Peanut Butter and Purple Onions

Sounds crazy until you try it.

Monday, January 30, 2006

ARF/5-A-Day Tuesdays #5: So Much for That Bottle

...of chile oil, that is.

I found a teeny bottle of chile oil in my oil and vinegar cupboard the other day. Can't really remember where I got it -- and that should frighten us all, friends, because I've only been here since June. (Although in that time, I've now managed to acquire THREE boxes of cornstarch. How? Why? I barely use the stuff. I blame the cats.)

So anyway, when a cupboard gives you chile oil, I say make fake stir-fry. Fake because, well, let's not fool ourselves. This is not authentic. (If you are interested in seeing how to cook authentic Asian cuisine, I highly recommend Tigers & Strawberries.) But it's quick, and tasty, and it used all my chile oil. And I do so love to use up bottles of this and that. Doesn't it make you feel virtuous and thrifty?

Even when you don't know where the bottles came from.

Spicy Stir-Fry
Adapted from the Weight Watchers website

Serves 4.

2-3 tsp. chile oil
1 lb. pork stir-fry meat, in bite-sized pieces
5 med. garlic cloves, minced
1 T. minced ginger root
2-3 tsp. crushed red pepper
2 tsp. cornstarch, mixed with 0.25 c. water
1 lb. package frozen stir-fry vegetables -- broccoli, water chestnuts, carrots, red bell pepper, etc.
3 T. soy sauce
1 tsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
1.5 tsp. orange-ginger marmalade

In a large skillet (or wok, should you have one, which I do not, alas, alack-a-day), heat 1 tsp. chile oil. Add pork and cook, stirring frequently, until it browns and is just cooked through. Remove the meat to a plate.

Add the rest of the oil, then add the garlic, ginger, and red pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, and being careful not to let the mixture burn, until the garlic is golden and everything's fragrant.

Add the vegetables and cook, still stirring frequently, until they heat through. (They may steam quite a bit in a sort of dry-ice fog way. This is kind of fun.) Add the soy sauce, vinegar, and marmalade and stir well; pour in the cornstarch/water mixture and bring to a boil.

Return the meat to the skillet and stir everything together. Serve over rice, if you like.

* Without rice, this comes in at 5 Weight Watchers Points per serving.
* I added two extra cups of broccoli, because I wanted to boost the veggie quotient.
* I also added a shake or two of sesame oil for more flavor.

This is my entry for Sweetnicks' ARF/5-a-Day Tuesdays!

I Think I Have a Problem

...I just called to make reservations at Otto for next week, when a friend of mine from high school is in town with his wife. I swear to you, I did not insist on Otto. In fact I sent him an email with five or six options, including such non-Mario restaurants as Tabla, Tamarind, and Barbuto.

He said Barbuto or Otto. Turns out, Barbuto's booked. What else was I supposed to do?

So I called the reservationist just now, and gave her the info, and after she asked for my name and contact information, I expected her to tell me how I need to call the day before to confirm the reservation. Instead, she said cheerfully, "Okay, I think you know the drill by now, right?"

Sigh. And you know what? She's right.

I have the number memorized.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

WCB #34

...AKA, the travails of Manhattan real estate.

Dimples thought it would be funny to build a little kitty condo out of two discarded Crate & Barrel boxes. Here we see the finished condo (and the leg of the architect)...

As always when a new property is available, the competition is fierce. Here we see the first interested tenant, Widget, who inspects the condo.

Widget deems it good.

Poor Max just isn't as quick as Widget. "Hey Widge, wanna be roommates?"

Widget: "Are you kidding? Have you seen the closet space here?"

"Aw man!"

"This just isn't the same!"

"All this househunting has me depressed. Mom, take me snowboarding with you, please?"

As you can imagine, the condo was pretty much torn to shreds when we came back from the slopes. It's a tough market.

Visit the other kitties over at Masak-Masak!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Well, That Was a New Experience

My hair froze today while I was walking to work.

I'm still giggling about this.

