Saturday, March 29, 2003

Things we won't try again
1. Pickled eggs
2. Butter popcorn-flavored jelly beans
3. Alton Brown's sweet & sour pork

Things we will try again
1. Onion powder as popcorn topping
2. Steaming to hard-cook eggs instead of boiling
3. Baker's Square Dutch Apple pie

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Moosewood, round 2
Like bubble tea, chai is one of those trendy drinks that I've heard much about but only recently got around to trying. Recently meaning last night, when I opened up the
Moosewood Restaurant New Classics
for another bit of experimentation on this latest thing. Some things I learned before I started ... 1) "Chai" just means "tea," so "chai tea," which is what I've been calling it, is redundant & silly. 2) Chai is just how people in India have been drinking tea for centuries, so to refer to it as "trendy" and the "latest thing" is also silly. Some things I learned afterI was done ... 1) Chai is pretty easy to make. 2) Chai has got some kick! Definitely not your snobby lady garden party tea.

The Moosewood way: I put 3 cups of water in a saucepan, tossed in a 1-inch piece of ginger (sliced up), 1/4 tsp of peppercorns (they said black but I used mixed), 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, 1/2 tsp cardamon seeds, and whole cloves (they said 6-8, but I think I used about 12). I confess, I didn't really measure too closely here. Oh, and I also threw in a cinnamon stick because it seemed like a good idea. I boiled it about 10 minutesm until it was down to about 2 cups (added benefit: yummy-smelling kitchen). After removing it from the heat, I put in 2 teaspoons of black tea (Earl Grey) to steep for about 5 minutes. The solid stuff was strained away, 3/4 cup of milk was added, the whole thing was warmed up again, and a little honey or sugar stirred in to finish it off.

Result: Definitely a change of pace from the mild green tea I usually have! It's spicy, full of flavor ... a kind of tea adventure.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Two crock-pot failures
Two experiments in one night, no survivors.

#1 Large pearl tapioca pudding: I thought this might be the dessert they served for one of the meals on the United flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco (yes, it's true: airplane food I actually thought was really good!), so I put half a cup of large tapioca pearls, all I had left, in the crock pot with two cups of water. And almost immediately, the pearls completely dissolved. Leaving me with icky brown water that could never be pudding. I'm not sure why this happened, because they seem to maintain structural integrity all right when they're in boiling water for two hours for bubble tea.

Since this failed me, I went on to ...

#2 Crock pot oatmeal: I have to eat breakfast. And the sweetened cereals and pop tarts just don't cut it anymore. However, I'm also very lazy and loath to get up in the morning. So for a long time I thought oatmeal in the crock pot would save me. But having finally gotten around to trying it, I'm disappointed. I put half a cup of rolled oats with one cup of water and some raisins and sugar in the crock pot last night, and woke up to gelatinous goop. So this is what overcooked oatmeal tastes like! Back to the instant stuff.

Fudge without chocolate?

Didn't think it was possible, but Nigella says otherwise. We were doubtful, but in a pinch for something sweet, I tried the fudge recipe from How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking. In a saucepan over medium heat, I put 1 2/3 cups of sugar (okay, I misread and put about 1 3/4 cups), 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, and 1/3 plus 1 tablespoon of evaporated milk. Let it boil and bubble, stirring occasionally, until 225 degrees (5-10 minutes). Not having a candy thermometer, I followed Nigella's suggestion of dropping a bit of the fudge into a bowl of very cold water now and then -- when it holds its shape, it's ready. This actually worked ...I knew to turn the heat off when the drop floated to the bottom as a little ball instead of spreading around. After mixing in a teaspoon of vanilla extract, I poured it into a buttered loaf pan and let it cool.

While the making part was easy, the results were not quite what I expected. First of all, it wasn't, well, fudgy. It's been a while since I had fudge, but isn't it supposed to be soft-ish and sticky? Not brittle. And while chocolate fudge is sweet, this one was really sweet. Basically, it was like eating a buttery sugar cube. With a little vanilla in it. Which is exactly what it is.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

A cookbook success
I finally got around to trying a recipe from the
Moosewood Restaurant New Classics
. I've been poring over its recipes for weeks -- they're all vegetarian, with a lot of vegan, but they sound strangely appealing to me. Since I've had bulgur sitting in the freezer for a while, and left over spinach from the pizza, I tried the bulgur with spinach, to go along with tonight's pierogies and kielbasa. It turned out very well: easy to make, went well with the meal, and had a homey, earthy flavor. The original recipe has dill, but since I don't have any and don't really like it anyway, I left it out and didn't miss it. Next cookbook experiment: the peach oats brulee.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped green onions
2-3 minced garlic cloves
1 cup bulghur
1.25 cups hot water
half teaspoon salt
3 cups chopped fresh spinach
1 tablespoon

