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

Monday, February 28, 2011

Lots of eating, little cooking

Sorry, folks, but I don't have much to report in the way of weekend cooking.   Perhaps you'll be able to make do with a little review of my ginger grater, which I ended up not using last week in my gadget analysis:

Do you have one of these little tools?  They use little ceramic nubs rather than metal blades to turn the fresh ginger root into pulp, which works because of the relatively soft texture of the root.  You don't even have to peel the ginger root first, although I usually do unless it's organic.  The downsides are 1) the fibers of the root tend to tangle up into a mess which has to be periodically cut off to expose a fresh surface, and 2) the palm-sized tool is a bit too small.  It tends to capsize while grating and doesn't hold much grated ginger before needing to be cleaned off.  If I ever have occasion to replace this one, I'll get a larger model.  By the way, this grater works really well for garlic cloves too, although your fingers will become permeated with the smell.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Q-U-*-L-I-*-Y    *-F    L-*-F-E

Sometimes, all it takes is the spin of a wheel to improve your quality of life:

That's not what I meant!  I'm talking about a SALAD spinner:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Anybody got a Dolly to cart away this crap?

If you're new to my blog today — well, first off, I'm happy to have you here! — please be advised that I'm in the middle of an all-week exploration of the reasons I've kept some of my kitchen equipment and carted away some other things.  You might want to scroll down and read all the posts starting on Monday, February 21.  Well, you could skip the brief one about me turning into a woodland creature, as it doesn't address the main theme of the week.  But it would be a shame to miss some adorable pictures of Willy and, well, me.  [embarrassed blush]

We've already talked about items that we love because they do one thing and do it well:

One-hit Wonder Woman

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Find out what bowls me over in my kitchen

Today I'm continuing to describe my rationale for keeping certain tools in my kitchen and discarding others. By the way, the tests I'm describing are not a conscious mental process I undergo.  When I assign a spot on my countertop to appliance A and relegate appliance B to the big box to-be-put-downstairs-for-someone-else-to-take, I'm really just operating out of intuition, but I came up with these tests after the fact to explain — to you and to myself — why I made the choices I made.


Some items in my kitchen I find myself pulling out day after day after day.  These are the "go-to" tools whenever anything needs to happen, the tools I consider my sidekicks.  First on the list?  My trusty cutting board and knives:

What a strange pair!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

When I woke up today, I found I'd been transformed...

...into some sort of woodland creature right out of The Hobbit:

Oh, actually, that's Willy.  He almost always looks like a (slightly deranged) woodland creature.  But some kind of overnight spell seems to have been cast on me:

Best bed-head ever

If anyone calls, I'll be outside frolicking naked amongst the toadstools with my friends Badger and Woodchuck. . . .

Analyzing Appliances: Stupendous or Stupid?

Have you ever noticed how many highly specialized kitchen tools are up for grabs at pretty much any garage sale, yard sale, or flea market you attend?

Every summer, as I look around the annual flea market held in our co-op, it sickens me to take in the huge numbers of junky, stupid, ultimately useless appliances — every one made in China, it seems — that probably never made it out of their packages more than once.  I have seen hundreds of crappy items that were probably originally either gifts or impulse purchases: microwave chicken rotisseries, corncob cookers and holders, slushee makers, cartoon-character-shaped waffle irons, bread-making machines, bullet-shaped smoothie makers, toasters that singe cute patterns into your bread, fondue pots, and electric everything, from pepper mills to cheese graters to corkscrews.

Monday, February 21, 2011

One man's trash. . .is sometimes another man's trash

I am not too proud to admit that our entire apartment is furnished with cast-aways.

Oops!  I meant cast-OFFs.

In fact, it gives me a lot of pleasure to rescue still-usable items from an eternity in the landfill.  It allows me to feel that I am doing my part for the planet, to own things I might not otherwise be able to afford, and to enjoy that exquisite thrill that comes from getting something for nothing.