I know, I know, it's too cold to be going outside with wet hair. But when the alarm buzzes, I go through the same argument with myself pretty much every day:

Sensible BNA: Ok, get up. You need the extra fifteen minutes to dry your hair.
Lazy BNA: Nope! Can't do it. I'm pinned by Widget here.
Sensible:'re pinned by the eight-pound cat?
Lazy: He's very dense, okay?
Sensible: Dense or not, he just hopped off the bed, indicating that he is well aware that it is time for you to get up, feed him, and get going.
Lazy: But it's raaaaaining!
Sensible: The cats don't eat when it rains?
Lazy: Fifteen minutes won't kill them. But my point is, why dry my hair when it's raining? Is this not the ultimate exercise in futility? Remember how I walk to work?
Sensible: ....
Lazy: See you in fifteen.

So I'd say I dry my hair maybe two days out of five. This was never a problem in San Francisco (and in addition to the "it's raining" argument, I had the "it's foggy" rejoinder), but everyone's been telling me lately that I'm risking serious head cold trouble if I go on with the air dry method here.

And today, the damn hair actually froze. Into ten or twelve clumps, which rattled against my jacket collar as I walked. I cannot imagine what I must've looked like (it had melted by the time I made it upstairs to the mirror).

This may be a sign that it's time to just get out of bed already.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

10 Things You Didn't Know About Me (and maybe didn't want to)

I do love a good meme, food-related or otherwise, and Kristen tagged me for another of the list-ish ones that have been tumbling around lately. Now something you might already know about me is that I really really like lists -- so, wooo!

Lessee. I have a crush on Mario Batali...oh wait. I've already confessed to that one.

10. My mom, Devorit, and I all have an identical mole on our right shoulder.

9. I can recite (usually at break-neck speed) the monarchs of England from William the Conqueror through James II (but I really don't care about the ones who came after Richard III. GO YORK!).

8. When I was a kid, I was infamous for drinking sideways. I mean, I wasn't sideways, but I'd hold the glass or can or whatnot off to the side of my mouth and tilt it at alarming angles while drinking in dribbles. The reason? So that the glass wouldn't block my view of whatever book I was reading. Yeah.

7. My absolute favorite sandwich in kindergarten was pickle, cheese, and ketchup. And can you imagine, no one wanted to trade with me. (I originally lobbied for pickle and ketchup sandwiches; Mom insisted on the cheese for protein purposes.)

6. I have kind of a spooky aural memory. For example, Dad has a four-hour long album set of Nicol Williamson reading The Hobbit -- which I recommend above all things if you can find it. The soundtrack of my childhood. I can queue up my memory and play the whole thing in my head at will. Which comes in handy on boring plane rides.

5. I developed an allergy to shellfish on my 21st birthday, and I've been brokenhearted ever since. Why are we never allergic to things we hate?

4. I got kicked out of ballet class when I was five for talking too much. Also, we had to wear pink tights and I would only wear red ones. Now I have a plaid overcoat that is so over-the-top pink that Dimples would prefer I not wear it when we're going to be in public together.

3. I loathe mayonnaise.

2. I won an honorable mention in a "patriotic slogan" contest in high school sponsored by Knott's Berry Farm and Carl's Jr. I had to, er, got to have my picture taken with Carl Karcher. And now I can't remember what that slogan was, except that it was quite tongue-in-cheek.

1. I'm a video game addict. I saved my allowance for months to buy an original Nintendo so I could master Super Mario Bros. and the Legend of Zelda. Oblivion comes out for Xbox 360 in February and I am CHOMPING AT THE BIT, people.

Anyone who wants to bare their secrets -- now's your chance! Consider yourself tagged.

Thanks to Wikipedia for the pictures.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A Bit Delicate

...which is how I was feeling Sunday morning.

Since I'm trying to lose some excess BNA-age before my friend's wedding in March, I haven't been drinking much lately. I had been in the comfortable habit of 3-4 glasses of red wine a week, and I look forward to returning to that civilized pattern, but for now, those are calories that are relatively easy to cut. Particularly since Dimples doesn't drink at home. (He does eat pizza at home -- frequently -- and so that has been significantly harder to whittle away.)

So when I indulged in three glasses of wine Saturday night at a birthday party, I fully expected to well within my range. But I guess I've lost more capacity than I would have predicted, because Sunday morning brought that edgy, irritable, vaguely queasy feeling. Not a bad hangover, but not a good one either.

And really, because of three glasses of wine? How embarrassing.

