Archive | July, 2011

RAISING THE FOOD CEILING

31 Jul

Thanks to C-SPAN, the American public can sit courtside at our nation’s public spectacle of grown men and women posturing left and right over how best to spend or not spend our money. Some want to  raise the debt ceiling. Some don’t. Others want to raise it, but on the condition of putting in place spending restrictions.

I’d like to propose raising a different kind of ceiling. A food ceiling, whereby food would return to its pre-canned soup gravies and green bean casserole recipes. Meals couldn’t be called “Italian” just because the Hamburger Helper box says so. At least half of the dish’s contents would have to be recognizable to a five-year-old. And, most importantly, it must meet Kaukab’s litmus test. ‘What’s that?’ you ask. Spend less without sacrificing quality.

A concept seemingly lost on Capitol Hill.

 

A Day Of Noshing

28 Jul

Today is Thursday. On Tuesday, my friend, Agnes, drove down from my previous habitat to share with me a day of feasting. The last time we did so was roughly a year ago. (Agnes is a very busy girl.)

It was hot (and only getting hotter) when she arrived around noon. Agnes said she didn’t mind walking to our destination–downtown Charleston–and, forgetting that I’m a bit older than her, naively minded not, as well. Several long, hot blocks later, we arrived at our first destination:

This hip establishment opened here about a year ago. It’s mother shop resides in Fayettville, WV, about an hour away in the beautiful Appalacian foothills and home to WV’s famous “Bridge Day” and whitewater rafting crowd. This was Agnes’s first time to Pies and Pints, and I was excited to have her experience some of the best gourmet pizza out there. We decided to share a large pie, ordering half with the chicken gouda (and bacon) and the other with the Mediterranean-inspired Caprese, full of basil and fresh tomato goodness and delicate ribbon-squirts of balsamic reduction glaze.

Like this:         

Caprese Side

 (These pictures are not mine, btw. I had to “borrow” them from online sources. I’m sure they’re fine with it.)   We also shared a lovely Greek salad, full of feta and Greek black olives. Agnes was joyful. Nothing like this exists in her backyard, unless she’s cooking. Armed with a box of leftover pizza (3 pieces, if you must know), we flung open the door to a hotbox and made our way further up the street to Charleston Bakery. I wanted Agnes to see all the great breads. But more than that, I brought her here for these: 

Trail Mix Cookies! These will make you look at healthy tree-hugger’s food in a whole new way. I’m hooked on these things, thanks to violin girl.

I have to stop at this point and tell you what happened to our box of leftover pizza. You see, once we entered the bakery, the lady at the counter recognized the box and rejoiced about how we had brought our lovely leftovers for her to enjoy–jokingly, of course. For some odd reason, I had engaged in the joking, but took it a bit too far and actually heard myself saying to her (and her fellow worker): “Sure, have it!” And proceeded to tell them how many and of what variety of specialty pizza were contained in the precious box. To which, with each description, the fellow nodded approvingly. Which only motivated me further, to the point that I found myself practically pleading with them to take the box. Which they did. Then we bought our bakery goodies (without a discount bestowed upon them–not…that…I…was…looking for one) and left. It wasn’t until afterwards that I had realized what I had done. I felt a little strange about the whole matter, but the bakery people were so happy, if not somewhat stunned.

And so we traipsed back down Capitol Street towards home. Along the way, I took Agnes into a few design shops and finally made a stop at our local seafood shop. Alas, none left of their fine seafood chowder. The salmon look good, but I didn’t feel like lugging a bag of it in the heat.
 
Eventually, that bag of salmon would find its way home by way of Hubby–when coming up with the idea (mine) to sear some for a quick dinner before Agnes made her way home. (I thought salmon might make her feel better about the lost pizza.)
And so, we spent a lovely dinner outdoors to mark the end of our ‘Day of Noshing.’ We had seared salmon. I had a few Farm-fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, so I tossed these with balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and some sea salt, with some chopped fresh mint from the garden. Some rice, with tumeric and cumin, to round out the meal. Notice the rice. It’s not very pretty and that I blame on the fact that I didn’t have basmati on hand, and that I, in my hurry, used too much rice for the pan size, I believe. Dinner Is Served! 

Agnes

 
But, all considered, I think Agnes approved.

Agnes-approved

 
And that’s all a hostess can wish for.

Farmer Breakfast

20 Jul
Mid-East Style

Typically, an American breakfast doesn’t look remotely like the one pictured here. But, this American-born gal likes her breakfast with a Middle-Eastern twist. Especially when the farmers’ market has so many lusciously fresh produce.

