Monday, December 29, 2008

Misoyaki Maki

We'd been invited to a champagne-tasting party, to which we were instructed to bring an appie or somesuch. Easy, right? Except that I totally procrastinated, and it started snowing. Hard. I didn't want to press my luck and brave a drive to the store for flour (I really wanted to make little empanadas, but couldn't make dough - who the fuck runs out of flour? Pioneers?), so I had to really wrack my brain. What in the hell could I scrape together? I didn't even have something fake to cook and sauce up. Like that one time when all I had was some quince jelly in the freezer and a thawed-out boneless leg of lamb, and hastily threw together "ooh, how 'bout some Moroccan-spiced lamb kebab with cardamom-quince glaze" that were doled out onto a platter with toothpicks and greedily devoured. Turns out a lot of people did their part, thought ahead and brought hummus to that party. A lot of different hummus, and my one platter of spicy, last-minute meat.

I am, if nothing else, the Queen of Pulling One Out of Her Ass. I looked through the cupboards. Nothing. Some fucking cans of fish and tomatoes, a can of lychee and coconut milk, and a can of mock abalone. Gross. Look again, see the jars of starch lined up all soldierlike: cous cous, bulgur wheat, barley, lentils, some aged jau mein (that's ay-jed, not to be confused with the savory patina of proper storage), arborio rice and calrose rice. Sigh. Look again. Grab cans of smoked black cod and sturgeon (from local waters), jar of calrose, then shuffle across the kitchen to the "Asienne" cabinet and grab the teriyaki-flavored nori sheets, the black sesame seeds, tamari and sesame oil, some sake and mirin and gochujang. To the fridge for shiro miso, some scallion and young ginger.

I was going to make mini onigiri, it turned out. With misoyaki filling. I forgot about the jar of umeboshi in the fridge, evidently. I cooked the rice on the stovetop, and then pulled it off to cool in the snow. I chopped together the drained fish, and blobs or glugs of everything else until it was perfectly seasoned and gingery. I sprinkled in some togarashi to give that proper umami, and then we mashed up little fish-filled rice balls until the rice was all gone, wrapping a little fingertip sheet of nori over each. Half the fish was still left. The party loved it, and the hostess even proclaimed it better than the onigiri in Tokyo. It worked well with the champagne, which cut through the rich, salty smoke of the misoyaki, the effervescence pushing past the huge starch molecules on its way into the tickly cilia of the olfactory system.

The next day, while Scott nursed a wicked champagne hangover (I never knew those even existed), I twisted up a fatty nori maki from the last remaining regular sheet of nori in our cupboard, with freshly cooked sushi rice (stirred and fanned with a pinch of sugar and salt, and a splash of rice vinegar). It was a tasty and quiet lunch, and a great way to pat myself on the back for thinking on my feet. It's good to be Queen.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Rumple Minze hot chocolate

I got your Holiday Cheer right here. Ghirardelli Double Chocolate cocoa with Rumple Minze peppermint schnapps and marshmallows. Serve with Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate-Covered Peppermint Joe Joe's for dunking. They taste like a cross between Girl Scouts Thin MInts and Oreos, with crushed candy cane on top.

This tastes like the holidays.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Pannetone French toast with orange-bourbon syrup

...or, Special Christmas Breakfast

I really haven't gotten into the holiday spirit this year. No baking, no candy, nothing. I still have time to pretend I'm Russian, though, in which case the New Year celebration is more important. Technically, my people were German-Russian for a hundred years or so, and I'm calling that close enough. Ooh! Also, I found out recently that my great-grandmother was half Tatar (my father claims her conception was nefarious, but I can find no information that supports the claim that Mongol raids of the Volga were still happening in the 19th century). My first reaction was not surprise, or shock, but "omg, really? I'm part Asian? I knew it!" Now the slight almond shape to my eyes, my Nipponophilia and my hard-on for Stephen Chow makes so much sense. Being 1/16 Volga Tatar makes me practically Chinese, right?

But that's neither here nor there, and is typical of my digressions. On my journey to Trader Joe's (partly for sustenance, partly to escape cabin fever), I picked up one of my favorite holiday treats, pannetone. They didn't have any of my real fave, the orange and chocolate chip (I honestly haven't seen that kind in about a decade), so I grabbed the cranberry instead. Then I proceeded to forget that we had it for a couple days, just long enough for it to go a little stale.

