Saturday, January 31, 2009
With some chopped chives and parmesan sprinkled on top! Heavenly taste...
I am a big gnocchi fan. Any type, cooked most any way! But the big taste determiner for me is whether they're homemade (or in a restaurant, house-made) or not. "Not" usually means heavy and floury. Made from scratch means lighter, softer, melt-in-your-mouthier. Yum.
So I discovered this recipe for ricotta gnocchi, and another one, and then finally this one (from Martha Stewart, no less) that incorporated butternut squash into the recipe as well. That's always a bonus with me. But none of the recipes were going to work completely on their own to meet my tastes, so I combined a little of one with a little of another, and the most enjoyable lunch was born. And the sweetest thing of all was how easy it was--this wasn't any all-day pasta-making marathon, by any means.
I went with low-fat ricotta and it behaved quite nicely in place of the whole milk variety. If I had more butternut squash on hand, I'd probably have added a bit more of that as well. It was a little mild on the squash flavor, and color-wise was paler than I'd have liked, too. I knew when I added the whole wheat flour that the color would muddy up a bit, but it was worth it to try the less-processed flour, and I am partial to the nuttier flavor of whole wheat, too. All in all, a quite healthy version of gnocchi!
Ricotta and Butternut Squash Gnocchi
(serves 4-6 depending on portion size...)
1 (16-ounce) container of low-fat ricotta
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed roasted butternut squash
1/2 teaspoon salt/
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour + extra for your hands and cutting board
In the bowl of a food processor, mix the ricotta, egg and butternut squash until well combined. Scrape contents into a large bowl and mix in the flour and salt until all ingredients are incorporated. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Check the dough by pinching a bit. It should be a bit tacky. If it clings to your fingers too much, incorporate more flour one tablespoon at a time until you reach a workable consistency. Before shaping, put a large pot of water on the stove to bring to a boil. Sprinkle a baking sheet with flour and set it close to your work space.
Sprinkle your hands and work surface with a little flour. Break off a small orange-sized piece of the dough and roll it into a thick log about 3/4-inch thick.
Cut the log into 3/4" pieces. You can shape them if you want to look more traditional--I left them as natural little pillows...
Transfer this batch to the baking sheet and toss with flour to prevent sticking. Repeat rolling process with the remaining dough.
Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the water and a third of the gnocchi. Gently stir the gnocchi to make sure they don't stick. Once they bob to the surface, let them cook an additional 2 minutes. Remove gnocchi with a slotted spoon and transfer to a colander set over a bowl to finish draining.
I wanted to fry them up lightly with some sage and brown butter, but there was no sage in the house... so I went with a lovely rosemary grapeseed oil that I've used with great success in other recipes, and they fried up splendidly. I boiled and fried up the whole batch so that they wouldn't stick to each other horribly in the fridge.
To top, I grated some parmesan over the top with some chopped fresh chives, and it was glorious!
Friday, January 30, 2009
* Sunshine. Kind of explains itself. And alas, it shows off, with startling clarity, the dusting that I have been putting off... until today! Dust bunnies have been banished.
* The husband and the boy. Both fill my life with much joy and love.
* A mostly clean house and a clean garage. Another afternoon project...
* The promise of spring. I know we're being teased again, but it's kind of nice...
* Friendship. New, old, those I see often, those I see less often. Even those I've never met (yes that's you, Warm Bunny)!
* Sushi. I'm not greatly experimental, but what I like, I love. Maybe one day I'll even get the chopsticks figured out. I know this will shock you, but I'm very UNelegant with chopsticks.
* Music, the sharing and exchanging thereof. I have a great musical karmic debt that I am needing to come out from under... kind of like the economy... well, not THAT bad. But still, I have some sharin' to do. My favorite song is STILL Ingrid Michelson's "The Way I Am." Simply. Love. It.
* Reading: with Seth, by myself, last thing at night, first thing in the morning. Online. On my Kindle. Even a "real" book! Tackling the pile on the bedstand, one by one...
* Amazing creativity from this artist, Curtis Steiner, and his 1,000 blocks. Seth and I watched this in awe last night, exclaiming over every iteration.
* New inspiration in the kitchen. This weekend I'm going to experiment with no-knead pasta, some new recipes for the breadmaker (husband will love!), some ricotta gnocchi... why does that all sound so carby? Carby end-of-winter goodness! Soon enough it will be about salad and fresh things... I'll munch on a carrot or two for good measure...
* Family near and far, to be in touch, to be connected; for this I am especially grateful. For phone calls from my Pa while he's out walking, from my Ma when she wants help on FB, from my s.i.l. when she's on the way to the grocery store, from MJ when she wants to hear how warm it is in WW, from Grandma to say thanks for Christmas goodies... from Shelby... wait, no call from Shelby? Must fix that asap!
* Memories. As I watch Seth go through middle school and all its many ups and a few downs, I am reminded so vividly of that time in my life. The commute to school, the friends (ups and downs), the boys (!), making "taco" sandwiches for lunch (salsa and cheese between bread slices!), books I read (the Betsy and Tacy series, Anne of Green Gables and every other book by that author), stories I wrote (true silliness), my room with the giant rolltop desk and lots lof little nooks and crannies for cards and stickers (some things never change), listening to my Bible in Living Sound going to sleep at night, the rubik's cube contests... This week Seth has really decided it's about solving the rubik's cube, and all I can do is one measly side... so he's been watching YouTube videos and plans on enlisting Uncle Shelby's help soon. Meanwhile I shared with him all about the rubik's contests at school as kids and how Uncle S. had a trick to make his rubik's go super-quick, and how if he was going really fast it could catch and explode... Seth loved that visual thought.
