Friday, August 26, 2011

You know it's bad when "both" sides annoy me

So apparently Anthony Bourdain has gone after Paula Deen.  (Is there a Food Network personality he won't go after?  Dude, the smack talking?  Gets kind of old.) 

She's a bad influence, according to the Travel Channel star, and she's pushing food that is really bad for you.  I won't argue with the second part, but Frank Bruni of the New York Times made one good point in his reply to Bourdain's missives--it seems that bad food suddenly becomes desireable when it's duck confit or pork rinds in an Asian-fusion dish in a trendy restaurant run by the newest hot chef out there.  And it's not as if either of those things are good for you, even if it's in a well-appointed place with $50 entrees.

I won't get into politics--I swore I wouldn't do that on this blog--but I'll point out that the carping on either side sucks the joy out of cooking and eating.  And really, I am skeptical about a man who indulges in stuff that is bad for you overseas complaining about a woman who has a show about Southern cooking, or a woman who is well-paid and already affluent talking about being down with regular people.  I mean, please.  Just stop insulting my intelligence already.

Some self-appointed foodies look down at the likes of Rachel Ray or Paula Deen for doing things that I do, that my friends and neighbors do, and that our families have all done.  A newsflash for these folks: most of us are really just trying to get by and put dinner on the table. We don't need a bunch of self-important bullies badgering us about the fact that we're doing it wrong.  It sucks the joy out of cooking and eating.

But some people who claim to be down with regular folks--well, come on.  I got news for you.  Butter and cream are expensive, and many of those dishes you feature on your show take a lot of time to prepare--it's not something that regular people will be making as a matter of course.  And that's fine, too, but please don't assume that you're just like me. 

Can I just make a small suggestion to both camps?  Shut up and cook.  I'm not particularly interested in your take on the issues of food, health, or the grocery gap.  You're all well-paid, well-known food personalities and you're not exactly in the trenches of everyday life trying to get by.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tomato, basil, and mint salad

This was pretty self-explainitory.  Basically, I had come home from my CSA with the motherlode of tomatoes--early girls, cherries, and several varieties of heirlooms.  I also had a bag of basil, and I had mint from my garden in the fridge.  And a dinner was born!

Or a breakfast.  Actually, a lunch.  But it turned into a breakfast because OH MY GOD I JUST COULDN'T WAIT.  I put it on the plate to take the picture and the tomatoes, they just called to me.  They said, "Pamela, why don't you eat us for breakfast? Cast off those shakles that keep you tied to oatmeal and fruit or eggs or omlettes for breakfast.  As long as you eat food, it's all good."

Okay, so we've established that I'm a little weird. . .

Anyway, this is how I made the salad: I took the heirloom tomatoes, sliced them, chopped up some basil and mint leaves, sprinkled a little salt and pepper on the salad, and then tried (unsuccessfully) to hold off on eating it until lunch.  I didn't even bother with olive oil, though that would be delicious.  Everything is good with olive oil.

Mint and tomatoes work quite well together.  These tomatoes were quite mild; I'm used to a slightly acidic bite in tomatoes but these heirlooms were different.  I like putting mint in salads--it also goes quite well with sliced cucumber or in a leafy salad. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Zucchini-stuffed tomatoes

From a Monastery Kitchen: The Classic Natural Foods Cookbook
Last week, I made zucchini stuffed tomatoes, a recipe which I got from the book From a Monastery Kitchen.  This is a pretty good cookbook if you want simple recipes that use inexpensive ingredients.  The only meat that is used is fish.

I've made this recipe before, however, I tend to put my own twist on things I make.  So if you get the book or already heave it, you'll see that I have done things a little bit differently than the book calls for.  Especially since I often have different herbs or spices on-hand, I tend to improvise a lot.

Also, the original recipe makes enough for eight people.  It was just me, so I made enough for one--yours truly.  It's good as an appetizer, a side dish, or an entree in a light meal with some more substantial sides.  I will say that it filled me up.

I was out of fresh garlic, so I used garlic powder.  I figured I'd use garlic (which, let's face it, I put in almost everything), black pepper, oregano, rosemary, and thyme (from my garden), zucchini (from the CSA) and a fresh tomato (from my garden--one of the few that doesn't have blossom end rot). 

First, cut a hole in the tomato and scoop out the innards.  You want to use a larger tomato for this--a beefsteak or a big boy or an heirloom tomato.  Using a roma for this would probably be a real pain in the neck.

