A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Friday Night Quickie

Sorry to disappoint you readers expecting a more lurid topic, but "Friday Night Quickie" refers to the dish of eggplant with gnocchi that I whipped up last week between work and running off to the Met to see the world's sexiest baritone — I'm excluding myself out of modesty — in Simon Boccanegra.

The swoon-worthy Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Sadly, Mr. Hvorostovsky's voice was not in the best shape — it sounded a bit thinner than I've heard it in the past, and I think he is pushing a bit these days — but his pecs featured gloriously in the production, particularly in the scenes in which he was attired in a sort of 14th-century dressing gown open down to the bottom of his sternum, so my opera glasses got quite a workout and I left the theater fully satisfied.  Oh, and — sorry I got a bit distracted by my Siberian eye-and-ear candy — the eggplant dish was delicious and easy.  Like Dmitri's high notes when I heard them last season in Trovatore.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Alert: Mustard Oil may be Harmful to Humans. . .and Snails!

First off, a warning, courtesy of my reader birdmommy, who informed me that in her area, mustard oil had been recalled from stores because of adulteration with highly toxic argemone oil.  This new knowledge has led me to take more seriously the injunctions on bottled mustard oil, which state that the oil is not to be used for consumption.

Argemone Mexicana — how could something so pretty be deadly?

As I am very fond of the pungent flavor of mustard oil — mustard has really become an indispensable color on my culinary palette — I have begun an online search for a safe source for it.  So far, I have contacted a little family-run operation in Australia who market organic mustard oil without additives or adulterants.  If I find out that they ship to North America (and at a reasonable price), I will pass along more information for you.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Second Chances: Follow-up on Rajma & Stock Projects

Although modern people — and Americans in particular, it seems — seem to have forgotten this in their frenzy to amass the latest version of everything from shoes to software, there's a real satisfaction that comes from finding new ways to use things you already have lying around the house, especially when said things seem to have outlived their usefulness.  

Even if it's become a cliché, haven't you ever experienced a little thrill upon converting an empty wine bottle into a candle holder?

Around our home, we have taken this theme of recycling to a perhaps extreme level, giving new life to many seemingly unpromising objects:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Maiden Voyage of my Slow Cooker — Rajma (Indian Kidney Beans)

Well, I've completed my first slow cooking experiment, and am going to have to call this one a "learning experience."  Unfortunately, we now have in our fridge a couple gallons of learning experience to plow through in the coming week.

To put a positive spin on the situation, the cooking process 1) taught me something about what the slow cooker is good and not so good at, and 2) filled our home all day Saturday with enticing aromas.  Sadly, though, like that of an inferior wine, the taste of my resulting dish did not live up to the promise of those aromas.

Peter preparing to sample his first bite of food from our new slow cooker

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My first batch of stock since 1991

In my Joy of Cooking phase — this was before I got interested in Indian and other Asian cuisines, and when I was young enough to not think twice before dousing at least one dish in every meal with a cup of heavy cream — I was in the habit of cooking up big batches of stock.  I was living in Germany then, a first lieutenant with quite a lot of disposable income and no family to spend it on, so I'm sure I was finishing off these batches of stock with wines that I couldn't even BEGIN to afford to drink now.  <sigh>  Oh, to be young and have more money than I know what to do with.

Actually, I was more or less miserable back then, having ROTC-ed myself into a 4-year stint in the Army — can you imagine any worse fit between person and career field?  The Army couldn't either.  In those pre-Don'-t-Ask-Don't-Tell days, I was asked.  Twice.  (Anticipating the coming policy, I chose NOT to tell.  I'm precocious that way.)  And was officially reprimanded once by my commander on the advice of HIS commander for. . .wait for it. . .wearing too much gel in my hair.  Bless their hearts; nothing in their military training had prepared them for dealing with an "alternative" soldier like me.

What I'm getting at is that I am at this current point in my life — middle 40's (OK, late middle) — happier than I've ever been.  Even if I have to shop from the wine remnants.  (Which is actually more fun, now that I think about it, with the added frisson of getting something luxurious for less than market price.)

