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.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Book Review...Two Months Later

Way back around the first of April, I informed you that I was reviving my reading and writing habits.  Writing, yes, I have been doing more of that.  Reading, though, has been a little more slow-going.

Last night, I finally finished this book.  That I started over two months ago.

Here were my thoughts a few pages in...

The book is written by Luke Barr, M.F.K. Fisher's great-nephew.  So, through his narrative, his notes, his interviews (maybe?), and his memories, he is charged with the description and discussion of a pivotal year in a pivotal place...in which "American Taste is Reinvented". 

Okay.

While I'm excited about the topic of this book, I'm less excited about the narrative voice...and I hope it doesn't spoil the book.  But...

The Prologue is 20 pages.  It begins with "On a cool August morning in 2009, I drove up a sloping, narrow driveway in Glen Ellen, California, on my way to visit the past."  And it ends with "As I read it, I knew: I had found the key to my story and to this book."

Twenty pages of reason and rationale.  As if Luke Barr feels he must not only establish the premise of the entire book, but his credibility as well.  I suppose it makes sense...after all, he is a rather marginal player in this story.  But twenty pages is a lot for a Prologue, I feel.  But, I'll read it and maybe my judgments will change.

287 pages.  Not too terribly long.  Still took me a really long time to finish.  And at the end, I did a lot of skimming to Just. Be. Done.  That's not a good sign, kids.

The premise, the idea is a great one.  The Sixties in America, in the food sense, was tough times.  Convenience was important, as was speed.  Technique, flavor, quality all suffered.  Fast-food was becoming a big deal, as were packaged, processed foodstuffs.  Bad news Bears.

So, when Julia Child, James Beard, Richard Olney, MFK Fisher and bunch of other big-time food people get together in the South of France in December 1970, the stage is set for Luke Barr calls "The Reinvention of American Taste".  It sounds dramatic...like the Yalta Conference, or something.  But really, it's just a bunch of friends getting together, drinking wine, and making food together.

And I love that story too.  And I would have been content to read a book about a group of Food Greats Hanging Out Being Awesome, if that's what the premise had been.  Barr had access to MFK's diaries (he's her great-nephew), and therefore should have been to tell a wonderful story.  But I dunno, some parts seemed more fleshed out than others, some people seemed to be painted more colorfully than others....and in the end, it was just a uneven tumble of character sketches, letter excerpts, and place/food descriptions.  Oh, and the last twenty-five pages! Ugh.  Barr brought us back full circle as he was visiting La Pitchoune (the Provence residence of the Childs) in 2010.  I didn't mind the recap of what had happened in the interim between 1971 and 2010...most of the major players had died but had left published memoirs, legacies, etc.  But then Barr subjects us to his attempt at a recreating the foods and moods of December 1970 in Provence.  He introduces a bunch of new people into the scene...I develop no relationship with them and the one I have with the author is tenuous anyway.  To finish the book, I have to put up with his reflections and reminiscences...laced with so much nostalgia - and why!?  He wasn't there!  Oh, but yeah, he did bring his grandmother with him - MFK's sister - who wasn't even really a part of any of this food scene either.

Oy.  But, I finished it.  I'm done.  I will say that reading this book makes me want to reread Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Mess 'n Cabbage

Pulled pork.
Sloppy Joes.
Leftover brisket.
Cold fried chicken.
Fried eggs.
Refried beans.
Sausages.

Seeing a trend here?  PROTEIN.

Goes well with...? Cabbage.

Cabbage, I think, is one of the most underestimated vegetables on Planet Earth.  I know I certainly forget about it a lot of the time.  Cabbage is most often the underdog...in fact, Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings" could have really been about cabbage, and not Barbara Hershey.  Cabbage is relegated to supporting roles in coleslaw and sauerkraut and huge pots of weight-loss soup.

And that's too bad, because the potential for Broadway star is there.