* Humor. Our other YouTube adventure this week was delving a bit deeper into Monty Python. Seth had been exposed to some, but not the especially choice bits Mom favors, so we did a little cheese shop, a little argument clinic, a little job interview... now that one really speaks to me!
For your weekend viewing pleasure...
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Yes, it was the Quaker Oats Quickfire... Padma arrives with Scott Conant, who just opened Scarpetta in NYC in 2008 and got three stars from the NYTimes. Very cool. Hard to do. Also a 2004 Food and Wine Best New Chef. So a judge with chops.
They assign everyone to a food group: veggies, fruit, fish, meat, seafood, poultry, dairy... I would have been stumped, initially, other than some sort of fruit crisp. Oats aren't a part of my daily crusting of food... but these guys stepped up the challenge and crusted EVERYTHING, even eggplant, which didn't turn out so hot for Fabio, who picked vegetables. According to him: "There is not reason to eat vegetables when there is meat and fish around." Yeah, well, even a major meat eater should have known not to encrust eggplant with oats!
They have 45 minutes and come up oat-crusted shrimp (Jamie), oat crusted weiner schnitzel (Hosea), banana mousse with oat petit fours (Stefan), fish with oat crust, bacon and escarole (Leah, doing fish again after last week!), oat-crusted tofu and oatmeal/lentil salad (Carla), eggplant and oats (Fabio, who gets interrupted in his explanation by Scott, who says his dish "speaks for itself;" more drama with these two later...) and oat-crusted chicken paillard with grits and fried zucchini (Jeff, once again, too much going on on the plate!).
Great quote from Carla: "The creative monkeys can’t be quieted in Jeff." Ha. Good one.
Fumbles: Leah: fish overcooked (switch from last week!), whole dish clashed with bacon; Fabio: encrusting eggplant was bad idea; Jeff: all brown, heavy plate.
Other top dishes: Carla and Jamie
So on to the elimination challenge, where all-stars from past TC seasons come out to play.
Spike, Andrew, Josie, Andrea, Camile, Nikki, Miguel all arrive to each take on a Season 5 cheftestant. They each cook for a different NFL team/city and need to represent the area cuisine in their dishes.
Stefan's advantage from winning the quickfire is to pick his team and his opponent: Dallas Cowboys and Andrea. He seems to remember Andrea as a vegetarian who went home pretty early in Season 1. I remember the same, though she claims now NOT to be a vegetarian. Hmm.
Green Bay Packers: Fabio v. Spike
San Francisio 49ers: Jamie v. Camille
Miami Dolphins: Jeff v. Josie
Seattle Seahawks: Hosea v. Miguel
New Orleans Saints: Carla v. Andrew
New York Giants: Leah v. Nikki
Love Spike and Andrew… for short periods of time. For any extended period, I get drained. I can only imagine prep time in the TC kitchen... like toddlers, really. I was following them on Twitter for a bit during Top Chef, but it's way too ADD for me. Which is saying something.
So Seth watched with me and came up with his faves again quite quickly: Fabio and Carla—he likes spunky Carla. I will hold judgment on his taste in women for at least a few more years. I can appreciate that he sees the "Muppet" in her and likes the quirk.
My favorites remain: Stefan and Jamie, and a little bit of Fabio. Stefan doesn't annoy me like he seems to others... maybe he would in person. But I just see him poking people, playing around, being somewhat charming in his arrogance...
So they all cooked in front of an audience, two cooks per round. A touchdown is 7 points (judges), fan favorite: 3 points. So when you win big, it's 10 points! If you lose a round, on the chopping block you go.
So after some quick rounds of cooking:
Leah v. Nikki up first—Leah won by 3 judges, Nikki got the fan field goal.
Miguel v. Hosea—Hosea won 3 judges and the fans, so Hosea has 10 points.
Carla v. Andrew—Carla unanimously with the judges! Andrew won fan points.
Lovely quote from Carla: "Sometimes you have to have quick love." Really, Carla?
Stefan v. Andrea—Two and two on judges, fans voted for Andrea hands down.
SHOCK. Stefan got beat. He was floored and humbled. Ha. I think it was good for him.
Jamie v. Camille—Two and two on judges, Jamie carries it with the fans.
Jeff v. Josie—Josie got 3 judges, and three fans. Jeff is going down.
Spike v. Fabio—Judges went with Spike, fans went with Fabio…
Total points: Home: 37; All Stars: 33
Can you hear the intake of breath? I am shocked. She won two tickets to the Super Bowl! (Seth is very happy.)
Carla—The love was there. Even Toby said so. Everyone thought it was all good; Tom liked it too. Hosea—Unique, Asian, great to make a salmon roll and have still medium rare inside. His food draws you back, said Scott Conant. Jamie—Tom liked it even though he didn’t vote for it. Nice comments from Scott about her cooking style, that she was fun to watch and she worked well with her food. That was nice to hear as it's usually all about the taste. Leah—Simple, good dish.
