Foodie Tuesday: Mixed Grill Girl

I’m married to a person whose fondness for vegetables is, shall we say, somewhat limited. Fruits, yes; starches, yes; seafoods and meats, yes and yes. Veg, not so much. He’ll eat some quite willingly, but he’d make a fairly poor version of a vegetarian. Me, I love many kinds of vegetables, along with all of the other foods, but I am a pescetarian and carnivore as well, so I don’t mind having the occasional festival of meat kind of meal.photo

We had a friend join us for dinner today, a person whose leanings are not far different from my spousal-person’s, so it seemed like a fine time to indulge in a freezer-freeing festival of the mainly meat sort. I had a small but solid hunk of grass-fed beef waiting to be enjoyed, a quartet of all-natural bratwurst all ready for a taste test, and the goofy woven square of bacon lying atop my cheesy potato-mash dish in the freezer drawer in quiescent quiet to prepare for use as well. Now I have a lot of space that I didn’t have in the freezer. Of course, I’ve got quite a bit less space in my innards at the moment than before. Yup.photo

So we had our mixed-grill meal together and had fun. Bratwurst, simmered for a long time in a bottle of Shiner Bock, until the beer was syrupy and the sausages fully cooked. The potato mash was quickly heated through and ready to go to table. The beef got cut up into small steaks and pan-seared in avocado oil, with just a little sea salt. Yes, we did in fact have a vegetable, too: peas. Tiny peas, steamed and served with lemon-mint butter, sweet salted butter mixed with minced fresh mint leaves and grated lemon zest.

All of this certainly sated the hunger for savories. That can, in turn, trigger the sweet tooth response. So there was dessert. Probably the richest version of a chocolate pudding I’ve concocted to date, dressed with honeyed peach slices.photo

Rich Chocolate Pudding & Peaches

Pudding: blend 3/4 to one cup each of whole milk yogurt and coconut milk, about 1/4 cup of raw honey, a pinch of salt, a splash each of orange liqueur (homemade months ago from mandarins, juice and zest both, with toasted coconut and brown sugar and vodka), vanilla and almond extracts, and three large eggs, and cook them gently until thickened. Add a bunch of yummy dark chocolate pieces and melt them down. I used 14 pieces of Dove dark chocolate, and just let the residual heat of the thickened custard melt them as I stirred. The coconut milk left the mixture just a tad less than perfectly smooth, so I used the stick blender to make it all silky. A stint in the fridge before dessert time finished the thickening and glossing and it was all ready to serve.

With topping. I took 2 cups of sliced frozen peaches and cooked them gently with a pinch of salt, 2 tablespoons each of butter and honey, a teaspoon of almond extract, and spices to taste (I used allspice and cardamom). Spooned at room temperature over the chilled pudding, they gave just enough brightness and freshness to jazz up the rich pudding and fool me into thinking I wasn’t overindulging in dessert after overindulging in dinner. My style entirely, and I think you do know what I mean. Sorry? Not the teeniest whit.

Foodie Tuesday: Simple Sips & Snips

I do appreciate stuff that is not only easy to fix but lives on past the fixing. By that I mean the sort of kitchen trick that provides more than one episode of eating and/or drinking, and the more the merrier. It might be something that, while it can be somewhat time-consuming while in the process (I’m looking at you, lasagna!) can be portioned and frozen for multiple meals, so the subsequent preparations are ever so much easier and faster than the initial one.

Or it might be more like what I did the other day. It doesn’t take terribly long, and requires virtually no brilliance or skill on my part to do it, but when I expend the effort to chop and then puree a goodly quantity of fresh ginger root and preserve it in vodka, it keeps for ages in the refrigerator and the mash is instantly accessible for any of my myriad edible loves. If I manage to drain the puree slightly when using it I might even score a small quantity of high-octane ginger-infused vodka at the end to enhance a sauce or a party drink that will more deservedly gain the title of Punch.photo