So I made this broth, which is both soothing in the preparation (the rhythmic peeling of garlic) and the consumption (the rhythmic slurping of garlic). As I've said before, I'm a big fan of the "whatever works" school of thought. Scientifically speaking, hangover cures may not be worth much, but this one works for me.

Plus, it's got so much garlic in it that you need never fear vampires again.

Herb and Garlic Broth
Adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

2 heads fresh garlic
1 T. olive oil
1 T. tomato paste
2 bay leaves
10 white peppercorns
2 whole cloves
6 large sage leaves
6 thyme sprigs
10 Italian parsley sprigs
2 tsp. salt

Separate all the garlic cloves and smash and peel them.

In a large pot with a lid, heat the oil on medium heat. Add the tomato paste and cook for a minute, then add the garlic, herbs, and salt, plus 2 quarts water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, 45 minutes. Strain.

Drink out of a big mug while wearing slippers.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

WCB #33

...and I guess now we know why cats can see in the dark.

Max is the sweetest, most docile of kittens -- unless you mess with either of his two favorite things, which are a certain purple mousie (sadly battered and gnawed almost to a nub) and, inexplicably...


Be sure to visit all the other kitties over at Clare's!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

La La La La -- Lemon

Anyone remember the Ernie and Bert "La La La" song? LA LA LA -- LINOLEUM!


So anyway, Sunday is the Patient Co-Worker's birthday, which means tomorrow we bring little treats for office snacking. I'm bringing these:

Not too sweet, these pack a lemony almondy punch. They're a good choice when you want to offer something that can bridge the gap between breakfast and dessert. The ricotta gives them a moist, fairly dense texture.

Lemon Ricotta Muffins
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

Makes 12.

2 c. all-purpose unbleached flour
0.5 tsp. baking powder
0.5 tsp. baking soda
0.5 tsp. salt
1 c. plus 1 tsp. granulated sugar
0.5 c. unsalted butter, brought to room temperature
zest from two lemons, finely grated
1 c. ricotta cheese (whole or part-skim, your choice), brought to room temperature
1 egg, brought to room temperature
1 T. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. almond extract
0.3 c. sliced almonds

Line 12 muffin cups with liners and heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt with a whisk. (I will confess that I love mixing dry ingredients with a whisk. Don't you?)

In another bowl, use a mixer to beat 1 c. sugar, the butter, and the zest until fluffy. Beat in the ricotta, and then the egg, lemon juice, and almond extract.

Add the dry ingredients and beat together. The batter will be quite fluffy and you won't be able to pour it, so use a measuring cup to dollop it into the muffin pan. Sprinkle almonds over the top of each cup, and then shake over a little extra sugar.

Bake until the muffins turn a pale golden color and lose that sticky look, about 20 minutes. Yummy warm or cool.

* I upped the almond extract, but if you're not nuts about almonds -- perish the thought -- decrease it to 0.5 tsp.
* You like that Tab can in the background? I thought that stuff was extinct until last week!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

In Which I Confront the Steamer

Howdy! So the bachelorette party was wonderful fun, as evidenced by how long it's taken me to get back to PBPO. Here was my contribution to the weekend (along with my co-conspirator, JWA):

Giada's Butternut Squash Lasagna -- vegetarian, decadent, and excellent for soaking up copious quantities of red wine. I added extra cheese and torn basil to the top, but other than that, her recipe was fantastic as-is. This was VERY enthusiastically received.

But being gone all weekend meant that a plethora of veggies and herbs were abandoned in the refrigerator. And they were looking a bit stricken yesterday, so I took most of them -- extra butternut squash, green beans, cilantro, ginger, onions, garlic, most of a carton of mushrooms, half a can of whole tomatoes -- and added them to a pot of red lentils along with cayenne, turmeric, cumin, and lots of vegetable stock. Instant lunches for, oh, about the next year and a half (I'm incapable of not making the entire bag of lentils). And vegan, as it happens.

But the whole head of cauliflower lurking in the left vegetable drawer wasn't invited to the party. Not that I don't like cauliflower; I do. But I don't much like adding it raw to the ad hoc soup -- it cooks unevenly in the broth and, seriously, a mouthful of raw cauliflower? EW.

I knew I had to cook the darn thing tonight...and that meant I had to get out the steamer.