Next, shred the zucchini.  I shredded about a quarter of a medium zucchini.  You'd shred an entire zucchini (or probably two small ones) to make the original amount of eight servings (eight stuffed tomatoes).

You want to chop whichever herbs you're using quite finely--and mince the garlic if you're using fresh garlic (I wasn't--I had used the cloves I had up.  Note to self--grow garlic next year!)

Put the chopped herbs, the garlic, the pepper (and a little salt if you like) and the shredded zucchini and tomato innards in a food processor and pulse it a few times until the innards are chopped and everything is ground but not pureed.

At this point, I stirred in a tablespoon of shredded, low-fat mozzerella cheese.  You can use whatever kind of cheese you want or skip it completely.  Then I spooned the mixture into the tomato.
I baked this on a greased sheet in a 350- or 400 degree oven for about twenty minutes.  It came out pretty good; an ear of sweet corn from the CSA and some cucumber made it a very nice, light meal.

It was surprisingly filling, though I suspect very low-calorie.  Unless you eat corn on the cob the way I do, with lots and lots of butter.  And salt.  Really, I am the queen of making otherwise healthy food very bad for you with no effort at all.  In fact, perhaps that will be the book I write: Simple and Easy Steps to Make Healthy Food Really Bad for You.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Gleaning next door

The New York Times had an interesting story today about people who gleaned from the gardens in homes that were abandoned and/or foreclosed upon.  Apparently, it's illegal to pick the ripe vegetables in the gardens and fruit on the trees in the yards of abandoned homes.  However, no one seems to have had any problems doing it yet.  With the number of foreclosed and abandoned homes rising, this may become more commonplace.

Granted, I can see how it would put off a real estate agent and potential buyers to see someone foraging in the garden, but if the garden itself is overgrown and neglected, I'd say the house and the yard isn't faring much better.  These are abandoned and foreclosed homes--not homes where the owners just went away for a couple of weeks.

Now, I have two garden plots--one that I split with the organizer of a community garden in my town (a project with the Council on Aging and the Youth Commission), and one at work.  There are "No Trespassing" signs on the plots at the community garden at work; apparently in one of the locations, some people have been picking the produce.  My position is--if you are willing to help me gather and lay down some seaweed mulch, weed, and/or help out with putting up a chicken wire fence around the existing fence, I'm happy to give you some of my produce (if it comes out okay--my tomatoes there are falling prey to blossom end rot).  

If I had a garden that I had to abandon for whatever reason, it would break my heart to think that the produce would go uneaten, and unenjoyed.  I don't have a problem with people gleaning crops that would otherwise rot on the vine (or the tree); I have a bigger problem with that delicious food going to waste.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Eggplant and Vegetable Casserole

Yesterday was my CSA pickup day, and I hit the motherlode of vegetables--zucchini, summer squash, potatoes, sweet corn, a huge eggplant, tomatoes, onions, cucumber. . .it was nice.  And I was really looking forward to cooking dinner with some of those ingredients.

I thought I'd make a casserole.  Not quite ratatouille; you need peppers (and possibly mushrooms) for that.  But I thought that eggplant and the zucchini and squash and tomatoes, with fresh herbs and the onion with some leftover homemade tomato sauce I had made earlier this week would be a tasty dinner.

First, let's look at the vegetables:

Those are just a few of the vegetables I had.  The summer squash was from my parents' garden.  They're having a bumper crop this year.  Heck, let's face it, they have a bumper crop of that and zucchini every year.  And yes, that container is of my leftover sauce (made with a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes, minced garlic, onion, and fresh oregano).  The container was about halfway full.

And the herbs were nice as well.  The garlic I had gotten from my CSA last week--I was down to the last two cloves.  The rosemary came from one of my garden plots.  I thought rosemary would add a nice, comforting flavor to the dish.  I chopped the onion, minced the garlic and rosemary, and sauteed them over medium heat in a skillet.

