Monday, March 31, 2014

Attempting to Hang With Auguste and Julia

I'm all over these days on this blog, yeah?  No real pattern or theme, other than "eclectic".  Or maybe "eccentric"?  I do what I feel doing, then I write about it.  You'll all let me know if it's not working for you, okay?

This week, I feel like working with red meat.  And I feel like working with it in a sort of cobbled French style.  And it's fitting, because as of today's statistical reading, there are 11 French readers.  Or 11 French robots.  Or 11 French search engines.  Or 11 American spam sites posing as French readers.  But, let us remain un optimiste, eh?

Today's practice was a Beef Bourguignon.  Or, Beef Burgundy.  This dish originated in the Burgundy region in France, and, way back in the day, was a dish prepared by peasants who couldn't always get the best, tenderest cuts of meat (the damned aristocracy...off with their heads!).  And those peasants knew then what we know now...lean and tough cuts of beef are perfect for stewing in liquid for long periods of time.  And since water did not meet the stringent sanitary standards that it does not, the braising liquid of choice?  Wine.  Red wine.

I can totally get behind that.

So, we have this rustic, but resourceful, peasant dish.  And along comes this esteemed French chef named Auguste Escoffier.  And he takes it, tweaks it a little, and publishes the recipe for it.  And now...non-Burgundy residents can make it!  Many decades later, an American named Julia Child takes Auguste's recipe and updates it...all of a sudden, everyone else (namely, Americans) can make it!

And then, in 2014...Yours Truly takes Beef Bourguignon and tries to hybridize it.  She ends up fumbling it a bit.   But, my mistakes are your treasure, so...read on.

Beef Bourguignon is a multi-layered dish.  It's not a fixitandforgetit dish.  I started off with bacon, and once the fat was rendered, I browned my three pounds of stew meat in it.  Then, I used some of the red wine to deglaze the pan (making yummy fond) before throwing in my onions for a quick sauté.  At this point, I added back in the rest of the red wine, three cups of beef broth. 

At this point, I wish I'd done a cornstarch slurry for some thickening, but I didn't.  So, lesson learned for next time.

I added back in the beef and bacon, along with salt, pepper, thyme, and two bay leaves.  Then, I poured it all into my crockpot and put it into my fridge.  This morning, I pulled the pot out, put it in its cozy little warming unit, set the timer for nine hours, and then, I walked away.  Until early afternoon when I softened up one pound of mushrooms and added it to the slow simmering mixture. 

Just before service, because I had so much broth, I removed some and used it for cooking the egg noodles.  And that is what I served the Bourguignon over, along with some minced parsley.


I won't lie, it's a bit of work.  Lots of steps.  I mean, yeah, I suppose I could have thrown everything into a crockpot...but then it would be a beef stew, wouldn't it?  Which...really...is what Beef Bourguignon is.  But "Beef Stew" doesn't sound as elegantly French, now does it?  And if you want to play in the sandbox with Auguste and Julia, you gotta speak the language.  

N'est-ce pas?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Willing To Do The Stupid Things...So You Don't Have To

We're going to keep this story short today.


This is my latest purchase.  I've chronicled it all here: I've juiced.  I've blended.  I've smoothied.  Now, I want to extract.  I want the most out of my fruits, my greens, my extras...and this is just the appliance to do it.

Okay.  Honestly.  I've been eyeballing one of these for some time now.  My mom and dad recently expressed desire in getting one for smoothie purposes...and well, today was the day.


And really, it all began with the idea of creating good, healthy, nutritious drinks that would easily give us our helping of fruits and vegetables in one day.   As you see above, there's spinach in the bottom, tomatoes, pickles, celery, and cucumbers.  For this Nutribullet's maiden voyage, we were attempting a homemade V8 juice.
 


From there, things went downhill (well, not really).  Someone found this in her liquor cabinet...along with Worcestershire sauce, celery salt, and Tabasco.  And before my mom and I knew it, we had a healthy Bloody Mary in the Nutribullet (and subsequently, in our glasses).


I don't know how it happened (okay, yes, I kind of do).  But the real question to be asked and answered here is: What did you learn, Heather?