On this particular occasion, it provided me with the reasonable excuse to do a quick side-by-side taste testing of two Texas vodkas, as I knew I had none either for drink mixing or for the ginger preservation, let alone for the second set of ‘preserves’ I intended to make that day. So I bought the two bottles, one of Tito’s (a brand I’ve mentioned here before as I had discovered it is quite smooth, mellow and even drinkable straight, which is saying some for vodka in my book) and one of Western Son (a brand I’d not tried, but since it’s produced less than half an hour from where I live I thought I ought to give it a fair shake). I found Tito’s still more to my taste and less hard-edged, but both were perfectly pleasant. It’s always interesting and informative to read others’ reviews of these or any other alcoholic drinks (see the links through their names above for just a quick example) to be reminded that everything has its fans and haters, and often the most extremely opposite opinions can be backed by the exact same characteristics.

My purpose in this was pretty uncomplicated, though: I only wanted to decide which I’d rather keep some of for making the occasional spiked drink and which I would put to use as the preservative in my day’s longterm mise en place prep. Tito’s stayed in the freezer for drinks; WS got voted into eau-de-vie duty. That title is apropos not only because it will lengthen the life of the two flavorings I was treating, but also because it may become a bit of ginger firewater if the use of the root leaves enough liquid behind, and it will certainly become some beautifully flavored stuff after a good long mingling with the other flavoring agent I paired it with this time.

That, my friends, is vanilla. Store-bought vanilla beans at the grocery are often tragically bad facsimiles of their former selves, being shriveled and dry and bland and pathetic from poor packaging and over-long sitting on grimly over-lit shelves. Real, well prepared vanilla bean pods, on the other hand, are as sleek and fat and glamorous and moist as the sweet orchids that bear such beautiful fruit. Buying in bulk, with the quick turnaround of today’s online ordering and shipping, can be a much more productive and cost-effective way to bring that beauty home. So I bought a handful of nice, heavy vanilla beans and, like Jack in the fairy tale, got instant bounty from them. All I had to do was to take the WS vodka bottle that had had some liquor removed for the blending of that ginger root (now safely tucked up in a clean jam jar in the refrigerator) and the bottle had, conveniently, just the right amount of space for me to spear all of the beans down its neck into the vodka for immersion. Now all that’s left is to wait while the vanilla steeps into its full glory.photo

I can, in the meantime, take out a bean or two to cut and scrape and otherwise use to infuse and flavor any number of kitchen wonders. I can, very shortly, use the booze as a perfectly unadulterated vanilla extract, knowing that a little proper cooking or baking will remove the alcohol and leave the voluptuous flavor in its wake. And last of all, I can look forward to using the heavily perfumed vodka to jazz up drinks of the adult variety if I should so desire.

All of this from a short stint at the chopping board with nothing more than a knife for peeling and chopping the ginger, a couple of little saucers for testing the vodkas’ smell and taste characteristics side by side, and a bag of magic beans. And so much good should come of it in the days and weeks ahead.photo

Foodie Tuesday: You Eat What You Like, and I’ll Eat What I Like

Besides being a wise quote from my perennial hero, Yukon Cornelius, the title of today’s post is pretty great advice for eaters at all times, most particularly so during the holidays. If I’m going to go to the expense and effort to do anything special for a Special Occasion, it matters far more to me that I want to eat the results than that they meet anybody else’s standard for tradition, impressiveness, or perfection. You won’t find me dining on dainties of glorious extravagance and beauty on a holiday or birthday or any other notable date if I’m the designated cook, because spending exhausting and exacting hours in the scullery before the blessed event is not my idea of a great way to arrive at it rested and ready to enjoy its importance in my life with good cheer and an even temperament.

photo

Appetizer parfait: hash browns (I made these with Gouda and smoked paprika), sour cream, hot smoked wild Pacific salmon and capers. Or, in the alternative version I offered on the same day–another easy to prepare ahead topping for the hash browns–smoked sausage pieces simmered in Pinot Noir BBQ sauce. The sauce was a sticky reduction of equal amounts of red wine and homemade bone broth with brown sugar, tomato passata, chili powder, cinnamon, cloves and cayenne to taste. Guests could assemble the tiny dishes with any combination they liked, and I didn’t have to wrestle with the hors-d’oeuvres at all on the day of the party.