Basically, I waited until they got translucent.  Ah, I do love the smell of onions and garlic being sauteed in a little olive oil.  Next, I chopped the eggplant and added that to the skillet.  As you can see, it was a large eggplant and I maybe should have only used half:

Never fear, though because I have more than one casserole dish, and the eggplant had to cook down for a bit anyway.  I sauteed the eggplant, covered the skillet and let it cook down.  While I was waiting, I cut the zucchini and summer squash into quarters and then sliced them, and chopped the tomatoes.  After about ten or fifteen minutes, I added the eggplant to a casserole I bought at a yard sale, realized I still had a lot, and pulled out my enameled cast iron casserole that I got for Christmas.  I added the other vegetables, tossed with a little olive oil, and put about a tablespoon of shredded mozzerella cheese on each casserole:

Then, I put them in a preheated 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes to a half an hour, and boiled up some rigatoni while I waited.  This is how it looked when I took it out of the oven:

And then I just feasted.  YUM.  And I have lunch--and then some--taken care of.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I am probably a bad person according to the gaming industry

I don't think counting cards in a blackjack game is cheating, despite what the casinos say.  You're playing a game, and you're keeping track of the cards that are being used in the game.  They try to keep known card-counters out, but as far as I'm concerned, they're being bad sports.  It's a game and it's perfectly legitimate to develop strategies to play it well.

Now we've got a four time lottery winner who's pocketed $20M in total.  Joan Ginter, a Texas resident, is either incredibly lucky, or as an article in Harper's magazine posits, she could be very good at figuring out the algorithm that places winning tickets in certain places. (She's a former mathematics professor with a specialization in statistics.) However, unless she's bribing people or otherwise depriving others of their fair chance at this (by, say, ensuring no one else buys the ticket, etc.), I have no quibble with it.  Really--figuring out how a system works is not dishonest or illegal or even unethical.

Though apparently she lives in Vegas.  I wonder if she counts cards?

(And no, I don't gamble, because I know the chances of me winning big are nil and it bores me to tears.  I went to a casino with my parents once, got a roll of quarters for the slot machines, then thought, hey! I can use this for laundry! And proceeded to just walk around the overpriced shops outside of the gaming area.)

Hat tip: MSN Money Blog.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Brown Bagging It

Last week, Len Penzo did his third annual what in tarnation is the cheapest sandwich you can make when brown-bagging it survey and found that for the third year in the row, salami was the cheapest.  Wow.

I'll share a little secret with you--I am sometimes just plain not into sandwiches, or I get sick and tired of sandwiches (although I do like refrigerator dough turnovers).  And I've found that there are sometimes ways to spice up the sandwich, or even ways to brown bag it that doesn't involve sandwiches (or even necessarily last night's leftovers).

Freezer cooking.  Ah, yes, that wonderful old standby of making something you like, putting it into smaller containers, and freezing it for later meals.  I do this with soups, chilis, stews, certain casseroles, and sometimes, really fancy schmancy things like Fennel Chicken Fricasee or Chicken Cassoulet.  (They sound really fancy but they aren't--the cassoulet is not a proper cassoulet, but it's still good, and they aren't expensive if you get the meat on sale.  They are also better as leftovers, and they're already pretty tasty the first time around.)  If I have a free day, I'll break out my slow cooker and make chili or soup, and I'll make something else to freeze in portions.

I've also used things besides bread. Stuff a tomato or a large portabella musroom with something.  You can use anything--tuna, beans, egg salad, other vegetables, whatever you like.  I like sauteeing lentils with curry, cumin, turmeric, a dash of mustard powder, some ginger, and several cloves of garlic.  (You can change the herbs depending upon what kind of flavor you want--think garlic, basil, and oregano for a more Italian flavor, or rosemary and/or sage, garlic or shallots, and a little balsamic vinegar for something a little more comforting or earthy.)  I'll either leave them whole or grind it in a food processor and stuff a tomato or mushrooms with them.  It also makes for a nice spicy dip or spread.

Soup--I love soup.  I have a thermos so I don't have to wait to heat it up in the microwave.  Even if it's a canned soup I got from the grocery store, it's a nice addition to my lunch.  I often make my own and freeze it, so I'll take it out to defrost the night before, heat it up, and put it in my thermos.  I've got zucchini and potato soup (pureed so it's got a creamy consistency) in the freezer right now.  Or I'll use chili.

I'll also do a twist on other sandwiches.  Things like, adding a defrosted cube of pesto to mayonaise that I'm using in my tuna or chicken salad (or as a sandwich spread in general).  Or I'll add other herbs or spices to it--curry, or dill, mustard powder, oregano or basil.  Whatever strikes my fancy.  I'll use hummus or straight pesto as a spread, and when tomatoes are in season, use a nice bread for tomato and mozzerella sandwiches. 