1. Less pickles.  It takes over the drink.  
2. No spinach.  Bloody Marys are supposed to be red.
3. More water.  The instructions say Fill To The Max Line, and By Golly, They Aren't Kidding Around.

I know that curiosity supposedly kills the cat, but I did this for you, dear readers.  So that you don't have to.  But I wouldn't be surprised if you kinda want to.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Last Man Standing

Although it's a one-step-forward, two-steps-back process around these parts, Spring is nearly here.

Thank the Maker.  Soon, the dead things on this Earth will be gone and replaced by beautiful, living things.

And it is this profound thought that makes me think of my refrigerator.

The latest round of Refrigerator Purge turned up an interesting little jar of Fig Spread.  The last man standing from the Christmas Food Basket gift from my parents.  The cheese, the meats, the spiced pecans...long since gone.  The Fig Jam was all that remained.

Until today.  After consulting my Flavor Bible, I decided to do a Fig Jam and Manchego Grilled Cheese Sandwich.

The starting line-up here is quite simple.  The long-neglected fig spread, cheese, bread, and butter.

I happen to own one of those really crummy cheap-wire cheese slicer...so naturally, my Manchego was coming off in thin, uneven, janky little pieces...which actually turned out best for sandwich making.  I'd recommend thinner pieces as opposed to a thick piece for this particular project.



Butter one side of a piece of bread, spread a layer of jam on the other side.  Place bread on a hot griddle, skillet, etc....

Do I really need to spell out how to make a grilled cheese sandwich?

Brown on both sides (two minutes each for my 400 degree griddle). 

Cut in half, admire oozy white cheese, shove the entire thing in your mouth.
Done and done.

Repeat as necessary until Fig Spread is gone.

I think the reason the Fig Spread lasted so long in the fridge is because it's shot through with, like, 50 kinds of preservative sugar.  It's very sweet and cloying, and that's why the salty, cheesy Manchego is the perfect foil.

Kind of like your favorite melodrama.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

MyPlate...Not The Government's Version

I'd really like to be able to post today about some amazing food thing I've done or learned recently.

But alas, I won't be able to today.

In typical vaudeville-esque fashion, I am trying to keep the spinning plates aloft in the air.

Plate #1 - The Educational Plate: I finish the last of my two six-week classes TODAY.  I will be giving a presentation on the business I have developed.  This project has consumed quite a bit of time and energy, as the instructor wants specifics regarding what kind of equipment we need, food inventory, floor plan, employee job descriptions, and the like.  I also sat for a comprehensive Culinary Exam on Tuesday...which required a little studying and preparing for as well.

Plate #1.a (or #2) - The Internship Plate: After today, Plate #1 will no longer be part of the act, but it will be replaced by #1.a or #2...Getting Ready for Internship.  I leave in less than a month for the shores of Lake Huron.  I will be gone for six months.  Important questions include:  What books should I bring?  How many tubes of toothpaste?  Who's bringing the plasma-screen TV: me or the roomie?  How am I going to adjust to sharing a living space with someone that is not my husband?  These are the things I lose sleep over.

Plate #3 - The New Job Plate: My winery job ended in early March, and I started another restaurant job the week after that.  While I greatly value my time at the winery, I am learning about line cooking at the new place...which I'm sure I'll need in Michigan.  I'm also discovering that nobody cares if I'm a la-di-da Culinary Student...they just want to know if I can work and if I can work fast.  It's been humbling to say the least.

Plate #4 - The Parenting Plate: I have a very intelligent 14-year-old living in my house who, all of a sudden, has been beset by a bout of un-ambition and laziness, especially when it comes to grades.  In fact, he has recently been quoted as saying, "Work is stupid.  I want to have fun."  And while I'm sure he didn't mean it quite as strongly as that, and just chose his words very poorly, the sentiment behind the words is the disturbing thing.  We can't quite ascertain if this is really how he is feeling or if this is some teenage-angst-dilemma we are dealing with.  Teenagers are aliens, people.  I believe this is the why we have found no other life-forms out there in the universe...they're here, living amongst us in the forms of teenagers.

Plate #5 - The Self-Educated Plate: I am trying to read.  Read for fun, read for education, just READ!  I'm current at work on this piece of fictionalized biography (correct word for genre unknown at the time of typing) Under The Wide and Starry Sky...the narrative that tells the story of the romance between Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped, etc.) and American Fanny Osbourne.  But I'm also scouring this cookbook, Beef and Other Bovine Matters...and now, I just really want to try carpaccio sometime!

