Friday, September 23, 2011

Finding What I'm Missing

When I was thirteen, much to my mothers chagrin, I decided to give up eating red meat. She was certainly not thrilled at all, and I particularly remember one incident where I was sitting at the dining room table crying because I was allowed to leave until I had eaten all the sausages on my plate. We did eventually find some middle ground. I then gave up poultry and fish in my early twenties, and kept it that way for about seven years.

It was a big moment for me when I started eating fish, and then recently I've added other things back in. I'll still eating primarily vegetarian, mostly out of habit, but I've been adding things of a meaty nature back in.

So it is with great excitement and a tinge of regret that I announce that I have just discovered Bacon and Blue Cheese Pizza. Dear. God. It might be one of the most delicious things that I have even eaten. My foodie partner in crime, Myles, suggested it when we went out for a drink the other night. I'm sold. I want to eat nothing but gooey, unctuous, tangy, salty, crunchy, delicious pizza. I'm smitten with it.

I've always thought that the whole "everything is better with bacon" was a load of bollocks, to be honest. I find, though, after experiencing this pizza, that I'm feeling as though I have been missing something. When I was a kid, we used to have bacon sandwiches for lunch on Sundays. I think they were incredibly valuable in my sister and mother developing a strong relationship after she went through being a teenager. I think she used to always come over for them, but I may be remembering incorrectly because I didn't eat them back then, and I also moved to America. Now, though, I am excited about the prospect of heading home next year to spend time with my family and eat some of those sandwiches.

So what else have I been missing when it comes to bacon? My friend Margaret says that I should try Dark Chocolate Covered Bacon. I think she's crazy. Is she crazy?

I think I certainly need to explore this world. It seems like an interesting place to be.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Snack Attack

I'm a snacker in the worst way. I constantly want to be eating, especially when I'm sitting still. I blame it on my love of flavor, my never ending desire to experience new tastes and new combinations. I'm the person who ends up not taking a bite of someones food because I want mine to be the last flavor that I keep in my mouth. I went through the most ridiculous Goldfish Crackers phase once, and even now I have to seriously limit the amount of cheese in the house because I really will eat it all on it's own standing with the fridge open.

When you're trying to lose what I have now dubbed the "Vegas Fifteen", snacking becomes a much less viable option. I have to really think about it now as opposed to just grabbing anything. It's not just a snack, it's dipping into the calorie pool. No more handful of M&M's for me. I have to be a good little girl, and I have to say, I'm getting a little bored of fruit.

Now, I could eat the occasional cookie for about 150 calories, or I could make myself a little wrap of eggplant dip, cheese and crunchy salad for the same amount of calories. Most of those are in the tortilla, my snazzy eggplant spread comes in at about fifteen calories a tablespoon. The good thing about this is that it's all about texture and flavor. I usually smear a tortilla with a tablespoon or two of spread, sprinkle that with some sharp cheddar cheese, and add in crunchy lettuce or other salad. Right now, I have this crunchy beet salad mix that is hitting the spot quite nicely.

I'm keeping the supplies for this at work, so when someone brings in a hunk of brownies or the candy supply on Allison's desk gets refilled, I can sneak away and make myself something much healthier, more filling, and often less calorific.

I almost feel like I shouldn't be putting this recipe up since it feels too easy, but here it is. You can also serve this as a dip with pita chips, or maybe smear it on some toast. The flavor is deep and just on the cusp of bitter which I actually enjoy.

Eggplant Spread

1 Large Eggplant
3 Tablespoons Low Fat Plain Yogurt

Trim the top and bottom off the eggplant and slice it once lengthwise. Sprinkle the cut sides with a little salt, cumin and coriander. Place it in the oven on a low broil for about 5 minutes, then turn it over so it is skin side up for another 5, then flip it once more. Check to see if it is done. It should be squidgy and falling apart. Let it sit to cool for about ten minutes. Then, scoop the flesh into a small bowl, mix in the plain yogurt and mix very well. You should have a nice gloopy consistency that is mostly smooth. Taste and adjust your seasonings. Add a little lemon juice if you like.

Makes 8-10 Servings.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

When All Else Fails, Just Add Wine

I've mentioned many a time that cooking is my way of easing stress. It helps me to relax and unwind, to clear my head and just empty out the noise that is constantly pounding around my brain. Risotto is the kind of food you want to make when you need things to be quiet and methodical. If you want to do it right, you are adding a small amount of liquid to rice, stirring it gently until the liquid is absorbed, then repeating. You taste as you go, playing with your seasoning until you have just the right balance. This is the kind of food that is all about the preparation, the spoon against the pan, the rasp of the pepper grinder. Risotto is one of my favorite things to cook. I get it right most of the time, but here and there I can get a little off my game.

I consider myself a fairly resourceful person. I've gotten myself out of many a bind over the years. You learn to be pretty imaginative when you find yourself in a different country than everyone you know bar two people. I'm still quite pleased with where my life has taken me over the years. I always feel that I can come up with something. So when I was stirring some mushroom risotto this weekend and not getting the taste that I wanted no matter how I adjusted my seasonings, I knew that somehow I would manage to fix it. I had sauteed some mushrooms in butter, pulled them out and then lightly toasted some arborio rice in the glistening liquid. I'd slowly added vegetable stock and some white wine, I'd lovingly minced up rosemary and thyme and some parsley. I'd salted. I'd peppered. I still just wasn't happy. It wasn't working. I knew the biggest problem was that I needed to use stronger tasting vegetable stock, but I didn't have any on hand.