And I need snacks, of course.  Which means hummus and vegetable sticks--I'll slice up a red pepper or carrot often for that.  Now that cucumbers are in season (and I'm getting them in my garden), I'll down one or two of those.  I just wash them, slice them in half and then in quarters, and put a little bit of salt and pepper on them.  Yum.

Gah! I'm hungry now.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Friday Blog Around

Len Penzo did his third annual Brown Bag Survey of the Ten Most Economical Sandwiches.  For the third year in a row, salami won.  I'm more of a tuna or smoked ham girl, myself, if I even make a sandwich.  (In the summer, I'm more of a tomato, basil, and mozzarella girl.)

Linda at a Windy City Gal's Weblog has a tutorial on turning your vegetables into delicious refrigerator pickles.

I saw this post about April's beautiful and abundant garden over at the Urban Homestead Diaries, and I was terribly envious.  And hungry.

Getting a lot of zucchini from your CSA, your friends and family with a garden, or your own garden?  Never fear. has a ton of recipes--from the old standby zucchini bread to zucchini Provencal to zucchini quiche to zucchini cookies--that can use the now ubiquitous vegetable.

Check out Frugal Workshop--I recently discovered it after Belinda commented on one of my posts.  She's been very productive in the kitchen, and I'm having an I'm-not-worthy moment!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Off Topic--History Geek

I have two friends who have set up blogs about history--The Historic Muse (which focuses on the War of 1812), and Reverend Jeffrey's Story of History.  In honor of them, I'm posting this video about American history from a snarky and fun British series called Horrible Histories (which I found on YouTube when I was searching for readings of Old English/Anglo Saxon.  BECAUSE YES I AM A GEEK.)

Playgrounds and Llamas, oh, my!

I took last Friday off and watched my niece and nephew.  They are enamoured with herbs and get a kick out of the idea that there are plants you can eat that aren't vegetables.  I took them to my community garden plot here in town--we had three ripe roma tomatoes, so we each had one.  They helped me get some herbs and tie some tomato plants to stakes.  Another gardener is growing peppermint and she is very kind--always exhorts people to help themselves.  Well,  I don't take any, but this time I had the kiddos take a couple of leaves to try.  My nephew especially is very taken with mint (I got him a mint plant to water and grow; his sister has an oregano plant).  The peppermint is a little different--a bit spicier, and he shivered when he ate it.  My niece said that my oregano is a little spicier than hers--I wonder if it's a different variety?  Ah, yes, I am still a novice about these things.

There is an old mansion whose grounds have been turned into a nonprofit horticultural center/conservation land near where I live.  People rent the mansion for events (weddings are especially popular) and there are garden plots, chickens, and a fenced field with sheep and llamas.  My nephew wanted to pet the llama but I cautioned him not to.  It's not a petting zoo, and I don't think llamas are okay with being touched.  At any rate, I did not want to return him to my sister sans right hand.

There is a playground near where I live and they played there for a while as well. 

They were good sports--I had them try my fakey gazpacho and they gave it the college try.  They didn't like it much, but as I said to them, it's good to try things.  You don't have to like it but give it a chance.  I used to be a very picky eater and now I pretty much will give anything a go.  Except meatloaf.  I think I'd rather eat a bag of bugs than meatloaf.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A big hit

I had a friend over on Saturday and made a hearty but summer appropriate lunch.  I made blackened tuna with mango salsa.  I quite liked it, though I think I cooked it just a little too long (I like my tuna rare).  I did cheat and get ready-made mango salsa, but still, it came out well. 

I have a ton of fresh herbs from my garden plots.  I'm not shy about putting people to work so my friend set about finely mincing garlic from my CSA, the rosemary, oregano, and thyme and slicing a fresh zucchini.  We sauteed that in olive oil and an onion (from the CSA again) and then added the zucchini slices and let them cook down.  That's my favorite way to cook zucchini or summer squash--my mother taught me that.  She also says that sprinkling on some parmesean cheese at the end is a nice touch, and I have done that (especially if it's my main course).  I also made rice and homemade kinda-sorta gazpacho. 

I don't normally buy tuna steaks, but I've got a membership at BJ's and can get a bag of six that are individually vaccuum sealed, so they will last in the freezer indefinitely.  I had gotten these ten months ago and am now down to my last one. 

I'll be getting a little more creative with my cooking--I've resolved to eat what I've got stocked up (well, not everything--otherwise, I'd be eating pasta morning, noon, and night).  We'll see how that goes!