Plate #6 - The Philosophical Plate: Still trying to answer those big life questions: What am I supposed to be doing?  What's my passion?  Where do I want to go with this life?  What next?  These answers need to come to me before I come back home in October.

And that's it, readers.  No gems of kitchen wisdom or hilarity today.  Just real life attempting to smack me in my face.  Repeatedly.

But, like Max Ehrmann says, the universe is unfolding.  Things are happening.  It is good.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Enriching, Yet Sullying, Our Vocabularies (Warning: Explicit Language Used)

Most of the time, I'm all for enlarging vocabularies.  After teaching high school and college students, I'm usually for any kind of word enrichment that goes beyond "adorbs" and "totes magoats"...or, even worse, swear words.

No, you have not wandered into the Pristine Language Plane of the Internet.  I admit, I drop the f-word just as unabashedly as the next person...but the way young people use the f-word these days?  Indiscriminately?  So much that it loses meaning?

I really hate that.

The f-word is becoming so common, and so without meaning.

And especially when the English language has so many other suitable and eloquent replacements...it's just unforgivable.  It really is.

But...there are always exceptions.  Sometimes a common cuss word is exactly what's needed to describe a particular situation or person.

For example: fuckery, noun; total nonsense, or a wrong or unfair action; Synonyms include: bulls#!t, a crock, a scam, etc.

Your Author's Illustration Story:  For the first time in a loooong time, I'm scanning over the ads from our town's weekly circular.  The layout of the ad for the larger grocery chain goes something like this:


Page one, two and three: "Dollar Days" deals consisting of mostly lunchmeats, potato chips, frozen foods, "loaded" muffins, and other sundry processed goods.  You know, good, solid, healthy choices.  Redeeming deals include a dozen eggs and red bell peppers for $1.  The Hidden Trap Award goes to the 5.3 oz Chobani Greek Yogurt for $1 each...but only the flavored ones, which means more sugar and preservatives.

Page four:  Other store-wide deals...mostly meat.  Nothing terribly alarming here.

Page five: A recipe for "Sausage Tostada Grande"...Grande meaning "big", you know.  However, most of this page is devoted to a larger-than-life photo and ensuing advert for General Mills cereal (2/$6).  More processed goodness.

Page six: The sad page, given over to crackers, sugar, candy, bakery desserts, and a product advertised as "bacon marmalade spread".  There are cut-out coupons on the side of this page for: Velveeta, Kraft Singles, Velveeta Shells and Cheese, bacon, hotdogs, Planters peanuts, Capri Sun, Coke products, cream cheese, and Doritos...foodstuffs I don't stock at my house very often, unfortunately.

And then, finally...

Page seven:  Two-thirds of the page is for produce (finally, right?!). Yes, it's true that the produce section of the grocery store is significantly smaller than the processed food section, hence the smaller advert space.  That would explain why about only fifteen items in the produce section are spotlighted.  But funnily enough?  The bottom third of this page is devoted to sales going on in the Wine & Spirits department.  Huh.  I guess wine is produce (grapes).

Keep in mind that most American people recognize that a $1 is a relatively good deal.  A 24 oz. jar of spaghetti sauce for $1?  A 1-lb box of pasta for $1?  And then...three 7.5 oz. bags of Totino's Pizza Rolls for $4?  Three packages of Oscar Mayer hotdogs for $5?

Bargain!  Bargain!  Bargain!

But, $1.98 for pound of Brussels Sprouts?  $1.58 for a pound of Bartlett pears?  $3.99 for a 3-lb bag of kid-size Granny Smith apples?  Now, that's a little more nebulous.  People have no frame of reference on prices like that.  They don't know if it's good or bad...and in the end, if money's a deciding factor, they opt for what they know...$1.33 for a bag of Totino's Pizza Rolls.

The USDA says we're supposed to be eating more produce.  Rising health insurance rates insist that we make healthier diet changes.  But the reality hasn't caught up yet.  People still want their Bud Light Lime-A-Ritas, Banquet microwave dinners, and extra butter popcorn.  And THAT'S why the limited produce sales are relegated to the back page (or two-thirds of it) of a seven-page circular.