One of the things making me happy today is this jar of homemade (wine-less) stock, made this morning mostly from items from my inaugural frozen stock-pile:
What will I become — soup? gravy? flavored rice?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Easy end-of-workday meal: Spaghetti "Cake"

What's a food blogger to do at the end of an exhausting workday when he is too pooped to cook, but he has spoiled his D.P. with so many good meals that the D.P. no longer sees any advantage to dining out?  This sad situation transpired in our house on Friday night, and I was forced — admittedly not exactly against my will, as I grabbed my camera and my ingredients and prepared to engage in the Joy of Cooking — I repeat, I was forced to come up with the following easy one-dish meal.

I may be bone-tired (and a bit blurry), but I can still feed my family!

"Easy" may be a little misleading.  If you don't already have the right ingredients on hand, you're in for a rather long slog.  Remember this, my friends, and freeze bits of this and that for when YOU are to pooped to cook.  So what are the ingredients I used to throw this meal together?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Happy Birthday, MPB!

Yes, folks, it was one year ago today that I came rushing in from my dog walk to find Peter soaking in the bathtub, and handed him the little scraps of paper on which I'd scribbled some potential blog titles I'd brainstormed on his behalf.  "He Sew Fine" didn't get the acknowledgement I thought it deserved for cleverness and a sense of fun, but I was gratified more than you will ever know when "Male Pattern Boldness" got a smile and a thumbs-up.

It's a year later, and I think all of us who follow Male Pattern Boldness (dot com) are astounded by the richness of Peter's first year of blog archives.  It's really amazing that almost every day for the past year, Peter has come up with an interesting spin on some sewing-related (more or less) topic, and has illustrated it with found photos as well as his own — and not a few of my shots of the glamorous if not exactly law-abiding Cathy Lane.  I don't have to tell you that Peter's work has brightened the lives of a lot of people over the past year.  A lot.  Including mine.

Here's to you, my brilliant Domestic Partner!  May you have many more years of blogging, and half a million followers by your second blog birthday.

Peter at his Pfaff 30 with his "birthday" cupcake on the ironing board in the foreground
I wasn't going to blog on the weekends, but since I've already logged on to post these birthday wishes, I might as well tell you about my excursion to Whole Foods.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Weekend Plans: Implementing Reader Ideas

Right now in the American Northeast we are in the middle of the dreariest time of year.  For the past several weeks, the temperatures haven't gotten above the low thirties. . .the memory of which is going to seem balmy in retrospect over the coming weekend, when the temp is expected to dip down near the single digits.  Brrrrrrrr!  And, to top it all off (literally), it snowed again last night:

The wintry view from my kitchen window this morning

During these dreary, sunless months until spring finally arrives, we have to find alternative ways to bring brightness and warmth into our lives.  Luckily, many people in my circle have been contributing their own rays of sunshine this week.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What's in Michael's Freezer? A revealing exclusive

After reading in the comments to last Friday's post about pikojiko's mom's coffee-can-in-the-freezer method of collecting leftover ingredients for stock, I am excited to begin my own collection.  But when I opened my freezer over the weekend, I was confronted with a disorganized collection of random items — some of them no longer identifiable — and no room for a coffee can.

Not even in the freezer door.

I have some work to do before my frozen stock-pile (get it?) will have a home.  First, I'm going to inventory everything in the freezer, to see if there is anything I can use or discard in order to create more room.  Then, I'll better organize what's left.  Won't that feel nice?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Whole Foods vs Urban Organic — Big Weekend Show-down!

Michael considers abandoning Urban Organic to create his own produce delivery system. . . .

I'd like to start by thanking my reader Debbie for injecting a bit of sanity into my thinking.  For weeks, I'd been living with a low-grade stress brought on by my dissatisfaction with the Urban Organic produce delivery company.  We were certainly enjoying the high-quality fruits and veggies they brought to our door every Wednesday, but the high level of error in their procedures was creating a lot of follow-up headache for me.