You need to develop an eye for finding just the right garbage, however, and I have studied under the master — my partner, Peter.  Peter was born with a highly discerning eye (I think it's the left one) — and a huge dollop of good luck.  He has found countless treasures in the trashpiles of our neighborhood: a navy blue cashmere sweater and a pair of men's dress shoes, both by Ralph Lauren, in like-new condition, and IN MY SIZE; three enormous bolts of black knit fabrics, including one of pure silk; a working Brother sewing machine; Italian designer lamps retailing for hundreds of dollars. . .I could go on and on.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Weekend Bulletin: Local Man Thaws Leftover Beans

How's that for an attention-grabbing headline, folks?  I hadn't planned, actually, on mentioning the beans again, but on Friday, I used some of the ones I'd frozen to make something so delicious, and so EASY, that I felt compelled to share.

In British detective fiction I've read, certain characters — particularly when the authors are wishing to convey destitution or a slipping to a pathetic level of existence — often resort to quick meals of what the English call beans on toast.  In our country, there is not really a tradition of bean sandwiches at all, but I can imagine that noses would be upturned at the very mention of the idea.  (I believe my littlest sister was astonished when her elementary school classmates did not share her enthusiasm for the hot-dog-and-baked-bean sandwiches she begged my mom to pack her for lunch.  Perhaps she will chime in with the complete story in the comments.)

How did this noble combination of foods acquire such an ignominious reputation?  Well, probably because most people are thinking of this sort of abomination:

Note: Not endorsed by blog host!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lambburger Helper

Here's how I combined some available ingredients to punch up a simple dinner of lamb burgers.  It turned into a delightfully bizarre (con-) fusion cuisine in which I used Indian ingredients to simulate a flavor created by the British to simulate authentic Indian cuisine and used in modern German cookery.  Got that straight?

Let's tease apart this tangle of cross-culturalism.  My inspiration was a quintessential German snack food known as Currywurst, which involves bite-sized nuggets of Bratwurst served in a sauce made of ketchup flavored with curry.  This delectable treat — it's really one of the most delicious, if not all that healthy, foods I've ever eaten — is most often eaten at outdoor venues off of a rectangular paper plate using a wooden "fork" that looks a little like a deformed popsicle stick.  As if the cholesterol count weren't already off the charts, Currywurst is often accompanied by a paper cone of french fries with mayo.  And a liter mug of beer.  (Oh, why did I ever leave Germany?)

Currywurst und Pommes mit Mayo

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Kale and Mushroom Soup with Pasta Elbows

Dear Readers, I gave you a little pinto-bean-free reprieve for the weekend (and holiday, for those of you who acknowledge such occasions) — can you therefore bear to hear about just one more bean w/ham hock reincarnation?  This one is good, I promise, and the most unlike the original dish so far.  And the best part is that it used up all the remaining beans, so you won't be having to hear any more about that enduring dish after this.

Please don't resent me for trotting out bean recipe after bean recipe.  After all, Picasso had his blue period.  Isn't it only fair for me to be allowed to go through a bean period?  (I am not meaning to imply that I am the Picasso of leftovers, but if you'd like to indulge that association, I will not thwart you.)
Maybe these people would cheer up if they ate some beans with ham hock.
What follows is a step-by-step guide to how I converted this

into this


Monday, February 14, 2011

Let's make every day a holiday

Happy second Monday in February, everyone!  Around here, we don't pay much attention to Valentimes Day or any other market-driven "holiday" with irony quotes, but I grab any excuse to share some love on ANY day of the year.  Or some chocolate.