Total fuckery.  There's just really no other word for it.

Incidentally, do I sound really old and bitter and cynical today?  Heh.  You kids get off my lawn!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Stay Golden, Ponyboy

You ever have one of those days where you feel golden?  Like, everything you did was pretty awesome and productive?  (You know, the opposite of anything that happens in our nation's capital?)

That was yesterday for me.  The whole day just felt good, you know?  I mean, most days I have pockets of awesomeness, but they're not usually connected and consistent.

First.  Bone-in chicken breasts on sale at the local Fareway.  For me, that means: practice chicken fabrication skills and make stock.


Making my own stock is always one of the most satisfying tasks I am currently aware of.  After a day of simmering chicken carcass, mirepoix, and other sundry seasonings, I froze 18 cups worth of stock this morning.  That's four and a half of those boxes of Swanson's...at a fraction of the cost.

The chicken breasts I fabricated went into a crockpot for yestereve's dinner, as I put my own spin on this chicken recipe (fresh mango, not dried, apple jelly instead of the chutney, plus other changes I'd make when I do it again).  Keepin' it simple, I served it over brown rice.

Then, I've wanted to try roasting cauliflower for some time now, and last night was the night.  Tossed it with some olive oil, drizzled with garlic and lemon juice, and baked it in the cast-iron skillet at 500 degrees for 20 minutes.


For dessert, I did a bread pudding (for some reason, I suspect I'm in the midst of a great love affair with this particular concoction).  This BP was inspired by citrus - orange marmalade, dried cranberries and golden raisins, and an orange-caramel sauce.


The final plating...and do you see the problem here?


THE PLATE IS MONOCHROMATIC!  Everything is roughly the same hue of off-white!  The curry-coated chicken adds a little yellow, and the cranberry bits provide color and texture in the chutney, but other than that...

I didn't even notice it until I plated it up.  Everything tasted wonderful, but I couldn't help wishing I'd done a green item.  Roasted broccoli, maybe?

Oh well.  It's like American poet Robert Frost said, "Nothing gold can stay."


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

It's Almost Throwback Thursday

I guess there's a phenomenon these days traveling the Internets referred to as "Throwback Thursday".  People post pictures of themselves or others from their younger years...and we're talking decades back...not those imbeciles who post a photo from, like, 2009.

One of these days I'd like to participate in Throwback Thursday; mostly because there's this fabulous picture of my brother, looking like 'Adam' from "Eight is Enough", and he's filthy from head to foot, and I'mnotlying, he looks like some street urchin from Uganda or Yugoslavia and would make Sally Struthers bawl her eyes out.

Someday, I'm gonna post that.  That'll show him.  Then, he'll wish he'd shared his Wendy's Frosties with me back in the day.

But usually by the time I remember I need to go over to my parents' house and get that picture, scan it, and post it, it's already Friday.  Too late.  Maybe next week.

Speaking of my parents, I've realized that I must rag about them an awful lot here at "Be Food".  If I'm not complaining about how unimaginative they were when it came to food, then it's how I've picked up some of their bad habits.

Well, none of that today.  Today, I laud two of their bad habits:


This photo above illustrates a simple flour-and-frying procedure, done on the Beef Of My Youth - Cubed Minute Steak.  I don't know exactly I purchased them, but they've been sitting in the back of my freezer for some time.  Until recently, when I did this to them.  And as I sat down with my family to eat, I was transported back to 1984.  When my mother fixed this very same protein (albeit she did instant mashed potatoes, where I went with roasted carrots, but still..).  And well, a warm little worm of happiness wiggled its way through my stomach as I enjoyed that minute steak.

And then today...another throwback.  Saltine crackers and butter.  That's right.  Zestas with a thin scraping of butter over them.  Now that takes me straight back to the house of my parents...both of them ate crackers this way...they still do, actually.  Forget meatloaf or macaroni and cheese - crackers and butter are MY comfort food.

You maybe can take the girl out of the simple and silly...but you can't take the simple and silly out of the girl.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dilemma: Bloom Where You Are Planted or No?

I've been a fan of that quote for some time: Bloom Where You Are Planted.