And on to the losing chefs... Stefan, Fabio and Jeff:
Initially I thought it would be Jeff going home, but then worried for a moment when Fabio decided to get defensive about his meat (vension). As Tom said, it was already dead, didn’t need to be killed again… Scott pretty much told Fabio to shut up and accept that he made a losing dish. It was a bit tense. I didn't think too much more of it until I read today on gawker.com about the judging (mostly entertainment value, though their assessment of Andrew and Spike is dead on). Curious. I don't know why Scott thought Fabio so terrible, but he definitely didn't seem to take to the guy, and it didn't all seem to be about the food. I thought Fabio handled himself well at judge's table, and especially at the end, when he accepted his second chance graciously.
Oh, but then I gave it away. Drat. But you knew already. No way Stefan's going home (even though he was missing the strong flavors Dallas is known for). No way Fabio's going home (even though Scott Conant probably wanted him to). But Jeff... no protecting him. Alas, Mr. No-Eye-Contact and Too-Many-Elements-on-a-Plate packed his knives and went back to Miami... but a good loser, truly.
From Seth to the losers as they were defending their dishes: Zip it, bite it, suck it up. (Is this my kid or what?!)
Down to six. It's getting good. I was pleased pleased pleased to see the Season 5 cheftestants really do well against the All Stars. I think it probably reaffirmed for all of them (except maybe Stefan, who was expecting to roll over Andrea... figuratively as well as it seems literally...) that they belong there and they CAN cook. In that closed environment with only each other week in and week out, it's been evident that even the good cooks can start to doubt themselves.
And it seems we get to move past that whole icky Leah and Hosea thing. Other than his snide comments about her fish, they seemed to just avoid each other. Finally.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
1 large onion, diced
1 15 ozcan refried beans
Friday, January 23, 2009
Tonight on a very special Blossom, Sherilee is thankful that (and now we switch to first person. Thankfully!):
* I didn't hurt anything too seriously (other than my pride) when I landed helter-skelter on my backside on the sidewalk. Ouch. Ice hurts. There's a rumor of snow this weekend, and that would make me very happy too. Snow would feel warm right about now.
* Seth is home and huggy. Yeah.
* The week is over. Yes, it's over! Restful weekend awaits.
* Extremely thankful that supper was this:
And this (rootbeer floats, if you can't tell!):
And a little family bonding around the dvd game Planet Earth. Quite fun. Who knew the lesser florican jumps up out of the grass to check out potential mates? It sounds plausible, but they could also be looking for predators, no?
* I am thankful that while it was a very historic week, and some people tried to upstage the inauguration by announcing a clean bill of health (you know who you are) on the world wide web, no one quite usurped the limelight like The Hat. The Hat got a lot of press this week. Check out an especially entertaining rundown of the magical properties of The Hat.
* I'm thankful for all things warm and cozy and home-related right now. It's a chilly 29 degrees out there; if I don't leave the house all the weekend I won't be surprised! There's food in the fridge, TV all lined up on the dvr, books on the bookshelf, ample internet access... why leave?
* I'm thankful for my mom and her encouraging and thoughtful emails throughout the week. It's a rare day I don't get a sweet little note. They always make my day better. Today I got a great quote from her:
Life is mostly froth and bubble.
Two things stand like stone,
Kindness in another’s trouble,
Courage in your own.
–Adam Lindsay Gordon
Kinda rings true, doesn't it? Happy weekend, peoples!
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Or: Lessons in Running a Professional Kitchen by Leah.
Or: Top Chef, High School Style.
(Kim, sorry for stealing your blog title style!)
Couldn't have seen that one coming! Ha. They've only been baiting us for weeks. The drama unfolds below...
Quickfire: Padma and Stephen Starr, restauranteur extraordinaire, challenge the cheftestants to conceive a tasting menu showcasing a restaurant concept. Two winners, one each to head up the restaurants during the elimination of Restaurant Wars! So, no immunity tonight!
On the bottom: Jeff: Salmon isn't the fish to impress apparently. Side note: why can't Jeff make eye contact? Can't look at the camera for any period of time. Not the next Food Network star, I'm thinking.
Fabio: Menu didn't inspire as a restaurant concept. I liked his lunch idea, but it wasn't new or interesting... did like how he took offense to his filet mignon sandwich being called a cheesesteak! Ha.
So the winners, from a mostly fishy menu, lots of "New American” ideas… whatever.
Radhika: Great seasonings, and emerging concept: Indian flavors.
Leah: Clean and forward thinking, Asian influence. (And this she threw together, on the fly, no concept in advance… I’m thinking lucky break.)
So the Restaurant War is on. But first, we have to have a little inappropriate evening cuddle time back at Chez Chef. They had been teasing to it for weeks, but it really was rather mild--what they showed anyway. It seems to prove that eventually people do forget the cameras are on. Or they drink too much. Or a combination thereof. Regardless, quite childish given that they both are supposed to be in respective relationships AND they have to go on to work together/compete against each other. And somehow they both wake up the next day and are ashamed? Whatever. Grow up.
Restaurant name: Sahana
Concept: Old spice trade
Radhika: Front of house
Restaurant name: Sunset Lounge
Concept: Asian influence
Fabio: Front of house
So they work fast and furious for 24 hours to bang out the restaurant. Pier One, restaurant supply stores, Whole Foods and some giant food warehouse... how fun! They had $5,000 to spend on decor, $3,000 on food. I think it should have been switched!