In my consternation, I guess I'd lost sight of the main reason we'd joined Urban Organic in the first place: to ease the post-harvest dejection we typically feel after the last weekly CSA delivery of the growing season, which happens just before Thanksgiving every year.  Well, this goal was achieved — we definitely were distracted from our melancholy by the fun of opening our weekly boxes from UO.  But over time, the frustration out-weighed the fun.  Time to move on!  Thanks, Debbie, for reminding me that, with Whole Foods only a block away, we have no need to rely on an error-prone delivery system for our organic produce.

But I wanted to be sure before opting out of UO that I could indeed get a superior consumer experience from WF.  So I set up an experiment — kitchen scientist at heart! — to give me a means of analyzing the two produce sources.  My challenge would be to see if I could create a box of organic produce at Whole Foods that would rival in quality, variety, convenience, and price the weekly boxes we received from Urban Organic.  Read on to find out how I fared. . . .

Monday, January 17, 2011

Now I'm Cooking! — London Broil w/Vegs & Sesame Cole Slaw

Welcome to the new week!  I hope you all had a nice weekend.  I must have been in a traditional mood yesterday, because I decided to do the quintessential Sunday-evening dinner: Pot Roast w/Vegetables.  But I'm never TOO traditional — in this case, I served my meat & potatoes with a kicky Asian-inspired salad using red cabbage and daikon radish.

In this meal, I used several ingredients that are not usually in my [metaphorical] pantry.  Blogging about what I cook has gotten me thinking about expanding my culinary horizons.  Not that I tend to make boring food or typically American or New York or Voice-Teacher or Gay Food.  I have a pretty creative style all my own, which has emerged over 3 decades in the kitchen.  (Don't worry; I haven't been continuously in the kitchen for 30 years.)  But I am always interested in trying new things and not getting stuck in cooking habits.  (It's an Alexander Technique thing.  Check out my other blog if you don't know what that means.)

Anyhow, the non-habitual ingredients tonight are London Broil (a 0.8-pound slab of beef about an inch thick), daikon radish, and sesame oil.  These latter two items used to be habitual for me when I was in my Korean phase, but it's been a while since then.  So long, in fact, that the first bottle of sesame oil I opened today turned out to be slightly rancid.  Thanks to Peter for sniffing it suspiciously and discovering the "off" aroma.  Otherwise, I might have ruined a whole bowlful of delicious veggies by drizzling them with fetid oil.  (Peter has a preternatural ability to detect "off" flavors and smells that zip right past my radar.  He also claims that he can taste plastic wrap if food has been wrapped in it, but I don't notice this, probably because 78% of the food I consumed growing up had come into contact with la Wrappe du Saran at some point.  Does anyone else out there have a princess-and-the-pea aversion to plastic tastes — or does my Peter have a rare gift?  In any case, I'm very lucky to have him around.)

Let's get cooking. . .shall we start with the salad?

Sesame Red Cabbage Slaw w/Daikon Radish

Friday, January 14, 2011

Now I'm Cooking! — Quick Work-Day Fridge-Cleaner-Outer

I'm sure many of you are familiar with the panicky feeling that arises when you have to find time in your crazy schedule to make something to eat for you and your family.  You want to come up with something healthy and delicious, but there are only so many hours in the day, right?  It's so tempting to over-rely on prepared foods from the grocery store or take-out from a restaurant.  But after a few such meals, my palate begins to crave something cooked with love (as my Mom would say) -- or with safe levels of salt and saturated fats (as my doctor would say).  Besides, the Earth can accommodate only so many plastic food containers in her already-stuffed-to-the-gills landfills.  (My cupboards, too, have already accepted their share, which I use in place of Tupperwares.)

And what the hell am I going to do with these little bits of this and that before they turn into biochemical science projects in my fridge:

Will these become dinner. . .or mold gardens?
I had a two-hour block of free time between students yesterday afternoon, during which I challenged myself to come up with a meal for the evening that would nourish us well and use up some of the odds and ends cluttering up the refrigerator.  This is actually my favorite kind of culinary challenge, and it often results in my throwing together seemingly incompatible ingredients that I would never think of combining if I were setting out to create a recipe, but that turn out to work amazingly well together.

