Frita Fail

What I was supposed to have for lunch at/from Frita Batidos, where my Saturday co-workers and I stopped for a takeout this afternoon:

Tropical Salad: Romaine tossed with tropical fruit, toasted macadamias, shredded coconut, queso secco, red onion, smokey guava vinaigrette & avocado spread.

What I had:

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4-6 small leaves of romaine, about 1/4 cup mango, about one teaspoon of coconut, one tablespoon nuts of some sort (not macadamia), and a weirdly thick guava dressing (not pictured). No cheese, red onion, or avocado spread.

I went back and asked for the avocado spread, not having noticed the other missing ingredients, and was given 3 small slices of avocado. I asked if this was the spread, and was told, oh, I thought you wanted avocado. No, I want the spread that’s supposed to be on the salad! A few more minutes’ wait and I was on my way with the assorted avocados.

How much did I pay for this salad? $9 + tax + tip. By my calculations, I could have made the same salad for the four of us – including all the omitted parts – for under $5.  I could have bought a better and more generous salad from Wendy’s for under $5.  Oh Ann Arbor.

12 Books, 12 Months: Month OOPS

So hey, it’s almost the end of March and I have yet to post the February round up.  Sorry about that.  I’m going to just lump February and March together into one giant megapost, which I swear to Pete will be out the door by the end of next week.  Maybe that will give Shane enough time to finish his second book!  :grins:

25 Recipe #6 : Pie from Scratch

So, despite the fact that I won the pi/e day competition at Gelman two years ago, I’d never made a pie entirely from scratch until last week.  Sure, I’ve made lots of scratch-filling pies, but I’ve always relied on the trusty roll-out Pillsbury crusts from a box.  Lazy, I know, but why mess with a good thing?

Well, the time has come, and last week I made my first pie entirely from scratch.  What kind of pie?  A BEER pie. See, the dudes were here, and they have a long history of demanding fridge pie, and we were making a beer-heavy dinner, and it was the eve of pi/e day, so what could I do?

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Well, if you’ve ever made pie under pressure in a crowded kitchen when you’re on a time deadline, you’ll know this was a questionable idea. The custard wouldn’t simmer, and then it wouldn’t set. I couldn’t get the camera to focus. I couldn’t get the damned pie to cool. Eventually we gave up on the idea of sharing beer fridge pi/e, put it in the freezer, and I went to bed.

The end result? A tasty pi/e that never quite set. The custard went icy in the freezer, and started to separate as it thawed in the fridge. My fatal error may have been using less than full-fat dairy, or it might have been not using a wide enough saucepan, or it may have just been hubris. All I know is that Mike and Bill each enjoyed big slices of beer fridge pi/e for breakfast with coffee, and Shane and I had about one slice each before giving up. The remaining half of the beer fridge pi/e went out to the curb on trash day.

While I’ll certainly be making pie from scratch again soon – I’m over my fear of crust – I don’t think it’ll be this one.

Recipe:
Beer Cream Pie from Beer at Joe’s

Finding Balance – also Asparagus Risotto with Lemon

At lunch today, Shana and I were talking about our respective cooking slumps and how hard it is for us both to find balance between work, home life, and other interests – and it occurred to me that maybe part of this slump is just my life shifting into a new balance, or back into balance period.  For the last year and a half, I’ve been totally engaged in cooking, food, gardening, etc, and part of that has been because I’ve had little else to strongly draw my focus.  These days I’m busy to the point of exhaustion between teaching and work, and I’m managing to exercise almost every day – so something’s got to give.

Shane picked me up at 5 – an hour later than I’m normally at work – and while he worked out, I made asparagus risotto from Urban Italian.  Instead of shredding, I stirred for 30 minutes.  And then ate risotto that tasted like sunshine and springtime.  And then did my best to stay awake.  I consider it a successful evening, even if I don’t manage to do anything else.