It is easy to see right off that Radhika is in way over her head, not comfortable as a leader (she says as much) and happy to let the others conceive their own dishes based on the loose "spice trade/middle eastern foods" concept. They all get along, for the most part, and Jamie steps into the sous chef/leader position. Jeff works with Jamie while Carla does desserts. With Carla's history so far with desserts, that seems best. Or does it? Ominous noises. Don't look to the end. Don't. Keep your eyes up here.
Team Sahana races around getting ready for service, the time seems really short as usual. Good Jeff quote: I feel like a hummingbird on cocaine. Both teams feel behind though; Leah never even makes it out of the kitchen to see what the front of the house looks like! But Fabio has it all under control!
At the Sunset Lounge, Leah is completely lackluster as a leader as well. She and Hosea give each other a wide berth, Fabio is setting up the front of the house, and Stefan is on desserts. Leah has some pouty moment with her fish and the boniness of it, and Hosea gives her advice to cut them out. Not great advice, but it seems to work, though it certainly isn’t pretty. Unfortunately, she somehow neglects to properly cook the pieces going to the judges, and it is deemed the worst dish of the night. Not such a lucky break there.
Later, when Carla's desserts go out, she knows she hasn't done a good job. She is such a funny lady--her comment is, "A train wreck is a comin', lord I know it is!" Ha. She has no idea how much of a train wreck. No one likes her spiced chocolate cake (how hard is that to wreck?) and her yogurts never set up, so they are more like yogurt soup. Ugh.
Fabio looks good at front of house for the Sunset Lounge in his white suit! He says: "We can serve monkey ass [it was hard to hear with his thick accent, but I swear he did say "ass," I'm not making it up!] and empty clam shell, I'm running the front of the house." The difference between his confidence level and Radhika's is palpable. Radhika is mousey in appearance and demeanor, almost shuffling around, and avoiding her hostess duties. She spends as much time as she can back in the kitchen, and the really appalling thing is that the judges get up and LEAVE her restaurant without her coming to say goodbye--she's hanging out in the kitchen. Wow.
So heading to judges table we know that Stefan's desserts rocked. He did a chocolate rice parfait and a lemongrass ginger panna cotta. Even tough guy Stephen Starr thought they were the best dishes of the night. And he finished with a mango-dark chocolate-mint lollipop. Sounds kind of good, and I'm not even a dark chocolate fan.
We also know that Carla's desserts sucked. And that Radhika's service was appalling. So that made their team a little less appealing. On the other side, Leah's fish was horrible, but Stefan's desserts and Fabio's front-of-house performance was what saved her. (Ugh for us having to see her and Hosea and their adolescent post-coital avoidance moments. I can't wait until one of them is gone now.)
So sure enough, the Sunset Lounge crew wins the day, with Stefan taking home top honors. I still don't see what's so annoying about him. I think he's kind of charming. Not great language, kind of bull headed, but that's probably what separates him from the pack. Radhika needed an ounce of his tenacity and energy, but had none. Zippo on the stamina.
But first, we get to hear from Carla about her amazingly bad desserts:"But I had a good time. I thought, if I can't send out a good dessert, I'm going to send out some love with this dessert." To which our visiting judge replied, "Keep the love in the kitchen. Send out good desserts." The fact that his comment seemed somehow shocking to her tells me (and not for the first time) that she’s living on borrowed time. Tick tock, Beeker lady. (Seth and I think she and Beeker from the Muppets are separated at birth… and that’s really not a mean comparison, really. Endearing.)
Even with that refreshingly honest but unacceptable attitude from Carla, Radhika got the ax. Whew. About time. Originally I had some hopes pinned to her, but it's been a long time since I've seen anything really “wow” from her, or any energy to speak of. Bye bye.
Oh and Toby Young was pretty quiet in this episode. Apparently he's aware of his bad press from the first couple of episodes. He wrote a piece for The Spectator that was pretty full of himself, classic Toby. Loves to be hated, he does. But someone in the editing room is actually helping the audience out, since he's been largely cut out of late. Not too sad about that!
And in other Top Chef news, sweet Chef Colicchio was at an inaugural party this week and saved Joan Nathan from choking on a chicken bone. Way to go, Tom!
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Butternut squash salad
Butternut squash, peeled and cubed, roasted and cooled
2 T. olive oil
4 T. white balsamic vinegar
1T. concentrated pomegranate juice
1 T. Walla Walla Sweet Onion mustard
Whisk together and set aside.
Layer as you will. This is one where you can set the proportions to your individual tastes. I layered the arugula followed by maybe a cup of butternut squash cubes, about a half-cup pomegranate seeds (I added more later--I can rarely have too many pomegrante seeds!) and maybe a 1/3 cup chopped walnuts. Some parmesan or even goat cheese would also have been good, but I didn't think about that until I was already halfway through. (I know, shocking coming from the Cheese Queen!) After you've layered, drizzle the dressing over and enjoy!
This was a lovely supper!
Monday, January 19, 2009
(Serves 6; or me and husband, twice.)
Notes: For the best flavor, make the soup a day or 2 in advance. Alternatively, the onions can be prepared through step 1, cooled in the pot, and refrigerated for up to 3 days before proceeding with the recipe. (I was able to wait a day before eating, and I choose to believe the flavors deepened wonderfully!)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 3 pieces
4 large yellow onions, sliced thinly
1/2 cup dry sherry
6 cups vegetable broth
Ground black pepper
1 small baguette , cut into 1/2-inch slices
8 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese (about 2 1/2 cups)
Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Generously spray the inside of a heavy-bottomed large Dutch oven with a nonstick cooking spray. Place the butter in the pot and add the onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, covered, for 1 hour (the onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume). Remove the pot from the oven and stir the onions, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot. Return the pot to the oven with the lid slightly ajar and continue to cook until the onions are very soft and golden brown, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours longer, stirring the onions and scraping bottom and sides of pot after 1 hour.
