Friday, December 25, 2009

Eat It, Bitchezzz

Here are the brilliant ideas you come up with when you're drunk on Christmas with friends;
hosting a blog of portraits of people in front of food they've prepared, posing with mock gang hand symbols.

At the time, I would have given you an impassioned though unarticulated (and poorly enunciated) diatribe about overwrought food photography and how I'm sick of looking at beautiful pictures of food in rich tones and low f-stop settings, but really, this is more about taking pride in one's accomplishments, and having the guts, or lack of shame, to pose with the fruits of your labor.

Here, I'm representin' a Yorkshire Pudding made on Christmas Day for my friends Joe and Jessica Staples, a Cockney/Australian duo with the most ridiculous accents you've ever heard. Being "proper" citizens of the British Empire, they hosted a holiday dinner with all the traditional trimmings. Though a Prosecco-and-Oregon-cranberry-liqueur cocktail we christened the "Oregon Royale" was a Fusion/Artisan Cocktail Movement interloper, and really the impetus for the coffee table book (to accompany the blog) due out for Holidays 2010.

I've made Yorkshire pudding a few times, always accompanied by a standing rib roast. Tonight we had a Christmas turkey, so in lieu of pan drippings (which we saved for the gravy), I brought my own rendered duck fat along with a simple dutch baby/ Yorkshire pudding/popover batter consisting of flour, eggs enriched with yolks, milk water and salt. Thank you Hugh Fearnley Whittinstall for your impeccable and "dead simple" recipe. The secret is mixing the batter well, letting it rest for at least 30 minutes (and in this case, more than 2 hours), getting your fat and cooking vessel scorching hot, and consuming enough Oregon Royales to create a gentle, festive atmosphere in which any proper oven pancake would perfectly leaven and brown to perfection.

If only I had been encourage to drink more, I would have had my new blog, tattoo'd across my forehead.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Today, I woke up feeling like the cold-flu thing that has been persistently hanging on me like a bad case of dandruff is finally on its way out. Generally I am a healthy person, which makes me a bad patient, and for all my ministrations about hot liquids and plenty of rest, I rarely follow my own advice, or at least not with conviction.

So, this morning, feeling like I might actually accomplish something with my day, I made something that I'd been meaning to for weeks: Muesli. Muesli takes minimal preparation but for some reason it felt too extravagant to prepare on a weekday. I took a few seconds to search recipes online that are pretty much all the same: 4 parts grain to 1 part nuts/seeds to 1 part dried fruit. If you have rolled oats and raisins in your pantry, you have muesli. If you have rolled barley and wheat flakes and sunflower seeds and dried dates, you have better muesli. As it was, I had oats, and slivered almonds, and raisins and dried apple. So, I'm ahead in fruit, but could use some diversity in the nuts and grains categories. For this reason, I made a small batch, which will last me the work week. Hopefully by next weekend I'll have ridden my bike to the co-op and picked up a more robust supply, HA!

The one thing I like to do is toast my grains and nuts--bake off the staleness of the pantry. And tossing everything together while your grains are warm gives your dried fruit, especially raisins, a little plumping, which in this case is a very good thing.

Pantry Muesli : make 5 1/2 cup servings
2 cups rolled oats, or combination of rolled oats, barley, rye, wheat flakes, etc...
1/2 cup chopped or slivered nuts
1/2 cup dried fruit

preheat oven to 350. Spread oats and nuts on baking sheet. Bake 15 minutes, then toss with dried fruit. Store in airtight container, use within a week. If you're feeling indulgent, toss in some wheat germ or flax meal too, but only incorporate flax after the baking lest you destroy all its healing properties with heat.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Pictured above are the last remnants of 2009's CSA. If I wasn't so grateful to have vegetables on hand without having to go to the store, I'd be a little ashamed by how long these patient souls waited to be cooked.

I love turnips and as I grow older, I only love them more. They're like potatoes that want to be cabbages, and my only criticism would be that they should learn how to appreciate their difference rather than hiding in the shadows of the root cellar. Did you know that turnips are used in sauerkraut, back in the old country? I have a recipe somewhere, but of course it calls for 5 pounds, which is 4 1/2 more than I ever have on hand. My usual preparation for turnips is glazed--sauteed lightly with butter, then doused in some stock with pinch of sugar. Heat and time take care of the rest.

Cabbage doesn't suffer the same maligning of turnips, but nobody is going to nominate it for sexiest vegetable of 2009. Though it's stalwart for so many cultures, cabbage always seems in need of a makeover. What I love most about it is its versatility. It can be crisp and crunchy in a slaw. Or silky and unctuous in a braise, or vibrantly pickled, or subtly sweet and earthy, stuffed or turned to stuffing. It does it all, and takes one for the team holding the bag, as it were when it comes to gaseous notoriety.

So, what are two vegetables I love and whose honor I will defend doing languishing in the crisper a month and a half after they first came home with me? Good question. I'm not sure. My winter cooking has barely begun. It seems like one second I was trying to finish off the rest of the zucchini and then the next I was pulling together my Thanksgiving menu, and turnips and cabbage did not make it into the equation. Until this week, when sick, and poor, I turned to the rejects left in the vegetable crisper and asked them to come to the front of the class.

Well, it was only soup. With black lentils, pancetta and turkey stock, but the turnips and cabbage made front billing.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Here I am in a brief moment of repose on Thanksgiving day. The rubber glove does contrast nicely with the blue striped top but it actually serves a practical purpose, as do the figurines surrounding me on the table. They are covering up the profusion of blood that you would otherwise be seeing in this photograph. It's amazing what one little swipe with a vegetable peeler will do. 5 days later and I'm just getting my typing fingers back in their full capacity.

Thanksgiving was, as predicted, a special day, spent with special people who are particularly special to me, eating and drinking with special abandon. I regret that I don't have more photos but the best laid plans were thrown out the window promptly after the maiden cocktail, a Rosemary Gin Fizz: rosemary simple syrup, Tanqueray, grapefruit juice and sparkling wine. So, for openers I made a fromage fort with from a season of cheese ends, a clove of garlic and a glug of french white. The turkey was already in the oven when I wanted to broil them, so it came out while I first had to burn one sheet pan, then barely rescue the second. Word to the wise: when you begin to smell the food that's under a broiler, it's usually already burned. The toasts, along with some of this summer's homemade pickles, were our hors d'ouevres. How pleasant it was to serve a single appetizer and not over manage or over think the whole thing.

