Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Merry Christmas! And happy New Year to you ... in jail!

So I'm in California for the holidays, and it turns out, I don't feel like blogging. I've been too busy doing last-minute shopping, wrapping presents with pictures of Madonna, completely missing major earthquakes, eating fishheads, and rocking out to the Grinch song.

So happy holidays until January 4!

Friday, December 19, 2003

Best of 2003: The Pot You Didn't Know You Needed
They say the devil is in the details. Well, if Satan likes to have an occasional cup o' hot chocolate (and I don't see why he wouldn't ... it's pretty chilly in that 9th level of Hell), he'd probably appreciate one of these. The pot only holds about 2 cups, but it has a slick non-stick surface, making cleaning a breeze, a handle that doesn't get hot, and better yet, handy spouts on both sides that allow an ease in pouring unrivalled in the pot world.

You may say to yourself, I don't need it, I can use the larger, more utilitarian pot, I don't mind wiping up spilled milk! I say to you, humbug! It doesn't take much room, is good for a whole range of hot drinks, melting butter, and making chocolate truffle ganaches, and cost $6 at Target. Throw caution to the wind.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Today, I am annoyed.

Is it because Foodgoat has been using the computer every night to work on his new Firmary website, just at the time of day when my blogging powers are at their peak? Is it because of a recent bout of insomnia and a rapidly accumulating sleep debt? Is it because the LotR has ended (and ended and ended again)?

No, it's because Blogger is pitching a fit every time I try to post. It only pretends to save any changes I make, the template spontaneously devolves to a previous version, and the post date is random and utterly incorrect. It's a toss-up whether this will see the light of day. Grrrrr (that's me knashing my teeth). I'm this close to defecting to Typepad.

Best of 2003: That was just a detour, a shortcut ... A shortcut to what? ... Mushrooms!
Who among us can whip up a gourmet dinner from scratch every night of the week? Not Foodgoat. And if it was me who had to cook every night we'd be eating a lot more microwave popcorn. So we stock up on the jarred sauce and dry pasta. But who can excited about the Plan B of worknight meals?

And then we discovered dried porcini mushrooms. Also known as cepes or boletes (and distinguished from other mushrooms by dense pores, instead of gills, on the underside of the caps), these kings of wild mushrooms take the lowly store-bought sauce to another plane of existence (with an extra dimension of flavor!). After growing in oak, chestnut and beech forests, they can usually be found in small packets in Italian shops ("porcini," by the way, means little piglets in Italian), or big plastic cylinders at Costco. A couple of them rehydrate in the time it takes to boil the water for pasta and all you have to do is toss them all into the warmed up pasta sauce with olive oil and a sprinkling of spices to create a quick yet complex, rich yet earthy, meaty yet vegetarian, Italian-peasant dish.

Of course they can be used in plenty of other ways and dishes, too, and the (strained) water used to rehydrate them can also be used in stock, soup, or grain dishes. They also keep forever, making them quite the useful pantry item.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

It being the end of the year, I've decided to do a "Best of 2003" series, featuring my favorite things acquired in the past 12 months. Let's start with the newest one ...

Best of 2003: This is Poke. You’ve seen it before, haven’t you ...!

Back when I had a job in Berkeley counting dead babies, my co-worker had what she called a fruit knife. It was a small knife with a wooden cover, and she used it to peel apples and do other lunch tasks. I coveted it tremendously.

So when I saw a similar one at Sur La Table yesterday, I had to have it. Armed with my Joyce Chen bento (which is a Japanese box lunch) knife with a cherry wood sheath (which shall henceforth be known as "Poke"), now I can dice and slice my lunch anytime, anywhere, with impunity!

In a pinch, of course, I imagine the knife could also be used to cut the ropes that bind me should I be held hostage by an anti-government militia group, or to cut my long, flowing hair should a screaming banshee grab it and try to drag me into the very depths of Hell. Which is why I carry around my bento knife in my bag. You never know when you might encounter a terrorist/demon/apple.

Monday, December 15, 2003

A Lot of Background For One Recipe
Down the middle of Cleveland runs the Cuyahoga River, and near its mouth is an area of lowlands called the Flats. Cleveland's earliest (white) settlers initially built their cabins here, but so many fell ill in the swampy environment that most soon migrated to the higher plateaus on the east and west sides, and then out onto the even higher continental shelf, which why the suburbs are invariably called something-"Heights", though there's a nary a hill to be seen for miles.

