had before...

and in this age of highly processed, highly artificial foods...that's a good thing!

Let me try to simplify this as much as I can:

1. Chop a small onion, saute in butter until light brown. Set aside.

2. Mix in equal amounts of butter and flour in hot pan.  Add milk to roux, and whisk until consistency is where you want it.

3. Add onions into the béchamel.  You have now just made a Soubise!  Pureé for smoothness.  Stir in shredded cheese of choice.  I used Gruyere. Add salt and pepper to taste.  (I added some other good stuff, but you don't have to.)

4. Boil elbow macaroni until al dente.  Combine with soubise, and pour all into a casserole dish.

5. Top with melted butter and bread crumbs mixture.  Bake at 425 for 30 minutes, remove foil and go another 15 minutes to brown top.



You'll notice I didn't include measurements.  That's what I mean by intuitive.  Our Culinary Arts instructor has given us a hard time about adhering so faithfully to recipes...we put so much stock in them that we relinquish some of our creativity and instinct.  

So, season it until it tastes good and cook it until it's done!


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Well, I'll Never Get That Month Back!

Had it not been for a faithful reader in Ohio, wondering where I was, I would not have realized that nearly a month had passed since my last post.

I sure hope that this month-disappearing-in-the-blink-of-an-eye thing is a passing fad, and that time begins to slow down soon.  I have no coping mechanism available at this time if it doesn't.

There's several things I suppose I could talk about here at Be Food.  I've just come home from working an event (part of a grade for a class...a.k.a Free Labor), and I've been treated to an evening of sloshy, sloppy, slothy, self-indulgents who want little more than their prime rib buffet and free Barefoot wine.

But...I'm already a little bitter about that, so it's best for all parties involved if I don't go there right now.  I suppose I could talk about how my third term ends later on this month, and how excited I am to move into the baking side of Culinary Arts.  I also suppose I could go into detail about my upcoming, culinary field trip to Spain this summer.  I dareday I could discuss with you my new job at the Corporate Chef at Tassel Ridge Winery.  Or, we could talk more Michael Pollan's new book, "Cooked", now available for sale (and that I'm dying to read).

Those are all great topics...for another time.  Let's keep it simple, fun, and self-sufficient.


This is the Kolder Salad Dressing Bottle (found here).  I've dabbled in salad dressing-making before, simply because I want my salad dressing to have just a couple more ingredients than my salad...and buying Kraft (etc.) usually means I'm looking at a product with twenty or more ingredients.

This whole going back to school thing has hindered my break from Corporate Food Products, and when I saw this bottle a couple of weeks ago, and it being my birthday and all, I thought there was no better time than the present. to reacquaint myself with the supreme pleasure of making my own salad dressing, marinade, etc.

The first one I tried was the Italian, and I followed the recipe printed here on the bottle.  However, a little tweaking will be in order (needs more salt, maybe?).  Then, I made the Asian dressing and included it on a cabbage salad I made for some winery guests, and I liked the taste much better than the typical cider vinegar-soy sauce concoction the recipe originally called for.  Now, I've got a balsamic vinaigrette sitting in the refrigerator, waiting for a green salad to pop up on the menu!

So far, I like my little gadget.  It's clever, well-made, and therapeutic (the shaking, I mean).  And, just between you and me, it's my own personal little 'up yours' to the SuperFoodCompanies.