So while I adore Dungeness crab, I will not likely be preparing one fresh and mucking about with the tedious chore of meticulously picking the meat out of the shell–if I can find fresh Dungeness already picked and packed in a neat little carton, it’ll be on the menu; otherwise, not. My fondness for elaborate baked goods will likely be fed by an outstanding bakery, not by my slavish efforts right before a party. I’ll happily dine on a perfectly frenched rack of lamb or a miraculously flaky and tender kulebiaka or bistilla, but only if someone else is going to all of the effort it takes to prepare it.

photo

Homemade macaroni and cheese can be just as easy to fix as pre-packaged. Here, I blended shredded Gouda, cheddar and Parmesan cheeses in about equal amounts and added melted butter, eggs, smoked paprika, powdered mustard, a little grated nutmeg, and a tiny dash of liquid smoke (no additives, please) before stirring the cooked pasta in with a bit of cream and baking it to melt and meld it all together.

That’s how, when Christmas dining is at home, it may go so far as to be a roast beef that can be cooked sous vide and requires only a quick browning in the oven before carving, but it might also be a made-ahead, very down-to-earth macaroni and cheese. Or even a tuna salad sandwich, a perpetual favorite that, while it’s hardly what anyone I know would consider Fancy, is gladly eaten with a handful of good potato chips and a juicy apple on nearly any occasion chez nous. I want to eat delicious food on Christmas, but it doesn’t have to be unusual or expensive or showy in any way to be delicious, and if its simplicity of preparation means that it’s eaten in a very comfortably relaxed state, that makes it all the more appealing and enhances its flavor remarkably.

photo

Homemade mac-&-cheese is, in fact, also easy to customize for any number of tastes and occasions, as when I change out the elbow macaroni with some fresh fettuccine and toss in a batch of Langostino tails. Voila! ‘Poor man’s’ lobster fettuccine.

I hope that everyone who is celebrating around now–whether it’s Christmas, the Dongzhi festival, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, the New Year, Kwanzaa, a birthday, or something entirely different–has the wealth and freedom to take the same approach. It’s satisfying to arrive at happy events relaxed and, well, happy. And eating what you love to eat is always better than eating what you think you should eat, only because you think you should. I wish you all great food, simply prepared, great company when you want it and quiet time away when you need it. That’ll make the food taste all the better when it comes. Cheers! Bon appetit! Joy!

photo

Who says plain salt-and-pepper roasted chicken isn’t fancy enough for a special occasion? If you enjoy it, indulge. Even with the most common of accompaniments, it can be satisfying and tasteful (clockwise from the ruby-colored jellied cranberry sauce at left): pickles (here, okra, green tomatoes and green beans); sweet corn; coleslaw; apple sauce (freshly made brandied maple sauce); mashed baked potatoes with beurre noisette, fried sage leaves and optional red wine/broth reduction sauce; and a spoonful of tiny, tasty green peas. And if you’re a vegetarian, you can always eat the whole rest of the meal and be content. Peas to all the earth, I say!

Even desserts–maybe especially desserts, come to think of it–can get treated like such elaborate Fabergé egg-like constructions that they are too precious for ordinary mortals to eat and far too tiring for me to slave over preparing. I’ve hardly ever seen anyone turn up his nose at store-bought ice cream or refuse if I offered her a nice piece of chocolate straight out of the wrapper. A bowl of perfect fresh strawberries, a moist pound cake made the other day, and a quick batch of whipped cream with vanilla give instant summer cachet to the end of a meal. Banana pudding needn’t even be a fuss, and doesn’t look really like much (hence the lack of a photo), but it’s unpretentious and tasty enough that everyone right down to the toddlers will happily eat that old comfort favorite.

Banana Pudding to Make You Go Ape

Don’t bother with cheap, phony tasting artificially flavored instant banana pudding, either, despite a short timeline for the treat (unless you get all nostalgic over it for some reason). All you actually need is some really ripe bananas and a handful of other ingredients, and away you go…

Blend together until smooth (I use the stick blender for this): 5 overripe bananas (too mushy for eating plain), a pinch of salt, the juice and grated rind of 1 large lemon, a generous teaspoon of vanilla, a couple of tablespoons each of raw honey and butter, and about a cup of heavy cream. Chill until thickened. What do you taste? Bananas. What will you do? Go bananas over it. Why work harder than that for your food and fun? Enjoy your holidays and happy days instead!

