Straight Talk

We’re making some changes around here.  As a result, I’ve had less to blog about because frankly, food has been making me crazy.

See, a few weeks ago Shane decided to get recommitted to fitness and weight loss.  We both started P90X, and Shane has been making a concerted effort to eat low carb.  Needless to say, this has thrown a wrench in various resolutions and generally made meal planning and social events difficult – not impossible, but difficult.

At the same time, I’m trying to figure out what I should be eating.  I want to lose a little weight, but I also want to eat real food and enough of it so that I’m not constantly hungry or grumpy.  I crave vegetables and fruit.  I’ve been attempting to eat in moderation for a long time.  I’m not interested in protein shakes, and the smell of protein powder makes me grimace.

Shane has said that he’ll eat whatever I make for dinner – but that said, I don’t want to be responsible for making him stray from his diet.  We went out for nachos the other night, and both felt totally stressed out by the fact that the vegetarian/vegan restaurant was both overpriced and extremely carby.  What’s a girl to do?

We’re trying, though.  The meals posted here will probably alternate between our attempts at lower carb, higher protein – while also being as ethical and seasonally appropriate as we can manage – and weekend splurges.  There will be no photos of protein shakes.  Here’s a sample dinner from this week:

Zucchini "noodles"
Zucchini from the garden, shaved with the vegetable peeler and boiled for 1 minute in very salty water, then tossed with a coarse marinara made from last summer’s tomatoes.

Broiled shrimp
Shrimp brushed with a basil-infused dipping oil and a generous amount of black pepper and then broiled

Shrimp and zucchini "noodles"
The whole dish, followed by a Lillet spritzer and frozen banana “ice cream” for me.

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Mitigated Spanish Success

I knocked out two more recipes from my Spanish cookbook last week, both of which were mitigated successes. I say ‘mitigated’ because while we enjoyed both dishes, both had significant problems.

First, Lentils and Mushrooms.

Lentejas con champiñones/ Lentils with button mushrooms
Photo by Javier García

There are few things more hunger-inducing than the smell of sauteeing onions, garlic, and mushrooms – which is exactly how this recipe starts. Add in the lentils and a few other things, then cover and simmer until the lentils are soft and the liquid is almost gone – EXCEPT that that never happened. Instead of stirring Pernod and a handful of fresh parsley into the pot, we added a small amount of each to bowls of slightly drained stew, the remainder of which was left on the stove in hopes that it would reduce. It didn’t. We enjoyed the dish, but I question the necessity of covering the pot, especially since the lentils were pre-soaked and well on their way to being soft.

Second, Marmitako, a Basque stew that features tuna, tomatoes, and potatoes. I love these process photos, all shared by Flickr user BocaDorada and licensed under Creative Commons1:

Así se empieza con el marmitako

Los ingredientes del marmitako

Parte del proceso de la preparación del marmitako

Cena

We’ve been getting the occasional tuna steak from Trader Joe’s – they come frozen in packages of two, which is just the right amount for a hearty dinner. While the tuna is typically cooked in the stew, the recipe I used recommended searing it in a separate pan, then adding it to the pot, where it is then topped with potatoes and simmered for half an hour or so. In theory, this means that everything is nicely reduced and the tuna is moist and tender. However, as with the previous recipe, there was just too much damned liquid, even with the lid removed for the last ten minutes. I did scale the recipe back and used fewer potatoes than required, but I doubt that the small amount of omitted potatoes would have soaked up the extra two cups of liquid that I spooned out before serving. A fine dinner, and good leftovers, but not something we’ll make again.

Alternative Recipes:
This take on Spanish Mushrooms and Lentils from Herbivoracious looks excellent, though it lacks the anise that was so appealing for me in the recipe we tried. This version of Marmitako from Global Gourmet appears to avoid the too much liquid problem by not covering the pot and also baking it in the oven, rather than simmering on the stovetop.

1 It is worth noting that any photos shared on this site that are not ours were either shared with the explicit permission of the photographer or are licensed under Creative Commons.