My fear of the steamer may seem irrational to you, but that's because you haven't met the thing. It's cranky. It slides, it slips, it explodes up out of the pot, it collapses down into the water. I should buy a new one, obviously. But I'm a little afraid to get rid of it -- what if it vows revenge? And if any cooking implement were to plot vengeance, believe me, it'd be this cranky critter.

But anyway. I needed my broiler for the pseudo-tandoori chicken, thus: steamer for cauliflower.

I'm glad to report that only one finger was scalded in the steaming of this cauliflower. That's actually a damn fine statistic.

Cauliflower with Tomato-Curry Sauce
Adapted from the Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook

Serves 4.

1 tsp. olive oil
1 med. yellow onion, finely chopped
2 tsp. grated peeled ginger
2 tsp. hot curry powder (I like Penzey's if there's no time to make my own)
0.5 tsp. ground cumin
1 c. canned tomato puree
1 lb. cauliflower florets, steamed

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Saute the onion and ginger until the onion turns translucent, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the spices over the mixture and mix over the heat for another minute or so.

Stir in the tomato puree and 0.5 c. water. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cover the pan; let it bubble away for fifteen minutes or so to thicken.

When it's done, pour the sauce over the steamed cauliflower in a serving bowl.

* The recipe calls for pureeing the sauce, but I don't see the point; just mince the onion finely.
* One point per serving. Nice!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Two for One

Nothing like a Friday afternoon counting down to a three-day weekend...and particularly this one, because I cannot wait for the weekend to actually get here! I'm jetting off to California for a fabulous weekend bachelorette party, so I'm getting pretty impatient here for the clock to hit five.

So in the meantime, I'll do some memeing! (Is that a verb?) Thanks to Kalyn and Jaay for tagging me for two more memes -- I'm a huge fan of the phenomenon. Let's see what we've got here.

Me in Fours

4 Jobs I've Had
1. lowly Blockbuster Video clerk. Ah, the joys of alphabetizing.
2. civil procedure teaching assistant.
3. LSAT instructor. Now that was a fun one.
4. resident advisor.

4 Movies I Watch Over and Over
1. The Princess Bride. Devorit and I even have the sound effects in the swordfighting scenes memorized.
2. The Shawshank Redemption.
3. The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Yep, I'm sneaking in three for one here. Shhh.
4. Pride and Prejudice -- the BBC version with Colin Firth. Best movie ever.

4 Places I've Lived
1. Los Angeles, CA.
2. New York, NY.
3. San Francisco, CA.
4. Cambridge, England.

4 Websites I Check Daily
1. Tomato Nation. I can't live without it.
2. Go Fug Yourself. The Patient Co-Worker and I discuss this all the time.
3. Television Without Pity. Best work distraction.
4. All your food blogs. Really. Now you understand why I never get anything done...

4 TV Shows I Love
1. CSI:, but only the original. Miami and New York are dead to me.
2. Law and Order, but again, original only. No Criminal Intent! No SVU!
3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Don't mock it if you haven't seen it -- I mean, c'mon! There was a musical!
4. The Amazing Race. Except last season was dreadful.

4 of My Favorite Foods
1. Thin, charred-on-the-bottom NY pizza, covered in an absolute blizzard of crushed red pepper.
2. Salmon and avocado rolls with lots of wasabi.
3. Spaghetti carbonara.
4. Jalapeno artichoke dip with extra parmesan.

4 Albums I Can't Live Without
1. Violator by Depeche Mode.
2. Fumbling Towards Ecstasy by Sarah McLachlan.
3. Little Lights by Kate Rusby.
4. 1980-1990 by U2.

4 Places I'd Rather Be
1. York Minster, England.
2. Anywhere in Italy. Geez, I really need to get there.
3. Babbo.
4. Yosemite.

7 Meme

7 Things to Do Before I Die
1. Run a 5k (hey, realism is good).
2. Bake a souffle.
3. Figure out how to do accent marks in Blogger (see above).
4. Spend serious time in Italy and the south of France.
5. Finish that novel.
6. Cook at least three recipes out of all of my cookbooks.
7. Learn to do a backbend.