Then I had the stroke of genius to make French toast with the pannetone (of course, now I find out that Giada deLaurentis makes it). I whipped up a quick batter of cream and eggs, orange zest, my homemade seven-spice and bourbon vanilla, a pinch of salt and a spoonful of sugar. I browned it in butter, then topped it with powdered sugar and a syrup of orange juice and zest, sugar and Maker's Mark, simmered until thick and good.

Serve with a little holiday cheer (in this case, mimosas, but I'll also accept "screwdriver", a propos of Russia). S Novim Godom!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Elk sirloin chili with Beans

Any more, whenever I cook or even eat beans, I think of my buddy Ken Albala over at Ken Albala's Food Rant. He doesn't get as much traffic as all the Foodbuzz and Foodie Blogroll folks, which is a fucking shame, because he's actually a real writer. Of actual books.

One of such books is Beans: A History.

You ever find yourself reading some Pollan and thinking to yourself, "sure, this is entertaining, but I really wish he didn't dumb everything down for the lay audience"? Yeah, me too.

If Michael Pollan is coffee, Ken Albala is espresso. Ken is an award-winning food historian and author of such effervescent reading as Eating Right in the Renaissance; Food in Early Modern Europe; and Cooking in Europe 1250-1650. More recently though, he dabbles in what he deems to be "pop" food writing, but is, in my opinion, a meticulous examination of individual foodstuffs.

Beans is one such exploration, in which Ken chronicles the cultural and culinary significance of one of our most basic forms of sustenance, the humble legume. From the crippling classism faced by Medieval bean-eaters, to the role of toxic vetch seeds in combating famine in the 12th-century, to the bacterium that distinguishes natto from hamanatto, Beans delves into depths rivaling a thesis for its attention to detail, and for leaving no stone unturned. Beans is, in a word, thorough.

It's also pretty fucking entertaining, although I'll admit that the thing I like most about this book is its unflinching nerdiness. This is an entire book about the seeds of a single plant family. It's not just for scholars and botanists, though - Ken's enthusiasm is contagious.

Some of you are still doing your holiday shopping, and I scold you for your procrastination. However, you can satisfy the academic foodie on your list (or yourself) by picking up a copy of Beans or Ken's latest tome, Pancake: A Global History.


Oh, hey, and speaking of beans, I made it to the store yesterday. It really wasn't that terrible - without that nasty sumbitch Old Man East Wind, it was actually kind of pleasant, bordering on magical.

Since I knew I had to carry everything I purchased, I made very edited choices. Milk, eggs and flour are already heavy, so everything else really had to count. A couple containers of frozen juice concentrate to drink with our vodka. A bag of pink beans.

We had everything else at home, so this wouldn't be too difficult. Catherine sent me a huge elk sirloin roast a few weeks ago (have I mentioned that I love that woman?), from which we'd eaten a couple of steaks and then refroze. I'd normally never refreeze a meat, but I was going out of town and figured it'd be better to risk freezer burn than for the whole thing to rot in my absence. Rubbed and double-bagged with the air smooshed out, it was absolutely fine rethawed, without a single indication of freezer burn.

I finely diced the elk and browned it with an onion and a few spoonfuls of homemade ancho chile powder, half spoonfuls of pimentón and garlic powder, and a good few pinches of homemade Berbere spice. I dumped in a can of tomatoes and the leftover tomato-roasted pepper soup from last week. Then I added a dribble of soy, a spoonful of gochujang and a few good pinches of MSG. Oh, don't look at me like that - it is pure, crystalline umami. It makes everything taste really good and I'm not sensitive to it.

I let everything simmer and stew while the (presoaked) pink beans cooked in unsalted water. Never cook beans with the tomatoes or in salted water, or they'll go tough. When the beans were tender, I drained them and added them to the pot, then added more salt and pepper to taste. While the beans were soaking up some of the good chili flave, I whipped up some cornbread.

Top with cheese, sour cream and minced shallot for best effect. I'm heading to the kitchen for some leftovers right now. Not too shabby, this "working from home" business.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Broccoli rabe, potato and ham frittata

I am losing my fucking mind in all this snow. We were able to drive through it on Saturday night, when it was just a few inches, but yesterday chains officially became required on all roads and the highways are closed. I don't have chains, and I can't go get any, either. We're trapped in our 2-foot drifts, with only our cupboards and fridge to sustain us, and there's nothing we can do about. Well, I guess I could shuffle through all that snow to the grocery store (a half mile away), but come on. Shuffling through snow is for suckers.