I actually consider it appalling to think that lovers would reserve their most special treatment of each other for a single day of the year.  Why not be all lovey-dovey whenever the inspiration hits — and hope that it hits often?  Does anyone really think that some little fairy with a bow and arrow is out there only on February 14th, authorizing romantic gestures with his magic love weapon?  Get real.  Grab your honey EVERY day, plant your juiciest kiss on those lips, and do something to make his/her day a little sweeter.
And wait to buy your roses when they haven't been marked up 75% to take advantage of the retail delirium that ensues whenever "they" proclaim a holiday.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Stuffed lambchop: the mother of all comfort foods?

What foods take you back to the happiness and comfort of childhood?

Stuffed Lambchops
There are foods I only have to think of — no actual eating is required — to get a warm sense of that more carefree stage of life when Mom or Grandma or some other loving adult would cook me something nourishing and delicious.  Even though I haven't tasted these foods in decades, I still have fond memories of Pennsylvania Dutch hog maw (pig's stomach stuffed with sausage and vegetables — it's much more appealing than it sounds), Czech poppyseed pastries, and endless batches of my mother's waffles, the first one served with mandatory chicken a la king and then the real reward of as many more as I wanted with molasses, karo, maple syrup, honey, peanut butter, jelly, and all kinds of other sweet toppings.  (Not all at the same time!  Though I have been known for creating rather baroque combinations of ingredients.  For many years during my adolescence I craved a rather over-the-top sandwich of my own invention, made with PB, spun honey, marshmallow fluff, and sliced banana on white bread.  Oh dear, I am craving that again right now.)

All this culinary reminiscing is just a slyly deceptive lead-in to the video of my dog Freddy I've posted below, which has nothing at all to do with food.  But I think you'll find it fascinating.

Stuffed Lambchop

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Let there be light! And breakfast!

I went to the opera again last night to see Donizetti's Don Pasquale, and this time, sat in my regular subscription seat, which is the very first seat in the very first box in the Dress Circle.  As you can see in the video clip below, I am perched right over the orchestra, which suits me fine, as I love to watch the instrumentalists while they play.

Another advantage of this seat is that I get a great view of one of the spectacular Swarovski crystal chandeliers as it rises up past my seat on its way to the ceiling when it is time for the show to start.  That's what I captured in the little video clip; I hope it brings you joy to see one of the little things that bring me joy.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Stock, stock, and taking stock

1. Stock

I promise — this is going to be the very last mention of those eternal beans!  (For this week, anyhow.)  But there is one last project I am using them for, which will be one of my weekend activities.  I am going to make a soup out of the remaining bones with the few beans still clinging to them + the contents of my frozen stockpile.  Warning: the following picture may cause revulsion in the sensitive:

I assure you, pictures of the soup that I will convert this mess into will inspire drooling, not retching....tune in next week for the proof.

2. Stock

It's freakin' cold out there.  My oh-so-helpful weather app smugly informs me that the current temp is 22 degrees, but that it feels like 11.  Eleven!  I am miserable when the temperature dips below my age + my shoe size.  All this week, it's stayed WELL below that shrouded-in-mystery figure, so I had to do something to bring a little springtime cheer into the house.  I treated myself to a surprisingly inexpensive purchase of flowers from the florist department at WF.  We're currently greeting guests and cheering ourselves with this jolly spray of - - - stock:

I love that the delicate yellow color of the flowers so closely matches the color of our walls, although this picture doesn't really show the wall color accurately.  And something about how the flowers are proportionally too big for their bottle gives me a little frisson of happiness when I look at them.  I really can't explain this; it's a gentle sort of visual joke to me, I guess.

3. Taking stock.

Only one reader so far has raved about my burgeoning facial hair.  This situation must improve, so I am bringing an end to the subtlety.  (What, you didn't notice any subtlety on this blog?  It must be a problem with your browser.)

