0729 Impromptu Pasta

I’m not sure what I had in mind tonight. Our planned meals got all switched around this week by my moods and our lack of interest in things that seemed fantastic a few days previously. To some extent, this worked out in our favor tonight, as we had a bit of a lot of things to use up.

I suppose this could also be appropriately called ‘End of the Fridge Pasta’, as that’s what it contained. A few leftover sausages from Sunday’s breakfast. A handful of 2nds tomatoes, too ripe to leave on the windowsill amidst the onslaught of fruit flies. A quarter of an onion. A few spoonfuls of ricotta, purchased for pasta we never made. The last of a box of whole wheat angel hair, tossed into boiling water when I realized the sauce wouldn’t wait for farfalle.

The end result? Two bowls of creamy, hearty pasta studded with bite-size pieces of excellent pork sausage. Two happy faces and full tummies.


looking forward to:

  • sangria in a jar at Dominick’s at 5:01pm tomorrow
  • finishing the scrap hat I’m working on and starting on holiday pressies
  • making and eating this while Mr. Eggplant Hater is out of town
  • running by the river
  • Without a Trace reruns
  • a few days of cooler weather
  • maybe a movie at the Michigan Theater?

What’s on deck for your weekend?

0728 Polenta with a Bunch of Veg

Polenta with Green Beans, Mushrooms, Peas, and Leeks

I think there are only two things I would change about this dinner.  First, in an attempt to save some calories and fat, I made the polenta with our normal recipe (instead of with whole milk and vegetable broth), and I swapped out the heavy cream in the sauce.  The polenta was as good as ever, but I would use the heavy cream, as the sauce really could’ve used the richness to complement the vermouth and leeks.

Second, there’s basically no seasoning in this recipe at all.  I can understand that as it is prepared in a number of separate steps – blanch the beans and peas and set aside, prepare the polenta and set aside, make the leek-vermouth sauce and set aside, saute the mushrooms – and so the potential for over seasoning is significant.  I skipped the seasoning of the leek-vermouth sauce, as it was flavorful enough on its own, but would generously season the mushrooms, adding more salt and pepper to taste when the beans and peas go into the pan.I might also saute some garlic with the mushrooms, as that might give a bit of oomph to the final flavor.

A bonus addition, if I’m allowed it, would be to skip the shallots and instead add some crispy fried onions when plating.  The flavor is all but lost, and I think this would give a nice bit of extra texture.

Despite all of that, I’m pretty damned pleased with a flavorful and filling vegetarian that looks as good as the magazine photo.

Polenta with Green Beans, Mushrooms, Peas, and Leeks from Bon Appetit
Basic Polenta from Giada De Laurentiis (for two portions, we’ll cut this recipe down to 1/3)

0727 Another Vote for Shane’s Bestness

Bad day.

OK, nothing particularly bad about it.  I was just under a cloud all day for no particular reason.  I got home at 4 and went straight to bed, woke up to say hi to Shane, then flopped back into my pillow.  I had intended to cook before knitting group and Knight’s of the West Side (punctuation is correct, don’t hate), but I woke up to a pleasant surprise – while out running errands, Shane had picked up dinner.  Roasted beets , my favorite wheatberry salad, and Izze for me, Founders Centennial IPA and macaroni for him.  Also a copy of the 2010 America Test Kitchen Cooking for Two special issue.  Thank you to Plum Market and my husband for making the evening dramatically better.

0726 Mushroom Tart, Sautéed Kale

I’ve always thought that the concept behind  Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee was a strange idea.  It feels like a throw-back to an era when processed food was glamorous – you don’t need to roast your own chicken or make your own gravy or biscuits or even chop your own vegetables to make chicken and dumplings! Just open a couple of packages!