To round out the turkey I served the requisite mashed potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts with sauteed shiitakes and fried shallots (my homage to Green Bean Casserole, a dish that in all actuality I very well may have never eaten), kabocha squash with ginger and garlic, and a phenomenal stuffing with pork sausage, onions, celery, sage and a good measure of this summer's plum bounty, pickled in cider vinegar with brown sugar. Just the right amount of sweet and sour to cut through the heaviness of a side dish that should probably be banned by the FDA.

But back to the turkey, pictured above, as ample leftovers. Remember when I mentioned broiling those cheese toasts? Well, someone forgot to turn the oven from BROIL back to BAKE. I had the heat back down to 350; had I not, I would have discovered my error so much earlier, when the turkey would have caught on fire. But as it was, the turkey got a low-broil treatment. I realized this after it was temping at 140 and over 40 minutes past its scheduled debut. Which was making us rather drunk. Fortunately, before the drinking really commenced, I had made a pretty aluminum foil shield for the bird and it was that preventive measure that kept the breast meat moist, despite my subconscious efforts to ruin dinner. As fate would have it, this years turkey was my finest ever. I'm going to credit Judy Rogers dry brining method and not the alcoholic Robin Rosenberg low broil method.

Dessert was a simple, delicious pumpkin pie from Richard Sax's Classic Home Desserts (a book worth owning!). My crust is reaching new levels of perfection, and with that, we end up here, on December 1st, with the remainder of a turkey potpie that will soon be a memory, of a memory, of a meal that goes in my greatest hits collection, if not for the mastery of skill then for the incomparable comfort and joy it delivered.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Behind the Scenes Look at Thanksgiving

It would be nice to have the ability to tag each item in the picture, maybe for another blog though. Here, we see my refrigerator the morning of thanksgiving. Not pictured, the side door, which almost every condiment known to man. Also not pictured is the large branch of brussels sprouts that are sitting on top of my chest freezer in the garage. Top left, nestled in a (food safe) plastic bag is our dry-brined turkey, rubbed with just salt and a little trifecta of spice I decided to throw in at the last minute: smoked paprika, cumin and caraway seed. Below that is a large bowl of pumpkin pie filling, enough for 2 pies (one goes to my temporary roommate and the Thanksgiving dinner he's attending). We've got, to the right of the turkey, a jar of cranberry sauce I pilfered off of a friend at work. He brags about the same recipe he's been canning and gifting for the last decade. This was the year he decided not to make a production of it, but unfortunately for him, the cranberry sauce I made tastes like shit so I hunted him down for some. He gets pickled carrots, it's a fair trade. To the right of that is the turkey stock made from necks and wings I bought on Sunday.

There is some wine for cooking, some chicken stock, and of course butter, but most everything else for the meal is either sitting out on the counter or in the vegetable bins. This is a good opportunity to point out that can of Diet Barq's Root Beer. I'm pretty sure it's been there since the summer of 2007. Summer party, sober and dieting friend brought her own beverages. I keep it around thinking that the next time she's here, I can proudly present her with it, so she can drink something other than water. But she always brings her own drinks here anyway. Maybe it's time to let it go. But then again, I wonder how long I can hold onto this can of diet root beer and what it will taste like 10 years from now, after I have purchased a new refrigerator and moved houses and possibly states.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

T Minus 2...

Thanksgiving: My Super Bowl.

At the risk of alienating my 2 readers, there is only one decent holiday that I can get behind, and that is Thanksgiving. Not because it's a day of gluttony, or not just because it's a day of gluttony. Because it's a day of feasting and relaxing and warmth during a miserable time of the year. A single moment of respite before the Spirit of Christmas vomits poinsettia and tinsel and aggressive marketing over the entire world.

I hosted my first Thanksgiving when I was 17 years old and a senior in high school. My parents were on a trip to Israel to visit my sister and also to decide if they wanted to stay married (they didn't). I invited 7 friends and put out the whole spread--I was also a vegetarian at the time and extremely proud of myself for sacrificing my principles for the greater good of my guests and the great tradition of Thanksgiving by preparing my first turkey, with giblet gravy. That was...gulp, 20 years ago. Since then, I have probably hosted a solid 15 Thanksgiving dinners, though I would have a hard time differentiating many. There was the year my roommate and I cooked for 30 people. There was the year I never put on pants (drunk by 3, I wore tights and an oversized crushed velvet shirt, ok?). There was the year we all made crowns out of construction paper and pipe cleaners. There was the one year, out of 20, that I flew home to my family in Connecticut and had to prepare a kosher meal for my sister and her boyfriend. That means no butter. On Thanksgiving.

There were a few Thankgiving meals built around impressing some momentary crush, and when I was in a relationship there were several successful years of teamwork that made our table a highly coveted invitation. But you know what? It does get old. After hosting a party of 14 on my own last year, I found myself embattled with guilt and resentment. Guilt for not inviting my ex, resentment towards my guests who were supposed to assuage my guilt. The ones who came early, the ones who came late. The ones who brought exactly what I asked them to bring and more and did the dishes but failed to put the pots back in the right place. I caught Hostess Fatigue, a big dose of tryptophan for my patience, and I haven't quite recovered.

My best friend Heather, who was at a majority of the last 15 years worth of Thanksgivings, flies out to Portland tomorrow while her boyfriend drives up from San Francisco. This year, rather than signing up for indignation, I'm keeping it to a comfortable party of three. Normally, I am creating excel spreadsheets in September with columns for smoked seafood to dessert wines. I was thinking of foregoing the turkey altogether for nachos and white russians, but my conscience wouldn't allow it. Instead, I ordered the smallest bird from New Seasons, decided on some sides, and rolled out a pie crust. This year's menu took me an evening in front of the TV. I'll wake up early enough on Thursday to jog in Forest Park. Active cooking time will be under 2 hours, which feels sacrilege. But also unencumbered, which I could get used to.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Moral Quandry

Way back in July, my buddy Julia Oh and I went on an a U-Pick frenzy. Most of the bounty was put up in the form of preserves, but a smaller amount was selected for one specific purpose, to win victory in this year's pie contest at work. In fact, I will freely admit on this blog that I was picking the berries that were to be later frozen, vacuum sealed and labeled "pie contest", I was rehearsing my acceptance speech in my head:

"Wow. WOW! I wasn't sure I would ever be up here, accepting this. I have so many people to thank for this victory, especially Dawn Weeman, who, in my first year here at W+k, singled out my cranberry nut pie as an underbaked failure. Dawn, I have spent the last 730 days training for this moment etc...etc..."