In a heavy saucepan with a with a tight-fitting lid, warm the olive oil and add the green onions and garlic. Saute until soft and fragrant. Add bulghur and saute about one minute, stirring to coat. Pour in the water and salt, bring to a boil, then reduce to low, cover,andsimmer for 10 minutes. Stir in spinach and cook for 8-10 minutes until water is absorbed but the spinach is still bright green. Fluff with a fork and pepper to taste.

Monday, March 17, 2003

My first TV dinner

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, I had my very first TV dinner: Swanson's classic fried chicken, with sides of corn and mashed potatoes, rated the best of the bunch.

It's just okay.

It's kind of like airplane food, or Disneyland food: not terrible but not especially memorable. Bland. And the serving sizes of the sides are tiny, much smaller than in the picture, with only two pieces of chicken, not three (I guess Swanson has been downsizing). And it takes half an hour in the oven. I was kind of disappointed, really. I think I'll stick to ramen and popcorn for those I-don't-feel-like-cooking-anything-at-all days.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Healing food product of the day.

Foodgoat is sick.

Around here, the treatment of choice for sore throats and general feeling-lousiness is a cup of hot calamansi juice. Calamansi (or kalamansi, or kalamonding, or suwa) is a tiny green lime indigenous in the Philippines. The smallest of the citrus fruits (just a few centimeters, and the tree is only 4-5 feet tall), it is very widely used, not just for drinks but also as an ingredient in many dishes, dipping sauces, marinades (I've been meaning to try it on salmon), even health care and beauty products. Little bowls of them, cut in half for squeezing ease, would be placed on the table with the other condiments. But what I really like is the juice.

The thing of it is, it's difficult to find. My parents have a tree in their backyard, but I've never seen fresh calamansi in the store, unlike in the Philippines, where baskets of it can be found in the market (it would tough to juice the tiny things anyway). I tried a powdered calamansi, which is okay. What I really look for is calamansi concentrate: a thick syrup sweetened with honey, that you just have to mix a little bit of with water for a hot (or cold, if it's summer and you're not sick) drink. But that's not so easy to get a hold of either. Most Asian markets or even Filipino stores don't carry it. So the thing to do is to pick a bottle or two up while you happen to be in the Philippines (or have someone pick it up for you).

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

The best pizza

... I ever made was last night, a whole wheat pizza crust with olive oil, a layer of Greek feta cheese, a handful of spinach, two sliced tomatoes, a sprinkle of shredded mozzeralla, and more feta cheese.

Some things I learned: 1) You don't really need the rolling pin for the dough, I just stretched it out and let gravity do all the work. I think it turned out better that way, and 2) The key to the crust is not to overcook. The pizza was in for 16 minutes, and it came out perfect.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Tasty TV

Don't bother me between 6:30 and 7:30 pm on Sundays. Because that's when my two favorite new shows are on, one after the other, on the Style Network, a new and increasing regular stop on my TV surfing circuit. First up: Nigella Bites. I've seen just two episodes of this British import, but that's all I needed to jump onto the Nigella bandwagon. The show is stylish and jazzy, the host is laidback and sneaks back into the kitchen at the end of the episode for some sweet midnight snack, and the featured food is simple-sounding, scrumptious-looking, and homey-feeling. How can you not like a cooking show where even chocolate candy bars get deep fried?

Next: The Katie Brown Show. I've been a fan of Katie Brown since her show on Lifetime, so I've waited a long time for this latest incarnation. It's not so much a cooking show as a kind of Gen-X Martha Stewart Living, but she always has a cooking segment. Last week it was French toast (freedom toast?) stuffed with raspberry cream cheese. Yet another reason to buy the 3-pound blocks of cream cheese at Costco.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Sushi-making party

Last week we had a Japanese-themed dinner party. We had miso soup, various tempura, and green tea, but the highlight of the evening was the sushi, made on the spot by our honored guests. Sushi isn't something one normally thinks of making at home, but it was easier than I thought it would be, and easier on the budget too. Not mention that it's tasty and fun to do.