On the other hand, I suppose this sort of show does make cooking more accessible for those who are intimidated by glossy food magazines and too-perfect tv chefs – and that’s a step in the right direction.  I’ve read in a couple of places – and now can’t recall any of them specifically – our culture now fetishizes the chef (or the eater) while at the same time abandoning cooking ourselves.  This NYT article from Michael Pollan is problematic but gets the point across – as a country, we are becoming morbidly obese on processed food while drooling over ridiculously complicated foods prepared on Top Chef or disgustingly huge portions on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.  And I quote: “What can possibly be the appeal of watching Guy Fieri bite, masticate and swallow all this chow?”

In this context, anything that will get the average person cooking is a step in the right direction.

I mention all of this because tonight’s dinner would qualify as semi-homemade – an entree from the freezer with a side dish from the garden.  While the Tarte aux Champignons (um, fancy thin-crust mushroom tart with Emmentaler and other cheeses) from Trader Joe’s heated up in the toaster oven, I washed, chopped, boiled, and sauteed a bunch of kale with onions and smoked paprika.  While the kale could’ve used more paprika and/or garlic, it made an earthy counterpoint to the rich cheeses of the tart.  I enjoyed it, but it was all a bit rich for Shane.  A worthwhile experiment, though, and one that somewhat vindicates the semi-homemade style of cooking.  Somewhat.

Sautéed Kale with Smoked Paprika from Bon Appetit

0725 A Day of Improv Meals

Breakfast: sausages, an asiago bagel sliced into four pieces of toast, fried eggs for Shane and slices of tomato for me.  Weekend Edition Sunday and the puzzle.  Coffee.  A late morning attempt at geocaching turned into half an hour of wandering in the woods.  Who knew that we could wander in the woods without leaving our neighborhood?

Lunch: I had intended to riff on this recipe for dinner last night, but we ate at weird hours, and so pushed this back to today.  While I prepped and grilled mushrooms, zucchini, and a purple pepper on our grill pan, Shane picked basil and whipped up a quick batch of pesto.  We spread ricotta on toast, then topped it with pesto or fresh basil, piles of vegetables, and a drizzle of balsamic crema.  Soo good, especially followed by a moped ride downtown, walking around in the sunshine, and froyo from Lab.

Dinner: We picked up more chickens from Back 40 yesterday, but neither of us felt like chicken.  We did, however, feel like end-of-the-fridge snacks: corn on the cob, edamame, asiago from last week’s snack dinner, an assortment of pickles, and homemade beet chips using wee beets from our garden and a recipe from the Spanish cookbook.  They started out as small colorful coins:

Beet Chips Before

And after a short swim in very hot oil, they ended up like this:

Beet Chips After

Not really big enough to dip in the salt-and-peppered ricotta, but totally delicious anyway.  A fine way to end a fine weekend – and also another recipe knocked off of the Spanish cookbook challenge.

0724 96 Degree Canning

I’m not sure what possessed me to take on canning today – other than the giant box of 2nds peaches I picked up at the market this morning.  The peaches were a little underripe, and I wanted to leave them on the counter in a bag to ripen, but the fruit flies would not allow that to happen.  I don’t know where the little buggers come from, but they’re super annoying, and I wasn’t about to let them get the best of our gorgeous produce.

First up, zucchini pickles.  Our garden isn’t exactly overflowing with summer squash, but we had enough in the crisper that I was starting to get concerned.  We both love the zucchini pickle spears that come with sandwiches at Jolly Pumpkin, so I figured it was worth giving them a try.  I used the Zany Zucchini Pickles recipe from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which called for a soak and a rinse, another soak in hot brine, a simmer, and then a quick pack and process in the open water bath. The recipe claimed it would yield 6 half pints – instead I got 4 pints and a whole lot of leftover brine. Pickleback, anyone?

Pickleback, anyone?

Since it was already about 1,000,000 degrees in the house and since the water bath was already boiling, I figured I might as well press on with the peaches. I think it was around this time that I popped open a beer, pinned my bangs back, and gave in to the sweat running down the back of my neck.