Anyway, I was frantically tearing through the fridge to find something to make for breakfast, and I found some eggs, broccoli rabe, ham, and a squidge of buffalo mozz. I sauteed a diced potato and some minced shallot, then dumped in the chopped ham and broccoli rabe (perfectly green-bitter, with lovely, cruciferous horseradish notes on the upper palate). I let it cook for a second to brighten up the greens, and then dumped in 4 (salted and peppered) beaten eggs and topped it with torn-up blobs of mozz. Into the oven for about 15 minutes. With good grainy wheat toast, it's a perfect breakfast. With a salad, it'd be a nice lunch or light supper.

Thanks to this lovely frittata, we're out of eggs now. We're out of a lot of things, come to think of it. No eggs. No milk. No flour. I can't make biscuits, or cornbread, or cookies, or anything of any value to a snowed-in person. Shit, I might end up walking a mile in the snow today.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chicken and Waffles

Chicken and waffles. The first in a series I call Monochromatic, Yet Delicious. Some of my readers (particularly the ones who hail from exotic locales) have blank looks on their faces. It's a real thing, I assure you, to eat fried chicken on waffles. And it's really fucking good.

Chicken and waffles is an American dish that was invented by black people in the 1930s to serve the needs of Harlem's hungry jazz cats after a show. They often played so late into the wee hours that by the time they were done, it was too late for dinner and too early for breakfast. Anyway, that's the most widely-accepted creation myth. I think it might have a little more to do with the amount of grass those dudes were smoking, but that's just my theory.

Chicken and waffles are a Thing. They are a thing for which I hanker, and only one joint in town (that I know of) sells them, and then only on Sundays at brunch. Even those waffle carts that are popping up all over NoPo are missing the boat on the chicken. As usual, I had to take matters in to my own hands.

Granted, my chicken is merely oven-fried (I hate frying, especially in a freshly-cleaned kitchen) with a corn flake crust, but it comes close. I like it spicy and crunchy, on a fluffy waffle (a basic baking powder-leavened recipe instead of Belgian for simplicity - I didn't feel like waiting for a yeasted batter to do its thing). Smeared with maple sugar spread and butter, a little syrup for good measure, and you're havin' kittens, baby.

Enjoy with a screwdriver and Dizzy Gillespie.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Roasted red pepper and tomato soup

Working from home has its pluses and minuses. Minuses include feeling like you might literally explode from not having moved from the same few hundred square feet in more than 24 hours. Another minus is the constant distraction of cool shit like daytime TV, adorable cats and husband. A major plus, though, is being able to just walk to my kitchen to cook lunch instead of bringing crappy leftovers or shuffling over to cart row for a burrito (although I could really go for summa those insane perogi and schnitzel from the Tabor cart right about now).

With regards to feeding myself, I'm starting to get my sea legs in this whole snow day tip. I went from "holy fucking shit, we'll all starve," all manic stocking up at the grocery store and bingeing on tater tots and tacos lest I freeze from lack of blubber, to eating normal shitty weather winter food. And what better example of icky weather, thick-socks-and-blanket food than grilled chee and tomato soup?

Problem was, we didn't have any tomato soup. I had to make my own.

This would only pose a problem had I not canned all my dozens of pints of heirloom tomatoes last summer. This was the first chance to really appreciate the fruits of my labor. I pulled a pint of my golden Pineapple and Yellow Taxi tomatoes (blanched, seeded/peeled and canned with a few basil leaves), and a half-pint of roasted red bell pepper in olive oil and got a happy shiver when the vacuum seal made that delightful pop and sucking noise upon deflowering.

I heated up a pot with a drizzle of the red pepper oil and sauteed a minced garlic clove and shallot for a minute, then added the peppers and toms. I simmered for 5 minutes or so to heat all the way through, pureed with a couple pinches of salt and sugar, a tiny half-spoonful of good pimentón and a drib of balsamic vinegar. All together, it took maybe 10 or 15 minutes to bring this completely together.

Add a hunk of fresh mozz, a drizzle of red pepper oil and a pinch of chile flake. Serve with grilled chee sammiches. I did sharp cheddar and Swiss on wheat.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Quebec may have poutine, but we in Portland have a wondrous thing called totchos. They are effectively nachos, intelligently substituting the mundane tortilla chip with tater tots, and they are as good as they fucking sound. Suck it, Quebec.