In the 19th century, the Ohio & Erie Canal and the growth of railroads turned the Flats, with its abundant room for docks and warehouses, into the industrial powerhouse of furnaces, mills, shipyards, oil refineries, and paint and chemical factories that built Cleveland's storied Millionaire's Row.

Alas, the boom times were not to last. Aircraft and roadways would replace water and railroad as the main modes of shipping. By the 1960's, the Flats had become a dumping ground for unwanted waste, leaving the Cuyahoga River so polluted that it literally, infamously, burned. The event lit the flames, so to speak, for environmental reform. But it also left the Flats a grim, post-industrial landscape of abandoned buildings and burned into the American consciousness an image of Cleveland as an urban nadir.

But in the mid-80's, from the ashes rose a new Flats for a new economy, fueled by entertainment and gentrification. Trendy riverbank restaurants by day and throbbing clubs by night. Weekend pleasure boats and high-end condos instead of shipping docks and warehouses. And for a long time things were good again.

Alas, this boom time seems not to have lasted either. It's now 2003, and the local hipsters are instead lunching downtown and partying in the warehouse district, and many a Flats fixture on the East Bank has had to pack it up.

The latest to go is the Watermark, which was located in a pre-Civil War chandlery shop. I myself have only been to the Flats two or three times, and the Watermark never. But we still have their soup recipe: a light, creamy pumpkin soup with the surprising yet delicious topping of cheddar. And it takes all of twenty minutes to make.

Southwestern Pumpkin Soup

3 cups chicken stock
1 cup cream (or evaporated milk)

1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
3 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup (packed) grated sharp cheddar cheese
Chopped fresh cilantro

Bring chicken stock and cream to boil in heavy medium pot. Whisk in canned pumpkin, brown sugar, cumin, chili powder, coriander and nutmeg. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until soup thickens slightly and flavors blend, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish each serving with cheddar cheese and cilantro and serve.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Adobo Don'ts

What with many a blogger extolling the joy and virtue that is adobo, I, belatedly, throw my two centavos in: whatever recipe you use, DO NOT use boneless, skinless chicken breast. Even if that's your chicken part of choice. Even if you or someone you know has a horror of fat and a fear of bones. Trust me. It doesn't work.

And while I'm at it, don't use cinnamon either. Or star anise. Or I suppose you can, but for god's sake, don't tell me. It's a little like garlic in Hungarian chicken paprikash for me. Use of such unorthodox spices will provoke a heated debate over the hermeneutics of Filipino food. I'm very protective of my comfort foods.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003


If you missed the limited time sourdough melts at Arby's .... don't you worry, you didn't miss much. It's a sad thing when good fast food goes grossly mediocre. While the Arby's Beef N'Cheddar is sometimes a thing of beauty (o, that onion roll! that melted cheese!), the Roast Beef Soughdough Melt, which is just the same thing except with sourdough bread, barely even deserves to wipe the cheesy drips off your chin.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh. After all, the beef was fine and the cheese was fine, it's really a failing of the bread. The problem is that it's not sourdough. I'm pretty sure it's just white bread spritzed with vinegar. And it's not even toasted fake sourdough bread. Don't let the brown top fool you, because just underneath it's spongy and soft like the purest of Wonder bread. Which leads me to suspect that the guy in the back holding the mister of vinegar also has a paintbrush of brown food coloring at his disposal.

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

It's Bean called that before, but not by you

A long time ago, I got a big bag of dried black-eyed peas.

A couple weeks ago, I got some smoked ham hocks.

I had no idea what to do with them.

So they sat around for a while, forgotten.

And then, one day, the waiting was over. It was time to make Hoppin' John.

Hoppin' John is a mix of beans (usually the black-eyed pea kind) and rice, flavored with meat (usually ham), and herbs. The name comes either from a) the custom of inviting guests to saying "hop in, John", b) an old New Year's Day ritual where kids hop once around the table before eating the dish, or c) the French-Creole word pois pigeon (pronounced pwah pee-zhohn), or pigeon peas, a native pea in the Caribbean that was also eaten mixed with rice. Take your pick.

In any case, black-eyed peas were brought to the United States by African slaves in the 1600s, and Hoppin' John has been a mainstay of African-American and Southern cuisines ever since, particularly as the traditional good-luck dish for New Year's Day.

But why wait? Have some now. It tastes good (and is good for you!) Use the crock pot while you're at it.

