Wednesday, April 30, 2008

poop or chocolate?

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they've got my number

An email from one of my producers alerting me to a new rough cut that I need to watch:

"Yet another *********!(title withheld to protect innocent show) Sadly, this one has no bacon."

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Monday, April 28, 2008

salads that are not good for you: panzanella

When I was a kid, my dad occasionally took us to Ponderosa for cheap steak and the all-you-can-eat salad bar. My salads always consisted of the same thing - a bit of lettuce, chopped up hard-boiled egg, cheddar cheese, Italian dressing, and a whole load of croutons. I don't know why my mother let me eat that. It wasn't that I didn't eat other vegetables as a kid, I definitely did, but I guess those were the items that my parents never put on salads at home, so it was a treat to me. And those croutons. So simple, so crunchy, so carby. To this day, salads are still often just a base for pouring croutons on. So the idea of a salad that is essentially all about the crouton is like finding someone who finally gets me. It's that classic Tuscan bread salad - Panzanella.

Brilliant in its simplicity, Panzanella is one of those great innovations clearly meant to use up leftover bread, but is so good that I'll deliberately leave out a fresh loaf to get a little stale. "Oh no, this bread got all stale, what am I going to do with it now? I guess I'll just have to make Panzanella." Recipe after the jump:
1 3/4 lb loaf of day-old, whole grain bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 5 cups)
3 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 medium cucumbers, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 medium red onion, sliced thinly in half moons
10 leaves fresh basil, shredded

For the dressing:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp dry oregano
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet and allow to toast in the oven for about 10 minutes until they have just begun to crisp on the outside. Remove bread from oven and set aside to cool while you assemble the rest of the salad. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the salad ingredients. Mix the dressing, pour over and toss. Allow the bread cubes to soak up the dressing for a few minutes before serving.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

the deadliest video of all time

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rice, seasoned with the salt of my tears

The price of rice has nearly doubled over last year. Global shortages of rice are surely a sign of the apocalypse. What the hell am I going to do without rice?! Look people, I'm Asian, I cannot NOT have rice! I'm going to go cry now...

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five ingredients or less: pasta with sausage and broccoli rabe

Easiest pasta ever? Most amazing pasta recipes are paragons of simplicity, so this one is really not that unique. It is a classic combination, however, with the sweet and salty sausage balancing out the mild bitterness of the broccoli rabe. A perfect, completely rounded meal with only five ingredients (fat, salt, and pepper don't count). I even made this one with whole wheat pasta, so you could possibly consider it healthy, if you didn't think too hard about all the sausage fat...recipe after the jump:

1 lb short pasta, like fusilli, penne, or orecchiette
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 lb Italian sweet sausage, out of casing
1 lb broccoli rabe, chopped into 1-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup parmiggiano reggiano
salt and pepper, to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large saute pan. Crumble sausage into pan and brown lightly, the sausage does not need to be completely cooked at this stage as it will be returned to the pan later. With a slotted spoon, remove the sausage and set aside. Add the second tbsp of olive oil, the broccoli rabe, and the minced garlic and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage back to the pan and saute another couple of minutes until cooked through. Drain the pasta and add to the saute pan, season with salt and pepper, and toss to incorporate. Serve topped with grated parmiggiano reggiano.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

sunday seder supper: coconut macaroons

It's no secret that I am crazy about coconut. And macaroons are only one of the myriad of yummy reasons that I enjoy Passover. These are so easy to make that I don't know why I ever bought them in the can before this. I liked them so much that I just bought another bag of coconut to make yet another batch. I think this time I won't give any away.

Since I was using a recipe with no starch at all, I whipped the egg whites hoping that it would add to the fluffiness and volume of the macaroons. As I've never made these before, I can't say if it really made any difference. These turned out chewy and moist and toasty. They were a little sweeter than necessary, though, so I've reduced the amount of sugar in the recipe, which you can check out after the jump:

14 ounces sweetened flake coconut
4 egg whites
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Add sugar little by little, continuing to beat until the sugar is incorporated and the egg whites have reached medium peaks. Stir in the almond extract, then gently fold in the coconut. Drop mounds of the coconut mixture on a parchment or baking mat lined baking sheet. The mounds should be a fair size for the best result, I used abourt 2 tbsp of the mixture per macaroon. Bake for 20 minutes or until the macaroons begin to brown. After removing from the onion, let sit for a few minutes to set, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

salads that are not good for you: peanut-lime noodle

It may not be fair to call a dish that is predominantly noodles a salad, but it's good eaten cold, and there are lots of veggies and a dressing, so I think that qualifies. And I guess in a way it's not NOT good for you, but it's not completely non-guilt-inducing either. Because the rich, delicious peanut butter and lime dressing is most definitely indulgent. But you're getting tons of veggies and the only fat is from the peanut butter, and despite just how much fat that is, it's heart-healthy fat. And, uh, I used organic natural peanut butter. Healthy!