You know, make the most of where you are, be all you can be, etc., etc.

But I'm at a real crossroads these days regarding this adage.  I'll be graduating soon with an Associate's in Culinary Arts.  If there's food in the place, that means I can work there.

However, I can't really neglect my other experiences as well...high school and college teacher, writer...I mean, surely there's got to be some job out there that marries those things together, right?

The closer and closer I get to leaving for my internship (little over a month to go), the more I think about what I'm going to do when I come back.  And, honestly, the answer is?  I don't really know.

To illustrate the point, with my school and work schedules being fairly open right now, I contemplated going out for lunch today.  But...here were my options (in an Iowa town of 11,000 people):

*Two Chinese buffet-type places
*A Mexican restaurant (currently under inspection after a recent kitchen fire)
*A mediocre BBQ place
*Two family "homestyle" restaurants
*Three "casual fine dining, sit-down" restaurants (the newest one being my current place of employment)
*The grocery store that contains a Chinese and Italian Express, not to mention a soup and salad bar
*Two pizza places
*Seven fast-food restaurants (two of them being a Subway)

In the end, I opted for staying home and making a Garden Minestrone soup for lunch...and it was good, don't get me wrong...but sometimes, it's just nice to sneak out for a nice lunch when your kids are in school.  And, feeling like it's the sameoldsameold for choices is disheartening.

And circling back to where the blog entry started, I start wondering what it would be like to live in or near a big city where I would have access to many lunchtime spots...and different and unique ones, at that.  And I begin to daydream, nay, fantasize about moving.  Immediately, though, I feel a sense of guilt and disloyalty...why don't I bloom where I'm planted?  Why don't I create something amazing right here in this town where I live?

Why, indeed?  The road ahead will be paved with difficult decisions.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Here's Where The Beef Really Is

Beef's best-kept secret: the best part of the cow is waaaay on the inside.

Like, right here.

These are beef marrow bones, procured at my local grocery store...also able to be found at your butcher, if you have one.

And here's what you do:  Stand them upright, season them with a little salt and pepper, and then, roast them at 450 degrees for about 16-20 minutes.  While they're roasting away, toss together 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, one shallot, thinly sliced, a generous sprinkling of capers, some olive oil, some lemon juice, and salt and pepper.

By that time, the bones will emerge from your oven looking like this:

Yes, beef marrow is terribly oily and fatty...but it's monosaturated, which is the best kind for you.  Let's be honest, folks, fat is unavoidable, and is even a little bit desirable.  I'd rather choose a fat like this than a bottle of ranch dressing or something else equally heinous and fake.

With a skinny spoon or butter knife, you just scoop out the stuff inside the bones.  And there is a sublimely rich, buttery taste in beef marrow that is parallel to nothing I have yet tasted on earth. 

In the end, here's what we're going for:

A Beef Marrow-Parsley Crostini!  (I would have pictures, but I was so excited about shoving a sample in my mouth that I forgot to document. You know how it is sometimes.)

While the bones are cooling, you're slicing up a French baguette and setting in the oven under the broiler for about two minutes...just enough to toast the buggers up a bit.  Then, scoop out the marrow, spread on the baguette slices, and top with a small heap of the parsley-caper concoction you made earlier (which cuts into the fat marvellously with its acidic, fresh tang).

And then you eat it!  Easiest thing ever.  Really.  And it's weird enough that your friends or family will be equally impressed and horrified at the same time.  However, it's just delicious enough that if your friends or family are fairly open-minded people when it comes to food...they'll be blown away.

They'll have no beef with you after that.




Thursday, March 13, 2014

Fun With Heather and Daikon

Good afternoon to the two readers in the United Kingdom and Ireland!

Today, I will dovetail two of my favorite things: literacy and food.  Let's start simple...with that fondly remembered primary reading material of our youth: Dick and Jane.  Modified, of course, for the purposes here.

This is Daikon.  S/he is a member of the Cabbage family, and is closely related to the radish.  S/he is pleased to meet you.  (Does Daikon have a gender?  I dunno...it seems like it should be a male for obvious reasons, but I don't want to stereotype, you know?)


See Daikon, chopped and in a pot with onions and vegetable broth.  Daikon then simmers on the stove for about 20-25 minutes until quite soft.


