Foodie Tuesday: Rinse and Repeat

You all know what a fan I am of leftovers and ‘repurposed’ ingredients. Most of the foods I’ve been fixing lately have been a continuation of that tradition of mine, especially because it’s been a particularly busy time around our place. We’ve had the usual spate of spring concerts and recitals, more than the usual number of social and business-social events at home and other places, and planning and preparation for a large quantity of upcoming happenings. The garden’s been coming in at top speed. I’ve been trying to clean house more seriously than I had in a long time, because it’s really overdue and I’d love to sell off and give away a lot of underutilized Things. Oh, and I’m trying hard, really I am, not to fall behind with my writing and artwork.

That latter means, naturally, keeping my blogging current, but in addition it means working on two art commissions—one a super-fast turnaround project I just got a few days ago. It also includes attempting to continue with the development of several books to follow up on the one I published in January.

I’m neither complaining nor bragging, just stating a truth that is pretty much like the daily one facing the majority of people I know, each with his or her variations on the details. And it reinforces my attachment to quick, simple, reusable and flexible ingredients and dishes more than ever. Today, for example, I made and froze what will (I’m certain) be a delicious potato side dish for later this week, when friends are coming over for a casual dinner visit. I used a combination of a smashed microwave ‘baked’ potato, a handful of chopped and mashed leftover french fries—good hand cut ones from our favorite old school steakhouse—a handful of crushed leftover potato chips, and enough leftover pimiento cheese from the batch I made for our party the other night to make it all into a cheesy potato casserole. I had some crisped bacon in the fridge, so the casserole is topped with that for the finish. It doesn’t look like so much yet, being in the freezer and all, but I’m expecting to enjoy it quite a bit, along with whatever else I manage to put together for the occasion.photo

Confession: I got an itch to do something trendy, despite being so rarely trendy myself, and I made a lattice out of the bacon. Silly, but kind of fun. And if one is going to wrestle with trying to cook a little in the midst of lots of real life busyness, shouldn’t there be a little bit of silly fun involved? No, wait: a lot?

 

Foodie Tuesday: Egg on My Face

I have no particular secrets from you kind people out there in Bloglandia, so it can come as no surprise (especially to those who have seen any of my previous food posts) not only that I am an unreconstructed carnivore but also a generally unrepentant eater of all things–okay, nearly all things–that might be considered decadent if one is of the sort that equates dining habits with morality. I like eating. I like eating lots of different things, and in what even I will readily admit are too large quantities. It’s not good for my health, to be sure, and possibly not best for my soul, but there it is. I love food.photoOne of the things I would be most reluctant to give up eating or cooking with is of course that stupendous universal donor among ingredients, the humbly perfect egg. If I must be limited in my access and opportunities and omnivorous mania, I would proudly and gladly be wearing a nice schmutz of egg on my chops any day. Besides, with my coloring I am very ill-suited to wearing any other form of yellow, so why not embrace the ephemeral form of dressing up in some eggy yellow goodness that can at least be licked off my lips and make my innards very happy if its look doesn’t suit my exterior. I love what the egg can do for a sauce, a custard, a souffle. For baked goods; for dishes where it serves as binder, thickener, garnish.photoMaybe most of all, I love eggs when they star in the show. Their honest simplicity and smooth, creamy deliciousness deserve to be featured and recognized as the wonder that is borne in that beautiful capsule of the egg’s origin. So today I give you one of my very favorite meals, which despite my fondness for all sorts of marvelous mealtime miracles is a supremely simple omelette with grated sharp cheddar cheese melting in the middle, accompanied by some nice crispy bacon with a little drizzle of pure maple syrup, and a fresh, crisp, fabulous apple. I don’t usually mess with eggs much when I cook them, and a nice little cheese omelette like this deserves to be treated respectfully, so the only ingredient in the omelette besides the eggs, lightly beaten, and the cheese is just a nice big splash of melted butter to make the eggs easy to loosen from the pan and fold over when sufficiently set–but just barely set, really. Still light and creamy through the middle.photoI’d go on, but I’d kind of rather dash over to the kitchen and grab an egg or two . . .