Whenever I come into possession of a nice head of cabbage, I think, Ooh! I'm going to do cabbage rolls! And then when the time comes to do said cabbage rolls, I've lost the ambition.  Or, I've lost the cabbage.  Anyway.

Recently, we happened to have some leftover sloppy joe and bean mix in our house.  I was not that excited about the prospect of slopping the stuff onto hamburger buns, because cripes, everyone does that.

Then, I saw the head of cabbage in the fridge.  And I had ideas.

After coring, slicing it thin, sauteing it with some garlic, seasoning, and olive oil in my Big Iron, it transformed some ho-hum ground beefy beans into a bowl of awesomeness.  The cabbage was softened, but still had some nice crunch.  The blah brownness of the meat/beans was livened up by the lighter colors.  And, the cruciferous family member lends much more nutrition to the dish than bread.

The kids enjoyed, the husband enjoyed, I enjoyed, and Barbara Hershey probably would have too...had she been, you know, eating dinner with us that night.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Chicken Salad Snob

In reality, I am pretty fussy when it comes to my salads, not just chicken salad.  I've also got a tendency to go on and on.  But, today, I've got to stay short and focused.

So, in culinary school, I learned that there are categories of salads. Who knew? I sure didn't. There are:

1. Tossed: You know, where everything's just chucked together, dropped onto a plate or into a bowl right before service.  Sometimes the dressing is on the side, sometimes it's been tossed with the salad components.  This is probably the easiest salad to do and the one we see the most at potlucks and restaurants...because, yeah.

2. Composed: Components of the salad are arranged on a plate in a certain way.  Examples include the Cobb or a Nicoise.  These take more time to prepare, obviously, and aren't optimal for large-group gatherings.

3. Bound: Components (usually non-leafy ones) are tossed together before being mixed with some kind of binding mixture.  Usually this binder is a mayo-based.  Examples include potato salads, macaroni salads, etc.  Fairly easy to do in big batches. 

The best word to describe me when it comes to salads is: neurotic.  Lots of idiosyncrasies.

I have long since stopped buying potato salad.  I've never found a good one that I like as much as homemade.  I do not like mayo-based macaroni salads.  I don't know why this is.  Maybe I've seen too many sweetened macaroni salads with cubed yellow cheese and peas in my day.  I prefer my dressing on the side when it comes to a tossed salad, because I want my salad a little dry.  I do hate when my greens are drowning in soybean oil-laden dressing.

I dunno.  Maybe I'm not so weird.  It's irrelevant.  I'm here to talk about chicken salad.

Chicken salad is delicious.  I would eat it with a mouse, I would eat it in a house.  I would eat it in a bar, I would eat it in my car.  Well, only if I were the passenger...too risky otherwise.

Typical chicken salad contains the meat, the binder (usually mayo), seasonings like salt and pepper, something crunchy like nuts or celery (or both), and something sweet (like fruit).  It's a great way to do something with those chicken breasts you don't feel like grilling.  I usually cook mine in the crockpot for a few hours before dicing it up.  It's light (perfect for summer, unless you eat the whole damned bowl in one go), versatile (wrap it in lettuce, put it on bread or crackers, eat it plain), and gets better the longer it sits in the fridge.

So I have diced chicken and some diced celery leftover from the buffalo chicken grilled cheese sammies I did for the food truck this week past.  And I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  Then I found an opened jar of apple jelly in the fridge...and some dried cranberries in my pantry.  And yeah.  Time to tweak the classic.

3 cups diced chicken
1 cup mayo
1 1/2 cup apple jelly
1 1/2 cup diced celery
1 cup dried cranberries
1 medium onion, diced
Salt and pepper to taste

I actually processed the jelly and mayo together so I got that smooth smoothness.  And I tasted it.  Mayo-y...sweetish.  Needed something else

1/2 Tbsp curry powder

YEAH!

Curry-Apple Chicken Salad.

And we will be eating it ALL WEEK LONG.  Probably could have added a little turmeric to help the color along (for more of that yellowish look), but I forgot.  So, huh.