To can peaches, you must first peel them.  If you’re canning not-quite-ripe peaches, as I was, you’ll find this quite a chore, even with the boiling water then very cold water trick described in this recipe.  I forgot the lemon juice, so I’m hoping the peaches don’t brown too much – when you’re working with fruit canned in a hot syrup, acidity should only be an aesthetic issue.  I followed the ‘raw pack’ method, meaning that my peaches are in hot syrup but were not themselves hot when canned.  By the time the last batch was in the canner, I was disgustingly sweaty, the fruit flies were out in full force, and I’d made two trips to the compost bin with peach pits and skins.  I earned that beer, dammit.  And I’m looking forward to enjoying the jars of rosy-pink peaches that have already been transferred to the basement shelves.

Zany Zucchini Pickles from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Peaches (roughly the same recipe, though I used the one from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving)

On the Media

On the Media is a recent addition to my podcast regime. It airs at inconvenient times – 7am Saturday or 7pm Sunday – meaning that I’ll sometimes catch a story en route to the market or while making dinner, but rarely the entire program. What did we do before podcasts, you guys?

Every week I look forward to OtM’s interesting and incisive coverage of the media landscape – recent episodes have discussed the newspaper and publishing industries, the McChrystal debacle (and an interesting discussion of freelance vs beat reporting), the digital divide, and a particularly hilarious Twitter hoax.  The podcast runs about 50 minutes, making it perfect for my walk into work and the first 10-15 minutes of getting settled in, drinking my coffee, and catching up on email – or for a long weekend run.

I mention OtM today, though, because there were two particularly interesting pieces in this week’s episode – one that will appeal to all my information access nerds in the crowd, and the other that will appeal to my NPR nerds.  I suspect there’s a lot of overlap in that group, come to think of it.

First, an interview with Carl Malamud about his efforts to make government information accessible to the people that pay for its production (i.e. the taxpayers). I’m not an information access nerd, but Malamud is fighting the good fight and is also an entertaining interviewee, so I recommend checking out this clip and also Yes We Scan!:

Second, OtM’s tribute to the late Dan Schorr.  By now everyone who listens to NPR has heard the Dan Schorr stories and tributes, but this one features a particularly funny story in tribute:

0723 Fast Food (sigh)

Let’s not talk about how terribly I ate today, OK?  Too many cocktails + painfully hot weather + a solo evening while Shane was braving frighteningly foul weather at the 13th Annual Michigan Summer Beer Festival equals a hungry and unmotivated E.  It was the kind of night that required ice cream, knitting and a lot of crime drama reruns.  All of those things happened, but healthy eating did not.

0721 Vegetarian this-and-that

Ann Arbor Art Fairs Photos 2010 by Michigan Municipal League
photo by Michigan Municipal League (MML)

Shane’s mom came up from Cleveland today to attend the chaos known as the annual Ann Arbor Art Fair. It’s actually more accurate to say ‘art fairs’, plural, as there are four fairs spread out over the downtown and Central Campus areas. Between vendors and visitors, the art fair conglomerate brings in upwards of 500,000 people over the course of four days. That’s 500,000 people buying and selling, wandering and eating, sweating and parking in very close proximity to where we live and work. That’s a lot of people, you guys.

After a trip to the garden (me) and some quiet post-fair downtime (Shane and his mom), we had a delicious vegetarian dinner of various things from the garden and the market. I came home with carrots, beets, rapini, chilies, and cucumbers – quite the exciting haul! Our entree resembled the sort-of ratatouille from a couple of weeks ago – onions, tomatoes, garlic, and a chili sauteed in a bit olive oil until everything went saucy, then served over warm polenta. The chili gave just a little bit of heat – a heat we’re going to have to learn to incorporate into more things, as our garden is overflowing with them. I also tossed sauteed rapini with raisins – Shane didn’t love it, but I ate it up.

It was a lovely, healthy, filling dinner improvised amidst long conversation, and then followed by a walk through the downtown masses to Ashley’s for a Bell’s event, where we hoped to try Black Note, but where we made do with a Founders Cerise (me), a lambic (Mom), and a Hell Hath No Fury (Shane). A long, relaxing evening, and a nice end to a very warm day.