Carefully remove pot from oven and place over medium-high heat. Using oven mitts to handle pot, cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until the liquid evaporates and the onions brown, reducing the heat to medium if the onions are browning too quickly. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the pot bottom is coated with a dark crust, adjusting the heat as necessary. (Scrape any fond that collects on spoon back into onions.) Stir in the sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until the sherry evaporates, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the broth and bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, scraping up any final bits of browned crust on bottom and sides of pot.
Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaves, then season with salt and pepper.
For the croutons:
Lightly toast baguette slices in a toaster. Set aside.
Set individual broiler-safe crocks on baking sheet and fill each with about 1 3/4 cups soup. Top each bowl with 1 or 2 baguette slices (do not overlap slices) and sprinkle evenly with Gruyère. Bake until cheese is melted and bubbly around edges, 10-15 minutes minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving. (As you can see from the picture above, I did soup-for-two in a small shallow baking pan and it worked just perfectly.)
Do you think we liked it?
Friday, January 16, 2009
* Grateful for the variation in the weather. If that fog had come and just stayed... no thanks. We're cold, but the fog has lifted and maybe there will be a little snow? If we're going to be this cold, it would be nice to see a little of the fluffy stuff.
* The three of us had a home day on Thursday. Some un-wellness in the fam, some run-down feeling... it was just nice to have a day together, not a weekend day. Not grateful for the illness (rather, grateful it's all better), but grateful for our family togetherness.
* Grateful for a son who reminds me at times, in his own sweet way, what the right thing to do is. Much as I'm chagrined at being shown the way by a 12-year-old, I'm still grateful. (Husband does this for me too, but I kind of expect it from him!)
* Grateful for gnocchi. Had a lovely lunch with girlfriends; and the sweet potato gnocchi and a mixture of root vegetables was just heavenly.
* Grateful the dogs are all getting along, for the most part.
* Grateful things are progressing with the annual volunteer fundraising. Feeling good about progress in the face of dismal economic times... this is going to be a tough year to raise money, I think. But I'm grateful so far that more people have been open to talking, rather than just shutting the door.
* Grateful that January is half over. Not to be counting down to green grass, but come on... let's get this spring ball rolling. (This is not necessarily in complete contradiction to the first item above. If we're going to have winter, let's have winter. But if we have a choice, let's move it along to spring. Chop chop.)
* Grateful for skype, so that Corinne and I could "watch" the Golden Globes together. So she could tease me about giving Pierce a pass on his singing in Mamma Mia... and we could admire Eva Mendes' necklace... and question Renee Zellweger's fashion choices... just share happy, catty comments!
* And in the humor department, I'm grateful that every once in awhile something gets passed along that's actually funny. I checked this out online to see where it originated and everywhere I found it, it was listed as "I got an email from a friend." It's truly funny, at least to us working moms!
Life Lesson #45893: Always check your child's homework before it gets to school!
When asked to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up, second-grader "Sarah" turned in the lovely drawing shown below. Needless to say, the teacher was a bit surprised; Mrs. Smith had always seemed like such a conservative woman. So she sent a note home to the girl's mother asking for clarification as to the picture's meaning.
(Here's the reply the teacher received the following day)
Dear Mrs. Jones, I wish to clarify that I am not now, nor have I ever been, an exotic dancer. I work at Home Depot and I told my daughter how hectic it was last week before the blizzard hit. I told her we sold out of every single shovel we had, and then I found one more in the back room, and that several people were fighting over who would get it. Her picture doesn't show me dancing around a pole. It's supposed to depict me selling the last snow shovel we had at Home Depot. From now on I will remember to check her homework more thoroughly before she turns it in.
Sincerely, Mrs. Smith
* And last but certainly not least I am SO grateful for the plane landing in the Hudson yesterday with everyone safe. I was reading about the pilot tonight and just thinking about how I want him to be my pilot on every flight I take, from now on, forever. Do you think that's possible? What poise and calm under stressful circumstances! Kudos.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
I was looking forward to this episode ever since I saw that Hung (winner, season 3) was going to be there for judging. I really liked him, and especially respected his speed and agility with a knife. So when he came around to judge the cheftestants in the quickfire, I knew it would be good. They all had to cook with canned and boxed ingredients, not exactly what a chef would immediately reach for. Hard to get good flavor. Oh, and they had to do it in 15 minutes. Whew. They ran and scrambled and chopped and came up with a variety of interesting options. On the bottom of the pile were some waffles from Leah, a bruschetta from Jamie and a bean dip from Rahdika. In the winner's circle were Fabio, Stefan and Jeff. And, believe it or not, two of the top three had Spam in them. Can you believe it? I couldn't. Stefan came out on top with immunity for the elimination challenge, and he was immediately puffed up. (Which seemed natural of course, but he then followed up his victory by sniping with Jamie about the menu later, which saddened me... I have been liking him of late. Oh well.)