Foodie Tuesday: In Praise of Little Things

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A sea of green goodness growing . . .

It’s so often the littlest details that have the most unexpectedly impressive impact. We just don’t expect too much from small stuff. But where would we be without those tiny crystals of salt and jots of freshly ground spices? Without the tiny seeds that become minute sprouts and in turn, lush plants that give life to our favorite fruits and vegetables, and that feed the animals that grace our tables sacrificially?

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Red cabbage, well watered . . .

My tiny mite of a farm is bursting with promise. It won’t be all that long before I’m harvesting cut-and-come-again salad greens, herbs and baby carrots and beets. My patience is an equally miniscule thing, so I hover over their beds and fuss as though my attention would do anything other than attract more insects to come and flit around my head. Meanwhile, I can always raid the grocer’s stock of edible things to keep the table well decorated, no matter how plain or fancy my edible desires.

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Cauliflower, admittedly no less delicious if I have to snag it at the market than if it came from my own private patch of dirt . . .

Another highly welcome Little Thing is a raindrop. Lord knows we’ve dreamed of them with something verging on the unseemly in our drought of recent past. But like the seasoning of a dish, what is desirable in a little may be wildly inappropriate if given with too much exuberance. Today it’s looking a little iffy in that regard: we’ve been told in the last couple of weeks that thanks to the new year’s rains, most of Texas has already bypassed the borders of drought and headed right into surfeit territory. Outside is a pounding rain, accompanied by beautiful flashes of brilliance slicing up the sky and shouts of thunder pounding down right along with the cataracts of rain. Not thirty minutes away there are reports of a tornado and baseball-sized hail. There are expectations that this storm system will throw off a few more tornadoes and lots more wind and rain and hail before it’s done. Me, I’m keeping a good thought for all of the people, animals, houses, and cars being blasted by the wind and pelted with rocks of ice, and hoping against hope that none of that nonsense wanders over this way too. We have plenty of friends in the area whose roofs have been demolished or cars totaled by that sort of thing before.

My little item of great happiness at the moment is that not only am I cozily dry under a roof out of the lashings of rain, but our car is in the safest place it could possibly be to hide from the storm: on a mechanic’s lift at the place where we bought it. It was merely due for its periodic checkup (taking inspiration, perhaps, from my own recent annual visits to the doctor and radiologist and such), but couldn’t have been timed better in terms of dodging the fiercest part of the storm. I hope. Not to mention that the mechanic discovered that the two tires not replaced following our recent road-debris encounter are worn down to replacement status as well. If I’m going to drive around in this kind of flash-flood-inducing waterfall, I may as well have good tires. After all, it’s only money. Sigh.

Which brings me back ‘round to my original point (and I did have one). Life is just too short to be spent without savoring all of the minor triumphs, moments of good luck and serendipity, and all of the tiny treats that we can find or are handed to us. And by that, I mean of course that I will continue to eat snacks and desserts with a certain amount of regularity if not abandon, because they are seriously happiness-inducing items in my life. Who am I to refuse to attend when the last fridge stash of guacamole and the tuna salad from yesterday’s sandwich get all friendly and decide to get married and become a cracker spread? I would have missed a great party!

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Cheese and choccies--where could you go wrong?