The best thing about this dish is that it's just as delicious warm as cold, so you can eat it right after you make it, then you can eat it again an hour later when you're bored and there are no potato chips left. It's at least got to be better for you than potato chips. Recipe after the jump:

For the salad:
1 pound noodles of your choice (rice noodles or spaghetti would be fine, I used a thin Korean egg noodle)
2 cups firm tofu
2 cups broccoli florets
2 cups sugar snap peas
2 cups snow peas
1 cup mung bean sprouts
1/2 cup unsalted peanuts

For the dressing:
1/2 cup natural creamy peanut butter (unsweetened)
juice of 1 lime (about 3 tablespoons)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1 inch fresh ginger, roughly chopped

Cook noodles according to package directions, drain, and rinse with cold water. Set aside until vegetables are done. Steam broccoli florets for 3 minutes, then add the snow peas, snap peas, bean sprouts and tofu and steam an additional 2 minutes until the vegetables are vibrant green and just tender.

In a blender or food processor, blend the dressing ingredients until smooth. If it is too thick, thin it to a dressing consistency with additional water. Toss the noodles in 1/2 of the dressing. Serve noodles in a bowl topped with steamed vegetables and tofu, drizzled with additional dressing. Top with chopped peanuts.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

the donut truth

You Are a Boston Creme Donut

You have a tough exterior. No one wants to mess with you.

But on the inside, you're a total pushover and completely soft.

You're a traditionalist, and you don't change easily.

You're likely to eat the same doughnut every morning, and pout if it's sold out.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

feline face-off

So I'm sitting here eating my dinner, watching my daily dose of "Murder, She Wrote", windows wide open to enjoy the spring air. Opaw is up on the windowsill as she usually is when it's open, and suddenly I realize that I'm hearing something strange. Hissing? I've only heard Opaw hiss a few times, particularly at the vet. But she really was hissing and her tail was poofed out and she was trembling. So I go over to the window, and this is what I see:

Man, was she pissed. I guess that's not her friend. As you might be able to see, this cat did not appear to be wanting for food, and I don't think he was a feral cat. I leaned up to the window and this cat came right up, put his paws right under the window, and sort of silent meowed at me. I didn't know what to do! He didn't look like he was in need of care or food, but he also seemed sort of pitiful. After a short while he retreated a few feet from the window and just hung out there looking at me and Opaw for a long time. Now I feel bad, though, maybe I should have given him something to eat, but I was afraid he'd never leave if I did, and Opaw would disown me. But he was awfully cute, with his white mittens and his black chin. If he comes back and meows at me, I might be a goner...

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

i've got issues

Leah blogged about this quiz - What Classic Movie Are You? I love stupid quizzes like this. But now I'm feeling rather disturbed, because this was my result:

I'm in worse shape than I thought...

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the changing of the squash

It is a sure sign that the cold weather is behind you when you make the shift from hearty winter squashes to fresh summer squashes. The colors brighten from orange to green, and everything is a bit peppier. Last night's pasta was a favorite of mine from my cookbook god, Marcella Hazan. The first time I ever had it, it was actually Gene that made it. It's one of those pasta sauces that you might not be entirely sure about when you look at it on the page, then you try it and can't believe how good it can be: Tuna, Zucchini, and Lemon Pasta.