First a little background, so you can know just how yummy and wonderful tonight's episode was for me. I was watching Seth's basketball practice tonight and of course had my book along. (I can only watch a bunch of 12-year-olds with a basketball for so long, and his practices run at least 2 hours. Yes, 2 hours. Boggles my mind as well.) Anyway, I am reading The Reach of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman, the third in his wonderful chef series... and I am in the part where he's talking about a chef who runs a fabulous farm-to-kitchen restaurant in Maine. I am in love with this idea, and was just thoroughly enjoying reading about the whole process and how idyllic it all sounds (and yes, a lot of work), and then here comes the elimination challenge tonight... to cook at Blue Hill restaurant on the properties of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. How fabulous is that?
Watching them walk the farm and pick produce and see the animals, I almost forgot that we had our first major fog day of 2009 here in Walla Walla, and many more will follow, apparently. It was sunny and warm and the produce was just beautiful. The only thing I was just on pins and needles thinking would happen--that they'd have to pick out their animal and then actually kill it--didn't happen.
But they did have to butcher to a large extent, and that's what completely undid two teams. When Seth (yes I had a little extra viewing help tonight, thank goodness there wasn't a ton of swearing!) and I saw the menus as they planned them out, the fact that Team Chicken had their protein in three courses seemed like overkill--cutlets, roasted legs AND a chicken soup. Why? Team Pork did two courses of protein, Team Lamb did one. I thought, with Ariane's history of meat-cooking, that Team Lamb would rock. Not so much.
Here are the menus:
Team Pork (Fabio, Jeff and Rahdika)
Roasted pork loin
Sausage ravioli with pesto
Fried green tomatoes (the saving grace of the team, apparently!)
Grilled corn salad with bacon
Team Chicken (Stefan, Carla and Jamie)
Lemon herb roasted chicken
Chicken ravioli soup
Nectarine-strawberry tartlet (top dessert, Carla's pastry rocks!)
Team Lamb (Hosea, Leah and Ariane)
Roasted duo of lamb (didn't see anything "duo" about it...)
Heirloom tomato salad
Rosemay and garlic mashed potatoes
Summer berry trifle
Can't you just taste the possibility in those menus? Yummy. And they ate outside, all the farmers and kitchen staff together, family style. It made me want so badly to have sunshine and picnics and fresh berries!
Alas, it was not all yummy... Team Chicken ended up taking the day, proving once again it's not what it looks like on paper, but how each dish is executed. Apparently both the pork and lamb were truly butchered, too much fat was taken off, and twice Chef Colicchio made his point about "If you can get meat on the bone, cook it on the bone. Better flavor." So that popped Team Chicken to the top, and Dan Barber, guest judge and chef at Blue Hill, declared them all winners. All the stress and tension between Stefan and Jamie that took place in the menu planning was gone (big surprise).
So to uncover who was the worst of the worst (Padma's comment was that any number of chefs could have been sent home tonight...), they grilled both Team Pork and Team Lamb. They picked apart the butchering, how the lamb loins were tied (made me quite proud of my string technique! Tenderloin for 70 later, and I was a pro back in the day...), the desserts, you name it. And at the end of the day, the lady who rose on her meat, fell on her meat (sword), if you will... Ariane packed her knives and went. (Can you see me doing the vindication dance? I'm doing it!). There were moments when I thought I had it all wrong and she might take the whole pie home, but somewhere deep down I just knew she didn't have it in her. And to lose it over meat seems rather ironic given that she rocked meat a number of times earlier... ah well.
Side note: So someone in the editing room must have gotten smacked around for the major Toby Young commenting from last week, as he was largely non-commenty until the judges table, and even then it was rather thin... other than his comment about having unprotected sex with pork. What? Huh? I think he makes up clever (sounding, to him) comments at home, and then tries to figure out where to pop up with them on the show. It just doesn't sound spontaneous, extemporaneous, however you want to say it. I'm kind of over him. He's funny, of course, but seems like he's funny for the sake of funny, rather than humorous. Fine line, he ain't walkin' it....
And then there were 8.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
The rip-off of P.F. Chang's vegetarian lettuce wraps
(Adapted from recipezaar.com)
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons dry sherry
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese chili sauce
2 teaspoons water
1 cup baked tofu, diced
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon fresh minced ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 green onions, minced
1/4 large red onion, minced
4 ounces bamboo shoots, diced
4 ounces water chestnuts, diced
1 head iceberg lettuce
You can buy baked tofu or you can make your own. I make my own--easy and cheaper and better flavor. Cut a loaf of tofu into 1 inch slices and place in a baking pan just slightly larger than the tofu. Pour a mixture of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar over the tofu until you have just covered the tofu. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour and a half. Drain off the liquid and let cool, then cut as needed (diced, for this recipe; 1/2 inch cubes for stirfry, etc.).
Mix the cooking sauce in a bowl and set aside.
In medium bowl, combine sherry, soy sauce, chili sauce, sesame oil, cornstarch, and water. Mix well and stir in tofu. Allow to marinate for 15 minutes.
Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mixed sesame oil and stir fry tofu for 2-3 minutes.
Add the ginger, garlic and onion; stir-fry for about a minute. Add bamboo shoots and water chestnuts; stir-fry for another 2 minutes. Add cooking sauce and cook until thickened (about 2 minutes). Cool slightly and place into serving bowl.
Rinse and dry lettuce, pull apart leaves into whole pieces to wrap around the filling.