On the 17th of March we had a friend visit for dinner. Since she’s of partially Irish descent, I thought it incumbent to include an item or two with at least a hint of Irish pedigree in the meal, though I didn’t quite go all-in, so I incorporated a few tasty tributes to the Emerald Isle. It was ‘specially easy to do at the end of the meal. I’d happened on an inspiring sounding cheese, so dessert was a little plate of cheese and chocolate. I served my little homemade chocolate-nut truffles with the loveliest Guinness-infused cheddar cheese that, at room temperature, tasted buttery, the tiniest bit sharp, and had that mellow veining of stout bringing another nice layer of complementary flavor to the collation. Needless to say, this combination goes down quite smoothly with a tot of good Irish whiskey (well, what doesn’t?) or of course would be appropriately paired with a crisp Guinness, if it’s on hand. We had it with a bit of bubbly because I’m certain that St. Patrick would approve of our saying a fond thank you to and well-wishing a certain great—-grandniece of his who has been a fine colleague and a good friend and is soon off on a new adventure in an altogether more Irish-rooted American city.

I leave you without a real new recipe today, I guess, but sometimes the moment presents itself when something that requires no new preparations at all but is just as delicious as can be is just the bite or sip to be enjoyed on the spot. There are times when the company is so grand, the bottle cracked open is so perfectly aged, and the slant of the sun so perfectly angled in the proper window that whatever we take to eat is a tiny taste of heaven. It’s like being visited by a butterfly that comes and takes its rest right at my feet and sits patiently to have its portrait taken before fluttering away, for no apparent reason other than to bring its own miniature glint of perfect beauty to the day.photo

. . . and just so you know, no tornadoes or monstrous hailstorms have ventured into our town today. Another nice little plus for the occasion!

Foodie Tuesday: Real Cowboys Do Eat Quiche

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When lots of Americans ask 'What's for dinner?' they want to know what *meat* they're getting as a main course, not hear a recitation of all the fabulous accoutrements you are painstakingly preparing for their delight and delectation.

I am antique enough to remember the time when what Americans knew as Chinese food was ‘Chop Suey‘ in a glutinous and sickly-sweet sauce, followed by fortune cookies filled with good-luck predictions that were exciting and interesting only when recited with the popularly immature addendum ‘between the sheets’. When Italian food meant spaghetti, cooked until ‘al dente‘ only to infants under six months of age and smothered in characterless tomato puree with some insipid approximation of a meatball-like object swimming in it and perhaps a halfhearted sprinkling of pretend Parmesan cheese granules from the canister that sat on the shelf until nearly archaeological in quality. And French food was just plain weird, some sort of girly, foofy stuff that, if any man would be caught eating it, he had better be wearing a beret and a pencil-thin mustache and sticking his pinky finger out while wielding his tableware.

Then there was a bit of an awakening. It was slow, to be sure, but meant that people might actually admit that their ancestral foods from the aforementioned regions were ever so much more varied, colorful, flavorful and exciting than the paltry offerings that had been dumbed down to virtual nothingness and blandness and predictability, supposedly to suit the American palate. Of course, that completely ignored the reality that the vast majority of the American populace originated in other countries, on other continents, and eating anything but boring cuisines. And not just Chinese, Italian and French either.

At some point, some wit decided that the US simply needed to be reeducated one dish at a time, choosing the humble yet incredibly versatile vehicle of the quiche as focus, et voilà! The 1970s became the era of the quiche-eaters. Thankfully, many of the quiches promoted were perfectly edible and did in fact counter the myth that ‘Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche‘ (originating in Bruce Feirstein‘s book poking fun at masculine stereotypes) because they were good, tasty, and ultimately satisfying concoctions. Even better, the idea that being a fledgling foodie nation was permissible, even laudable, meant that suddenly a whole host of other delectable cuisines became gradually more familiar, dish by dish and restaurant by restaurant. That’s not to say that every flavor is for every one, by any means.

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For some, anything spicier or more exotic than an oven-roasted potato is too wild for the table.