The star, of course, being the fresh tuna, which you have to be quite careful not to overcook. The first time it goes in the pan, it only stays for a minute or two before you remove it. I prefer that it barely even have any color on it. In the picture above, you might notice that I screwed up and minced the garlic and was unable to remove it as the recipe called for. You're supposed to keep it whole, just a little smooshed, so that it infuses the oil but doesn't start to burn and go bitter. Oh well, it didn't get bitter, it was delicious. The zucchini also only cooks for a couple of minutes, I much prefer vegetables with a bit of bite. And finally, the lemon zest, which brightens up the dish and makes it truly feel like spring. Marcella recommends penne or fusilli for this sauce. I used orechiette because it's what I had, and it was great. Recipe after the jump:

Adapted from Marcella Says... by Marcella Hazan

1 lb short pasta such as penne rigate, fusilli, or orechiette
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
2 bay leaves (preferably fresh)
3/4 lb fresh tuna steak
1/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 lb zucchini
3 tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese

Wash and dry the zucchini very well in cold water and cut into a 1/2-inch dice. Rinse tuna and pat dry with kitchen towels, then dice into the same size dice as the zucchini. When the pasta goes in the water, heat the olive oil in a 10 or 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the bay leaves and the garlic cloves and saute until the garlic just begins to brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bay leaves and garlic and discard. Turn the heat to high, add the tuna to the pan and turn once or twice until it just begins to take on color. Do not cook tuna completely as it will be added back to the heat later. Remove the tuna to a plate and set aside. Add the white and let it sizzle away. Add the zucchini, lemon zest, salt and pepper, and parsley to the pan and saute just until the zucchini is tender. You can prepare the sauce up to the point and stop if the pasta has longer to cook. Once the pasta has only 2 minutes left, season the tuna with salt and pepper and add back to the skillet, tossing well. Drain the pasta and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add the sauce to the pasta and toss well to incorporate. Serve with grated pecorino romano cheese.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

happy birthday j-cat!

What did I get him? Did it make him poo his pants?

It did, because he's a huge geek. In fact, it incited a little dance. And Opaw was happy to keep it warm for us. But what is it?

PS. Please ignore the mess in the background. Those socks are clean.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

i love my job

$60 for all this stuff. Now to get it all home...

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the last of stew

Spring has finally arrived today, so it's a good thing I snuck in one final stewy meal last night. This is a white bean and arugula stew, adapted from a Gourmet Magazine recipe that Smitten Kitchen recently featured. This is a super simple, very quick and hearty meal, but SK had noted in her post that it was a bit lackluster in flavor. So I decided to turn up the flavor a bit, and one of things I did was swap out the boiled ham for some beautiful pancetta.

I also added some onion, fresh thyme, and hot pepper to give it a kick, then threw in the leftover rind of a Spanish Idiazabal cheese. Yum, and yum. This is definitely a recipe that can be fiddled with to suit your tastes. I served it with some grilled Tuscan bread. Recipe after the jump:

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1/3 pound pancetta, cut into small cubes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1 15-ounce can stewed tomatoes
2 15-ounce cans canellini beans
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
3 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
rind of parmiggiano, pecorino, or other hard cheese, optional
salt and pepper, to taste
3 cups baby arugula

In a medium saucepot, heat pancetta cubes until just starting to crisp and give off fat. Remove from pot with a slotted spoon and set on paper towels to drain. If there is not enough fat in the pot, add enough olive oil to make about 2 tbsp total. Saute the onion in the oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute another minute. Clear a hot spot in the pan and add the pepper flakes, let sizzle for a few seconds, then mix with the onions and garlic. In the can, cut the tomatoes into pieces with kitchen shears then add to the onions and garlic with the chicken stock, thyme leaves, and cheese rind. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and let simmer until it just begins to reduce. Rinse and drain the beans and add to the pot along with the pancetta. Simmer for another 5 minutes or until beans are heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the pan from the heat and add in the arugula, allowing it to wilt for about 1 minute. Serve with grilled Tuscan bread that has been rubbed with a raw garlic clove.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

good but not good for you: shrimp & grits

I don't get why people eat this for breakfast, it just seems so much more like a dinner. But I guess it includes two ingredients often associated with breakfast. Grits:

and Bacon:

This was delicious, hearty, very flavorful, and I loved it, but I will say that if I made it again, I could do without the added creaminess in the grits. With the level of richness in the shrimp and bacon part of the dish, I found the creamy grits a little overwhelming. I could feel my arteries clogging. I imagine someone in South Carolina would have a real problem with me saying this, but I think some simple, unadorned grits would be perfect with the shrimp. Okay, maybe a pat of butter would be nice...Recipe after the jump:

1 pound medium raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, peels reserved
1 cup heavy cream*
1 1/2 cups shrimp stock* (see recipe below), or chicken stock
2 cups water
1 cup stone ground grits
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
6 slices bacon
1 small onion, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
1 garlic clove, minced

*If using quick-cooking grits, reduce cream to 1/2 cup, and shrimp stock to 1 cup. Quick-cooking grits will cook in 5 to 7 minutes.