A little veggie stirfry to go with the lettuce wraps--broccoli, carrots, colorful peppers, tofu and onions, with a little extra of the cooking sauce (see above) to pull it all together.
With a little brown rice, a complete meal!
Friday, January 9, 2009
* I'm grateful for sunshine, which has popped out the past couple of days.
* I'm grateful for Seth that he made the AAU basketball team, and that his legs aren't sore anymore from running lines at practice.
* I'm grateful that the sore throat I had Wednesday morning disappeared with only a few megadoses of vitamin C and Airborne. And that someone very sweet who lives with me brought me roses to cheer me in my sore throat funk.
* I'm grateful that the wind hasn't been horrific, just mildly disturbing a couple of nights. Sleep must reign supreme.
* I'm grateful that the dogs have only chewed up one dog bed in the garage this week. (I came home a couple of weeks ago to three--out of four--beds chewed up royally and I stitched them back up! And gave a wee lecture on the evils of chewing.)
* I'm grateful that Ma and Pa made it up the hill (they don't call it Heck Hill for nothing) to their house with chains and low gear on the truck.
* I'm grateful that a friend who had surgery this week is home and doing well and enjoying her supply of doctor-approved narcotics.
* I'm grateful for a world of creativity. OK-go is a band who sort-of made the big time by being invited to the VMAs a couple of years ago. The first video below was shot in one band member's parents' back yard, and his sister choreographed it. They went on to host a youtube contest and a couple hundred groups mimicked their dance, some eerily well. The second video is the one they featured on the VMAs. These guys are a hoot. (And the guy lip synching is not the lead singer. Freaked a friend of mine out who went to a concert expecting him to be singing. Nope, I think he's the bass player.) Anyway, Seth and I went through an OK-go phase, and I thought I'd share them with you...
Have a great weekend. Learn a new dance!
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Meanwhile, in NYC, there's a new judge in town! The much anticipated arrival of Toby Young... well, slightly anticipated? I don't think anyone in the U.S. really knows much about him, other than maybe the dozen or so people who saw the movie this past year based on his life, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. Doesn't that sound like someone you want judging your food? Ha.
To kick things off, the quickfire (sponsored of course by Diet Dr. Pepper. Argh. More sponsorships!) was for the cheftestants to create a dessert using any ingredients besides sugar. A humorless judge, Jean-Christophe Novelli (hereafter known as Chef Chuckles), joined Padma as the chefs raced around using far too many bananas. I am not so much a banana fan...
Radhika, Leah and Jeff all came out as Chef Chuckles' favorites, with Radhika winning immunity from elimination. My favorite part of the quickfire was watching Stefan interact with the guest judge. He was nervous, and trying to make the judge laugh, which didn't work, and I think it made Stefan funnier. It endeared him to me. Ah.
(Later that night, another sponsorship moment on his T-mobile sidekick: Eugene.)
So for the elimination, Chef Colicchio walks in the house, gathers the group and has them pull knives. Says they will all cook blind. How cool is that. I love it. No limits, show off your talents. Family style. That seems truly objective. And two cuts tonight, two people sent home. Wow.
Right off the bat my guess for the go-homes: Carla and Eugene.
My favorite quotes of the night:
"This is Top Chef, not Top Scallops!" --Fabio
"I have found the weapons of mass destruction, and they are in this bowl." --Toby Young
"This tastes like catfood." --Toby Young
"I like to layer the flavors of my food with love." --Carla (this one is my favorite because it's so BAD.)
So into the kitchen they go, five in the first group, four in the second. Finally, the knives are out and poised at each other's backs. All the nicey-nicey helpful stuff is out the window. Lots of little stabs in the interviews they edit into the action.
And then to top it off, a great twist: the cheftestants got to judge each other. And watch the other team eat their food and comment on a big TV screen in the kitchn. That was a little harsh sometimes. But Toby's comments were probably the roughest, most harsh. My favorite judging moment was when Toby loved a dish (I think it was Jeff's) and Tom didn't. They were sitting next to each other and you could tell from Tom's body language that he would rather have been seated further away!
The top three dishes were Stefan, Ariane and Jamie:
Stefan seems to be coming alive, mellowing. More personable to me, less acid. He cooked dumplings, duck and cabbage. Very cool, homey and yummy looking. Tom loved it. Toby loved it. Unmistakably German, they said.Ariane's sounded good to me too--panfried skate with cauliflower puree and pineapple brown butter sauce. And she even got a "fabulous" from the humorless chef. A "great dish," he said at judge's table. Pretty high praise from him. Still ammending my previous opinions on her... she's making it further than I thought...
And the winner was: Jamie with scallops with fennel and olives. Refined, a lovely recipe, says Chef Chuckles. I was really surprised that she won, since the final word on the winner was the guest judge, and he had been so fawny over Ariane; in a way I think Jamie was surprised to finally win, especially after so many close calls.
On the other end of the spectrum: Carla, Eugene and Melissa were the bottom three. I was pretty surprised that it was Melissa and Eugene that ended up packing their knives... it must have come down to splitting hairs between worse and worst! Melissa never impressed me, but Eugene was a lot of fun, and very creative and I loved that he had worked his way up through kitchens.
What to look forward to... it looks like they get a stab (!) at butchering, and a bit of a spat breaks out between Jamie and Stefan. Big suprise there. Oh, and Hung is back as the quickfire judge. How cool. Looking forward to it!