See Daikon take a swim in my blender.


And here is Daikon, after the vegetable puree was strained, cream was added and the entire thing was heated through.


Daikon (or now, Cream of Daikon Soup) was a lovely, very pale shade of yellow.  Its flavor was woody, earthy, and even a little bit sweet.  The husband liked it very much, while I preferred the CofBS from a couple of days ago.

Go Daikon Go.






Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Brussels Sprouts Can Be Sexy

This is the second installment of The Cream Soup Project.  Today's vegetable: Brussels Sprouts.

For some reason that is most likely horrible and unjust, Brussels Sprouts has a very bad reputation for being disgusting and unattractive.  They endure hatred across all generational and racial gaps.

I think this intense dislike stems back to poor preparation.  Somewhere, in someone's past, Brussels Sprouts were prepared improperly...resulting in a slimy, drab, chewy, rubbery, overcooked vegetable. There wasn't enough melted Velveeta cheese that could save it.  Understandable.  I'm the same way when it comes to liver.  I do not like it one jot...and I think it's because of how it was prepared when I was a child.  It's a difficult thing to let go of.

So I can understand people's aversion to this particular cruciferous, cabbagey vegetable.  And that's why this week's experimentation is so important.  Ranking right up there with quantum physics and curing cancer.


This is one pound of thawed Brussels Sprouts in the bottom of my blender.  Just before this, I sweated a half of an onion (chopped) and a clove of minced garlic with some olive oil.  Then, I added three tablespoons of flour for the roux before I whisked in three cups of chicken stock.  I let the sprouts simmer for 20 minutes...and that's where we are in the picture above.

After pureeing the mix for about a minute, I strained it back (don't omit this step!) into my saucepan, seasoned it with a little s & p, added a 1/2 cup of cream, and let the soup come back to a boil (to thicken properly).  Then, I whisked in a tablespoon of butter and a teaspoon of lemon juice. 

Hard to tell from the picture, but the soup is a calm, quiet shade of pale green.
This and a toasted ham and cheese sandwich?  Give it up for the Om-nom-nomivores!

The strong flavor of the sprouts was muted in this soup...which is good for those of you who find the flavor off-putting.  And, the straining step and adding the cream and butter makes for a rich, silky soup...and a very sexy mouthfeel as well. 

Bottom line: The Husband and I liked this soup better than yesterday's Cream of Asparagus.  And considering how much we like asparagus around here, that is saying something.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Cream of Kitchen Sink Week

Because my life isn't exciting enough, what with leaving a job, starting a new job and internship here soon, and all the other life indiscriminata - I've decided to set a little challenge for myself this week.

And it shall be called The Cream Soup Project.

If I had to guess, I would reckon that most of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s remember vividly the ubiquitous red-and-white labels of Campbell's soups.  Personally, I recall seeing Chicken Noodle and Cream of Mushroom frequently...in the cupboards and in our casseroles.  Only years later did I see Cream of Celery, Cream of Chicken, and Cream of Potato (plus many more) on the shelves at the grocery store...and I wondered why I never saw these crazy flavors in my own home.  I guess they might have been too out there for my mom's standard green bean casserole.

And years later, when I understood the English language much better, I wondered how exactly did Campbell's get cream out of a mushroom or a stalk of celery or a chicken, for that matter?  It's a misleading name, you see...cream of something indicates (to me) that cream has been extracted from the object of the preposition.  In my grammar world, of is used in a similar way to from.  You see where I'm coming from (not of, though), right?  But Cream from Mushroom Soup sounds lame, so "of" it is.

Annnnnyway.  More than we really need to know at this point in time.  Despite Campbell's efforts to reduce sodium, fat, sugar, MSG, and whatnot from their cream soups, the bottom line is...it's still a processed product.

Okay, I must insert a totally off-topic tangent here.  I just Googled 'cream of mushroom soup ingredients', and I was directed to a website called www.campbellfoodservice.com, which appears to be different from www.campbellsoup.com or www.campbellsoupcompany.com or www.campbellkitchen.com.  Although they all endorse and advertise the same products.  Y so many websites, Campbell's?