But it's probably bad luck to start planning your acceptance speech in July. Especially for something as arbitrary as a pie contest judged by your work peers. This is the reality of the annual Wieden & Kennedy Pie Contest. It is why a cheesecake won last year. It is why this year's "wildcard" category has something to do with Voodoo Doughnuts. So, I started thinking about this. I have one, and only one, bag of vacuum sealed frozen blueberries, handpicked out in Oregon City, in my possession. Do I really want to offer them as a sacrifice to the remote possibility that my pie happens to defy the odds? Blueberry is my favorite pie flavor. And there is this one bag. And the judging is arbitrary. And Thanksgiving is coming. And what? I'm going to make my favorite pie and not even get the opportunity to enjoy it? Is it better to be selfish about your precious fruit or passive-aggressively sacrifice something important to you for the sake of winning? What does one do?

So, though still "on the fence," I've pretty much decided to save the blueberries for Thanksgiving and go forth with a more-or-less classic apple pie. And, there will be a wild card of my own: Kathleen Williams' Lemon Butter Crunch Chiffon Pie, which, though no less worthy than my precious blueberries, will inevitably be the sacrificial lamb.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Good News: I don't feel the need to document the state of my gastric health right now. Like hives and eye-twitches and phantom spasms, stress is usually the culprit behind most mild health anomalies, and once it is managed or simply addressed, the symptoms usually dissipate. For me. I am fortunate in this.

I am fortunate in many other ways, among them for having a little Sunni in my life. Sunni, of course, is the CEO of Dogpatch, the canine day camp my dear boy Victor attends weekly. That she not only offers an affordable loving dog-day care service, that it is out among acres of farm and woodland in Clackamas Oregon, that she has swimming pools in the summer and bonfires in the winter, that she genuinely cares for every dog as if it were her own child (because the majority of her clients do treat their dogs as their kin), are reasons enough to be grateful to her for life. But when, at the end of a particularly frustrating day at work when it feels like your job description is to disappoint people, and Sunni hands you a grocery bag containing 3 pounds of freshly picked chanterelle mushrooms, you feel like you are one of life's lucky people. And appreciating luck wherever you can find it may just be the key to happiness.

I took my stash home and didn't even need to think about what I was going to do with the first pound of mushrooms. Right now I have a border at my house, a nice young man assisting my friend Kelly Reichardt with the script supervising and now post-production of her most recent film. I imagine that Gordon thinks I'm mildly cool, for an older person, and also a little crazy, which is fine. Hopefully, someone coming home and announcing that they are going to cook dinner, and proceeding to make fettucini from scratch is the kind of crazy person Gordon can tolerate for the next 2 months. In a surprisingly short amount of time, we were eating a very 1980's meal of homemade pasta with chanterelles cooked with ample amounts of butter and garlic, enriched with creme fraiche, and finished with fresh parsley and reggiano. Again, Sunni made life extraordinary. How on earth do I thank a woman who can't accept gifts of fat and sugar because of her husband's heart condition? Perhaps by paying it forward, I will continue to feed the karmic cycle.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Purge and Binge

Over the last few weeks I've had to face the reality that my GI tract is not Old Ironsides, and as mentioned in my previous post, I've modified my diet significantly in the hopes that I can put GERD to rest without a lifetime dependency on medication. The prescription of a monastic diet, I'm sorry to say, worked pretty well. But even after eliminating coffee and wine and dairy and chocolate, took some time before I really noticed a difference. And the discovery of Aloe Vera Juice helped too. I am of the belief that God did not intend for us to ingest the flesh of the aloe vera plant, because the taste is putrid. It is what I imagine urine might taste like, only less salty. But it works, much like the way you use it as a salve on a skin burn. So slowly I am graduating from eating like a baby to eating more like an adult human. I must say, despite my complaints, it was nice to rediscover the satisfaction in a bowl of rice:

When I was young, I used to love going over my friend Bayleh Shapiro's house because her mother panfried Hebrew National Hotdogs until they were black, as opposed to boiling them, and served Minit Rice topped with a dollop of butter (well, probably margarine). I have no idea what Minit Rice might taste like today but at the time it was far superior to anything my mother spent 20 minutes more preparing, and this gastroesophageal convalescence brought me back to fond memories of Mrs. Shapiro's bland fare. I will not miss this hiccup in my lifestyle, but when it happens again at least I know I can look forward enjoying plain rice and thinking of Millie Shapiro.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Harvest Fatigue

I have a few reasons for falling behind two weeks in posting. One, I've been busy. Just getting by feels busy enough, but home improvement projects have legitimately consumed my free time. Two, I've been dealing with what I've diagnosed as acid reflux or GERD, the result of stress and a predilection for everything that causes GERD: coffee, alcohol, dairy, spicy and acidic foods. Sigh. Over the last week I've been re-calibrating my diet and portions so that I don't have to spend the rest of my life on Prilosec, and thankfully, it seems to be working. That I cannot eat and drink like a 24 year old man is an acceptance I'm getting closer to, slowly.

While posting about rogue stomach acids and a diet of boiled chicken may indeed be blog-worthy, the combination of avoiding thinking about food, and the over-abundance of vegetables from my CSA crowding my fridge has recently given me too much pause to make sense of this bounty. I'm calling it Harvest Fatigue, and it is a real condition.

Let me first assure my audience (hey) that I love my CSA. It's a full share from Gathering Together Farm, meant to feed a family of four. The only produce I have bought in the last 3 months have been lemons, limes, knobs of ginger and the occasional head of garlic. And until recently, between freezing or preserving the excess, I've managed my load pretty well. I've only thrown away a total of 3 zucchini and 4 tomatoes that sadly rotted before their time.

Back in June, I was starved for phytonutrients and beta carotene, etc... Here it is October, my nutrient supply is at its peak, and I long for a dinner of noodles and butter. Or, to cook one meal based on a whim and not what needs to be cleaned out of the refrigerator. Currently, I'm harboring winter squash, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, leeks, carrots, cilantro, peppers, tomato, zucchini, beets, celery root and lettuce. And what I'm really craving is a slice of pizza, not homemade.

Understand that I am conditioned to complain about things, even when they're not really problems. Even factoring in the cost of the CSA (around $450 for 25 or so weeks), I spend a lot less money on food. Yes, managing my larder based on a supply of produce meant for a family of four is something of a burden. But I prefer to have this burden rather than, say, feeding a family of four from the Safeway on 82nd Ave. So I'll shut up now and come March I'll be counting the days before the kickoff of the new CSA season like it was the season premiere of Lost.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Summer is always time to for discovery and awakenings. Long hot days for learning how make back-flips in a neighbors pool. Clear hot nights for learning how to french kiss to a symphony of crickets. Or, in my case, unencumbered weekends for learning how to make preserves. After you've put up a couple batches of preserves you start to go a little preserve-mad and see everything through the lens of a fruit-to-sugar ratio and a sale prices on Kerr jars at the market. Here's what I've canned so far this year, minus 10 or so jars that have already made it into the hands of some lucky friends:
Earlier this summer, I put up strawberry, raspberry, sour cherry, boysenberry and blueberry from fruit that for the most part, I've been lucky enough to harvest myself at my favorite U-pick farm out in Oregon City. The cherries came courtesy of my good friend Laura Ohm who basically let me keep all the cherries I could pit from a mess she lucked into one week. Sour cherries are increasingly the panda bear of the fruit world, with very few cherry farmers taking the time to maintain their disease-prone trees or shepherd the heat-sensitive fruit from farm to farmstand. It's such a shame because while Raniers or Bings make fine eating-out-of-the-bowl-of-life-cherries, they can't hold a candle to a fresh sour cherries in a pie.