As I stood there, stirring and tasting, getting more and more frustrated, I realized what I had to do. I took a healthy sip of the delightful Pinot Noir, the last of the bottle, the last of the wine in the house bar the one bottle that I keep for emergencies in case I'm invited over for dinner somewhere, and I dumped the entire glass into the risotto.

After a quick stir, I tentatively lifted a spoon containing a few grains to my mouth and tasted. The wine against the parmesan cheese and herbs bloomed beautifully across my tongue. The depth and richness of the wine played perfectly against the meaty earthiness of the mushrooms. My glass may be empty, but dinner was saved. Add in a glass of cold beer and some herb encrusted chicken and the whole thing turned out to be not too shabby after all.

Mushroom Risotto

Regarding the white wine, what I used is a wine that I opened the bottle of, instantly disliked, and portioned out and put in the freezer for cooking with. I often do this with wine that I come across that I don't enjoy. The red wine should be something you like, though. I haven't included measurements for the seasonings because I highly recommend that you do this according to your tastes. I like most of my food very salty and its not everyones cup of tea.

8oz Mushrooms, sliced
4 Tablespoons Butter
2 Cups Arborio Rice
5 Cups Vegetable or Chicken Stock
1 Cup White Wine
1 Cup Red Wine
1 Cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
Parsley, Thyme, Rosemary, Salt and Pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add in the mushrooms and brown. I know it seems like a lot of butter, and it is, but it does produce a yummy risotto. Lessen it if you feel you need to. When the mushrooms are brown, set them aside. Add the rice and cook for three or four minutes. You want much of the rice to turn translucent. Mix the white wine into the vegetable stock and add to the rice a ladelful at a time. Stir until all the liquid is absorbed before adding more. This will likely take you about thirty minutes. When you are halfway through, add the herbs, salt and pepper, and start tasting. As the liquid is absorbed, taste before you add more, checking for doneness and taste. When you have it as you like it, add in the mushrooms and the parmesan cheese and, once that has melted in, add in the glass of red wine. Stir until it is absorbed, and then turn off the heat.
This is really yummy with chicken and would probably be good with a nice steak too.

Makes 4 Servings

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Wish

I wish I was cooking. I wish I was spending lots of time in my kitchen. I wish I could use the Eggplant and the Butter and the Whipped Cream and the Apples and the Flour and the Sugar in my pantry. But, alas, I am working a lot. I am super busy. I am never home.

Food is coming, I swear, else I will go crazy.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

And We're Back

I've been so busy. So very very busy. I've been to LA. I've learned how to give a baby CPR and assess a site of a potential nuclear explosion. I've eaten a Barbecued Pulled Pork and Macaroni and Cheese Sandwich. I've consumed my weight in coffee. I've lost four pounds. I've been to a gym. I've swum in a warm pool. I've eaten candy floss (cotton candy) at a Baseball game. I've watched a girl walk down a hallway on her hands. I've rubbed a pregnant belly. I've stayed up until 5am. And I've made Ratatouille. Twice.

Now, I'm back doing my normal routine, with a little extra work thrown in but not too much. I think I can finally get back to cooking. This makes me very happy because spending all of that time out of my kitchen has been really rough. I feel really relaxed in my kitchen. Playing around with food is probably the best thing I can do to alleviate stress. There is something about the chopping and tasting, stirring and pouring, spreading and kneading that just soothes my spirit. It keeps me content and helps my busy brain settle itself down.

With money being quite tight around here the pantry is pretty bare, but I got my last CSA basket of the summer and luckily that provided me with a few things to help me along. We've been so disappointed with our summer basket. We've had hardly any tomatoes and the ones that we have been receiving have been either bad or just about to turn bad. The variety of other items hasn't been very good and we've just been disappointed. We've decided on no basket for the Fall, so I'll probably have to be better about hitting up the Farmers market.

I've never had real Ratatouille. That does make creating it a little harder, I have to say, but after scouring a few recipes, I think I've gotten the essence of the dish. I think sometimes soon I'll try and make it by following a recipe in more detail, rather than just winging it. I was happy with what I created though. It was simple and tasty, bright and heartwarming, but still light. I topped it with a fried egg for texture and a hunk of home made bread on the side.

Apparently, it is advisable to saute the ingredients before you layer them, but I confess I didn't try that. I just sliced them, layered them, and cooked them. I feel like a bit of a slacker, I must confess, but if you don't have a lot of prep time, this is certainly an easy lunch or dinner choice. It's also very low in calories by itself.

Slackers Ratatouille

If you want less liquid in the baking dish, drain the tomatoes first and then mix in a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste.

1 Medium Eggplant, sliced
1 Zucchini, sliced
1 Green or Red Bell Pepper, sliced
1 Small onion, minced
1 Clove of Garlic, minced
1 Can Diced Tomatoes (14oz if using fresh)
Dried Thyme, Oregano and Rosemary
Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour the tomatoes into a shallow baking dish, about 8x8 or so. Mix in the onion and garlic and a couple of hefty pinches each of rosemary and thyme, and one pinch of oregano. Layer the zucchini slices over the tomato mixture, then salt and pepper them, repeat with the eggplant, and then the peppers. Sprinkle a little more thyme over the top and a drizzle of olive oil if you so choose, though it isn't necessary. Cover with aluminium foil and bake for about 40 minutes until the tomatoes and bubbling and the veggies are tender. Serve with rice or bread, and with a generously seasoned egg fried in butter on top.

Makes four servings.