7 Things I Cannot Do
1. Fry an egg without breaking the yolk.
2. Make Nigella's brownie recipe and have it come out edible.
3. Let go of a grudge. Sad but true.
4. Eat a raw tomato. Or anything it's touched.
5. Go through a week without stubbing a toe.
6. Get over my fear of sharks.
7. Allow my shoes to become unorganized or, heaven forbid, my closet OUT OF RAINBOW ORDER.

7 Things That Attract Me to Blogging
1. The cool stuff I'd never find out about otherwise.
2. The thrill when someone posts a comment on PBPO.
3. The gentle pressure to actually post.
4. The writing practice.
5. It challenges me to cook new things and to push my limits.
6. Weekend Cat Blogging.
7. Memes!

7 Things I Say Most Often
1. Babe, could you put your clothes away?
3. Awwww, Max. What a good kitty.
4. Ohhhhhkay.
5. You have GOT to be kidding me.
6. Meh, I'm not a fan.
7. "Fewer," not "less."

7 Books I Love
1. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein
2. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
3. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
4. anything by Lois McMaster Bujold
5. anything by Elizabeth George
6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
7. An Instance of the Fingerpost by...can't recall...Iain something?

7 Movies I Could Watch Over and Over
(see above)
5. Disney's Robin Hood
6. Raiders of the Lost Ark
7. Dangerous Beauty

People to Tag
I sorta dawdled, so at this point these memes have made the all means, play if you'd like to!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Eat Your Greens

This is a simple, soothing pasta dish for when you have some greens in your refrigerator that are starting to give you that "dude, what's the problem?" look. Makes for a good lunch at work, too -- although I find it benefits from a vigorous shake of cayenne when it's on its second incarnation.

I used to throw together a version of this with just greens, pasta, and parmesan, for which you hardly need a recipe. You don't really need a recipe for this version either, but the sauteed onion and garlic gives it more backbone.

Peasant Pasta
Adapted from the Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook

Serves 4.

4 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 med. yellow onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
0.5 c. chicken or vegetable broth
10 oz. spinach, coarsely chopped
2 c. coarsely chopped Swiss chard
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 c. uncooked pasta of your favorite roundish, bite-sized shape
0.5 tsp. fresh lemon juice, optional
crushed red pepper, optional

Heat the oil in a skillet, then saute the onions and garlic until soft and golden brown. Add the broth and cook until it's mostly evaporated, about a minute or so.

Meanwhile, steam the spinach and chard together until tender, about six minutes. Remove from the steamer and squeeze out any excess water.

Meanwhile x2, cook the pasta you're using in plenty of boiling salted water. Drain when it's a skosh shy of al dente.

Stir the greens into the onion mixture and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Heat, stirring frequently, for another minute or so.

Add the pasta to the skillet with the onions and greens and toss to mix. Serve, sprinkling with a little lemon juice and/or red pepper.

* 5 Weight Watchers Points per serving.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Cinnamon Basil Chicken

As I've said, I love basil and warm spices, so when I saw a recipe putting them together...well. This was going to be a good one.

But I didn't realize just how good it was going to be. Really, even if this sounds a little odd to you, please give it a try. The cinnamon and star anise infuse the chicken and tomato sauce with a wonderful, semisweet savoriness. Then the basil sweeps in at the end to kick everything up a notch. Dreamy.

This is so good, in fact, that I've saved the leftover sauce for mixing with rice or pasta. I can't bear to throw it away!

This is from a wonderful cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld of The Herbfarm Restaurant. Highly recommended -- the pictures are gorgeous, the tips are helpful, and the recipes send you straight to the farmers' market for fistfuls of herbs.

Cinnamon Basil Chicken
Adapted from Jerry Traunfeld's The Herbal Kitchen

Serves 4.

6-8 pieces of bone-in chicken (I like legs best)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T. olive oil
1 lg. yellow onion, sliced into half-moons
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1.5 T finely chopped fresh ginger
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes, drained of half the liquid
3 three-inch cinnamon sticks
3 star anise pods
1.5 c. torn sweet basil or cinnamon basil, if you can find it

Heat the olive oil in a rather large skillet with a lid on medium-high heat. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, then add to the skillet. Cook, uncovered, until the skin turns a lovely deep golden brown, then flip and cook on the other side for a few minutes more. Remove the chicken and set it aside.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion, garlic, and ginger. Cook for about three minutes, stirring frequently, until softened and beginning to brown. Pour in the tomatoes and stir to mix. Drop in the cinnamon sticks and anise pods, then stir in 1 tsp. salt. Return the chicken to the pan and wait for the mixture to come to a simmer. Cover the pan, turn the heat to low, and cook for about 50 minutes, or until the chicken doesn't resist when you poke it with a knife.