To prepare grits: In a medium saucepan, combine heavy cream, shrimp stock, and water and bring just to a boil. Slowly add the grits, stirring continuously to avoid sticking to the bottom. Season with salt and pepper, lower the heat to low, and stir occasionally. Simmer for 20 minutes or until grits are thickened and tender. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, squeeze lemon juice, salt, pepper, and thyme over the shrimp and toss to coat. In a large saute pan, fry the bacon until browned but not overly crisp. Remove bacon to paper towels to drain, then chop when cooled. Drain out excess bacon grease from pan, leaving about 2 tbsp. Saute the onion, pepper, and garlic in the bacon grease until onion is translucent, about 7 minutes. Add shrimp with lemon juice and chopped bacon and saute until shrimp are cooked through, about 5-7 minutes depending on the size of your shrimp. Serve the shrimp over the grits, topped with additional fresh thyme leaves.

To make shrimp stock:
Rinse the shrimp shells and tails well, then place in a medium stockpot. Add enough cold water to just cover the shells. Add any aromatic vegetables, such as celery, onion, and carrot, to the water. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer for 1 hour. Strain out the solids.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

sunday supper: tiny tarts

Is anyone tired of tarts yet? I mix things up a bit with these tiny tarts, inspired by a recipe for Vintage Jam Tarts that I saw on 101 Cookbooks. They didn't exactly turn out how I hoped - far more bready than flaky pastry - because I was dumping on the flour to try to make the dough easier to handle.

It was kind of just a sticky mess, I've adjusted the recipe to try to account for that. But I did really like the cornmeal, it added just the smallest bit of graininess for a different texture. It was also not sweet. Pretty much all of the sweetness comes from the jam, and that works for me. The night before we had gotten a piece of chocolate cake from a cafe down the street and it was so sweet that we couldn't even eat more than a bite each. We're not big on super sweet desserts.

This recipe made an enormous number of tarts. I think it could easily be halved. I thought I was pushing the boundaries of my cuisinart when I was making the dough. I did half with apricot jam (above), and the other half with blackberry jam (below). I ended up preferring the apricot because it has that touch of tartness which makes for a more well-rounded flavor. Recipe after the jump:

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1 cup finely-ground cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons finely ground sea salt
2 tablespoons baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1/4-inch chunks
1+ cups milk
1 egg, just the egg white
1/3 cup jam (any flavor(s) you like)

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Into a large bowl, or preferably, a food processor add the cornmeal, flours, salt, baking powder, sugar. To the dry ingredients add the butter. Using a pastry cutter or 30-35 quick pulses of the food processor, blend the mixture until it resembles tiny, sandy pebbles.

Slowly add the milk and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. You are going to roll out the dough, so if it is too wet, add in a couple extra tablespoons of flour, if it is too dry add in an extra tablespoon or two of milk. You don't want to overwork the dough, or your tarts will be tough, so pulse only as much as you have to.

Dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface, pull it together into one large mound, and roll out until it is about 1/3-inch thick. Pat with more flour if things get sticky - sticky dough is your enemy in this recipe. Cut the biscuit dough with a medium cutter (the one I used was about 2 1/4 inches across), then cut half the rounds with a slightly smaller cutter.

Brush the large rounds with a bit of egg white, place the outer rings on top, brush those with the egg white, and fill with a bit of jam.

Place the tarts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 15-18 minutes until golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool.

Makes about 1 - 2 dozen tarts, depending on the size of your cutters.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

i brake for wafels

A reenactment of a phone conversation I had with J-Cat yesterday evening:

Faycat: I'll pick up dinner on the way, how does a sesame pancake sandwich from Vanessa's Dumplings sound?
J-Cat: That sounds great. When do you think you'll be home?
Faycat: I'm only a block away now, so maybe 20 minutes or so.
J-Cat: Awesome.
Faycat: Oh wait, a waffle truck! Make that 30 minutes or so.
J-Cat: Huh? A what?
Faycat: Waffles! Belgian! I gotta go!

UPDATE: I'm so cruel, I talk about the existence of waffle truck and don't say how to find it! You can find the schedule and locations HERE.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

one of these things is not like the others

Look what I found when I opened a can of black eye peas the other day:

I wonder what he was trying to do. Was he trying to escape? Did he think that people don't eat beans as much as corn?

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