Totchos have many uses: first, doy - they're nutritious and gluten-free; second, they cure PMS and SAD; and third, they're the perfect gift for that special Atkins dieter that you've been dying to piss off.

Mine are the high-falutin'est totchos you'll likely see, but that's okay. They're good old Ore-Ida Tater Tots®* (are there even any other kind?) sprinkled liberally with Lawry's, then topped with a mélange of Mexi-esque goodness: refried beans, pre-grated "Mexi" cheese (a combo of ched and jack), sour cream, chopped cilantro, onion and scallions, sliced black olives and a goodly glug of salsa (we were actually out of salsa, and i had to make some by pulsing some of my canned heirloom toms with a couple serrano chiles, some chopped onion and garlic, some cilantro and S&P. I added a little splash of vinegar for good mezh).

*omfg did you see that there is actually a link there to a recipe called Tater Tots Tuna Pie?!? I'm totally dying over it. The link is broken, but I might hafta reinvent this for the sake of Science. Also, did you know that Tater Tots come in two sizes: 32oz or FIVE POUNDS.

Serve with bong hits, Coke Zero and Super Mario Galaxy.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Chicken Gnocchi Soup

...or, Snow Day

We don't get much snow here in Portland. We're nestled so snugly between the Coast Range to the west and the Cascades to the east, and all that noise gets buffered out in our quaint little Willamette Valley. But once or twice a year, we get the veritable, snowstorm of Weather. And the city shuts the hell down.

Nobody goes to work or school on snow days. We all turn on the TV to check for road closures anyway, just to see some asshole on the news careening downhill, perpendicular to the road, taking out innocent parked cars in his wake (do yourself a favor and cue up Yakety Sax in another tab so you can watch the vid with a soundtrack). People always try to drive in this shit. People from sunnier climes (cough*Californians*cough) who think that driving up to Ski Bowl a few times a year qualifies as "driving in snow" experience. It's comedy gold, really, for everyone except the owners of those parked cars getting pwned on the side of the road. Here's to good insurance.

During inclement weather, I'm not so keen on leaving the house. I've been a bit slumpy anyway lately, and this doesn't really increase my motivation to leave my couch, let alone step foot outdoors. I don't feel like doing anything that doesn't involve a blanket and sweat pants, and am eating mostly total garbage like totchos (yes, that is nachos made with tater tots) and Blue Box with ketchup. I'm not pregnant, I think it's just the weather and the darkness. I spent 8 hours playing Chibi Robo yesterday, for fuck's sake. Ain't no cure for the wintertime blues.

Except maybe some hearty chicken soup with crunchy green beans, peas and carrots, chunks of creamy fingerling potatoes, cremini mushrooms and succulent chicken, and some tender gnocchi. The dumpling-like gnocchi sort of melt into the soup after awhile, making it nice and creamy-chowdery, and the broth is just shy of melted chicken demi glace, so rich and velvety, with plenty of fresh thyme and black pepper.

Serve with oven-warm rolls and Tivo'd episodes of How Clean is Your House.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Chinese" Chicken Salad

I've put on a few holiday pounds that are kinda stressing me out, because it's not even cookie and fudge go-time yet. I haven't really felt much like cooking lately, or even eating, which is kind of weird. I was craving salad, however, and decided to make a healthier version of that awesomely trashy "Chinese" chicken salad . I'm using "airquotes" because, to my knowledge, this salad has never been consumed or prepared in China or by any Chinese person, ever (and those turncoat Panda Express employees don't count). It's "Chinese" because it has sesame seeds and those deliciously ghetto, trans fat-having chow mein noodles (which is redundant, since chow mein is already a type of noodle, and not a fried, crispity thingy that Chun King sells in cans like so much Pik-Nik - it's like saying "spaghetti pasta"). I guess if you were in a effort-y mood, you could use slice and fry wonton skins to use instead. It would probably be rather kickass if you did.

The salad wasn't even composed of Asian greens; rather, it was a mix of romaine and that bagged, shredded broccoli/carrot/red cabbage slaw. To make it extra "Chinese" I added scallions sliced thinly on the bias and juicy nuggets of satsuma oranges (no, not the canned mandarin oranges - I'm not that ironic), and dressed it in soy sauce (the thick, black kind), mirin, rice vinegar, orange juice, sesame oil and a little salt and sugar. I bought a half a lemon-pepper rotisserie chicken that Scott graciously shredded for me, then I tossed it in the dressing and sprinkled on some more sesame seeds for good measure. I slipped the last few inches of a hothouse cuke in there, too, sliced on the bias to make it extra Chinese.