24 Loaves: Basic Boule

So tonight I made this sauce.  Except that instead of velvet buttery goodness after 45 minutes, after an hour and a half the sauce was still chunky and would not reduce.  I spooned a cup or so of sauce over a leftover chicken breast and warmed them together in the oven, hoping and hoping that the rest of the sauce would reduce.  Um, nope.  Are you sensing a theme to this week?  Oh well, it was still tasty, and after another hour and a half on the stove, it’s finally getting impossibly rich.  Too bad we ate dinner an hour ago.

DSCF5137

But that wasn’t what I came here to tell you about today. Today is all about the bread.

Blessed Boule

One of my resolutions this year was to learn to bake different kinds of bread: 24 loaves, to be precise. While I’ve made pita bread and English muffins since embracing this challenge, this was technically my first loaf of 2011. The Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method relies on a slow ferment – like the No Knead Bread recipe that failed me (or I it). I started with the basic recipe, which makes enough for four one pound loaves.

First, mix everything up in a lidded (but not air-tight) vessel large enough to handle the rise:

Rising Bucket

After two hours in the warm kitchen, the dough more than doubled in size:

2 Hours Later

At this point, you could scoop out a pound of dough and bake yourself a beautiful loaf – or you could stick the bucket in the fridge to continue to ferment. Here’s where this recipe is different from the No-Knead Bread. The cold rise does something wonderful to the dough: it allows the good bacteria to ferment and the long-chain starches to break down into sugars.

When you’re ready to bake, you scoop out and shape a beautiful boule, then let it rise 40 minutes at room temperature while your oven warms up. 30 minutes in the oven, and you’ve got this:

Look at that!

We ate the whole damned thing before the steam stopped rising. And I can’t wait to bake another loaf, except that I might need to run a few more miles before I do.

Recipes:
Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter from Smitten Kitchen
Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day from the book of the same title, by way of Alexandra’s Kitchen

1213 Meatballs and Polenta

It snowed yesterday for real.  Not the delicate flakes we’ve had so far this month – a dusting that melted away almost every night – a heavy blanket several inches deep, held in place by single digit temperatures.  We both woke up feeling worn down, sore, and just generally unable to face the cold and snow, so we both took a sick day and stayed on the couch under blankets, cats, and laptops.  As is often the case on sick days – or any bonus day at home with no responsibilities – we ended up eating at weird hours, and so weren’t hungry for dinner until OMG we were hungry IMMEDIATELY.  Fortunately, we had a super easy, super delicious dinner on tap: revisiting this summer’s Albóndigas con Salsa de Tomate, using leftover meatballs from the ramen we made last month and a container of homemade tomato sauce.

In the waning weeks of the gardening season, I found myself with all of these tomatoes – not enough to can, but too many to eat, especially with all the peppers and potatoes and other things we were bringing home.  I made pot after pot of simple tomato sauce, with dozens of these small tomatoes pressed through the food mill and then simmered down to their sweet essence, then topped off container after container and stashed them away in the freezer for a meal like tonight’s.

With two cups of tomato sauce and a dozen meatballs already thawed, we were able to have dinner on the table in about 20 minutes.  I poured the sauce into an oven-safe dish and placed it under the broiler to heat up, then tossed the meatballs in a skillet until they were browned on all sides.  While Shane whisked away at the polenta, I added the meatballs to the warmed sauce, and put the dish back under the broiler for about 10 minutes.  Simple, warm, and filling: a great end to a snow day.

Recipes:
Albóndigas con Salsa de Tomate
Quickest Tomato Sauce from Jamie at Home
Basic Polenta Recipe from Giada di Laurentiis – this recipe halved makes enough for four portions for us

1202 Shrimp and Grits

Dinner tonight? Really and truly exceptional.  Shane gave it five stars.  I wish I’d taken a picture.