 
Hidden under that freshly baked baguette (courtesy of my local bakery–Charleston Bakery, just down the block from the farmers’ market) are two olive-oil soaked slabs of roasted eggplant topped with equally-soaked roasted onions–both oven roasted the day before. I placed them on my baguette straight out of their refrigerated container as pictured here:
Notice how soft and shiny they are. If only I had planned better I could have added some nice basil and crumbled feta, or that crumbled feta with bits of sun-dried tomatoes and basil. Oregano could be just as good, too. Traditionally, we eat the eggplant on pita bread, whereby said bread would soak up the excess olive oil (although, “excess” is a relative word in my circle). We did so last night. And then we ran out. I’m fairly certain Kaukab would have been appalled. One must never run out of pita bread. Not ever.
 
No matter. My breakfast hit the spot. Perhaps, I’m more tolerant of other bread families than is Kaukab. But, I’ll just leave that to my wonderment.
 
 

Sick of Being Sick

17 Jul

I’ve been sick since Wednesday. A bad cold. A very bad cold which first took hold on the children–one by one–over a period of ten drawn out days, and one which I thought (unwisely) escaped me. Until Wednesday. At work. Minding my own business–and the business of my patients.

Happy to have had a cancellation of my last patient (scheduled for an hour’s worth of my rapidly waning energy), I managed to get myself home, but not without a last trip to the pharmacy for some homeopathic (Kaukab instilled natural remedies) nasal spray, hoping this would fend off any serious nasal congestion complications.

Did not happen. So, for the next three days this mother’s table brought forth whatever hubby could conjure up from minimal pantry consumptions and…takeout, while I languished on canned chicken noodle soup that I doctored up with whole garlic cloves. Yesterday,  I moved up to a tomato sandwich. Progress!

And, of course, I am now seated here talking with you.  And the laundry’s finally done. You’re welcome, driver boy. More progress! I’m feeling good about tomorrow. I think I might actually be ready to stand upright for longer than 15 minutes and cook something for the family.

One last thing. Nothing beats having some beautiful music to soothe one’s suffering. I’m blessed to have violin girl on hand to do that for me.

Bread School!

13 Jul

My next door neighbor is the kind of neighbor any foodie would relish. She lets me reach through her iron fence slats to pick oregano–an herb she hates, but grows anyway. (Foodies are strange that way.)

During the July 4th weekend, while I was serving up homemade barbeque (please refer to July 10th post for details) among her oregano and thyme, my neighbor and her twenty-something daughter were here:

King Arthur Baking School

Those of you who bake (I, not so much) are familiar with this brand of flour. Hubby’s familiar with it, as well, although he tells me he’s never used it.  My neighbor and her daughter baked some 24 loaves of various breads, along with an assortment of pastries. To our delight, we were greeted with these:

Sourdough & Baguette

From which I made these:

Buttery Goodness

WV Panini!

Here’s to bread-makers–everywhere!

July 4th No. 2

10 Jul

See how lovely these are? They would have been much lovlier, if they had been fired off on July 4th night, and not–unbeknowst to me, until all final arrangements of my July 4th festivities had been secured–on July 3rd, the very night I was preparing for the stated festivities.

Aside from that one hiccup, though, our Second Annual July Fourth Celebration went off  beautifully, much like the missing fireworks that I had planned on boycotting for messing with my plans, but succumbed to when several friends dropped by our house on the way to see them a few blocks away. And, although I would have enjoyed them more on the real holiday, it was a nice diversion from the kitchen that I had spent much of my day and evening engaging in food prep. while watching zombie movies and PBS cooking shows–don’t ask me how or why. 

You may be wondering what I had decided to cook for our gathering. Last year the main course was grilled chicken, along with brats and hot dogs. All good, but found hubby spending way too much time at the grill. Since I like to mix things up a bit, this year I had decided to try my hand at some beef barbeque. And anyone who knows barbeque (not I) will tell you that to do it right, you have to smoke the meat. And, you gotta have these:

Wood Chips. Mesquite. I had been looking at these for years, but didn’t have the nerve to try them. Yes, I’m silly that way. Since I wasn’t sure how much time to plan for cooking up enough beef to feed nearly 40 hungry palates, I decided to oven roast my 5 small beef roasts the day before and then “pull” them, to have ready to put on the grill the next day for smoking. I rubbed them with some garlic salt, cracked black pepper, and paprika and doused them all with worcestershire sauce (Lea & Perrins).  Since I didn’t have any onion salt, I threw in a bunch of quartered onions in the bottom of the pan, along with enough water, after I had first browned them in a hot oven (500) and then turning down the tempurature to 350 degrees, making sure to cover them tightly with foil. Make sure you check them every 45 minutes or so to see if you need to add more water so they won’t burn. One of my pans is shallower than the other, and I did burn some of the onions towards the end. But the meat was still tasty. You’ll end up roasting them for a few hours, depending upon how many you’ve got. Mine took 3 to 3 1/2 hours, maybe a bit more. I did turn the oven down more to 325 degrees after the beef roasts became almost tender enough, just to make sure I didn’t overcook them and they remained tender, which they did–just in case you were still wondering.