And, occasionally, it results in an unappealing concoction of ingredients that truly do not belong in the same bowl.  Which kind of result will I come up with today?  Read on to find out. . . .

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Now I'm Cooking! — Sausage & Sauerkraut 1-Dish Meal

Today I'm going to expose a limitation of counter-top convection ovens as well as a rare example of my own misjudgment.

That's irony, friends; I am always trying out things in my cooking that don't go the way I envisioned.  In coming up with solutions — trying to salvage the mess in that pot — I have learned a lot about cooking, challenged my creativity, ended up doing seemingly crazy things that actually worked, and had a few good laughs as I fed unsalvagable messes to the dogs.  (Or to the garbage, when even the dogs wouldn't touch my results — those Chihuahuas have highly developed palates.)  I encourage all cooks to welcome their mistakes as windows into the unexpected.

Here, Willy -- Daddy messed up in the kitchen. . . .

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My review of Urban Organic

What level of vexation are you willing to endure in the pursuit of good ingredients?  Recently, I've come up against my limits.  Here's the story.

Urban Organic is a delivery service which, at a very reasonable price, brings a box of organic produce to your door every week.  Great concept, huh?  Without having to leave your home, you get an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables — organic, for personal as well as planetary health — as well as a Christmas-like excitement upon opening the box each week.  You can find out more about them at their website, urbanorganic.com.

As I stated in my very first post on this blog, I am ambivalent about the Urban Organic experience.

Food — exceedingly good.  Two (green) thumbs up!

Service — friendly and well-meaning, but incompetent.  I sadly bring my thumbs back down.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Now I'm Cooking! — Baked Fish w/Greens & Citrus Sauce

As promised in my last post, in which I explained my love affair with Connie, my counter-top convection oven, today I am going to guide you through making a meal using her.

The meal I am about to describe occurred as dinner on Saturday evening.  Saturday began already very cold, with the promise of snow later in the day, so I really wanted to put together something warming.  I had potatoes and kale on hand, which I was keeping in mind as possible ingredients when I went out to go to Whole Foods and to do some other errands.

First, I got my hair trimmed by Mike at my barbershop.  Today he styled my usual crazy wild hair into a well-tamed part, saying my hair was perfect for such a do.  What do you think — do I still look culinary?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Should you buy a countertop convection oven?

Connie's Story: I may be filthy and full of hot air, but you can't live without me!

Note: Out of respect for sensitive viewers, this photo of our subject has been air-brushed to minimize the impact of her grime.

A few readers have been asking questions about Connie, my trusty counter-top convection oven, so I thought I'd dedicate today's post to her.  Actually, the Connie you will see and read about is not exactly the Connie I met several years ago.  Just as your cells are being continually renewed, so that your entire body contains perhaps very little of the material that constituted it 10 years ago, while some aspect of "YOU" has been retained -- is this material too esoteric for a cooking blog? -- many of Connie's parts have been damaged and subsequently replaced over the years.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

By request: Chihuahuas on the treadmill

OK, Readers, I'll admit that I had to beg for the request, and in the end, it came from only one of you (thanks, R/C!), but I'm always looking for any excuse to show this video to someone.  My favorite part comes at the end, when I moved the camera to a position behind Freddy and Willy.  It lets you feel how it would be to run with a pack of dogs. 

Don't you just love the sound of those tiny toenails tapping?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Bad Seed

A look back at yesterday's meals — A Tale of Horror

Hallelujah!  I slept through the night (a full 8 hours) and woke up feeling almost back to normal.  [The rainforests breathe a sigh of relief as my tissue usage drops precipitously overnight.  One more day of this cold could have deforested Brazil.]  Apparently my optimism in not canceling today's students — as I had done Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday — was not unfounded.   I was even feeling sufficiently healthy to return to my old breakfast stand-by, fruit and nuts with yogurt.