I have some trout fillets and am thinking about a lemon balm beurre blanc. Whether or not I feel like making the effort remains to be seen, but at least I'm thinking about food again.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Beef Stew

You know when you're feeling kinda tapped out, and multitasking isn't doing you any favors, and you just wanna curl up in a bowl and call it a night? Yeah, it's that time of year, isn't it. Scott made this stew the other night (he actually cooked!) for when I got home from the field, and after the gym I thought it'd be nice to just reheat a bowl of something instead of cooking. There wasn't quite enough for two full servings, so we decided to eat it on some nice, buttered egg noodles.

I was totally gonna make some croutons to go on top, but the batard was way too stale even for that, and I had to process them into crumbs and fry them to render them edible. The night Scott made the stew, I made thick croutons broiled with shredded fontina, but it was much soupier then and really needed it. The sad thing about stew is that although it tastes so much better a day or two later, the peas go all peaked and look like really sad shadows of their verdant selves.

Pickle-making isn't really a one-day feat, is it? I've been doing small batches every day, but the eggplant chutney set things off on sort of a bad foot. It's too thick to really get all of the air out, and so of course one of the jars blew out its bottom in the pressure cooker. I didn't realize it until I went to vent off some of the pressure when I smelled the chutney that should've been sealed up in the jar. Finally, everything cooled down enough to handle, and I was able to see the carnage of oily eggplant shreds floating around inside the pressure cooker. Ick. I had to wash all the remaining jars in soapy water to get the oil off, and scrubbed the pressure cooker before getting the next batch in last night. Tonight will be the red onion pickle.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Fry-Up Breakfast Pizza

I spent last week in Coos County, and haven't been in my kitchen since last weekend. I usually come home from these forays hungry for my own cooking, but we had plans on Friday and Saturday and so I still haven't really had any QT in the kitchen. After the marathon of Thanksgiving and a week of absence, I guess I'm still getting my groove back.

I hate to take a break for a week, and then return with some mess on a plate like this. It's not a sexy comeback, it's just breakfast. I made most of the components of an English fry-up: eggs, a couple rashers of bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes (just missing the black pudding and beans, really), and baked them on pizza dough. I also added some diced fingerling potato, chopped red onion and cheese curds for good measure.

I have a list of pickles and chutneys to crank out and can for holiday gifts, so that should keep me busy for awhile today. Here's to getting things back to normal.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Turkey Phở

This is such an easy way to run through that half-gallon of turkey stock you have gelling in your fridge, and it's a nice change of pace from the casseroles and sammiches. I'm sick of eating turkey, bread, mashed potatoes and gravy, and I'm sure you are too.

On Thanksgiving, we had a 16-pound turkey (for only 5 people), and I made 2 gallons of turkey stock from the carcass. This was way too much to store in my fridge or freezer, so I simmered the stock down to a scant 6 cups, and it really ended up with that velvety mouthfeel you normally associate with the unctuous oxtail broth typically used for phở. The large turkey also left us with a bag full of the confit legmeat and an entire roast breast with which to contend, and since turkey noodle soup is the third spoke of the Holy Trifecta of Thanksgiving Leftovers, I whipped up a version of phở gà, subbing turkey for chicken.

It takes a bit of time to prepare the broth, but it's worth it just for the way your house smells while it's simmering. Into a large pot, toss a few star anise pods, a 4" cinnamon stick, some charred/roasted shallots and ginger, some peppercorns and a couple of cloves, and two or three bay leaves. Toast these quickly in the pot until fragrant, then dump in the turkey (or chicken) stock. Simmer over low heat for an hour or so, replacing the water that evaporates. I also squirt in a tablespoon or so of nước mắm, and add a good pinch of salt and sugar.