Anyway, again.  That's neither here nor there (for now).  The point is, here's what in a can of Cream of Mushroom soup you might purchase at an American supermarket: WATER, MUSHROOMS, VEGETABLE OIL (CORN, COTTONSEED, CANOLA, AND/OR SOYBEAN), MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, WHEAT FLOUR, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF: SALT, MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE, SOY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, DEHYDRATED CREAM (CREAM [MILK], SOY LECITHIN), YEAST EXTRACT, FLAVORING, DEHYDRATED 
GARLIC.

Uh.  Yikes.  And here's my recent epiphany (hopefully it will be yours by the end of this week) - cream soups are delicious, comforting, and filling.  A little goes a long ways...and you can make them easily, without a lot of time over a hot stove and without SOY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, for Cripes' sake.  And, it's a good way to use tired vegetables you might have sitting at the back of the crisper or freezer.


No, this is not pottage...no matter what my 14-year-old son says.  This is a gluten-free Cream of Asparagus soup.  It contains asparagus, onions, butter, broth, cream, salt and pepper.  And that's it.  Really.  I skipped the roux typical in traditional cream soups, so this dish is a little thinner than might be expected...imagine a whole milk consistency, if you will.  It'll even hold a couple of days in your refrigerator...and you'll use it in place the canned, condensed stuff in whatever recipe you're using.  Good stuff all around!

So...project for the week...make cream soups with whatever veg I've got to get rid of.  This asparagus is a gluten-free soup, but I think I'll try the traditional method tomorrow, which calls for thickening with a roux.

Here's what I've got planned for the week: a Cream of Brussels Sprout, Cream of Carrot, and Cream of Daikon (those big-ass long white radish things).  No vegetable at my house is safe.

Everything I do...I do it for you.






Friday, March 7, 2014

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

You know me, readers.  You know I believe there's a bottle of wine for every occasion, every situation, every generation. 

So, then, you're probably wondering (and rightfully so) why I've posted a picture of a bottle of beer here.

This here is the last bottle of my husband's stash.  He won't mind.

Because tonight, this particular libation seems to feel right.  I don't know, I just couldn't come up with a "time to say goodbye" kind of wine.

Tonight was my last event at the Winery.  The Last Supper, if you will.  And for the record, I am a terrible goodbye-sayer.  My inclination is to act cavalier and all like, "oh, yeah, I'll see you around" when I know deep-down that I won't see that person ever again.  I probably act that way because I'm uncomfortable with the emotion associated with leaving. When I (or anyone, really) leave a place of work, there are those who don't care, those that feel obliged to care, and those that really are sad to see me go...and well, all those situations are awkward to me.

I prefer to exit like a thief in the night, quietly and unobtrusively.  However, I realize that's a rather cowardly way to go about saying it.  Most decent humans do it differently.  And it's all good.  It's probably an area I should try to gain some familiarity with.  I mean, after all, life is really kind of a series of helloes and goodbyes, in many ways, right? 



Monday, March 3, 2014

Today's Linguistic Lesson: Homonyms (Get Your Tomatoes Ready)

Today's language lesson is brought to you by the Twelfth Night Cross-Dressing Company, who reminds us that if food be the music of love, play on!

1. bard, noun - a person who recites epic poetry, often while playing the lyre or harp (i.e. not me)

2. The Bard, noun - William Shakespeare

3. bard, noun - any various defensive pieces for a horse (usually used as barding); also, bard, verb - to put bard on a horse

And the definition that primarily concerns us today...

4. bard, noun - piece of bacon or other pork fat placed on lean game and/or poultry to prevent drying; also can be used as a verb, as in "I'd love to run away to Italy with you, Mr. Cumberbatch, but I simply must stay and finish the barding on this pheasant!"

For our visual learners out there, it comes down to this:

Will Shakespeare Glamour Shot courtesy of biography.com
VERSUS

Pheasant wrapped in bacon leg warmers photo courtesy of Yours Truly

It's a tough call, I know.  This is especially difficult for me, because I am a former English teacher, but I also live in Iowa, and I feel an acute loyalty to bacon.

The pheasants were gifted to us about two or three months ago by my father-in-law, an avid hunter.  If these brightly colored birds have ever skittered across the road in front of your car during any of the fall or winter months, then you know they aren't very big.  And, seeing as they are constantly on the run from orange-clad hunters, they're pretty lean birds.