Hoppin' John

The night before, soak several handfuls of dried black-eyed peas in water.

Chop a couple of garlic cloves, a medium onion, a green pepper or two, and a celery rib (all optional, but good stuff). Put it in the crock pot with two ham hocks, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, a pinch of allspice and cayenne, and a couple of dashes of worcheshire sauce, and keep it in the fridge 'til morning.

Drain the peas in the morning, give a quick rinse, and fill up the crock pot, along with about 3 cups of water or stock, and turn it on.

When you come back after work, make rice (and is there any other way to make rice than in the rice cooker? I think not.) Serve the beans on top of warm rice. If you don't feel bound by tradition you can also add cheddar and sour cream, and let's face it, cheese and sour cream makes everything better.

Monday, December 8, 2003

Poor Man's Pesto

Pesto = pine nuts & basil = Italian tastiness! = $$$

Winter pesto = walnuts & parsley = fake Italian tastiness! = $

This is one easy peasy recipeezy, even for lil' ole, lazy-ass me. Not to mention that it's surprisingly good and a nice change of pace from the usual no-time-to-cook!-pasta-and-tomato-pasta-sauce-dinners. And I love dipping into the big, handy bag of walnuts in the freezer.

It also goes well with a last-minute side of tasty cherry pierogies from the Pierogie Palace.

Winter pesto pasta
[modified from Mark Bittman's "The Minimalist Entertains"]

Boil a pot of water with some salt.

In a small food processor, mix up a handful of parsley, a handful of walnuts, a garlic clove or two, and a bunch of olive oil into a creamy paste.

Meanwhile, back at the range ...

Add pasta to the boiling water. (And that's when you realize that you had just picked up pierogies that morning. It's not too late! So you add two cherry pierogies to about an inch of water in a skillet.

When the pierogies are warmed through, drain.)

Oh look! And the pasta's done now, too. Drain 'em.

(Fry the pierogies lightly in olive oil.).

Add the pasta back to the pot with some olive oil. Turn the heat to low, while you mix the paste into the pasta. Add more olive oil if it's too thick.

And voila!

Thursday, December 4, 2003

Lost in Translation: When Good Flavors Go Bad!
A fine candy, suitable to movie experiences of all types, ...

... does not necessarily a fine lip balm make.

Especially when the penetrating scent of cheap chocolate is followed by a funky taste.

A traditional favorite holiday sweet ...

... is only so-so in the seasonal Starbuck's Peppermint Mocha.

For some reason the java-peppermint flavors just didn't jive. Which was really disappointing, because that $3.50 could've gotten me an OxyContin pill from the street dealer outside the 7-11, if I was that kind of person, which I'm not, but still, it's the principle.

Maybe I'm just having bad mint luck. Maybe I don't even like mint as much as I thought. I'm so confused.

Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Fake Cheese, As Far As the Eye Could See
In case you were wondering, Chili Cheese-flavor Cheez-Its, sprinkled on top of Kraft Mac-N-Cheese, is not a bad way to eat lunch.

Tuesday, December 2, 2003

A Socialite, On Holiday

820 Park Avenue

Natalie dear,

Darling, just dropping a line to thank you profusely for having us over last week for Thanksgiving dinner. So sweet of you to invite us over, what with St. Moritz being cancelled and all. As always, you and William were splendid hosts!

We so enjoyed the delicious (and quite bountiful!) traditional Thanksgiving dinner ... the turkey was tasteful, the candied yams yummy, the mashed potatoes mouthwatering, the stuffed cabbage savory, the "canberry" comforting ... and the gravy (as the kids say!) groovy. The vast selection of desserts was delightful ... no, delectable. And of course, the constant flow of fine wine was quite sufficient to warm the very cockles of my bourgeois heart.

And to think you did all yourself! Quel Martha! How plucky of you to give the cook the night off. (But you must give me the name of your decorator, as the chateau was quite lovely.)

Of course, the best part of the evening was the wonderful company. Your friends & family are divine! Witty conversation is such a lost art, as Mumsy is so fond of lamenting. (With all that laughing I've had to move up my next appointment to be Botox'd.)

Well, dahling, must dash off. I do hope I see you before you winter in Europe? You're quite right to pass on Palm Beach this year: have you heard that (brace yourself) one of those dreadful rap artists have moved into the estate next to Muffy? The poor dear is positively stricken. Really, I don't know what the world is coming to.

Pretentiously yours,
(Miss) Ladygoat