Instead you’ll have to imagine pan-fried corn and shallots tossed with snow peas, shrimp, and a handful of slow-roasted cherry tomatoes served over creamy and wonderful grits.  A pinch of red pepper flakes to add a bit of heat.  No cheese or other enrichment necessary.  Just simple, fresh, hearty, and delicious.  I halved the shrimp and grits and used the full portion of veg, which made plenty for the two of us for dinner plus leftovers for Shane’s lunch.  I can’t wait to eat this again – good thing we have almost everything on hand thanks to the summer’s preserving.

Recipe:
Shrimp and Grits (and then some) from Dinner: A Love Story

1113 Tomato Bisque

Shane’s gone for the weekend – more moped stuff in Cleveland – and I’ve got a whole lot of nothing planned.  This morning I drank coffee, made a trip to the garden, and made a lovely soup for a late lunch while watching the Iowa game which, by the way, I don’t want to talk about.  I would, however, like to talk about this soup.

Lo these many years ago, in an apartment on 12th Street in Rockford, I started to get interested in food.  I knew enough to be dangerous to myself and others – I could scramble eggs, make an awesome batch of mashed potatoes, and follow the instructions on packaged food.  I had been vegetarian for a few years, so anything I might’ve known about preparing meat had long escaped my mind.  I was living with my boyfriend and two coworker friends, and while we all liked to eat, none of us liked to do the dishes.

When my roommates moved out and I didn’t have automatic Must See TV pineapple pizza ordering companions, I started to give the whole cooking thing a go.  This tomato bisque was one of the first things I mastered, one of the first recipes I could make without frantic trips to the store (where the hell are the pine nuts?) or phone calls to my mom (what’s something easy I can do with chicken?).  Paired with Jeff Perri’s grilled cheese sandwiches, it was my go to meal for the longest time.

So that’s what I did for lunch this afternoon: tomato bisque made from a whole bunch of the green tomatoes that finally ripened, with a bit of purloined dill for a more complex flavor.  I didn’t have cream on hand, so I whisked in a bit of yogurt – not the same, but good enough.  Add some crusty bread and a Spotted Cow, and you’ve got yourself a great afternoon.

Recipe:
Tomato Bisque from Fine Cooking

1024 Wait, What Season Is It?

So Friday night Shane finally gave in to the weather and turned on the heat.  It was 26 when I left for work that morning, bundled up in my jacket, cowl, and gloves, shivering at the bus stop in the pitch black at 7am.  It was the beginning of soup weather, which was all I’ve wanted to eat for the last week, and at least 3/4 of what I planned to make this week.

That is, until I popped the kitchen window open this morning to vent the breakfast heat and smells and discovered that it was NEARLY 70.  It is the last week of October, right?  I was wearing flannel pajamas and fuzzy socks last night, right? I did pull my tomatoes out two weeks ago because the growing season is over, right?

Fried green tomatoes
Photo by eirikso

Speaking of those tomatoes, they’ve been sitting in a big paper bag in the corner waiting for me to figure out what the heck to do with them. I’ve gotten recommendations for chili or pickles, and I’ve had good intentions of frying them, but for the most part they’ve just been sitting there awaiting my attention. This morning I discovered two things: first, nearly a dozen of the tomatoes have ripened! The paper bag trick works! Second, fried green tomatoes are damned fine breakfast food.

fried green tomatoes
Photo by kthread

This was my first time making fried green tomatoes – in fact, it might be my first time EATING fried green tomatoes – so I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious these were! The tomatoes were small, maybe 2″ in diameter, so we only got about 3 slices out of each. I used Mollie Katzen’s recipe from Sunlight Cafe, which called for an extremely minimal batter – just polenta and salt – so these aren’t the great batter-coated beasts that I saw all over Flickr while looking for photos to illustrate this post. Super simple, super delicious, and when served along with bacon, scrambled eggs, and slices of Avalon‘s Italian bread – an amazing breakfast on an amazingly beautiful morning.

Recipe:
Mollie Katzen’s Fried Green Tomatoes from Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Cafe