At this point, if the sauce is watery, remove the chicken and boil the sauce, uncovered, until it's the consistency you like. At that point, return the chicken to the pan and add the basil, all at once with a grand flourish, and toss to mix. Devour.

* I couldn't find cinnamon basil this time of year, and sweet basil worked just fine.
* I forgot to drain half the liquid from the tomatoes, but no problem -- the sauce reduction step works well.
* I served the chicken with roasted asparagus and a basic green salad -- yum.
* I calculate the Weight Watchers Points for one serving of sauce at 2.5 points. Then add points for however much chicken you eat.

Monday, January 09, 2006

ARF/5-A-Day Tuesday #2: Tortilla Soup

After all that drama with the timbale, I needed some low-key kitchen puttering to regain my confidence. And, as it happened, I also needed to finish -- okay, start and finish -- the book assignment for my new book club. This, of course, meant that Sunday was going to be soup day.

I love making a soup from stock to completion in one lazy day. As you all know, there's something quite soothing and fulfilling about starting with a refrigerator drawer of veggies and ending with a simmering pot. I almost always make vegetarian soups, partly because Deborah Madison was my first soup instructor and partly because I rarely have extra meat on hand.

So, Sunday was Tortilla Soup day. This is really a magnificent soup, and with all the toppings, it's got a pleasing ceremonial quality to it. Making the Red Stock is almost more fun than making the soup itself. And your kitchen will smell wonderful!

I guess this doesn't make it high on the Antioxidant-Rich Food list, but it does have veggies -- so I'm making it my contribution to Sweetnicks's ARF/5-A-Day Tuesday collection. Head on over and check out the other recipes!

Tortilla Soup
Adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Serves 4.

For the Red Stock:

1.5 T. olive oil
2 med. yellow onions, sliced
2 celery ribs, diced
2 carrots, chopped
5 white or cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 T. tomato paste
6 garlic cloves
6 outer leaf lettuce leaves
stems from 1 bunch cilantro
1/2 c. coarsely chopped Italian parsley
2 tsp. salt
2 quarts water

Heat the oil in a soup pot on medium-high heat. Tip in the onions, celery, carrots, mushrooms, and dried herbs. Cook, stirring from time to time and breathing deep, because it will smell so, so good, until the onions are quite limp and starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir, then add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot halfway. Simmer for 45 minutes, then strain. You should have about 6 cups.

For the Soup:

6 c. Red Stock
2-3 T. olive oil
1.5 medium or 2 small yellow onions, sliced into 0.5" rounds
4 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
2-3 jalapeno chiles
2 c. canned tomato sauce or 2.5 lb. fresh Roma tomatoes
1 tsp. pureed chipotle chile (optional)

Heat your broiler. Brush about half the oil over the onions, chiles, garlic, and tomatoes. Put them on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil 4-5 inches away from the heat. Turn each vegetable as it browns, and don't worry if the tomatoes and chiles blister -- that's exactly what you want. Remove each vegetable as it finishes browning (peel the garlic cloves). Toss everything in a blender and puree. (If you're using the tomato sauce instead of fresh tomatoes, add 1/2 c. water to the blender with the vegetables.)

Heat the rest of the oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the puree and cook, stirring, until it thickens a bit, about 3-5 minutes. Add the Red Stock and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes. Stir in the chipotle if you're using it, and taste for salt. (I rarely add any.) You could strain the soup at this point, but the texture is more satisfying if you don't.

For the Toppings:

2 pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeded
1/4 - 1/2 chopped cilantro
1 avocado, diced
tortilla strips, fried, baked, or plain as you like
crumbled queso fresco or feta
1 lime, quartered

All of these are optional, but I especially think you need the avocado and queso fresco, particularly if you've boosted the heat with an extra chile or two. Toasting the chiles is easy -- heat a heavy skillet over medium heat and toss the chiles in. Press down on them so they sizzle and blister in spots. Be careful not to burn them. When cool, tear them to bits.