Asparagus Risotto with Lemon
Adapted from Urban Italian

5 cups chicken broth or vegetable stock
1 pound asparagus
1 generous handful fresh basil
1 generous handful parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter, divided (1 + 2)
1/2 large Vidalia onion (about 1 cup), diced small
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup vermouth
salt and coarsely ground black pepper
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)

Warm the broth in a saucepan over medium heat. In another saucepan, bring several cups of generously salted water to boil. While the liquids are heating up, snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and discard. Cut off the bottom inch, and add to the broth. Cut off the asparagus tips about 3″ from the top and set aside. Reserve the middle portion of the stem.

When the broth nears a simmer, heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sweat for about a minute, then add the rice and stir so that all the grains are coated in the oil and butter. Add the vermouth, mixing well and stirring frequently until the boozey smell has evaporated. Add the broth one cup at a time, setting aside the asparagus ends, stirring the rice frequently, until all the liquid has been absorbed. Repeat this step until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid and is tender but not mushy, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, prepare a bowl of ice water while keeping an eye on the pot of salted water. When it boils, add the asparagus tips and blanch for 1 minute, then remove with a slotted spoon and add to the ice water to stop cooking. Add the reserved asparagus stems and blanch for 3 minutes, then drain. Add the stalks, asparagus ends, basil, and parsley to your blender or food processor and pulse until the mixture forms a puree.

When the rice is finished cooking, stir in the asparagus puree, asparagus tips, remaining butter, lemon juice, and Parmigiano if using. The recipe as presented should make 3 entree-sized portions or 4-5 if served with a salad and a protein. We ate it right up with a fresh baguette.

Happy Spring!

Signs of Life

Do you see them?  The snow finally melted away from the front bed, letting the first sprouts from the herb garden soak up some much needed sunshine.  I spotted them yesterday when I headed out for my run – a bit of parsley, a few leafy stems of oregano, and the fragrant lavender, which with any luck will bloom this year.

Springtime Tofu

I’ve been in a cooking slump since starting my new job a couple of weeks ago.  We’ve been busy, or we’ve been out of town, or Shane has had something going on and I’ve foraged for big salads or Plum Market takeout.  This dish was the rare exception to the slump.

A Very Green Dinner

I’ve been really into marinated broiled tofu this winter, but I think this dish marks a turned corner for me.  The tofu is baked instead of broiled, and battered instead of marinated, both of which give it an entirely different texture: chewy and nutty, sweet and savory, ripe for pairing with steamed veg and a salad.  The pistachio crust gives it a vegetal nuttiness – but roasted almonds are just as good, as we discovered over breakfast the other morning.  That’s right: I may not be able to muster a real meal for dinner most days, but I did get out of bed and get this tofu in the toaster oven before my shower the other morning.  So maybe the slump’s all in my head.

Recipe:
Pistachio-Crusted Tofu from FatFree Vegan Kitchen – I omitted the soy sauce marinade, and would recommend reducing the breadcrumbs by half in order to get more nuts, less filler

Things We Learned About Cats: Mina Edition

Happy Girl

We took Mina to the vet yesterday for a rabies shot and to have a toenail checked out. I mention this because we learned a couple of things that were interesting.

First, cat nails normally look like this:

Instead of getting all pointy at the end, however, Mina’s nails are much thicker and longer, as if her nails don’t get to the pointy-point part.  This means that when she hooks them on things, the tip of the nail doesn’t flake off – it sticks.  And what do cats do when they’re stuck?  They try to pull themselves free.

The result, as we discovered yesterday, is that Mina has broken two tiny bones, one in each of her front feet.  One happened at least a year ago, while the other seems to have happened in the last couple of days!  This sounds totally awful, but it’s apparently not uncommon and usually heals on its own.  She doesn’t seem to be in any pain except when we try to cut her nails, which makes sense.  They gave her an antibiotic, and we’re doing our best to keep her from scratching on things.

In addition to her big nails, we were also told that based on the size of her head and her big ol paws, she actually is smaller than she could be – which seemed funny to us since she has such sumptuous fluff – but might explain why she’s always foraging for snacks.  Seriously, look at that fluff:

Futon Party!