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Archive for June, 2009

<div xmlns:cc="http://creativecommons.org/ns#" about="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamsjoys/71498012/"><a rel="cc:attributionURL" href=Have you ever seen an  expensive bottle of the herb-infused olive oil in a cooking store with an exorbitant price tag stuck to the lid? I have, and always felt such creations were too rich for my blood.

At the same time, I once tasted a bit of the divine substance at a restaurant in Boulder (basil-infused olive oil + fresh crusty bread = heaven), but still I assumed that, if purchasing them was right out, creating one of these concoctions from scratch involved a 15-step three week process necessitating USDA-canning-grade instructions. Turns out it’s not so.

In an article in this week’s New York Times, Mark Bittman reveals it’s easy as . . . well . . . pie.

FLAVORED oils are invaluable summer ingredients, at home over salads, grilled vegetables, meat, fish or almost anything else for that matter. They’re also among the simplest exotic kitchen creations imaginable.

You can pay $15 or even $30 for a half-liter bottle of flavored oil, or you can pay for oil plus herbs plus bottle, more likely to be around $10 a liter, and wind up with something considerably better.

If you jump to the article you’ll find a recipe for the stuff, although I must note that if you look at the correction, it appears even the mighty Mark Bittman got in trouble with the food safety police. Ahh, well. Better safe than hospitalized for hemolytic uremic syndrome, I always say.

Photo: Lavender-infused olive oil in an artist-approved but definitely not USDA-approved pose. Credit:jamsjoys/Creative Commons No Derivative Works Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Click image for link.

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Now I’m not big into bringing politics into my cooking, but I cannot help it when I read something like this: our nation’s mom-in-chief says she doesn’t miss cooking and is happy for other people to do it for her. Sacre bleu!

The New York Times put out a worthy op-ed on the subject a few weeks ago, a bit of which I share below:

However, when The Washington Post asked Mrs. Obama for her favorite recipe, she replied, “You know, cooking isn’t one of my huge things.” And last month, when a boy who was visiting the White House asked her if she liked to cook, she replied: “I don’t miss cooking. I’m just fine with other people cooking.” Though delivered lightheartedly, and by someone with a very busy schedule, the message was unmistakable: everyday cooking is a chore.

Both times Mrs. Obama missed a great opportunity to get people talking about a crucial yet neglected aspect of the food discussion: cooking. Because terrific local ingredients aren’t much use if people are cooking less and less; cooking is to gardening what parenting is to childbirth. Research by the NPD Group showed that Americans ate takeout meals an average of 125 times a year in 2008, up from 72 a year in 1983. And a recent U.C.L.A. study of 32 working families found that the subjects viewed cooking from scratch as a kind of rarefied hobby.

Oh, no, no, no. Cooking as a rarefied hobby? And yet I find that view is indeed prevalent. Whenever I bring a home-baked entree or dessert to a potluck or a person’s home, they almost consistently express surprise. At a recent potluck I attended, I’d estimate only 4 or 5 out of the 20-30 dishes were homemade. It doesn’t need to be that way! Stay tuned to Home Cooking Well and I’ll keep explaining how.

In the meantime, read the rest of the NYT op-ed here — with plenty more interesting details about the decline and possible renaissance of home cooking.

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Wherein Ashley Spends Forever in the Kitchen Making Gnocchi

Image by Robert S. Donovan, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License. Click for link.

Play-Doh sculpting is a life skill ... just ask my sister Ashley. Image by Robert S. Donovan, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License. Click for link.

Ed. note: This is the third of four posts about a recent supper club meal my sister prepared. I found this recipe for spinach gnocchi on simplyrecipes.com and instantly decided (since I have a life-long love of homemade dumplings, pasta, and noodles) it looked both fantastic and reasonably do-able, so I forwarded it to a few close friends. Ashley was the first to try it out, and here are her results. Enjoy! jf

Last time, I talked about my love affair with artichokes.  Incidentally, it also happened to be the side dish I served for the last Supper Club I hosted.  Today, I’m going to discuss the main course.

The entrée I served was a bit of a gamble.  Now, my sister refuses to cook a recipe for company without having tested it beforehand, and I agree, this is an excellent policy.  However, I usually like to throw caution to the wind and embark headlong into culinary odysseys, even if I wind up somewhere I don’t really want to be.  Besides, that’s what Supper Club is for!

A word to the wise on this, when making things that you’ve never tried from online recipes, always, always check out the comments section to see the issues/tweaks other people have made to the recipe…this can save your keister (I think Allrecipes.com does an excellent job of this).  So, having been forwarded a recipe for Spinach-Ricotta Gnocchi (not potato based…even I know my limits), I knew I’d found my entrée.