About a month or so ago I noticed, for the first time in awhile, my poorly tended to fig tree that was producing a bumper crop of turkey figs: large, soft and in varying stages of ripeness. My now-former boyfriend planted a fig tree shortly after we moved into my house and among the things that were left contentious between us was the flora that thrived as a result of his labor and despite my indifference towards most of the landscaping. In the 15 months since he's left, I've managed to keep most things (barely) alive but without much of any tending at all, that fig tree has thrived. The figs themselves weren't as obscenely sweet and juicy as ones you'd pay a premium for in at a reliable market, so I probably wouldn't serve them crudo with Serrano ham and a sherry-vinegar syrup, but they were fragrant
and meaty and would make do for cooking down into a jam for some homemade fig newtons.

By then I had acquired 2 books on canning and preserving though neither one of them offered recipes for fresh fig jam. I did a quick internet search that didn't provide any enlightening recipes. But then, by now, didn't I have the tools to know what should go into a fig jam? Fruit. Enough Sugar. Some Acid. That's about it. I picked enough under ripe figs that I figured I'd have the pectin covered. One internet recipe entitled "Drunken Fig Jam", which called for brandy, which I didn't have, inspired me to look to my dusty collection of liqueurs. Having all the necessary ingredients on hand, and without the pressure to get my money's worth out of some expensive or toiled-over fruit, I felt free enough to screw up a batch of figs. If nothing else, I'd be fortifying the compost.

Fig Jam a la Rosenberg
3lb Fresh figs (preferably turkey)
3 C Sugar
Zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon
1/3 cup creme de cassis

Quarter figs and place in a heavy-bottomed pot that holds at least 4 quarts. Add remaining ingredients and cook under low heat until the figs begin to tender. Use a potato masher to continue to break up the figs, and increase heat so that the jam takes on a rolling boil. You may heat this to the recommended gelling stage (117-120F) but the jam will probably take on a thick consistency sooner than that. All told, you're going to be boiling the jam for 20-40 minutes, until it's thick and the consistency is even. You may prepare your jars at this point (4 half pints should do it), and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes, using ins
tructions from a reliable source about home canning (Ball Book of Home Preserving is pretty thorough).

So far, I have enjoyed these preserves 2 ways: a dollop over a smear of chevre on a nice cracker, and straight out of the jar with a nice teaspoon. God willing, I will have a new crop before the end of the winter. I may experiment with adding slightly less sugar, only because I am fine to mess with perfection.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Bare Minimum

Wow, what a crappy week. My job left me feeling both over-worked and completely ineffectual. I got a ticket for 'speeding' in a school zone, a $180 bill for a pap smear (with insurance?), the dog I've been sitting for ate a hole through my fence and the clarinet piece that I'm supposed to play tomorrow night I learned in the wrong key. WAH.

Whining over, I'm posting because I should and because this blog is a reminder, to myself, of what turns me on: food. The CSA supply and my desire to prepare food are on opposite trajectories these days, but I did manage to pull this pretty salad out of my ass. Thank you, Fitness Magazine, for being the unlikely inspiration for tonight's menu: Salad of blanched green beans, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and wild shrimp with chevre and a roasted pepper vinaigrette. Thank you, also, Dawn Weeman, for scoring me a free subscription to Fitness: a generally useless monthly with impossible-to-follow exercises and recycled health and beauty advice.

Also, please not the mis en place not of the salad but of my table: the corner of a laptop, the mobile, the sketchbook and my coveted post-it book tabs. Life is better when I am bookmarking something.

Friday, September 4, 2009

When Life Gives You Plums, Part I

For my birthday last week, my friend Rudy gave me a brown shopping bag half full of Italian Prunes (plums) from his backyard tree. I'm guessing, based weight-training class, that the bag came in at about 15 lbs--it was far heavier than anything I have worked my way up to. It was my birthday, and I was already committed to canning 20 lbs of tomatoes, but I laid out all the plums on baking sheets and discarded the already overripe ones. Slowly and surely, the challenge of using these plums has taken over my every waking moment. It's friday night, I'm moving into a 3 day weekend, and all I can think about is getting to these plums before decomposition does.

A week or so back, Rudy brought in a smaller sampling for me. The fruit was extremely tart and even ripe I don't think they make the best eating plum. But after a few days of sitting on my counter and eventually attracting fruit flies, I decided to do something low impact: Plum Butter. Fruit butters essentially consist of cooking fruit, along with a little water, down to a pulp, straining it, adding sugar, and slowly cooking it until it is thick and unctuous. Having been on a canning and preserving kick since June, I figured I would tackle some apple or pear butter in the fall but the plums came to me first:

This didn't even make enough to fill an 8 oz jar, so I didn't bother processing it. I figure, nevertheless, it will last a spell in the fridge. And that's a good thing, because I have about 3 other jars of homemade preserves opened, and tens of tens patiently waiting their turn on my "canning shelf." Have I mentioned I prefer savory foods? Which got me to thinking...

Since my Grand Central days, I have been obsessed with fruit in sandwiches. Back when I was working the sandwich bar there we made a chicken and chutney sandwich (and though I created such classics as The Jawbreaker, this was not my recipe). It was sliced deli chicken, havarti, lettuce and a cranberry apple chutney, more Yankee than Indian. Still: Delicious. From there I just felt like sandwiches tasted better than fruit. I even went through a phase, while working in another restaurant, of putting raspberry jam on my turkey sandwiches (the ones I made for myself) because their turkey was too dry. When I opened Half & Half, one of my first stalwart sandwiches was the William Tell: Turkey, thinly sliced granny smith apple, red onion, lettuce, swiss and sharp dijon (and Best Foods Mayo, of course). From there, I loved to play with seasonal ingredients: peach chutney in the late summer, kumquats in the winter, strawberries and chevre in June. Now that I eat a lot less sandwiches than I used to, I don't get the chance to play with sweet and savory as much. But while sampling the plum butter and thinking about a pork loin sandwich, my mind drifted to an all-pork meatloaf with a plum butter glaze...and then things started to get really crazy.