Add whatever toppings you like to your bowls at the table. Oh, but the lime is for squeezing over the top.

* Using 3 chiles makes this soup quite spicy. I recommend using 2 the first time you make it.
* While the vegetables broil, the vapors can get pretty thick. You may want to crack a window.
* Dimples prefers to add cheddar cheese because he doesn't care for feta or queso fresco. I like queso fresco best, but I couldn't find it at the local store, so feta was just fine.
* Dimples likes rice in soup, so I make a batch of basic rice and he stirs in a cup or so.
* You could add shredded roasted chicken to boost the protein.
* I calculate the soup itself at 2.5 Weight Watchers Points per serving, before toppings.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Crushing Disappointment

The symptoms were so familiar -- the wistful sighs, the increasingly-elaborate daydreams, the corresponding decline in work productivity. How could I concentrate on copyright infringement when I simply had to Google my beloved's name one more time? (You never know! There might be new information out the last ten minutes...oh hush.) Past companions dwindled and retreated in comparison to my new, glowingly perfect love.

Oh yes, I was caught in the throes of a new food crush.

And it was a bad one. I've been minorly obsessed with Italian and Italian-American food for a while now, but not even my mom's eternally perfect spaghetti sauce could tempt me during my fascination with the pasta timbale. (Or timpano, or timbalo. I have seen all sorts of variations -- if someone has a definitive definition, lemme know.) Layers of pasta and sauce and meatballs and more sauce and different pasta and yet more sauce? All baked together into a glorious gooey dome?

Yes, please.

So I persuaded Devorit that we should make some version of my crush for Christmas dinner. Historically, my family has never made a big deal out of the final meal of the day on December 25th -- no turkey, no ham, no goose. Actually, dinner's usually spaghetti, because we love it and it's, obviously, not too difficult after the exhaustion of the day.

But this year we would try something different. And I was starry-eyed over that timbale for a solid week. The elaborateness of it captured my heart -- layer after painstaking layer, we would assemble a masterpiece.

So much excitement on Christmas day! We had made up a double batch of tomato sauce the day before, in between assembling the traditional Christmas Eve soups (more on those later), so that step was out of the way. Devorit printed out our recipe...we started to read, breath caught, pulses high.

I'm sure you can see where this is going.

The recipe had some strange quirks, we agreed. It seemed to call for an awful lot of Arborio rice (6 cups uncooked). And the instructions about cheese were inconsistent -- the ingredient list included pecorino romano, parmesan, and caciocavallo, but the instructions periodically referred simply to "cheese," with no clear antecedent. Nor did the volumes add up. At various points, we were instructed to add 1 cup of sauce, half the sauce, the remaining sauce, two-thirds of the sauce, and the remaining sauce once more. A puzzlement.

We forged ahead anyway. I was confident we could pull it off -- and I'd dreamed of this dish for so long!

This was a mistake.

Actually, it wasn't that bad. 6 cups of Arborio rice did indeed cook up to an unholy vat of fluffy starch, one that soaked up all the sauce we could fling in its direction. At one point, Devorit was up to her biceps in rice, mixing with both hands, because believe me, no spoon in the kitchen was going to move that mass. We'd luckily doubled the tomato sauce, so there was enough to go around -- barely -- and we guessed at the cheese component as best we could.

About a gadzillion sticky hours later, the timbale emerged from the oven in a sultry cloud of fragrance. Fraught with anticipation, we sliced, served, spooned...and it was devastating. My food crush was just okay. Nothing special. Neutrally pleasant, I guess. Sort of something I can imagine being served in a mediocre cafeteria, with a square of plain red Jell-o and a side of nearly-limp green beans.

(I haven't included the recipe here, both because it's rather untrustworthy and because I can't recommend that you invest the time.)

I'm a big girl; I know crushes don't always work out. But I thought we'd be together for the long haul, timbale and I, and I'm just a little sad about the end of our relationship.

But, psst. I think I've got a crush on cioppino now.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Random Thursday Thought

Am I the only one who loves the clementine crates almost as much as their contents?

Knitting organizer! Mini spice box! Lipstick holder! (Ok, I have too many lipsticks.)