The gnocchi dough came together relatively easily via food processor; the tricky part came during the roll out.  At this point, I needed to channel all available Play-Doh skills I might have retained into adulthood  and I was praying Calculus hadn’t pushed them clear on out.  The basic technique was to divide the dough into manageable portions and roll them into log-shaped pieces about the size of your finger.  Easy enough, right? [Right! Reminds me of this. : ) jf] I found it near impossible to keep the dough at the correct level of tackiness that enabled smooth rolling.  I finally just decided that it was something attained with practice and muddled my way through best I could.

Also in the instructions for the gnocchi, was a step to use fork tines to leave dainty little impressions in each one.  Now, as romantic as making your own pasta sounds, the truth of the matter is it’s time consuming as all get out and as much as I love Supper Club (and my friends), my time was more valuable than putting fork tines in gnocchi (I’m running a one-woman show…that laundry ain’t going to do itself).  I quickly abandoned the effort…call me a cheater.  Five cajillion gnocchi later, I finished.  I did this the day before, which was fine, but I forgot to cover them with plastic wrap, so they did dry out some overnight.

The sauce came together super-fast right before I was ready to serve the meal.  It was very minimalistic and basically consisted of stewed tomatoes and goat cheese.  Cooking my pasta, which was another super easy task (I dumped them in boiling water and waited until they floated to the surface to remove them), also occurred at this time.  I topped the entree with grated parmesan.

I have to say, that while the finished gnocchi did resemble neon green fish bait, the taste was amazing when paired with the sauce.  It was definitely a scrumptious success.

My next post, Part 4: Oozing food is never good, should follow soon.

Ashley
“If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to serve as a horrible warning.” – Catherine Aird

p.s. If anyone else tries this recipe out, let us know your success with it! I’m going to be trying it soon myself and will report back as well. jf

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A Colorado black morel

A Colorado black morel

You may think that spring is almost over, but here in Colorado, it’s still in high swing. I know this because it’s still black morel season.

On Friday night, my friend Christy and I, both members of the Colorado Mycological Society, headed out for a little personal foray. Friday nights are a great time to be in the mountains because there are so few other people about. For a few short hours, you can feel like you own the place. And oh, what a place to own!

After several hours of coming up empty, I decided to take a shortcut back to the trail we’d taken on the way down. As I walked uphill, I kept searching and suddenly I saw what I’d come for: the elusive black morel. Christy soon found another nearby, and that made one for each of us. Enough for . . . well . . . a snack. : )

Black morels are choice edible wild mushrooms. They have a very odd look of a sort of conical honeycomb mounted atop a fleshy stalk. Inside the cups are little sacs called asci that contain the spores of the fungus.

The asci of a morel mushroom. The cup-shaped pits of the top of the morel are lined with tube-shaped sacs like these full of the mushroom's spores.

The asci of a morel mushroom. The cup-shaped pits of the top of the morel are lined with tube-shaped sacs like these full of the mushroom's spores.

They’re pretty beautiful on the inside, too. They are hollow, which means you can stuff them if you so choose.

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From a culinary standpoint, the great thing about morels is that they are the most meat-like non-meat object I’ve ever tasted. At certain times they have tasted to me like bacon or steak.

The terrible thing about morels, from a culinary standpoint, is that they are not abundant in the wild in Colorado unless you’ve had years of experience hunting, know where to look, and it is a good year. Without a wild supply, you’ll be forking over $50 a pound for fresh morels at Whole Foods, and something even more obscene for dried.

In any case, a few go a long way thanks to their potent flavor, and if you are so fortunate as to procure any by whatever means, here are my favorite simple methods for cooking them.

The easiest preparation is to cut them into bite-sized pieces and simply saute them in butter, adding a teeny pinch of salt to the butter as it’s melting if the butter is unsalted. This is the way to go if you want to experience pure morel flavor and/or you’ve never tried morels before. It’s simple, foolproof, and quite good. This is the way I made morels (except for a brief experience be-cornflake coating and frying that didn’t work so well for me) until last spring, when I decided to try experimenting.

Morels have affinity for steak (and as mentioned, are very steak-like in flavor), so I tried to prepare mine as I might prepare a steak. I cut the morels into bite-sized pieces.

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I chopped one clove garlic and melted one-half tablespoon butter (for one morel) in a skillet with a small pinch of salt and briefly sizzled the garlic. Then I added the morel and stirred a bit to coat in butter until the morel began to shrink as it cooked.

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By the way, though I have not been able to confirm this, it’s probably a good idea not to inhale the fumes of the cooking black morels. Turn on your fume hood as a precaution.

Finally, I splashed the skillet with Amontillado Sherry to deglaze and cooked that down until it was about the right consistency, glistening, but not soupy or sticky. I imagine red wine would work well too if you didn’t want that touch of nutty sweetness that comes with Amontillado sherries.

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Here is the final presentation.

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Wait a minute. . . something’s not right.

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Ah, that’s better. A free, fresh taste of the mountains on my Colorado table.

Anyone else cooked morels before? What are your favorite methods?

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There are people in this world who will consume any available dessert. I am one of those people. To prevent this (and save money) while I was in grad school at MIT, I made a new rule: no desserts in the house unless I made them myself, or they were ice cream (since did not own ice cream maker).

And in the five years since, I’ve almost always stuck to that rule, in spite of a seemingly countervailing rule that Dessert is Not Optional in the Frazer household. To make these rules work together, one must liberalize one’s definition of “dessert”.

Usually I have time to make one formal, traditional dessert a week. But if I haven’t, all that’s left are a few emergency desserts, like

  • A spoon full of peanut butter with some chocolate chips on top
  • A few spoons full of honey
  • Fresh fruit drizzled with honey or Hershey’s syrup

These are actually pretty satisfying in small quantities and many times all you really want is a taste of sweetness to finish your meal. In addition, even full-blown desserts I make myself  like cookies, cobbler, or pie are far less processed, tastier and more economical than store-bought cookies, cakes, candy, etc. It’s not that I won’t ever buy these things; they’re just a treat reserved for times like Halloween or Easter.

What do you think? Have you got a similar system?

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This image is by clayirving and is distributed under a Creative Commons attribution license. Click image for link.

This image is by clayirving and is distributed under a Creative Commons attribution license. Click image for link.

Ed. note: This is the second in my sister Ashley’s series of four Supper Club posts, in which she talks about a meal she prepared for her club a few weeks ago. And just for the record, although I don’t care for artichokes myself, I’m glad someone does. And I must confess I’ve also never tried one fresh!

I’ll break this meal into three parts: the side dish, main course, and desert. Today, I bring you the artichoke.

It came to my attention several weeks ago that the artichoke is a deeply underappreciated food. My fellow clubbers had confessed that they’d never actually eaten a freshly prepared one…shameful, I tell you.

Artichokes are amazingly tasty and healthy. However, from a can (as almost all vegetables are) they are overly salty and rubbery in texture. : ( And unfortunately for the artichoke (or fortunately, depending on your views of vegetable sentience), they also fall under a group of edibles that I like to term, “Food that Fights Back”. These are foods that don’t go down the old food pipe without a bit of effort.

In all honesty, I appreciate the trepidation over their consumption. I mean, it just looks weird and it’s not like chicken or an apple where you can just chomp right in. There’s prep work.

When I first undertook the effort, I used a cook book that had very helpful diagrams (go ahead and laugh…yes, I had to use instructions on how to eat). It makes you appreciate those culinary trailblazers who thought, yes, this strange prickly looking thing has potential!  Despite this, let me just say if you’re not eating them now, you’re missing out on a food that will rock your face off, so do yourself a favor and Google, “artichoke preparation”.

Anyway, once prepped and steamed (which I did the day of my meal), artichokes are ready to be eaten. The edible parts are the bottom of the leaves, which you scrape off with your teeth and the true jackpot of the food…the heart. That’s where most of the meat is located. It takes a lot of effort to get there, what with all the leaves you have to eat through, but as my friends pointed out as we munched our way to the center, it’s kind of fun.

I like to serve artichokes with a dipping sauce, as I did on this occasion. It was a red-wine vinegar/Dijon mustard concoction that had a tangy flavor and blended nicely with the smooth texture of the artichoke. The girls really enjoyed this part of the meal.

I believe I’ve exceeded my word count for the day, so keep an eye out for Part 3: Ashley spends forever in the kitchen making gnocchi.

Ashley

If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to serve as a horrible warning.” – Catherine Aird

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In a previous post I urged you to freeze leftovers right away. So how do you prevent your freezer from becoming clogged with tupperware? Good intentions are, well, good, but they don’t always get the job done. Outsmart yourself instead.

To make extra sure you eat them before freezer burn sets in, limit how much tupperware you own. Throw out all the crappy reused margerine tubs.

A piece of crappy tupperware from the Frazer collection. Note the cracked lid.

A piece of low-grade tupperware from the Frazer collection. Note the cracked lid.

This is great for simplifying your life, too, as it prevents tupperware cancer, wherein your tupperware drawer develops into a tumor that metastizes and invades all the other cupboards and drawers of your kitchen. And when you run out of tupperware, you’ll have no choice but to rescue some from the freezer.

One other way to make sure things don’t moulder in the freezer is to periodically. . . well . . . look in there. In the morning before you leave for work, grab something frozen for lunch. When you’re making your meal plan for the week (we’ll be covering this soon), take a look at what needs to be used.

But trust me (I have done this), getting rid of crappy tupperware is liberating. Put it in the recycling bin, and free up space in your cupboards for good equipment, good ingredients, and good karma.

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