If plum butter could be eaten with something savory, and tomatoes could be preserved into sweets, why couldn't I combine the two to compliment something herby and fatty and porky, like meatballs. I've always been morbidly fascinated by midwestern classic of crock pot meatballs in grape jelly, and learning that that sauce generally consists of equal parts grape jelly and chili sauce, I knew combining tomatoes with sour plums and some sugar would produce a similar, though surely more refined, effect. The thought crossed my mind a few days before the plums actually found me, so I spent some time testing out the idea on friend. Explaining my grape-jelly theory to people did not make the plum and tomato experiment necessarily seem like a noble undertaking, but I was, at this point, totally obsessed with "Italian plum-tomato" glazed meatballs. So my birthday bounty would become my muse.

The meatballs themselves were based on ingredients I had on hand. A pound of pork, half a red onion softened in olive oil and a followed by a good measure of garlic, lots of fresh sage, salt, pepper, dry bread crumbs soaked in milk, one egg. I combined a day ahead, fried off a smidgen to make sure the flavors were balanced, formed into ping-pong sized balls and chilled longer. Meanwhile (actually, previously), I combined equal portions of pitted Italian plums and
quartered plum tomatoes in a sauce pan with enough water to get things going. Under a fairly low heat the plums and tomatoes softened to a pulp. I ran this through a food mill, and replaced a seed-and-skin free version back to the pot, along with some sugar.
I would say to 1 qt of fruit I added about 2/3 cup of sugar. And then continued to let this cook until thick enough to both coat the back of a spoon and gurgle dangerous hot bubbles of molten plummy lava everywhere. Without being complex, the finished sauce was bright, clean, and tasted both of plums and tomatoes but not distinctively of either. Though when it comes to my own concoctions I am often the mom who is so blinded by love that she can't see the flaws in her children, I know in my heart I found something special in this combination.

The next step was to put it all together. I flash-fried the meatballs in some cheap Lebanese olive oil, drained them on paper towels, and then arranged them in a chafing dish. On top of this I ladled my sauce, all 1 1/2 reduced cups of it (which was probably too much, but I could not bear to have another condiment begging for a second life in my fridge. They baked, in a 400 oven, for about 15 minutes covered and an additional 15 uncovered. This is what they looked like, lacquered and bronzed, like a cheap Hollywood starlet:

The result: porky, fruity, savory, cocktail-meatbally delicious. Another pound of plums down, 14 more to go. Stay tuned for the next installment to find out what I've done with the other 14 pounds. I'm curious myself.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Eastern Bloc Breakfast

Last night, I had dinner at my friend Laura Ohm's. Laura directs all the non-bread related food operations for Grand Central Bakeries in the Portland area, and is without a doubt, the best cook that I personally know. Before leaving, she gave me a sample of their newest experiment, an artisan power bar known as the "bicycle bar" in its beta stage. From what I gather, it's an enhanced fig newton made with identifiable ingredients.

I joked that I would probably be eating it on my way home, but restrained myself enough to make it home and forget about the treasure in my purse. This morning, after the dogs (yes, dogs plural at the moment) awakened but before I had given up on staying asleep, I heard the distinct sound of papers rustling. "What could they possibly be getting into...whatever it is, it can't be that bad, it's just paper..." A little while later, when I was fully cognisant, and hungry, did I discover the half eaten Grand Central bag with no evidence of a bicycle bar ever existing. The offender, of course, was my dog Victor. I know this because like his mother he is food motivated and because he did the same thing with 4 donuts earlier last weekend.

So. Breakfast option #1 gone, I turned to breakfast #2. Remembering the summer I toured the then-Soviet Union back in 1988, I thought of all the cucumbers I was served for breakfast and my own cucumbers sitting idly by in the fridge. Cucumbers are a kind of gourd, of course, like melons and also squash. All of these pack a lot of water but little else in the way of nutrition. Still, I can enjoy cucumbers with salt, pepper and a splash of vinegar any time of day; why should morning be so precious? I hard-boiled my remaining egg and plucked some cherry tomatoes from the yard and, lacking only a wedge of some salty sheep's cheese, broke my fast Balkan style. A good reminder to consume as many vegetables as possible when fresh, local and in season...and that no food is safe around Victor.

Oh, and the spot on the left of the plate is a chip in my slowly disintegrating Heath Ceramics tableware collection, which I am also choosing to blame on my dog.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

One Sunni Day

Sunni Liston is all the evidence I need that the world is still good. Yes, that is her real name, and yes, she is very sunny. Sunni is the proprietress of Dogpatch, a magical service that cares for dogs during the day, but is so much more than doggie day care. 3 days a week, Sunni roams through Portland in her Woof 1, a white Sprinter, and whisks lucky dogs away to her dog resort out in Clackamas. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, she is parked outside of work in the mornings and evenings for pick up of and drop off. And there is nothing more satisfying than kind of fatigue that comes from a day at the Dogpatch.

There are lots and lots and lots of things I love about Sunni. If she were to take a crazy young pointer and just bring him back tired, it would be enough. But she picks him up at home so that I don't have to drive into work, she takes pictures of him and posts them to facebook (tagged as me), she brags that he's the fastest dog at the resort and I suspect she gives superlative reviews to all her clients because we need it. Everything she does for our darling dogs is above and beyond the daily fee for admission. But in the last few weeks, Sunni and her husband Rick have trumped even themselves: they've started leaving salmon and crab in my fridge for no apparent reason.

The Listons have a home in Pacific city and it seems that Rick has himself a little dory boat and some crab traps. I have no idea how the mechanics of either of these work. All I know is that one day there were cooked and cleaned dungeness crab in my refrigerator. A few days later, there was more crab, and a 5lb King Salmon. Tonight, another 2 crab.

Apparently cooking at home has its rewards. "Everytime I drop Victor off there's some delicious smell coming out of your house, so I knew you'd appreciate fresh seafood" said Sunni, after I promised her I would never freeze any of the bounty she brought me. Despite my zeal for putting up for winter, I am happy to oblige and see no point in freezing what's by far better fresh.

So, when one comes into pounds of FREE, FRESH Dungeness Crab and King Salmon, what does one do?

1) pick apart a crab and eat over sink.

2) pick apart another crab and make a Vietnamese Crab Slaw

3) share bounty of crab with friends, butter.

4) have a good friend, who happens to be an excellent cook AND expert on all things salmon, barbeque to rare perfection.

5) turn leftovers from said perfectly barbequed fish into salmon cakes punctuated with capers and tarragon, but not too much of either.