Note to self: three cups of tea, okay. Five cups and you start to babble.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Musselbound that I've typed it, I don't think that title really makes sense, but -- why not.

So I've realized that I really, really need to dig up the directions for my digital camera and acquire some skills. I have no illusions that my petite Canon is the ultimate in shutterbug circles, but it is surely capable of better work than this:

This picture doesn't begin to do justice to the glory of these black beauties -- the briny sweetness, the garlicky buttery broth spiked with parsley sparkles. And if you can believe it, this picture was the best of the lot! And what a shame, because I want you to try these. Not only are they incredibly delicious, they are possibly the easiest seafood dish I've ever made. I do not kid.

According to the Weight Watchers website, a serving of these is 5 points. I will note for the record, though, that you really ought to have slices of grilled or toasted bread on hand for soaking up the juices.

Moules Mariniere
Adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to Eat

4 lb mussels, scrubbed and debearded
4 T. unsalted butter
2 shallots, minced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
4 T. chopped Italian parsley
1 1/4 c. dry white wine

Double check your mussels and chuck those with cracked shells or that gape unbecomingly.

On medium heat, in a big ol' pot with a lid, melt the butter. Add the shallots and garlic and 1 T. parsley, and stir it around into the butter for a minute or so. Add the wine and cook another minute. Add the mussels, turn the heat to high, and cover the pot. Check in three minutes and remove all the open mussels (I like to use tongs) to your bowls. Put the lid back on and give them another two minutes or so. Turn off the heat. Take out the rest of the open mussels for your bowls, and discard any that failed to open.

Let the broth settle, then pour it carefully over the bowls. The goal here is to leave any sediment in the pot. Sprinkle over the remaining parsley, take your bowls to a cat-safe area, and scarf them down. Serves two.

* Next time I would slice the garlic thinly, rather than mince it. Some of the shells practically filled up with bits of minced garlic.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Year of the Cuppa

As I slog through my staggeringly full inbox here at work, I've been stealing quick peeks at heaps of food blogs to see what you've all been up to over the last few weeks. I've missed you so! I'm not nearly done catching up (some of you have been very productive), and it's wonderful. Like curling up for an evening under a fuzzy blanket with a stack of magazines, a mug of spiked hot chocolate, and a kitten or two. Nice.

Many bloggers have posted lists of their goals or resolutions for 2006, and, inspired, I wanted to get two of my own out there as a means of accountability. I'm a big fan of the "whatever works" school of self-deception/encouragement. You know, like setting my alarm clock fifteen minutes fast even though I know perfectly well that when the buzzer explodes at 6:30, it's really 6:15. As I say -- whatever works.

First, a cliche. I'm buckling down and getting serious about losing some weight. A very dear friend is getting married mid-March, and the bridesmaid dresses are truly lovely -- and fitted. Not to mention that I swore when I cleared 30 that I would actually start eating those exasperating five servings of produce a day. So! The time is right, I've armed myself with a cute notepad and sassy pen for keeping track of what I'm eating (...whatever works), and I'm off to the races. Well, the treadmill, anyway.

And so I'll be cooking mostly Weight Watchers and other similar recipes for the next chunk of time. I'll post the good recipes here for others in the same boat. Last night I made a reputedly "Savory Lamb Stew" out of a Weight Watchers cookbook, but -- meh. Not bad, but not interesting. Certainly not worth a second batch.

And second, I have resolved to drink more tea. Not for antioxidants, or as a coffee substitute, or any other typical reason. No, this is simply because I have collected more kinds of tea since moving to New York than I would have thought humanly possible. I must have thirty blends now, and really -- that's absurd. Utterly. (And it's only been seven months, people.) They're all keepers, too, so I don't want to do the hand-them-off-to-friends thing. And after all, I like tea.

But now I'm getting serious. I've banned myself from the Adagio website, I resolutely avoid the tea aisle, I brew three cups a day. In fact, it's time for another. I think...Wild Blueberry Fair Trade Certified. Just the thing.

And now back to the blog splurge!

Happy 2006!

We're back! I'm proud to report that I do still remember how to navigate LA freeways. As well as I ever did, anyway, which may not be saying much. Updates on the cooking adventures once I dig my camera out of my suitcase.