Fill a bowl with fresh rice noodles (dried ones should be reconstituted in hot water for a minute first) and a fat wad of turkey meat. Ladle in the boiling-hot broth - this will heat the turkey and noodles and result in the perfect soup-eating temperature. Serve with mung bean sprouts, Thai basil and cilantro, lime wedges and sliced jalapeño, and I like a little sriracha hot sauce or sambal oelek and hoisin sauce on mine. Bon appétit!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Foxy Brown

Some of you have been asking about this Hot Brown that I declared I would make with leftover turkey, and I'm gonna tell you all about it. The Hot Brown is a sandwich created at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, created in the 1920s by the one of the hotel's first chefs, Fred Schmidt. It's now an institution, and is commonly served during the Kentucky Derby. It's an open-faced turkey sandwich covered in a Parmesan Mornay sauce and bacon. An ideal way to use Thanksgiving leftovers, really. I bet you're wishing you still had some, aren't you.

I, however, used a combination of Parm Redge, extra sharp cheddar and Gruyère (I had a lot after the mac & chee cook-off, I don't usually keep pounds of it around). I also added a nice fat pinch of paprika to the Mornay, and served it on a thick slice of toasted French batard. I've decided that I altered the recipe for a hot brown just enough to give it a newer, sexier name. I dub this sandwich the Foxy Brown.

Don't mess aroun' with Foxy Brown. It's the meanest sammich in town.

This sammich is easy to prepare. Just layer sliced, roasted turkey breast onto a nice thick slab of good bread (I love the organic French batard from New Seasons). Prepare a Mornay sauce (my recipe is here), stirring in a 1/4 tsp of hot paprika. Spoon copious amounts of the Mornay sauce over the turkey, and top with two slices of bacon. Garnish with grated Parm Redge and finely chopped parsley. A slice of tomato, were they in season, would really set this off.

Enjoy with Maker's Mark (or other fine Kentucky bourbon) and lemonade.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Turkey Confit Hash with Sweet Potato Latkes

Okay, since yesterday was such an ordeal (and I missed the daylight cutoff for decent photos), I'm parsing out the leftovers to eke out as much blogging as possible for my trouble. This morning we enjoyed the leftover sweet potato latkes (more like a large hashbrown) with some of the shredded turkey confit and the ubiquitous fried egg. I spooned over some of the king oyster mushroom Béchamel from the haricots verts au gratin (some of you may have figured out that this is just green bean casserole).

This is just the beginning, and dare I say I'm likely to have more fun with the leftovers than with the original meal. I just want to declare now, in case anyone beats me to the post, that I'm totally making hot browns for dinner tomorrow. I called it. Then will come turkey phở, then I'll be in the field for a week fretting over my leftovers.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A-Game 2008

I've got so much work ahead of me, but I'm making some progress. It's not too late! I spatched my turkey and the legs and wings are confiting in the oven, the breasts are tied and chillin' in a brine of coriander and fennel seed (from the garden), satsuma oranges and kefir lime leaves (with a splash of old Pinot), and the kabocha and kuri squashes for my tart are roasting along with the quinces and cranberries for the chutney. I have prepped my carrots and am gearing up to make the custard for my ice cream - if I could only decide which ice cream to make! It's a toss-up between black peppercorn (with a sprinkle of Bolivian pink salt) or young ginger and honey.

Menu (subject to change without notice):

Rosemary-Concorde pear focaccia with cheese curds
Chanterelle bisque with fresh turmeric and caramelized onions
Mixed green salad with honeycrisp apples, Brindisi and balsamic-honey vinaigrette
Haricots verts au gratin with king oyster mushrooms
Glazed carrots with young ginger
Turkey confit hash with sweet potato latkes
Roasted turkey breast with quince-cranberry chutney
Mashed potatoes with roasted shallot-thyme gravy
Garlic and herb savory bread pudding
Kabocha and kuri squash tart with ____ ice cream (I'm leaning toward the peppercorn)

I guess that looks like plenty after all. Okay, back to the kitchen with me - the wine's starting to kick in.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One of those casseroles, revisited

I am hell of tired after working a 12.5 hour day, 6 hours of which were spent with the client (and although this is a good client that I like, I tire of my own good behavior and mouth-watching after about 45 minutes). I came home after driving three hours with a raging headache and a bit of nausea, and needed a little horizontal couch time before I could do anything.

But some of you seemed genuinely interested in my ham and cheese orzo casserole (gluttons for punishment, you lot), so I'll write the recipe for you as best as I can. This was a hip-shooter, so forgive me if it yields a slightly different picture for you. This, by the by, is why I rarely post any recipes, ever. I don't cook from them, and I don't write them as I go.