But quiche, as it happens, is such a simple and endlessly variable dish, being pretty much an egg base used to bind and carry any combination of vegetables, meats, starches and other flavors suitable to one’s own taste, kitchen contents and the occasion. Quiche, omelette, tortilla española, frittata; whatever you call it, if you’re not averse or allergic to eggs, the possibilities of a wonderful, simple-to-make meal are endless. If you happen to be an old Texas ‘Cookie’, watching the hungry horde of cowboys close in on your chuck-wagon from across the lonesome plains, it might not be a bad idea to throw whatever you’ve got on hand into those trusty cast iron skillets and pots with some stirred-up eggs and get ’em cooking over the camp fire as speedily as a jackrabbit can dodge your shot. Use some of your biscuit dough for a dumpling-style crust, or just serve the stuff without crust–no one will complain, as long as the food’s hearty and ready when the dust settles around the corral.

Being in Texas, I do take advantage of the ready availability of good beef pretty often, so I end up with a little left over from time to time, and the egg-based dish is a perfectly easy way to make good use of all manner of leftovers. Heck, I even live in a ‘ranch-style’ house, for what it’s worth. So, since I had a whole lot of good eggs on hand at the moment and a very meat-and-potatoes, manly-man sort of collation of ingredients lurking in the ol’ refrigerator, I cooked up a crustless quiche fit for any sturdy appetite, Tex-Mex or plain cowpoke, from hereabouts to, say, Paris, Texas. Being so all-fired Frenchified and all.

Cowboy Quiche

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You can layer the solid ingredients for a quiche and pour the egg mixture over them, as I did (wanting the cheese all on top), or you can throw it all together and stir it right up. The end result tastes just as fine either way.

The base, in this case, is nothing but about a half-dozen eggs (I like plenty) and a half cup of thick plain yogurt, stirred together and thinned with a little tiny bit of water as needed to coat the other ingredients well. The rest of the filling comprised about a cup and a half of 1/2″ diced leftover lean beefsteak, two small leftover oven-baked potatoes in their jackets, diced about the same or a little smaller (skins and all), three slices of crisp-cooked bacon, broken into pieces, and a good half cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese.

Between the bacon, the cheese, and the salt with which both the steaks and baked potatoes had been prepared, I didn’t think there was much necessity for added salt (you may gasp with amazement at this salt-aholic’s abstemiousness now), but I seasoned the mixture with a good dose each of chili powder and smoked paprika.

This crustless quiche got baked in a small, well-buttered ceramic casserole, and today it was cooked in a newfangled microwave oven, because even though it does just fine in a conventional oven I was really hungry, cowboy on the plains hungry–somehow breakfast and lunch got forgotten in the midst of other doings today–and I didn’t want to wait any longer than I had to. I’d made up the quiche beforehand and put it in the fridge, so all that was required was to pop it in the oven and hot it up until it wasn’t too wiggly and jiggly anymore. I’m never entirely certain on timing and temperature, so in the microwave I just cooked it for 4 minutes to get the initial cooking underway and then several 2-minute intervals after, cooking it on High for about 8 minutes total and then letting it rest and set up for another five minutes or so.

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The quiche comes out of the oven just slightly quavery in the middle, but a few minutes cooling on the counter (so as not to scald your diners) will thicken and set it up further.

To serve it, I went with Tex-Mex favorites, because I like them well and so of course I had them handy. Guacamole, which in our house is nothing more than mashed ripe avocado seasoned with fresh lime juice, salt, pepper, chili powder and lots of ground cumin, lasts longer in the refrigerator than you might think–but only if you make a big batch, because we do eat it in quantity when the mood strikes. Salsa must always be on hand. As I’ve said before, we like a mild chunky-thick salsa, spiced up at home with a chipotle en adobo or two well blended in. Some fresh, bright Mexican crema. A few black olives. I think all I left out of the meal was a nice chilled cerveza, but not every day calls for it. Or does it? I forget. Anyway, there were no other fruits or vegetables today, because that would just be too girly, wouldn’t it!

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This'll fuel up any tough hombre for another day out punching the dogies, or wearing the ten-gallon hat of a CEO, or whatever.

You know, even with such a frilly sounding French name, a quiche like this ain’t half bad after a long day running the ranch.