In the end, it worked out well. After roasting, I had placed the “pulled” beef in two tin pans and covered them tightly with foil. The day of the party, I had hubby start the charcoal fire, making two heaps of them on each side. When they were partially white, he placed a fistfull of wet chips (not potato, not poker, and certainly not cow) on top of each coal heap. Then, onto the grill rack the two pans of lovely beef did go. A slight “discussion” ensued about whether the beef would actually receive any real mesquite smoking magic. Hubby, convinced that it couldn’t possibly be, if the pans were covered. I, the one who’d been watching hours upon hours of “BBQ University” on PBS the day before, confidently portended otherwise. The verdict? Set, Match: PBS.

Here’s what it looked like, courtesy of violin girl’s violin teacher, who’d come over the next day to have some leftovers, with the agreement that I’d be engaging her plate in a last-ditch-effort photo shoot that this cook and hostess had failed to do when the original party-goers were present.

 Notice the amount of beef on her plate. It’s quite small compared to its companions. This is because violin teacher prefers a higher ratio of veggies:meat. I can respect that. May I also draw your attention to the shiny, beautiful glaze that is my barbeque sauce. Homemade, if I may brag. And a real winner this year. Bottle-worthy, I believe several guests exclaimed. You may have also noticed on this plate the recurring tabouleh and black bean salsa. I’m sorry if this may trouble you, but there are just some food items which make it on the playlist year after year. If you don’t want them to return, you’ll have to notify many of our party-goers and ask them to please stop requesting them.

This mango salsa always melds well with a variety of grilled or barbequed foods, anything from grilled fish or chicken to barbequed ribs, pork, or beef. And, it’s simple and really healthy. To the mangoes I like to add in some finely chopped cucumbers (along with minced red onion and jalepeno, and chopped cilantro) for crunch and freshness. The dressing is made up of lime, a few drops of hot sauce, honey, a smidgeon of ginger paste, pinch of cumin, sea salt to taste and a few drizzles of extra virgin olive oil. Mix gently.  With salsa, the flavor combinations are vast and you just use what you like. Mine is no different. The aim, for me, is to make it balanced in both texture and flavor.

Our “Fourth” wasn’t topped off by fireworks. Instead, these lovely scenes below:

Poor table hadn't been dressed yet with its pretty striped cloth.

 
Turned into a short shower later that evening, well-after dinner had ended. And, while many of us made our way indoors, others delighted in taking cover on the back and front porches while watching these:

wet, but pretty

 
So went July 4th No. 2. Great friends brought great food, and our time together only gets better. Even with the fireworks miscount. Here’s hoping for better math next year.
 
And, here’s the ingredient list for making my barbeque sauce. You’ll have a enough left over to use for other meal ideas, or to…dare I say…bottle.
 
Diane’s Bottle-Worthy BBQ Sauce:
40 oz. Heinz ketchup
18 or 19 oz. Marionberry seedless preserves (or any flavor of thick, jam-like consistency, e.g., grape, blackberry, etc.)
1/8C to 1/4C. brown sugar
dash of garlic salt
juice from 1/2 small lime
few drops of hot sauce
3 big pinches of red pepper flakes
2T. soy sauce (Kikkoman, regular)
9 or 10 oz. beer (I used what we had on hand–generally a cheap can of Milwaulkee Best, but in this instance I found a bottle of Heiniken.) Don’t fret. The sauce won’t care.
 
Again, I don’t measure, so use these amounts–particularly everything but the jam and ketchup, and maybe the beer–with the idea that you’ll start with the lower amounts and work up to the higher ones I guessed (eye-balled in my mind, afterwards–an especially precarious feat). Just taste as you go. It should have a sweet, but with a hit-hint of heat that comes on slowly. Of course, if you like more hit, then feel free to go for it.
 
In a medium-sized pan, pour in the ketchup and red pepper flakes. Turn heat to medium and stir for a few minutes. Add in all but the beer. Keep heating through until the jam is dissolved. Turn up heat to medium high until beginning to bubble. Pour in the beer and stir to thoroughly mix. Keep on medium-high until returns to bubble.  Turn down heat to simmer and partially cover. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. You can leave on stove to cool, or reheat for later, or use hot. It’s also good the next day straight out of the fridge. Just an aside: One of my guests asked me if I had made any hot dog sauce. Horrors! Poor kid; he didn’t know I was from the North. We don’t do hot dog sauce up there. Hadn’t even entered my mind. I apologized and told him we had ketchup and mustard. A short time later, he came back to tell me that he had put some of my bottle-worthy bbq sauce atop his hot dogs and it was “really good.” So, you see. You can even use this stuff on hot dogs!
 
%d bloggers like this: