Monday, May 31, 2010

Long Weekend

I can't think of many things better than 3 day weekends.  4 day weekends?  Probably.  Still, it was a treat I was looking forward to for ages and savored as much as I could.  We didn't do anything spectacular: no camping trips, flights to Vegas or days at the coast.  Spent mostly close to home, with a few errands and a quick day trip to Scappoose.  Even so, it was the most relaxed and calm I've felt in as long as I can remember. 

On Saturday we were called out to Matt's dad's house.  He's on a salmon spree, striving to get 40 spring chinook this season. His good luck on the line, and my good grill-getting fortune, came together quite serendipitously. 

Here I am with #38, caught that very morning and wrapped up and ready for a sure-to-be-monumental Blankenbarbecue. 

Speaking of barbecues, even though it was Memorial Day, I felt hardly compelled to go out and grill.  With very little exception, it's been rainy, cold and overcast for days.  At Matt's request, we planned our menu around savoring the last of the chilly weather comfort foods that it will be soon be too hot to bake.  I made two batches of homemade lasagna: one that we enjoyed on the couch last night while watching Rome on DVD, the other is in the freezer with #38, to feed Matt while I'm at school in a couple weeks.  I worry about him; sustaining on a diet of Dairy Queen and beer... mostly beer. 

Today I capped off my (hopeful) goodbye to shitty weather with a whole roasted chicken in the Le Creuset.  My very favorite piece of kitchenware, which will be heading into almost-retirement until the fans are turned off in September.  I bought it with the money I earned selling my first car (a Ford Aerostar) on Craigslist.  That, and my Kitchen Aid blender.  It's a timeless, classic piece, something I'll pass on to theoretical grandchildren that, as fate will have it, probably will hate cooking.

I tried to incorporate more fresh, summery ingredients than usual, like lemons, dijon mustard, and roasted garlic butter I made last night and rubbed liberally underneath the skin.  I roasted it, covered, in the oven for an hour.  The smell of herbs and citrus overtook the hot dog scent coming in through the windows, which was a pleasant turf war to witness.  I made a wild rice pilaf for me; Matt wanted Stove Top and macaroni and cheese.  Since I'm getting back into that skirt, I decided to march to the beat of my own sensible drum. 

I took off the skin, too.  It looked prettier with the encrusted herbs, but hopefully you can appreciate the beauty of clear arteries in this shot.

Also, I finally got my vintage food ads framed!  Another piece of making my "country vintage circa 1950's" kitchen a reality.  One piece at a time! 

Ugh, decorating is a painfully slow process.  I need instant gratification.  Maybe that's why my hobby is cooking.  You reap the rewards the very same day.  Usually.  Unless there's a marinade involved.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Seafood Sensations

Yesterday, while on my Facebook page (an activity I rarely participate in with sparse time intervals), I was treated to the latest centerfold from Burgerville's House of All-American Food Porn. 

Oooooooh yeah. 

Let's hear a little bit more about Miss May. 

We're introducing a sandwich so delicious, you'll migrate back to it again and again. Our new Grille...d Coho Salmon Sandwich features Wild-caught Alaskan Coho Salmon from fisheries that are certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. This delicious sandwich is grilled to order and placed atop a bed of fresh frisée with lemon aioli on a toasted Kaiser bun. Try one today!

Well, thank you for the invite.  I believe I shall.  So, without the excuse of inedible Healthy Choice or anything else, I made plans to go out to lunch tomorrow.  Not an easy decision.  I had some great white chicken chili leftovers screaming for some love in the fridge, and I've become a frugal Nazi about not eating out during the week.  More money on the weekends. 

So there I was, sack lunchless, sitting at my desk and wondering how it could possibly still be just 10:40 am when this email splashed across my graphic designer marketeriffic monitor.  The elusive Free Basket Upgrade coupon!  As if I was somehow psychically connected to this sandwich, email blasting my heart's desire in the most beautiful marketing synergy ever.  Facebook post followed-up with email collateral piece.  Target market achieved.

I arrived to find the other elusive Burgerville anomaly: a parking spot.  And no line!  I walked right up to the counter, stupid grin on my face and printed coupon in my hand: it was immediately clear what I was after. 

There's been a lot of press about this new nutritional facts receipt Burgerville's been piloting.  Yes, it can be very depressing to see what you've just done to yourself.  But I guess I didn't do TOO bad.  Considering.  Maybe.  It's just amazing that even when you're being good at a restaurant, ordering the side salad and grilled fish sandwich, you're still subjecting yourself to half a day's worth of calories.  I justify it with the sad little cup of oatmeal I had in the morning, and by promising myself I will have very few tortellinis for dinner. 

One of the many great things about Burgerville is that the food actually does resemble its glamour shot.  When I received my sandwich and side salad, I delightfully observed that the salmon looked like a piece of FISH, like the kind I grill at home.  That comes from a creature.  In the ocean.  Not a scary mealy patty injected with saltwater and polluck.  Also, they've just made some major upgrades to their side salads (you can substitute them at no cost from fries in a basket).  Instead of their ho-hum iceburg lettuce, one tomato and cheddar cheese, they've gone to a leaf mix with raddichio, TWO TOMATOES, red onion and SHARP cheddar cheese.  I actually didn't feel sad about missing out on my beloved ketchup vessels. 

The sandwich far exceeded my expectations.  The fish was not fake or fishy at all.  On the contrary, it tasted fresh, light, and just like salmon is supposed to.  The lemon aioli added a bright citrus flavor, but I'd ask for a light drizzle next time to cut down on calories.  Flavors this good don't need to drown.  It just blew my mind, sitting in a fast food restaurant on my lunch half-hour, and having a meal that tastes like something I'd eat and enjoy at home.  Burgerville, I love you.

When I got back to the office, high on Omega 3's, Malika was chowing on one too.  She, and this sandwich, are awesome. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

Princess of Persia

With a real-live, week-and-a-half dorm residency sneaking up on me faster than I can possibly comprehend, I've been reminiscing on my old Elizabeth Hall days.  Granted, a lot of that reminiscing involves squeezing my eyes shut, shaking my head and marveling at just how influencial bottom-shelf vodka can be.  But there were a few culinary adventures!  Definitely more culinary mishaps: the terrible food at the cafeteria (french-toast style eggos, anyone?), the hot plate spaghetti I clogged the sink with trying to strain without a colander, yet more horrible cafeteria food (iceburg lettuce and carrot stick salad bar).  I did find a few fantastic restaurants around Portland, though.  One of my very favorites, which I miss terribly now that I'm about 45 minutes away, is Aladdin's.  Syrian and Mediterranean cuisine in an adorable middle eastern palace tacked to the side of a kwik-e-mart.  Literally.  Front of building?  Skanky cigarette ads and cutouts of Shakira hocking Pepsi.  Turn the corner, just to the side, and there's glass lanterns and beading and rugs... and enticing, exotic, spicy fare that just reminds you that food can still be interesting.

My good friend Kristine waitressed here, and dated a sexy Pakistinian guy who worked there.  Or something, from somewhere.  It was all intruiguing and smelled of incense, what we deeply discussed when we used to sit out in the parking lot and puff on clove cigarettes.  I'd ditch Dr. Wright's night classes, that he liked to cancel anyway, to say hello and get the chicken shwarma.  Liberally spice-kissed meat on a bed of yellow saffron-tinted rice, with a drizzle of yogurt sauce.  I don't know how I managed to have money back then, but I found a way to scrape up shwarma.  I think Kristine gave me a discount, too.  She'd be able to chat in between the Fremonters and Albertites dodging in for their take-out.  In between I'd catch up on the latest TV offerings from Bollywood, or somewhere that direction.

These good times came rushing back when I was picking through my recipe file, looking for easy weeknight stuff while menu planning.  A clipping from July 2009's Bon Appetit for Turkey Shwarma with Tomato Relish and Tahini Sauce.  Served in the sandwich style, this looked like an actually easy enough recipe.  No clay oven or vertical rotisserie required (although they lauded the excellence of these nifty contraptions).  "Direct grilling the turkey slices does give you a close approximation of the taste and texture of classic shwarma", it promised.

Well, it was a lot easier than trying to make it to NoPo on a weeknight.

I used chicken instead of turkey, because it was what I had.  Also, the original Bon Appetit recipe calls for you to make your own tahini sauce and tomato relish.  I said, screw that noise.  Tahini sauce is a thinner version of hummus, but when you spread hummus on grill-hot pitas, it melts and becomes softer anway.  I just happened to have some Robert Rothschild Farm Roasted Red Pepper & Onion Dip that I cracked for paninis a couple weeks ago that I knew would taste just as amazing as any relish I could put together in May.  Definitely check out that site.  Beyond good stuff.

Matt was behind my shoulder ever since I wrote the sneaky foreign word on our week menu.  "So I guess I'm eating Macaroni and Cheese then?" he kept whining. 

"I don't care!  If you want!  There's hot dogs in the freezer, make it a meal!" 

But no blue boxes were cracked as I went out to the barbecue with my overnight-marinated onions and chicken.  That sneaky turd wanted to try it, was intruiged by the bright tumeric and thick scent I unleashed in the backyard.  I can just imagine my neighbors stepping outside to take out the trash and noting that Dorsey Drive smelled like a market in Beirut. 

"This is really, really good," he assured me.  "The pickle makes it."

"I know!  They love pickles over there!"  Wait a minute.  "Hey, I thought you were dreading dinner tonight."

"No, I knew it was going to be good.  I just had to give you crap."

Well, somebody's not getting pre-made frozen casserole for dorm week.

CHICKEN Shwarma with Roasted Red Pepper Dip and Hummus
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 onion, cut into 1/2 inch thick rounds
1/2 tbsp tumeric
1 tsp coarse kosher salt
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Olive Oil
4 pitas
Robert Rothschild Farm Roasted Red Pepper & Onion Dip
1/2 cup thinly sliced dill pickles (if you have some of my home-canned ones, use those ;)

Arrange chicken in a long pyrex baking dish, then arrange onions next to them.  Mix tumeric, salt, coriander, cumin, black pepper, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl.  Sprinkle onion slices with 1/2 tablespoon spice mixture, then drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over, turning onions to coat both sides.  Sprinkle remaining spice mixture over both sides of the chicken, rubbing into the meat to coat.  Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the chicken.  Cover and chill at least 4 hours or overnight.

Start your barbecue and set to medium-high heat.  Brush pitas with olive oil.  Place the onions in a grill basket and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes.  Grill the chicken breasts at the same time for approximately 10 minutes, or until done.  Place pitas on the grill and allow to get grill marks, about 2 minutes per side.  Bring everything on back inside.

Place the onions between the two chicken breasts (like a Double Down sandwich with onions), and cut thinly crosswise.  While still toasty, spread hummus on the pitas, then top with chicken/onion shwarma mixture, pickle slices and red pepper dip.  Get ready to convert your Wonder bread husband.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Howaito on'nanoko Harajuku shibō

Rough translation: white girl harajuku wannabe. 

In high school, I wanted to be Japanese with all my heart.  I'm not sure what to blame it on: Memoirs of a Geisha, Pokemon and Sailor Moon, delicious teriyaki chicken.  It was this culture that was so vastly, wholly, completely different from anything else.  I loved the sing-song, lyrical sounds of the language.  The clash of ancient civilization and modern marvels.  The acceptance, promotion and fanaticism over everything CUTE!  (kawaii, desu ne?)  It seemed almost made-up, nearly unreachable, an ocean and a fortune and a gnarly passport process away.  As a 15 year old in Buckley, Washington, I might as well have been dreaming of enrolling at Hogwarts. 

I tried, though.  I took private Japanese language lessons (my high school only offered French and Spanish, with French cut after my sophomore year).  I swam in a sea of Hello Kitty paraphenalea.  I even ordered a kimono and flip-flop shoes and socks from that newfangled intranet so I could walk around underneath the sakura trees in our backyard looking like a complete psychopath.    If I watched enough anime, could say enough inconsquential conversation phrases and hack my name in katakana, I'd get accepted.  Because, you know.  That's how a classically xenophobic nation works.

Although I did finally come back down to reality, changed my major from International Business with a focus in Japanese languages to English and Marketing and restricted my kimono-wearing to bathrobe purposes, that wide-eyed little gaijin didn't die.  She lives on, her heart racing whenever we pass Uwajimaya. 

One of my favorite facets of Japanese culture that I can partake in without looking too ridiculous is their food.  They take it so seriously, an entire art form honed and studied and meticulously perfected over a lifetime.  The presentation in any fine Japanese restaurant is enough to bring tears to my eyes.  You can see the love they have for simple, impeccably prepped and seasoned ingredients on the simple, minimalist plates.  Just a few natural, mulled and crafted garnishes to tie and transform their dishes into whimsical, visually seductive sculptures you hate to destroy, but just can't seem to resist.

I haven't had much luck recreating these delicacies at home.  Lacking a Hattori Hanso at home, I've had to rely on a few spotty Asian cookbooks and magazine articles ("Takeout Made EASY!!") to try and pick up the skills.  And pick up I have not.  Just about as well as I picked up the whole damn language thing.  My fried rice gets sticky and salty.  My yakisoba, Matt tells me, is basically terrible.  I can't argue.  Every wok I've tried to season tastes funny for a while, then rusts away, as if trying to commit mollecular suicide. 

Which should have all discouraged me from attempting the most coveted, delicate dish of them all: sushi. 

I don't know what I was thinking, about a year ago when I bought my bamboo roll and paddle combo kit.  Maybe one last stand, samurai chopstick in hand, staring down the evil flavor ninjas of sesame oil and hoisin sauce that were poised to mutilate my work. 

Wanting to prevent a disaster, I followed Judy Chen's booklet instructions word-for-word.  The most important part is the rice.  One mistake, and the entire dish is ruined.  Rinse, soak.  Dry.  Soak.  Boil.  Simmer.  Sit.  Carefully remove, fold, season.  All at specific time intervals, with the requirement of a special helper with a hand fan there to bring the stuff to room temp old-school style.  It takes at least an hour from start to finish, extra time if you have a helper that bitches the whole time (the first time around, I didn't.  Heather was very helpful). 

After that, it just gets fun.  Like filling up burritos.  I'd assembled all of the things that I really liked at sushi restaurants: little spears of cucumber, green onions, salmon sashimi, mangoes.  Even spicy sauce made with cream cheese mixed with tons of sriracha. 

The strangest part?  They tasted good.  Really good.  They looked a little wonky, not sliced and formed into the most perfect of spheres.  Masaharu Morimoto would have to re-plate while Alton Brown made some dickish comment about my knife skills.  But not a failure.  Not by a long shot.

This was a dinner party with a girlfriend, though.  My seafood-hating husband wouldn't come near the stuff, and my little bamboo sushi kit was packed, moved, and stored with little fanfare.

That was until a couple weeks ago, when Matt came home from work with some odd news.  "Have you ever had spicy crab rolls?"  He asked.

"They're so good!"

..."Huh?  You hate sushi."

"Yeah, well they opened this little sushi counter at Rice Time," he explained, referring to his favorite worktime teriyaki lunch spot.  "You can get, like, 8 crab rolls for $2.50."

"What made you eat sushi?"

"Me and a few guys were having lunch, and they said I'd like it, so I tried it.  It's not raw!"

God damn it!!!  I had been saying the same thing for years... "try the crunchy tempura shrimp roll!  You'd love it!  It's not raw!" to absolutely no avail.  And a little male peer pressure, and suddenly you see the light?

Ugh.  Men.

Anyway, so my sushi kit got broken out tonight to feed a full crowd of me, Matt and our neighborhood friends Jay and Amber.  Actually coworkers of Matt's, they were one of the perks of moving to Hubbard.  I'd promised to re-create his beloved spicy crab rolls by mixing krab... yes, with a "k", with my spicy sriracha cream cheese.  He was my unwitting sushi-maker's apprentice, fanning the rice bowl with a folded-up beer case whining, "really?  TEN MINUTES!?  You can't hold it under the ceiling fan?!!" 

My shaping and cutting skills haven't vastly improved, but sneaking a few lumpy ends as I cut, the product seemed to be just as good as I'd remembered.  The rice was fresh, toothsome and well-seasoned, and the spicy sauce against cool cucumber was a delight I'm still shocked to be having at home.  To my sincere delight, Matt was thrilled about my copycat version.  "These are so good!"  choruses echoed all around, disbelief at the crazy white girl feat I'd somehow pulled.

Somewhere not-so-deep inside, Tabitha in a Hello Kitty backpack squees with delight.  I'll have to take her to Uwajimaya soon.  She'd like that.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Shrimp in Spring

I was drawn to Whole Foods today at lunch.  I wasn't feeling that great, I was a little tired, and at least a little cranky.  Definitely in need of a pick-me-up.  For most girls, this would mean a Frappuccino and pedicure.  New shoes, even better.  But not me.  I was after raw flesh.  The heat was making me crave it.

Coming around the corner, I wasn't greeted by my favorite unattended free sample table of crab cakes.  I think they may be on to me by now.  What I did see, aside from brand-new Cucina Fresca shelf-stable pasta sauces (NICE!!), were freakish, gigantic, peachy pink shrimp.  Wild-caught and $4.00 off per pound, they had to be good.  After all, I had to wait for some old Lake Oswego woman with bitchface to take the entire display bin while I waited for my peasant's share from the back.  How could I lose?

For the first time this decade, Portland was tipping off at 80 degrees.  The sun was out, the clouds had vaporized, and pale, mealy skin was out in full force to absorb it all.  These consummate crustaceans were just begging to bask on the barbecue.  "How would you grill these?"  I asked the fishmonger, gingerly clutching my allotted splurge.  "Like, stir fry in a grill basket?"  Oh I do love my grill basket.

"I kind of like them just on a skewer," he said.  So simple, yet so enticing. 

I brought home my little payday treasure, to the approval of Matt and Max.  Sure, Matt is always a little leery when a "Whole Foods Bridgeport" charge pops up on the Chase account.  What happened today?  A sliver of cheese?  A new kind of bulgur?  One look at these mutant shrimp though, and he understood the allure.  "We can still have pork chops, right?  With mac 'n cheese?"

Well, another two-dinner day.

For myself, I threw together a curried orzo.  It didn't turn out fantastic.  Too much curry powder; I was a little heavy-handed.  And I over-cooked the orzo while I was busy de-veining the shrimp.  Oh well, at least I probably wouldn't get Chopped.  They'd take the properly-cleaned shrimp over a mangled side dish.  Usually.  Although I'd catch some wicked hellfire from Alex Guarnachelli.  Matt got microwaved Rice-A-Roni and macaroni and cheese that was supposed to be his lunch.  He grabbed my leftover tomato-basil-chevre pasta by mistake.  Oh, and those pork chops.  I thought I had a good marinade in the cupboard, but when I opened it up it was... off.  Looks like I didn't pay enough attention to that whole "Refrigerate After Opening" thing.  Oh well.  Goodbye, $12.95 Oil & Vinegar marinade.  Life was just too much for you. 

To remedy the situation, we decided to make a sauce all of our own.  Gazing over my shoulder in the pantry, Matt suggested, "how about Beaver mustard with sriracha?  And... something?"

"Barbecue sauce and peach chutney?" 

"I don't like chutney," he pouted.

"Did you like the chicken thighs this week?"


"There was chutney in them!"

"You hid it!"

Well, it would hide again.  We assembled our ingredients, mixed, and dipped our fingers in for a taste.  I thought it was really good right away, but Matt could still get too much of a fruity hint.  "It needs something else.  Something to make it more savory.  How about soy sauce?"

"That could work," I concurred.  Our one last addition, and we were sold.  We're convinced we could bottle the shit. 

Fun, fantastic things happen when we both get in the kitchen together.  Sometimes.  Other times I just end up kicking him out. 

Matt took the meats out to barbecue.  I was a little nervous about the kabobs; I haven't had much luck with them on smaller barbecues.  They tend to cook kind of slow, and during a bad early charcoal experiment, lost my shrimp after they got soggy and melted through the grates.  That would be a sad, sad fate for such gorgeous (and expensive) supplies. No worries, though.  This time, the skewers came off the grill without so much as a burnt stick.

When we sat down to our two slight variations of dinner, his surf and turf and my little Weight Watchers 2-pointer bite of pork chop.  It was one of those nights with the eye-rolls, the exclaimations, the inability to stop talking about how perfect everything cooked up.  On the grill, the pork chops stayed moist but also developed a much deeper, smoky quality.  The shrimp were just light, perfectly textured and not even a moment overcooked. 

I kind of want to go back and get more.  The possibilities just keep rolling into my mind.  Shrimp tacos.  Shrimp grill paella!  Grilled shrimp springtime asparagus risotto!  Tomorrow's supposed to be almost as nice, once again beckoning us outside.  It feels wrong to go out without something nice to bring along.  Whole Paycheck may indeed live up to their nickname.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Grillin' Goals

Through the entire course of Matt and I's relationship, our big, enormous, Mt. Everest mutual goal was to own our own home.  It was something Matt shared within weeks of our first date (hey, I love you came after 3!), and hey, it sounded good to me.  It drove us to continually strive for the best we could get in our careers, and influenced (sort of, sometimes) smart early financial decisions.  Sure, we endured some major setbacks, my 8-month layoff being a prime example.  In the end of the beginning, it worked out for the best - we were able to take advantage of recession pricing and programs, loved each other enough to pull through the psychologically menacing closing nightmare, and keep afloat in the six months since.  It is definitely one of the accomplishments in my life I'm most proud of.  In our relationship, it wins hands-down the "best of" contest.  I mean, come on.  Any idiot can get married.

True, picking the right person and making it last takes a little more finesse.  But I digress.

Since then, we haven't been able to come up with any more enormous, lofty goals.  Kids remain a fuzzy proposition many miles and bridges ahead, "go to Germany" is laughably ambiuous, "learn German" almost as much so.  So far our subsequent goals have been small little steps confined in four walls, "level up" steps to bring up the value and enjoyment of our accomplishment.

Matt's list is kind of like this:
1.  TV (to replace the big 32" circa 1998 monster, thus rendering my really nice entertainment cabinet useless)
2.  Beer brewing equipment
3.  Yet another TV for brewing area

Mine is a little bit like:
1.  Painting to go over the fireplace
2.  Actual bed to replace the Hollywood frame I got for moving out of my dorm
3.  Fire pit so we can have s'mores cookout parties!!!!

We meet in the middle on a couple items:
1.  New pots and pans
2.  New dining room table
3.  Barbecue

None of these things we actually expected to accomplish this year.  It will take the knockoff of a few bills, and a few review raises, before we get much disposable income back into our pockets. 

Well, into registers at least.

On Friday, we received an unexpected surprise in the mail.  A belated housewarming card from my Aunt Shirley and family, with a Target gift card inside.  Is there any currency more exciting out there?!  The possibilities that little smidge of plastic could produce.  We got in the car, almost immediately, and drove down to Target.  Past the video games, DVDs and camping equipment to seasonal garden.  I had my sights set on a little coffee-style table, something to set our theoretical dinner party wine glasses on.  We snagged a super-clearance special on a set of 6 beautiful lawn chairs (marked down to $75 from $450), so a surface is the real missing element.

"Hey honey," Matt called from several gazebos and oversized umbrellas away.  "What if we got a barbecue?"

What if?  What if our dream could be realized Summer 2010?  What if we could retire the hard-working, beloved Patio Caddy from grandma?  What if we could fit the vegetables and the meat all at the same time, with a burner for baked beans on the side?  It would transform our backyard from mere vegetation to preparation and beyond. 

"Can we?"  We ran some numbers.  Moved some things around.  Eh, the power company doesn't want their money THAT bad this week, right?

And so, the surly Target employee came out from the mysterious back room with a giant crate from China, holding our coveted... parts.

This was the part I misunderstood.  When I thought "buying a barbecue", I thought I'd be walking away ready to cook in minutes.  I didn't know I was buying a hopeless barrage of bolts, beams and braces that, when put together correctly, were supposed to resemble to picture outside of the box.  This is why, without a man in the picture, I would never be able to grill. 

After about 3 hours, a lot of kicking and cussing on my end and a lot of beers on Matt's end, the vision materialized.  It was time to start planning a menu. 

One of my favorite burgers to order from restaurants, and that my mom would make to spice up dinner, are teriyaki burgers.  Adding a good teriyaki sauce, garlic and a little ginger to the ground beef or turkey mixture, then grilling with a pineapple ring and mozzarella cheese. 

I can't have a burger without french fries.  It's just wrong.  But I don't always like using pre-packaged frozen fries, especially when I'm trying to decrease in mass.  You don't know how much oil is already in them, where they've been, and what you're working with.  The solution?  Make your own!

Peel and slice your favorite potatoes into wedges.  I used a sweet potato, but you can't tell because it wasn't orange.  Boo.  Toss with olive oil, minced garlic, salt, pepper and whatever fresh herbs you have laying around.  I've got basil and thyme going crazy on my kitchen windowsill, so that worked out perfectly.  Use a grill basket to brown and crisp them up.  I love my Pampered Chef grill basket.  No, I don't sell the stuff, but I do love it.  The last time I had a party though, the lady really stalked me over being a consultant.  I may love to cook, but I'm terrible at selling things.  I get very embarassed and scared I'm imposing, I don't "ask for the sale!!", I don't do follow-up calls to see if they've invited their neighbor's neighbors to bring a friend.  Thus my 3 month career with Avon ended with a stockpile of unread catalogs and makeup I'd just bought for myself. 

Cooking time depends on how thick you slice your potatoes, how hot your grill is, all those little things.  Just keep an eye on them, toss them around, poke them.  They'll let you know when they're hot and ready to go. 

Though the sun was fleeting in May's fickle northwest sky and rainclouds loomed just over the horizon, we grilled those asian-ified patties with all the relish of a genuine summer's eve.  The rediscovering of sunshine at 9:30 pm, magically ballooning tomatoes and cooking outside are a state of mind, not a season. 

Delicious dinner, drastic dish decrease, and lunch leftovers that brought me from my office (almost) right back to our very own patch of green lawn. 

Gotta love goals.

Meanwhile, Mehitable models the end result. 

Thursday, May 6, 2010

It's Not Delivery

Pizza is pretty much synonymous with convenience food.  You can pick it up on any street corner or strip mall.  You can have it delivered right to your door, even in Hubbard.  You can have it in disgusting formats from a gas station with names like "betwizzler with pepperoni".  You can even make it feel scratch deficient with take and bake. 

(fun fact... Papa Murphy's world headquarters is right over the sludge creek in Vancouver.  Totally did not know that until today).

What pizza conjures up in my mind, aside from gooey cravings, is memories of the first food I royally screwed up.  Certainly not the only food (and if you're Matt, not the only food I still can't cook... he hates anything I try from an Asian continent), but probably not the one I was expecting.  Sure, I didn't expect to get my first Thanksgiving turkey perfect.  I couldn't begrudge myself too much over the fallen waste of a cheesecake.  But pizza?  4th graders make pizza.

But I'm not talking about English Muffin pizza, or microwave pizza, or frozen pizza.  Although I have had my disasters with those - THANKS pre-sliced Freschetta that fell through the burners!  You never did quite leave the apartment.  What I'm talking about is homemade pizza, with dough from scratch.

I remember starting out simple enough.  Dough recipes from my Better Homes & Gardens Cookbooks, and when those failed to rise or stretch or whatever, I turned to any other source I could find.  Trader Joe's Roll 'n Top.  Expensive balls from our favorite pizza places.  Even WinCo's dough ball offerings, in those dark hours in my tiny little kitchen. 

No, seriously.  It was tiny.  It was maybe the size of my bedroom closet now, on a good day.  The vinyl countertops were peeling out and up and away, and the stove was older than I was.  But aww, I was so much skinnier than.  Tiny kitchen, tiny cook.  Grr.

I had many issues to work through.  For one thing, I was getting bad baking temperatures and times.  Either printed on jacked-up labels or vomiting out of my head, pizza does not cook at 350.  The oven needs to be hot, or you end up like many of these early pies ... cold, stringy, raw dough center.  Don't use spaghetti sauce if you can't find pizza sauce.  I didn't realize it, but yes, there is a difference.  And don't add every herb you find in the cabinet just because OREGANO IS ITALIAN!!   And so is Italian Seasoning!  And I LOVE basil!!!

It took me many scrapes into the garbage and the "oops!  Forgot my leftovers!" day afters with Matt before the lessons finally started to sink in.  We spent some time with almost-foolproof Bobolis, but at about $7 for a 2-pack, this wasn't exactly a budget-friendly endeavor.  And it had no soul. 

Things didn't quite come together until my mom passed along her secret dough recipe.  I take not a scrap of credit for it.  She discovered it in a recipe for calzones and took it on the miracle leap to pizza.  Before my friend Brynne super-surprised me with a well-loved Kitchen Aid last year, I kneaded this by hand.  Dough hooks are soooo much easier.  Even though the thought of making bread on a worknight may seem archaic and cruel, it is so easy. 

The hardest part for me is trying to get it in a circle.  I usually end up with one funny corner, like this.  But, once it's smothered in cheese and toppings, I don't get too many complaints.  One of our favorites is to do California-style BBQ Chicken Pizza, with barbecue sauce, shredded chicken, a little bit of cheddar, red onion and cilantro.  If it was me, there would be fresh tomato slices on there too.  Matt hates fresh tomato.  I know, he's a sick human being.  This technique also works fantastic as a Thai-style pizza with peanut sauce in place of the barbecue, and essentially the same toppings.  Fresh bean sprouts and lime add an air of ooh-la-mystique after coming out of the oven.  That miracle crust, with the whisper of sweetness from the brown sugar, bakes up perfectly with a texture that falls squarely in the happy medium between soft and crunchy.  I could pretty much just eat handlebar scraps dipped in marinara and be deliriously happy. 
Oh, and never use avacado and/or arugula pre-baking.  THOSE ARE ADDED AFTER.  Could I make a book of these hard-learned rules? 

For myself, since I'm trying to eat better (and am tired, starving and cranky in the process), so I made "healthy" pizza.  See?  Vegetables everywhere?  Just ignore the cheese.  And the bready crust.  And the fact that I ate half of it. 

Homemade pizza night is something we look forward to like we're going to Wildwood or Payley's Place.  "Don't work late, it's pizza night!"  "Aren't you excited for pizza?"  "What should we put on it?"  "Oh yeah, top it baby, just like that."  Hot oven love and Futurama repeats.  We keep the flame alive, people.

I don't think I can share the crust recipe, not in good conscience.  I'll challenge you to find one, and hope that my mistakes help guide you there.  Ask your mom.  Besides, it's mother's day.  You should be calling her anway. 

Oh, and if you're using fresh mozzarella, for the love of god dry it off first!!! 

Monday, May 3, 2010

Choose a Skirt

Well, it was push and pull and zipper-breaking comes to shove.  I had to put down the fork... and the spoon... and the immersion blender... and the mandoline... and quit stuffing my face.

I've been portion-controlled and cheese-deprived for FIVE DAYS now.  I know that doesn't sound like all that much, but I feel like a tweaking crack whore.  I actually don't have much frame of reference on what that feels like, but if it's like watching your husband woefully as he eats a whole Dairy Queen Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Blizzard or feeling your heartbreak when you've reached the end of the zero-calorie cup of Jell-O, well... I feel ya, sista.

Not that I'm saying the blog is gone.  Oh no.  If anything, thinking and writing about food is even better, like a heightened and illicit sixth sense.  I've just been finishing up my school submissions, and my blogging and cooking has taken a woeful backseat.  But I've got a great menu ready for this week, so stay tuned for more.

And if you're in the mood for leftovers, swing by.  My refrigerator is getting overrun with tinfoil goblins and tupperware caves as I've been trying to give up "just finishing off that chicken/sandwich/three-quarters-full-lasagna pan".