Here, in a naked bid for adulation (although, if it's warranted, I'm prepared to accept negative comments too — being rejected is less painful than being ignored, after all) is a picture of how my beard looks at its current state of growth (about 2 weeks of not shaving):

With the gelled-down hair and the glasses, I was going for the tortured intellectual look here.  Please let me know what you think of my hirsuteness.  If you need inspiration, please choose from the following comprehensive list of possible reactions:

  • you so sexy 
  • hotter than hell, mr. hanko
  • gasp you leave me breathless with desire
  • where did you get that pic of george clooney
  • put down that spatula you need to become a professional model

Or you can come up with your own phrases to express your exceeding admiration for my facial hair.  Just remember, I am a very sensitive person.

Have a great weekend.  Cook something that makes you feel sexy.  Or just don't shave.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Beans for lunch again? Yay!

With a little ingenuity, even strongly assertive leftovers like pinto beans cooked with smoked ham hock can be coaxed into revealing different aspects of their personalities.  For three days in a row, we've been revisiting said beans, and have been delighted to experience them each time as though for the first time.  It hasn't seemed like eating leftovers at all — and so far, we haven't tired of the beans.

I hope you haven't tired of hearing about them.  Let me know if my blog is starting to feel like the summer rerun season on TV.

In actuality, this kind of intellectual problem — how can I reconcile the convenience of leftovers with the excitement of presenting a wide variety of flavors? — is what really stimulates me in the kitchen.  Yes, I'm that nerdy.  But, luckily, geekiness in the brain seems so far to have resulted in quite a lot of yumminess in the belly.  

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cold-weather heater-upper: Brrrr - itos

¡Olé!  I managed to create a dish using my leftover pinto beans that transformed them into something completely new and unrecognizable.  ¡Cool!

Actually, warm.  For dinner last night, at 7:30 following my last voice student of the day, we had pinto bean & ham burritos that were quick, easy, and delicious — and warming.  During a break earlier in the day, I started dinner preparations by grinding homegrown whole wheat into flour, then forming it into tortillas, which I cooked on a heated cast-iron griddle, singing traditional Mexican canzones de tortilla all the while.   Or maybe I just opened a package from Whole Foods — I really can't remember the details after such a busy day.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Help! What do I do with all these beans?

Oh dear, I'm feeling a little like Ann-Margret in the surreal champagne-and-baked-beans scene from the movie Tommy (particularly around the 4:05 minute mark):

Well, now.  That clip either amused and intrigued you. . .or left you needing a course of therapy.   I, on the other hand, after my latest baked-bean-without champagne scene, am left needing a little guidance — and so I am reaching out to my readers today.

Please give me your suggestions for creative ways to re-use the remaining 47 gallons of my pinto beans with ham hock.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Pinto Beans in the Slow Cooker


Because of 3 consecutive days of professional commitments this weekend, I didn't have any time to cook.  I barely had time to eat, grabbing half a bagel with whitefish salad here, a package of "Sweetheart Sushi" shared with my sweetheart there, as time permitted.

The sushi came from Whole Foods, and was a cute little package with 2 of each tiny, fishy morsel, including 2 tuna/salmon roll pieces molded into a heart shape in the middle.  WF gets a little cloying at holiday times, but I have to admit it was tasty.  Heart-shaped chocolates make some sort of romantic sense, I suppose, and I have a soft spot for Santa-shaped sugar cookies, but when we start forming raw fish into festive shapes, perhaps we have gone too far.

The weekend's activities culminated in a master class in singing I gave on Sunday morning, for which I wore the muslin Peter created for his current men's shirt sew-along.  Imagine how amazing the shirt is going to turn out when the muslin looks this good:

No, my face isn't dirty — that's my beard.  I'll try to chart its (slow) growth with pictures on this blog.
The audience was very attentive during my class.  Now I'm wondering if it was my presentation mesmerizing them, or this adorable shirt, with its kicky semaphore-flag-ish pattern.  (The shirt actually had pockets too by the time of the class.  This photo was taken a day or two earlier.)  If you're nice to me, sometime I'll show you the contrasting red/white check gingham on some of the inner surfaces — these fun details set this shirt far apart from a ready-to-wear garment.  (Thanks, Sweetheart!  I mold my fish into amorous shapes for you!)