Here's what you need to do:
1. Make the sushi rice: Cook 2 cups of Calrose or other short grain sticky rice in 2 cups water in the rice cooker. (No rice cooker? Poor thing. Simmer in a covered pot for 20 minutes then. And think long and hard about getting a $15 rice cooker.) While you let the rice cool, heat up 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a small pot until the solids dissolve. Spoon this mixture into the rice a little at a time, mixing well so the rice is evenly seasoned. Taste (good isn't it?). Let the seasoned rice cool.

2. Prepare the tasty sushi insides: We made California rolls (always the favorite), Philadelphia rolls, and Spam sushi (that's right, Spam. And don't get all snobby, because it tasted great, just like I knew it would). None of which are particularly Japanese, but welcome to the tasty side of globalization.
*California rolls: Mix real crabmeat, mayonnaise, rice vinegar, wasabi, salt and pepper. You'll roll it up with slices of avocado and cucumber.
*Philly rolls: Nothing to mix here, just have smoked salmon, cream cheese, avocado and cucumber slices ready to go.
*Spam sushi: Bring 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 cup mirin to a boil in a small pan. Add cubed or sliced Spam, lower heat, and cook 2-3 minutes. Roll alone or with cucumber slices. (I got the recipe from Epicurious, where a ferocious pro-Spam/anti-Spam debate continues to rage in its reviews)

3. Roll away! For this you need a bamboo rolling mat and nori, the roasted seaweed sheets that holds it all together. We make them inside-out, because it's much more stylish, so the mat needs to be wrapped in plastic wrap. Put a half sheet of nori onto the mat and cover with a flat layer of rice. Flip the thing over so the nori faces up. Line up the insides near the closest end, about an inch from the edge. Lift that edge, with your thumbs on the bottom of the mat and your fingers keeping the insides in, roll until you’ve got a complete little sushi roll. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and slice into bite-size pieces. Great instructions, with pictures, can be found at Digs Magazine.

4. Get crazy: Some of the California rolls and Philadephia rolls also got tempura-ed. Just coat the entire sushi log in tempura batter and panko, and deep-fry. When nice & golden, drain and slice into individual pieces (this is much easier and comes out nicer than slicing first, then frying, which is what we did the first time). Tempura sushi is much heavier but pretty yummy.

5. Eat, eat, eat: Pick up the sushi with chopsticks, which can be wittily displayed as a dinner table centerpice by sticking them in a glass filled with rice, or your fingers, which are much easier to manage. Dip in a small bowl of soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger. Place in mouth; eat. Repeat as needed. Try not have leftovers, it's not bad the next day but after that it's just not the same.

Friday, March 7, 2003

Another thing to freeze
The banana experiment was successful ... yes, you can freeze a banana in its skin! At first I thought it didn't work because the skin turned completely black and generally unappealing, but the inside fruity part was fine. It was of course harder to peel since it was as hard as a rock, so I had to cut it in half and then make a notch in the skin.

Of course, you could also just mash up the bananas, add a little lemon juice (to prevent darkening), and pack up for the freezer.

Thursday, March 6, 2003

Indulgent food products of the day

There are wonderful new developments in the land of Haagen-Dazs ... they have a new line of ice cream called Desserts Extraordinaire with a lot of scrumptious-sounding flavors, like Mocha Almond Fudge and Tres Leches (cream, skim milk and sweetened condensed milk with rum-flavored sponge cake and caramel). And new to me is the Dulce de Leche ice cream, which I will have to look for as a potential, though significantly more caloric, replacement for the not-popular-enough yogurt.

When will ice cream weather get here?!?

Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Japanese food product of the day

Panko [PAHN-koh] are Japanese bread crumbs used in tempura, which are batter-dipped, deep-fried pieces of fish or vegetables (we made it with cucumbers, sweet potatoes and California rolls). The texture is coarser and kind of flaky, and makes a nice crispy crust. It's around $1.25 at Asian markets.
Chili reincarnation #3
Chili fries ... 2 russet potatoes + salt + cheddar cheese + leftover chili = funny lunch

Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Chili reincarnation #2
Mac & chili cheese ... 1 box Kraft mac & cheese + 1 green onion + 1.5 cups of leftover chili + cheddar cheese = trashy gourmet dinner for two

Monday, March 3, 2003

Chili reincarnation #1
Chili cheese dogs! Hot dog + bun + cheddar cheese + chili = tasty lunch

Insider tip: Steam your hot dogs buns, especially if they're old and dried out, or frozen, like ours. Put a steam basket in while boiling hot dogs, put the lid on, and in a few minutes ... a warm, soft transport system for all the other good stuff.

Lessons from the paprikash

If you're the one to the chop the hot pepper, remember to wash your hands well before taking out your contacts.