Happily, the meh fruits I'd been eating all week without enthusiasm (perhaps they were feeling under the weather too) gave way to a truly delicious bartlett pear, banana, and navel orange today.   They were accompanied by a few tablespoons of the world's most excellent yogurt (yay, Amish grass-eating cows!), some raw walnuts, and, as a rare treat, roasted cashews.  (Don't tell my friend Laura, who worries about my salt intake, but these nuts were salted as well.)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Baked Bananas & Brooklyn Bagels

A look back at yesterday's meals

I habitually prefer to eat raw fruits at breakfast time, but occasionally, the mood strikes for something a little special.  Today was one of those times.  I felt as though a little extra richness in my morning meal would help me to knock this cold, so I opted for baked fruit.  Here's how I do it, in less than 5 minutes (not including the 30-min baking time).

First, assemble the fruits you want.  My favorites for this treatment are apples and, for a caramelized gooeyness that is a real treat, bananas.  You could also use pears, stone fruits, berries, whatever strikes your fancy and is in season.  I also toss in a handful of nuts and often some raisins.  Today's assortment included apples and bananas, diced into chunks, raw walnut halves, and hunza raisins:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Look Back at Today's Meals

I'm feeling paradoxically better and worse today.  My energy level has improved and nothing hurts today, but my nose will not stop running.  (I am so blog-crazed that I actually just now contemplated including a photo of my tissue-filled trashcan.  You can breathe a sigh of relief that I decided you would probably be happier with a shot of Freddy and Willy.)

Better than a hot water bottle!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Now I'm Cooking! — Eggplant & Pasta Bake

Just rolled out of bed
I've just poured myself a cup of Golden Darjeeling tea — without milk, as I'm still suffering from my cold, and because I'm starting to prefer this type of tea plain — and now I'm ready to tackle my first recipe posting.  Normally, I just get into the zone when I cook, letting my subconscious chef take over, but yesterday, while I was preparing the dish for this posting, I had to keep interrupting my process to assume different roles.

A Look Back at Today's Meals

Despite the date shown on this post, I'm writing about Tuesday's meals.  Tuesday morning I woke up feeling a little under the weather and went downhill from there into full-blown cold mode, so my culinary plans for the day got derailed.  I started a big cooking project (see my next post), but my symptoms were calling out for very different foods than what was in my pot — what do YOU crave when you're sick? — so I stopped short of the final baking process and just covered my creation with aluminum foil and stuck it in the fridge for when I'm feeling better (let's hope today).

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Look Back at Today's Meals

Inconveniently timed meals and an afternoon bout of lassitude that quashed all desire to cook combined to make today's eating experience a little unsatisfying.

I puttered around too long this morning, postponing breakfast (yogurt w/fruits and nuts, of course, and tea) until later than usual, so I wasn't hungry enough for a real meal when my window of opportunity for lunch rolled around.  So, before heading uptown for my voice lesson, I grabbed a couple slices of sourdough, toasted them, and slathered them with PB and butter, respectively.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Look Back at Today's Meals

Breakfast: My usual (for over a year now) bowl of chopped fresh fruit with raw nuts and raw-whole-milk yogurt.  This concoction is much more exciting during the summer months, when berries and stone fruits are in season.  In winter, I make do with the ubiquitous bananas, and whatever Urban Organic has brought us.  This morning, a particularly bland apple and pear needed help (and sweetness), so I threw in a handful of hunza raisins — left over from making my holiday chutney — along with the cashews.  Golden Darjeeling tea drunk plain.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Where I get my ingredients

The ironic truth is that here, in the heart of New York City, we have easy access to as much fresh, wholesome foods as we would if we lived on a farm in the heartland.   Our situation might be even better than that of rural inhabitants — I've been to small-town grocery stores and noted that the produce on offer has rarely come from the local farms, but was mostly shipped in from large-scale corporate farms, just like the produce in our local Gristede's markets.

Thank goodness we aren't limited to Gristede's.  Or even to grocery stores.