And in the culinary yearbook, lean wins the honor of Most Likely to Dry Out Faster.

Hence, bacon.  Wrapping the lean pheasant meat in slices of bacon provide an extra layer of fat to moisturize the meat.  It also provides a modicum of flavor (just a bit, as my oldest son noted, it's too bad the bacon flavor can't get down in the meat, Mom).


There is nothing quite so quaint, rustic, or pastoral as wild game wrapped in cured pork, yes?
 
And here we will conclude our linguistic dialogue.  Bard, barding, barded, The Bard.  The English language is a great one.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Good Ol' Days Weren't Always Good...Or Were They?

I've got a lot of good blog ideas stewing...and I've even taken to writing them down in a journal so that I won't forget to discuss them.

How so very proactive, I know.

At some point in the near future, I plan on talking about such highbrow topics like: barding and roasting pheasants, why is the Albariño gone?, and a mediocre Coconut Curry Chili recipe.

Today, though, one thing is on my mind, and *that* is what I'll delve into today.


Raise your hand if you remember begging your parents to buy this cereal for you.  Keep your hand raised if they ended up buying this:

Pic courtesy of the folks at Mental Floss
Yeah.  My hand's up too.  Don't get me wrong, Michael Jordan is extremely cool and all, but he's no match for Alpha-Bits.  Or Count Chocula.  Or Fruity Pebbles.  Or Super Sugar Crisp.  Or any of those other sugar-stuffed cereals my parents would rarely buy.

Our pantry was usually stocked with Wheaties, Raisin Bran, Cheerios, and Rice Krispies.  I always thought my mom was just mean and cruel, but I think now she was way more savvy than she let on.  I came of age in the 80s, long before Nutritional Facts was a mainstay on food packaging, and thus, looooooong before we knew how much sugar were in these cereals, just how dangerous that was, really, and why food manufacturers didn't want to tell us, either.  Ignorance was bliss.  In a bowl.  With white milk.  While we sat too close to the TV watching Saturday morning cartoons.

But my mom knew how bad these cereals were. Or maybe she didn't.  That's the beauty of nostalgia.  You thought you knew what your parents didn't know, until you found out they knew way more than you thought they knew.  They just didn't tell you, or something.

Well, these days, we live in the Information Age.  Ignorance is no longer Bliss, it's Damned Near Impossible.  And these days, there's no reason why I should buy Alpha-Bits or Count Chocula or Fruity Pebbles or Super Sugar Crisp for my children...especially since I'm trying to keep our pantry and refrigerator as "clean" as possible...

...

So.  When, during the course of the weekly grocery shopping trip earlier today, I saw the box of Alpha-Bits (according to Wikipedia, around since the 50s, removed from shelves in 2006 and brought back in 2009), I should have been able to walk right on by.  I should have turned my nose up at that bright blue box, with its refined, über-processed contents.

But I didn't.  For some reason that only demons can understand, I squealed (I actually did) and snatched it off the shelf.  Maybe it's that time of the month, maybe it's because my local Fareway just finished renovations, or because it's because The Man and I were alone (hence, a date)...who knows?  My defenses were down.  I bought the longed-for breakfast cereal of my youth.

And you know?  I don't think I'm going to feel bad about it.  'Tis a fleeting thing, and here's what's going to happen: after dinner tonight (Shrimp and Pineapple with Coconut Rice) we will all have a bowl of Alpha-Bits for "dessert"...and it will taste terrible.  My taste buds will be absolutely disgusted by the sugar and fakeness of it.  I will spit it out and dump the rest down the drain.  And never, ever try such a stunt again.

Stay tuned.

A few hours later...

 
It is true that as we age, we remember certain events, people, and objects more fondly than they warrant.  It wasn't the taste I loved about Alpha-Bits...it was doing the activity above.  Spelling out words and messages with the dry letters before they became soggy and fragile in milk.  The corn taste of the cereal is undeniable, but there's also a nutty aftertaste.  Weird, really.  Monkey Boy really liked them, the Kirbster seconded that emotion...Husband and Eldest Child were too engrossed in the college basketball game on TV to really give the cereal their full attention.