In case you don't remember Hung, here's a funny little short of him in one of his more creative quickfires...
Update: I was feeling a little Toby-Young-harsh about my Chef Chuckles nickname for the French guest judge... but then I checked out the Serious Eats blog post regarding the episode tonight. Not so much.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Black bean soup
2 tsp. canola oil
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 yellow pepper, diced
1/2 orange pepper, diced
1 T cumin
1 can (7 oz.) chopped green chiles
2 cans (15 oz each) black beans
1 can (15 oz) pinto beans
1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 c cilantro, chopped
Heat oil in the saucepan, add onions and peppers. Add the cumin and saute until onion is translucent. Add all the rest of the ingredients except cilantro. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes. Add the cilantro and pull from the heat.
This soup is always better the next day, like chili, but we have a hard time waiting that long...
I make this soup or some variation on it (corn is a nice addition, as are cubed yams) quite often, especially in the cooler months--husband loves it. It's uber-healthy and easy. If healthy isn't your thing, you can dress it up quite handily with cheese and sour cream and crushed tortilla chips.
Friday, January 2, 2009
I am also very grateful to be home. Safe, sound, ready to sleep in our own beds.
I am grateful to return to snow, too! I was worried it would feel just strange to leave two feet of snow and return to nothing. Thankfully, a few wet inches fell last night and it's good and crunchy now.
I am grateful for my Christmas pretties from near and far. I was putting them away tonight upon our return, thinking of the lovely folks (and the wonderful men I live with too) who have all who contributed to my decadence. Thank you! (Now, on to a year with a little less decadence in it, and a little more frugality!)
I am grateful to have had some extended time with my parents. Although our Christmas time together looked quite different than anyone planned, everyone did a great job of rolling with it and enjoying the time together. And we had a completely spontaneous visit from a cousin on my dad's side on New Year's Eve, which would not have happened without the connectedness of Facebook. It was very cool to catch up, ever so briefly, with him and his lovely family. And our family was very impressed that he got 4 kids (mostly teens!) to agree to a family day of driving and ocean-looking and relative-visiting. Very impressive!
And I'm grateful for another year to roll around on the calendar. Loving lists, resolutions, blank slates, new journals, and all the accoutrements of organizational zeal, I am filled to the brim with anticipation for this year to come. Well, it's here, I know, it arrived yesterday. But since I've been on vacation until today, mine somehow feels like it starts right now! I even have a chart from a blogger I follow at The Happiness Project which is going to help me get my act together in the coming year, I know! Check her out--I am always motivated and inspired by her posts.
Ciao for now and happy weekend to all!
Thursday, January 1, 2009
But I will not be deterred. MY Thursday Thirteen still stands, and when they get their act together I'll do the appropriate linking. So, I thought I'd share some of what I'm hoping to do in the food/nutrition/health arena in 2009. Some are ambitious, others not so. Mix it up, I say.
1. Continue to blog about food, but get healthier along the way. Gradual steps toward whole foods, less processed, for the whole family.
2. Be experimental in the kitchen. Perfect the omelette--either using Bittman's method or Pepin's, or maybe I'll come up with something all my own... Finally make my own marshmallows. And madeleines. And lavender lemonade (with my own lavendar).
3. Find more local sources for foods and ingredients. Shop where local sources are promoted.
4. Make a grocery budget and stick to it. Stop the spontaneous and impulse purchases, which are rarely worth it.
5. Expand the repertoire of foods Seth can cook on his own. He will have input on this, of course, but it's time to move beyond scrambled eggs and pesto to some of his more ambitious tastes like choux pastry (cream puffs!) and gelato (those were his two first requests). Note the sweet tooth; this apple did not fall far from the tree! But I'm also looking for him to be more self-sufficient in the kitchen, less dependant on "Mom, I'm hungry, what is there to eat?"
6. More and improved home gardening to expand our local food sources! I need to be more consistent in the care of the garden all the way through the season and preserve the overflow. (I have a tendency toward giving up around the middle of July--pathetic I know--when it hits 105 degrees in Walla Walla and I'm all about shade and air conditioning.)
7. Get recipes posted to foodgawker and/or tastespotting. Join foodbuzz. Be a part of the food blogging community.
8. Figure out a way to get the fig trees growing/living/thriving and not eaten by Ruby. This may prove to be the most challenging goal of 2009!
9. Continue to work on recipes that are in my head (from catering days) and get them out on paper, tested and scaled for normal proportions (as in, who needs chickpea salad for 50? Not most people, and not me, anymore!).
10. Pare down my recipe books and food magazines, decide what's really important and what will never be used and finally break the cord and get rid of them... even though it feels pretty painful to think about.
11. Food photography. While tangential to food itself, and more related to the blogging, I feel keenly about improving the quality of photos on my blog. I have some ideas on how to do that, and fellow food bloggers have been good about posting their tips, so I will take advantage of that. And then there's just practice, practice, practice!
12. Embrace Michael Pollan's mantra of: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. (Sher's version: Eat REAL food, not plastic-corn-chemically food. Portion control, please! And a steak every once in awhile is fine, just keep it local.)
13. Exercise more. I'd say "daily," but that might be a little too ambitious. But almost any exercise will be more than what I'm doing right now!
I love blank pages, fresh starts and clean kitchens ready for the next adventure! Wishing you and yours a yummy and wonderful 2009.