6) Do not feel like you're obligated to go crazy with your crab or eat only with monastic accompaniment. Returning to the Vietnamese theme, improvise a rice noodle stir fry using the remnants of your CSA for the week:

Stir Fried Rice Noodles with Leek and Crab
serves 1
1 oz rice noodle, medium width.
1/2 leek, sliced thin on the bias
1 Aneheim chili or frying pepper, seeded, sliced thin on the bias.
1 dungeness crab, cleaned and picked (about 2/3 c. crabmeat)
2 T fish sauce
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp soy sauce
grapeseed oil
black pepper
(optional, or, use if you have: scallions, serrano chilies, garlic...)

mix the fish sauce, lime and soy sauce and set aside. Cook rice noodles for about 3 min. under a rolling boil, shock with cold water. Drain when cool. Heat oil in a wok. When sufficiently hot, add leeks. Saute for about 20 seconds, then add the pepper (or hotter chiles). Do not let brown. Add noodles and crab in close succession, after about 30 seconds of stir frying then add the liquid. Continue to cook until the liquid is absorbed in the noodles, take off heat and toss with more cilantro, and scallions if you have them. Season with more lime, fish sauce or chili sauce, but careful not to lose sight of the fact that the crab is a very special guest and deserves lots of attention. Remember that a gifted crab is a rare treasure to be enjoyed any way but previously frozen or with too much fuss.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Not Bad for a Monday

I love it when I'm broke and have a smattering of ingredients between my refrigerator and deep freezer, and have the forethought (a nice word for obsession) to start a night ahead. Tonight's meal: Chicken Tikka, carrot and sesame seed salad, pan-fried potatoes with indian spices, cucumber and cherry tomato raita, grilled summer squash and Patak's Lime Pickle. All brought to you with the help of some lemons, limes, yogurt and a hard working spice collection. Mustard and cumin seeds, you guys rocked! I can't wait to see you all again at lunch.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Omelet School

My mother was the chef of the family but it was actually my dad who taught me how cook my first dish, scrambled eggs. He showed me how to use a little bowl to crack and stir the eggs, and how much milk to add. We melted some fleischmann's in a little faberware saute pan and when the butter just started to sizzle we poured in the eggs. With the help of a stool, I hovered and stirred with a little wooden spoon that could not have been more than 6 inches in length. I learned to make my eggs over a moderately low heat, that stirring often but gently would produce large wet curds that still retained a little definition between white and yolk. We finished with salt and pepper and ate with Home Pride wheat bread. The mis en scene, down to the blue kik-step stool and tupperware mixing bowl, is as vivid as the margarine-smeared toast that picked up the last few bits of scrambled egg on my plate. I think because this dish is still so visceral, I don't like to eat anyone else's scrambled eggs but mine.

Omelets are another story. Both of my parents could make them, but the preparation wasn't sacredly handed down to me. I learned at an early age that I disliked the big fluffy omelets of a breakfast-chain restaurant and I preferred mine to be a little runny in the middle. The thing I liked the most about omelets was the fact that you could put extra food inside of them, like cheese and mushrooms, which were both good vehicles for getting more butterfat into my diet. But I could never make a decent one. I always overestimated the amount of filling that 2 or 3 eggs could hold and ended up with an awkward scramble of over and undercooked pieces. Or let the eggs cook too long undisturbed, dry out and burn to the bottom of the pan. It wasn't until recently, after years of reading about proper french omelet preparation, and storing Julia Child's omelet demonstrations in my memory vault for many years, did I decide to forget everything I thought I knew about them and just start over.

Start small; 2 eggs are plenty. whisk them in a bowl just before you're ready to pour them in a heated and buttered pan, preferably a small seasoned cast iron pan you use exclusively for omelet making (which you will also never want to wash with soap but simply wipe clean and continue the seasoning process). The heat should be a solid medium, warm enough to make the butter froth but not sizzle. For a 6 inch pan I use only about a teaspoon of butter, but more is fine, of course. Pour in the egg. Now you can probably add salt and pepper. Using your wrist and the pan's handle, swirl the egg around a bit. I have a great tool. I don't know where I got it or what you call it but it's a single piece of wood beveled at both ends. I guess it's a kind of spatula. I use this to gently lift the cooked edges of the omelet and allow uncooked egg to occupy the vacated surface next to the pan. Continuing to pivot and swirl, gently lift and cook the bottom of the omelette until there is no more liquid running forth. At this point, you've got your base and you can add filling. I put no more than 2 tablespoons of whatever in the half of the pan closest to me. Then, I raise the pan, pivot, and begin to let the omelet fall unto itself. I can't yet accomplish the perfect turning of the omelet with my wrist alone, so I use my stick to help it along.

None of this will probably help you make an omelet. I think about reading Dostoyevsky: you have the story down and you know what you're supposed to get out of it. But you can can get through page after page without knowing what you just read. It's not until the third or fourth pass--the second if you're lucky--that the meaning reveals itself. At some point, everything you've learned about omelets from other people, whether they be a cookbook writer, television personality or the guy impatiently training you and breathing down your neck, will flow into your wrist, for it really is your wrist that is having that "a ha!" moment.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

kohlrabi for all

Yesterday marked week one of my CSA season, and I picked up my share at the Wednesday Downtown Farmer's Market from Gathering Together Farm.  In this first batch I received 2 heads of lettuce (1 red leaf, one romaine), 2 cucumbers, yellow swiss chard, about 6 purple potatoes, green garlic, fresh onion, choy, carrots and a pie's worth of rhubarb.  Living alone, it will be challenge and sometimes-chore to consume or otherwise utilize a share of vegetables that is supposed to feed a family of four.  Fortunately I can usually eat as a family of four, so it shouldn't be that much of a problem.  As I was preparing tonight's dinner I realized that this might be a good excuse to get me back in the blogging game-journaling my CSA consumption, and could even make for some cooking reference-for me, of course. 

I got through almost half of the carrots while at work yesterday, snapping them from their leafy tops when a hunger pang struck.  Funny how a carrot just doesn't fill the same afternoon void that a small handful of Cheez-its can.  So, I ate many carrots hoping they would simulate the cheez-it effect somewhere in the fullness-registry process.  Dinner I had out, so my first official CSA meal was for lunch today.  I quick pickled some cucumber and red onion with white vinegar, salt, pepper and a little sugar.  Washed some red leaf, made a lemony tuna salad with some of my fresh onion, and voila, I'm down by one quarter of my lettuce and cucumbers. 