Oh, and I must add (since what goes without saying may not entirely go without saying for everybody!) that this kind of banana pudding will, of course, oxidize–unlike the aforementioned imitation stuff–so it’s best eaten right when you’ve made it unless you’re like me and don’t care if it’s a little beige in color. And it’s not super thick, so if you like it thicker, I recommend whipping the cream separately and then folding it into the blended banana mash, to which you’ve already added the other ingredients. No matter how you choose to make it, it’s still pretty tasty. And, as Marie has suggested in the comments and I’ve already tested, it makes a dandy breakfast!

photo

Happy New Year!

Foodie Tuesday: Fat & Sassy

In my unapologetically piggy way, I almost always manage to get a goodly amount of delicious fat into whatever food I’m fixing for any occasion. Yes, I do have the proverbial sweet tooth and oh boy do I crave my salt, and surely you’ve noticed that I rarely turn down practically any sort of food on offer at all. But there are some sneaky little biases that tend to recur so regularly that they might be considered trademarks of my taste no matter what dish or meal or bite is the treat of the moment, and tasty fat is one of those delights.

Doesn’t matter what’s the course of the meal or of the day, either one–fat is where it’s at.

Say, for a starter bite. Just putting some nice fatty dry salami together with pieces of dried apricots and chunks of dense, also fabulously fat, fried cheese makes an amazingly great treat that you might not even have to be as big an admirer of fat as I am to enjoy it all.photo

If that’s not fat enough for you (or if, like me, it’s simply not too much and therefore arguably not nearly enough), you can go about pumping up the main dish with some additional lipid-licious treasures. How about a sandwich with a nice thick slab of mozzarella or other mild, thick cheese and a whack of crispy bacon, glued together with a slathering of ginger jam and cradled between two slices of nut-butter based batter bread? All good, I assure you. Probably needed some good greasy chips to go with it, but the sandwich was perfectly serviceable on its own. Enough so that I’ll bet I could have enjoyed it with fruit or vegetables or some other ridiculously healthful and low-fat sides just the same.photo

That’d probably be an even better excuse to have a nice fat slice of sleekly fat dessert, no? Perhaps something like almond cream tart with chocolate sauce. Honestly, not a terrible way to alleviate the shortcomings of a meal that didn’t already have only strictly, gloriously fat ingredients beforehand. I like to keep my arteries well lubricated so my blood will flow nice and smoothly, you know.

Almond Cream Tart (an approximation of a recipe)

1/2 pound melted butter

1-1/3 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1-1/2 teaspoons water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom

1-1/2 cups almond flour

Blend together thoroughly and divide the batter between two small, greased loaf pans and bake at 300 degrees until ‘sticky-finished’–very slightly underdone, or able to release a test toothpick fairly clean when it’s used to pierce the center of the loaf. Get the cakes out of the pans and let them cool enough to handle. While they’re cooling, line a Springform pan with plastic wrap.

Tear the cakes into large chunks. Distribute the cake pieces evenly in the Springform pan and press them down slightly. Moisten the cake with enough (1/4-1/2 cup of) heavy cream to help hold all of the pieces together. Smooth it out a little and sprinkle 1/2 cup sliced toasted almonds over the top of it. Press the almonds down, pull the plastic wrap over the top, and seal the tart into the pan. Then, into the fridge with it for a few hours or overnight, and when it’s well chilled it’s ready to glaze and serve.

To serve, plate up pretty pie wedges of tart for each diner. Microwave some more heavy cream (1/2 cup or so) together with some pieces of nice dark chocolate (I used Dove Promises) until you can stir them together into a nice smooth chocolate sauce and drizzle it over the top of the slices and take them all out to the table. Everybody stick your forks in and start making silly slurpy sounds. And don’t forget to wipe the luscious fatty residue off of chins, y’all. I may be greasing the skids to perdition, but isn’t it a lovely slide to take?photo