Ham and Cheese Orzo Casserole
Serves 4-6

I dunno, like two cups of orzo? I shook some out of my huge jar.
4-ish cups of chicken stock?
3 tbsp butter
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup half & half + 1.5 cups hot water (or 2 cups milk, which we never have)
2 big handfuls of grated cheese - I used sharp cheddar and Gruyère
8 oz-ish of diced ham (I cubed up 3 slices that were 4" in diameter and 1/2" thick)
2 cups(?) chopped broccoli florets (it was one crown's worth)
2 baby bok choys sliced into chiffonade (you nudge this into every meal these days because you bought a huge bag, which is the only way Fubonn sells it)
a handful of green beans that you really should use up before they go bad
French fried onions (Trader Joe's makes good ones), or panko, or seasoned bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350. Cook the orzo in the stock, simmering gently and adding more hot water as needed, until all the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is just a nit past al dente. Remove from heat.

While the orzo is cooking, prepare the Mornay sauce. Melt the butter over medium heat and add the flour, whisking until blended and cooking until golden and nutty-smelling (this is roux, for the noobs). Remove from the heat and add the half & half/water (or milk), whisking until flawlessly creamy and lump-free (this is Béchamel, for the noobs). This step is expedited by the use of an immersion blender, FYI. Yes, I'm admitting it, and don't look at me like that. When the sauce is perfectly blended, return to the heat, reduce temp to low, and simmer and bubble for about 10 minutes, or until the floury taste is cooked out. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheeses (save some to sprinkle on top) and S&P.

Mix the Mornay sauce into the cooked orzo and stir in the ham and veg. Pour into your favorite hand-me-down casserole that your Grandma Laverne used to use (and was probably purchased with Green Stamps saved up from all those trips to IGA). Top with the remaining cheese and crispety topping. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the sauce is starting to bubble over and leave those nice browned bubbly streaks down the side of the crock, and the crispety topping is all golden and crispety.

Like I said, I can't guarantee your results. It takes a little finesse, this casserole business. If you try the recipe and it fails miserably (I doubt that will happen - it's ham and cheese and pasta, for fuck's sake), just let me know and I'll help troubleshoot.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Tale of Two Casseroles

I've been cooking and eating a lot of casseroles and gratins lately. My little white Corningware vessel hasn't seen this much action since the Ford administration. Out of all of my crockery, it's by far my favorite. Not just because of nostalgia for Grandma Laverne's celery-cheddar-water chestnut casserole (which I flawlessly reenacted one Thanksgiving for my wistful dad, just for him to admit that he'd always hated it), but because it is virtually stain-proof. Nay, it is literally stain-proof. Okay, I also love it because it used to belong to Grandma Laverne.

Obviously, this time of year begs for bubbly shit coming out of the warm-your-house-up oven, but there's something far more primal about making and eating casseroles in cooler weather. It connects us to our aproned, canned soup-having ancestors in a way that DNA just can't. I was a frumpy housefrau in a previous life, I just know it, and casserole was my weapon.

Tuna Casserole

There's just no way to make this look good, is there? Maybe that's why so many kids hate tuna casserole. I always loved it, personally, which is a good thing since my mom made it on a semi-regular basis. Now, I make it pretty much exactly like she did, but I use a better brand of cream of mushroom soup and solid albacore. Everything else, though - frozen peas, wide egg noodles and crunchy topping - is just the same. Though I normally like to fuck with everything I grew up eating until its foundation is unrecognizable, tuna casserole garners my subscription to the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of recipe adulteration.

The best part is the crunchy edge noodles. Or the sweet peas. Or the briny, flaky tuna.

Ham and Cheese Orzo Casserole

I know what you're thinking. "Again, with the melty cheese and French-fried onions." Well I can't help it, okay? I need to see shit coming out of my oven with bubbly sauce and crispety topping. I can't help it. Norm and his (adorably gawky) tween son Connor were coming over, and this kid's picky. Normally, I believe in punishing pickiness by sneaking loathed ingredients into every dish, but I like Connor (and Norm), and decided to play nice. I know Connor likes broccoli, if nothing else that's green, and he likes meat. And all growing boys like melty cheese and pasta. No brainer.

Okay, I went ahead and snuck in some chiffonade of baby bok choy and sliced green beans just to be a bitch. He didn't seem to notice.

So, casseroles. I probably have one or two more in me, probably for Thanksgiving, and then I'll seek help for my addiction.