Tonight, after more hemming and hawing than I like, I decided to attack the kohlrabi.  I was planning on slicing it thin and eating it, along with other crudites, for lunch tomorrow with fresh hummus, but started having second thoughts.  Wouldn't it be better in a bagna cauda? And who can bother to make bagna cauda for one?  Or should I make one this weekend? Researching Kohlrabi in my cookbooks, most of what I gleaned is they cook pretty much like turnips and rutabaga, vegetables I love but
 struggle to make 'relevant'.  Out of literally no where, I decided to make a giant latke or rosti with my kohlrabi and one of my potatoes.  

From the beginning, I knew this was probably going to be a disaster.   I've never cooked with kohlrabi, never made a vegetable pancake with a turnip or rutabaga, nor a purple potato for that matter.  Are they more waxy or starchy?  Or is their distinguishment gluiness?  We would soon find out.  I peeled then grated the root vegetables, grated a small onion, threw in some parsley and one egg, for adhesiveness.  This may have been the error, may not.  I couldn't bother to look up a recipe at this point anyway.  
Into a butter-and-olive-oil primed pan went the pancake.  Things were looking good.  I was patient letting the bottom brown slowly as I tackled the dished and played with the camera.  I got a nice shot of some oil licking up the sides of the pancake.  But as I went to survey the doneness with a metal spatula, I began to realize that there would be no successful flip--even with the flair of a short line cook with an inferiority complex, this 'cake' was far too delicate to turn over.  Should have added some potato flour, or squeezed more liquid from the vegetables, or even consulted a recipe.  

As techniques were cross-wiring all around me, I thought about Julia Child's omelet demo and coaxed the pancake down to the bottom of the pan, nearest to me.  And with admirable wristing, I did a decent omelet turn, only it wasn't at all what I wanted to do.  Ten second later, I had the pancake more or less flipped over, with some jagged edges.  It continued to cook until it was edible, and I ate with a dollop of yogurt and a salad comprised of the rest of the red leaf lettuce.  I'm so excited about all the roughage in my diet now.  
I am thinking of all the recipes for vegetable pancakes--Italian, Korean, German, that I have in my library and have yet to make, and what a sad shame it is that this poor kohlrabi met such an unsatisfactory end.  I need to remind myself that I am a good cook, just as much as I need to remember I'm a perpetual novice.  Here's to hoping our next meal will be redemptive.  

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Master Sans Margaritas

As Beethoven composed his greatest symphonies after he lost his hearing, so too did food become my muse throughout the Master Cleanse.  Since the prescribed beverage is already sweet, I spent very little time fantasizing about desserts and quite a lot of time thinking, obsessing, pining for all matters of savory food.  Within hours of starting, I began keeping a journal of what I was craving at any particular moment.  Here's what I came up with:

2/20/09 (the day before the cleanse, when I was eating only fruits and vegetables (oh, and some sushi) )
11:28 am  Cold Sausage Pizza
4:22 pm   Pork Buns (dim sum)

2/21/09 Day 1
10:53 am  
Bacon Cheeseburger from the Red Coach.  Chicken Soup
12:00 pm 
Jap Jae (stir fried Korean sweet potato noodles with vegetables and sesame oil)
1:19 pm 
Fried Chicken, buttermilk biscuit with butter and honey, mashed potatoes with chicken gravy, slow cooked green beans.  
        also, I have a headache
1:57 pm    
6:75 pm    
Not hungry, just wishing I was on a beach
7:13 pm
Basmati, palak paneer (reading about the slums of Mumbai in the New Yorker)
Chicken pot pie/Chicken and dumplings

2/22/09 Day 2
Various times throughout the day:
Risotto Milanese, Storm's hot crab dip, pad thai, spaghetti and meatballs, roast chicken 
with roast vegetables and pan sauce, beef marrow on toast, toast slathered with butter and strawberry jam.  
Even my cat's canned lamb smells good.

2/23/09 Day 3
Riding bus to Jury Duty:
Cook 2-3 strips of bacon or guanciale, remove and fry one or two eggs in remaining fat (or add butter if there isn't enough.  Meanwhile, take 2 thick slices of artisan bread and grill or toast and moisten with aioli.  Assemble sandwich:  lay down one slice, aioli side up, and spread a layer of arugula over it.  Place 2 slices of ripe tomato or some oven-roasted winter tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.  Then lay down the eggs followed by the bacon and a few slices of an artisan cheddar.  Top with the second slice of bread.  

Later, in Jury Duty...
-Vegetable lasagna (spinach, zucchini or eggplant) not to heavy, but with homemade pasta and bechamel
-Hot biscuits with butter

2/24/09 Day 4
-Brown rice-with cheese? or a hippie fried rice. 
-Chili con carne (with brown rice)
  -SALMON slow cooked, with soy, citrus and ginger.  
- spinach

2/25/09 Day 5
9:42 am  
Spanish tortilla with romesco
12:32 pm
Zuni Cafe Cookbook's pasta with broccoli, cauliflower and breadcrumbs (with anchovy and lemon)
Hot dog

2/26/09 Day 6
10:42 am
Onion bagel, lightly toasted with cream cheese, lox, red onion.  Tomatoes and pickles on 
the side

2/27/09 Day 7
-Carnitas tacos from porque no.  Guacamole tostada.
- Lamb with couscous

2/28/09  Day 8
-poached aggs, buttered toast, bacon
-croissant, butter
-baguette, room temperature triple cream brie, radishes, salt
-chicken liver pate, bread, gherkins

3/01/09 Day 9, Today
-bagels and lox
-slow cooked pork roast with polenta
-frozen dinner chicken nuggets (from my trip to Fred Meyer)

Technically, I am not supposed to end the fast until tuesday morning, the day after tomorrow, but I am bringing a banana into work with me in the morning and if I feel like eating it, and perhaps even a smoothie from Whole Foods, I'm going to.  I'm ready to join the ranks of the living again. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Jumping Off The Master Cleanse Bridge

It wasn't long after the new year that the topic of cleansing became de rigueur at work.  If someone in the building wasn't mid-cleanse, someone's wife was, or a candidate was, and pretty soon my work partner Lauren was carving away ten days at the beginning of February to enter The Master Cleanse.  

The Master Cleanse is a liquid diet created almost 70 years ago by Stanley Burroughs, who may not have been a pioneer in fad diets, but certainly made his mark on the fashion and entertainment industry of this decade after Beyonce's remarkable 22-pound-in-14-day loss for her role in Dreamgirls.  During the cleanse, you spend 10 days or more on a tonic of organic lemon juice, grade B maple syrup, and cayenne pepper.  These days are to be bookmarked by a couple days of juicing/raw foods in an effort to prevent system shock going in and out of the cleanse.