Oh, yes.  This is a cooking blog.  It's just that there was more happening on the sewing front than the cooking front this weekend.  But I did squeeze in one kitchen project on Sunday evening, to reward myself for all the preparation I'd done for the master class.

Friday, February 4, 2011

My afternoon conquest over fresh horseradish

I'll admit, my strength is not in keeping things simple.  I set out on Wednesday to see if I could come up with a supper for after my last student of the day that would take 15 minutes of prep time, tops.  I knew I had some quick-cooking kale in the fridge.  But on the way to the kale, I got distracted by a horseradish root....

Note the glove, recommended on every horseradish website I encountered.  Too bad they don't make latex gloves for noses.  Do NOT stick your face in the blender to smell your results, btw.
Because I'm now completely infatuated with the idea of incorporating horseradish into my dinner plans, the 15-minute challenge was out the window.  After reading preparation instructions on a half-dozen websites, I felt as though I could just go to my kitchen and wing it, so I did.  Here's the story of how I made prepared horseradish and built a not-so-quick-and-easy meal around it.  (Actually, if I'd already prepared the horseradish beforehand, or just bought a jar of horseradish like a normal person, the rest of the procedure would've gone quite fast.  But then what would I have blogged about?)

By the way, you should very definitely heed the warnings on the websites — this stuff is POTENT.  I wore the recommended gloves when handling my root — oh, grow up already — but the fumes nearly did me in.  As I rushed to open the kitchen window as wide as it would go, I wished for the gas mask I'd been issued on my first day of active duty in the Army, which I fortunately never needed in a life-threatening chemical warfare attack, but which did make peeling onions a lot more pleasant.  (Your tax dollars at work.)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Weekend Project — Pot Roast with Veggies in the Slow Cooker

The enticing aromas emanating from my slow cooker as I type these words are the result of a whole weekend of cooking.  That may sound a little daunting, but none of the steps was difficult or overly time-consuming (other than unattended cooking times), so I hope you will not be frightened away by the thought of dedicating a whole weekend to one dish.  It was the kind of cooking project I find totally satisfying — involving recipes within recipes, just like in the Joy of Cooking!

I'll never forget the time I challenged myself to make a Beef Wellington from this cooking bible, and was confronted with a recipe calling for many ingredients that cross-referenced to their own recipes which called for further preparations. . . .  These were exotic-sounding things I'd never made or in some cases, even heard of before, like roux, puff pastry, Duxelles, liver paté, beef stock reduction.  I dedicated a whole week to the Wellington project, and most of the steps were labor-intensive, requiring my full concentration.  Which was challenging back then, since in those days I polished off whole bottles of wine while cooking.  (They went into me, not only into my sauces.)  I have a vague recollection of being gently slapped back into consciousness by my then-boyfriend when it was time to incorporate yet another layer of butter into the puff paste.

But the project I'm describing here was a piece of cake in comparison to that marathon, which I'm not likely to repeat any time soon.  (Intrepid readers can refer to JofC, page 455, if they wish to try their own hands at Beef Wellington.  Good luck, and be sure to send me a report of your experience.  And a list of the wines you consumed during the preparation.)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Joy of Coleslaw

Don't underrate coleslaw.  This unassuming side-dish, despite its mundane reputation, has a lot going for it:  
  • Ease and speed of preparation
  • Infinite variability
  • Satisfying crunchiness
  • Healthy benefits
I started making coleslaw about a year ago, when I needed a salad — something green and fresh! — to go with a meal that was a little heavy on the starch/protein components.  But I was out of lettuce.  And cucumber.  And tomatoes.  But I did find hidden in the veggie drawer of my fridge part of a head of cabbage leftover from who knows what.  So I sliced it into fine shreds, added some oil, some vinegar, and some seasonings, and, voilà!  My first homemade coleslaw.