Watching Lauren, the perennial optimist, moon over the magical effects of the cleanse before, during and after her journey, I found myself losing my trademark skepticism.  Lauren felt like she had re-calibrated her entire body: I wanted to feel my body re-calibrate.  Lauren lost 10 pounds: I wanted to lose 10 pounds.  Lauren fell in love during her cleanse: I wanted to fit into all those pants I've bought on faith of finally getting in shape.  I thought about it a lot.  How fast does 10 days go by anyway?  I finally got to where I couldn't get the cleanse out of my mind, so I chose a day (a Saturday), read a few websites (though none of the warnings), found the best price on organic lemons and grade B maple syrup (People's Co-op), and had a final meal of braised kale and popcorn.    Also to my credit, I withdrew on coffee and sugar the week before. 

Challenging? Yes. Stupid? Yes.  Enlightening? Yes. Depriving oneself of their raison d'etre (in my case, not just eating and cooking but thinking on, researching and discussing food) has led to some intense moments of introspection...and boredom, loneliness, and despondency.  First and foremost, most social interaction revolves around food.  Or alcohol.  Or coffee.  Take away eating and drinking,  you take away visiting with friends.  I venture to say that at this point in my life I'm almost purely a food-socializer.  I don't go to shows, readings or lectures, I go out to dinner or I orchestrate gatherings around food.   Sure, ten days can go by in regular life without a dinner party or restaurant rendezvous, but without a friendly coffee or quick trip to the rice-and-bean cart at lunch?   Secondly, when I am home alone, in my element, well if the tv isn't on, I'm usually reading a cookbook, food magazine or curating my recipe collection.  And when I'm not doing that, I'm probably cooking something.   Which brings me back to the impetus for the cleanse in the first place--to live without food for some time is to realize its importance, and hopefully to raise it to a more esteemed level.  Separating it's superficial hold over me as a compulsive obsession and giving it the thoughtful attention it deserves.  Learning the difference, possibly for the first time, between authentic hunger and boredom.  

What I've learned: in regular life, I'm often not as hungry as I think I am.  Also, I do enjoy a certain feeling of internal cleanliness, though all told, I think I'm pretty goddam healthy with a balanced diet that does include wheat, dairy and meat. It's towards the end of Day 8, with 2 more days (plus tonight-and night is always the hardest time) to get through.  Though I've been taking this journey literally one hour at a time, I do believe I'll make it to day ten, unless my fear of success prevents me from meeting that feat.  

Monday, February 9, 2009

Refrigerator Gumbo

I often prefer to have a (nearly) empty fridge to a full one, for the sheer thrill of making something out of practically nothing.  Since a few posts back oh so many months ago, I've been doing the boring old routine of moderate diet-and-exercise to the tune of being down about 5 pounds, but more severe than limiting intake of food has been limiting my expenditure of cash.  I am incredibly grateful to still have a job but I've steadily been living slightly above my means ever since I paired down to a one-person (one dog, one cat) household.  Currently, I have a $15 dollar-a-day food budget.  The last year and a half marks the first time in my professional life that I am not surrounded by free food and beverage all the live long day.   Although technically I can still eat and drink for free at Half & Half, I choose not to abuse that privilege too much, mostly because I tend to piss off Jeff and the staff seem to fear me.  The reality is $15 doesn't get you very far for breakfast, lunch and dinner if you don't do at least 2 of those meals yourself.  If you manage to curate a good pantry, stock your fridge with the basics and shop with a modicum of a plan, you can still enjoy a few great meals out every week.  I inevitably end up going over my budget at some point, but the fact that I'm tracking means I probably don't up as deeply in the hole as I would otherwise. 

Anyway, tonight's challenge was: make something with the perishable leftovers in the fridge which included: 
-taco meat from the superbowl (previously frozen, thawed for last night's Ladies Nacho Night, but not all eaten)
-beans from Ladies Nacho Night
-rice from beans-and-rice-taco-salad (?) lunch
-half a tomato
The challenge: Nothing Mexican.  I've kind of had enough of tacos and nachos lately, I'm shocked to admit to myself.   It's still the middle of winter.  The economy is scary.  I have too much work to do.  Soup is the restorative answer.  And not a taco soup.  I settle on riffing on gumbo, something I've never made before.

I am hard pressed to think of a cuisine I don't like.  There are a couple though, that I am almost indifferent towards, and that is Ethiopian and Cajun.  I won't diss them, but I will usually opt for Chinese instead.  For some reason however, whether it's a renewed sense of patriotism or my maiden discovery of creole flavors, I've "started seeing" gumbo.  First, it was looking for something to do with a shitload of okra in my freezer.  Then, it was a piece on a famous Cajun home cook in the NY Times Magazine, and soon I was open to the idea.  Tonight's bounty gave me the excuse to take a stab at it.  

Carrots, onion, celery and garlic were thankfully on hand.  As was some  chicken stock, which I now always have in the freezer thanks to my monthly duty of making dog food that always yields a few quarts of the stuff.  

I started with a roux: 1 T. canola oil and 1 T. flour.  Never before, at least in memory, have I actually made a dark roux, the kind that takes on color and actually smells nutty.  I pretty much limited roux for bechamel and occasionally the backbone for a soup, but I've never spent much time coaxing the flavor from the marriage of fat and flour into something other than a scientific property.  Maybe one of the reasons I've never cared for Cajun (is creole a different cuisine? must look into that) food is that I've just never had good Cajun food? In any event, I cooked the roux to a nice toffee brown for about 1o minutes while chopping my onions, celery and carrot.   I added those and after they released some aromatic aroma I threw in some thyme (dried), half of a tomato (diced) and garlic (minced).   I allowed this to cook a little longer and then added my chicken one frozen chunk because I was too lazy to use another pot.  No difference, just melt the stock at a lower temperature at first and count on it taking longer.  

Once the stock melted and heated I added the rice, beans and beef.  Have to admit I wasn't planning on using the beef originally, but threw it in on a whim knowing it could make or break the soup.  Sure, some Andouille sausage would have been nice, as would some shrimp or confit duck, but the whole point was to make it work with what I had, and use up as many perishable goods as possible.  After that reached a boil I added some okra (frozen, sliced) and corn (frozen):  my freezer is an equal opportunity forum for using leftovers.  A teeny bit of tamari soy sauce to give it the umami that would have been delivered in the sausage.  A pinch of salt. Generous grindings of black pepper and as a finishing touch, about 3 Tablespoons of leftover salsa (Herdez brand, comes in a can, it's better than $8 fancy salsa).   The results?  A little bit spicy, pretty hardy and legitimately good.  I'm especially fond of the corn and okra aspects, and of course the broth.   And my net cost on food for today and through lunch tomorrow will be $0, which means I can go crazy somewhere else in the week.