Eat, pray, lunch

Ploughmanesque

I’m still just as bad at eating proper lunches as ever. I didn’t finally sit down to some non-trivial calories until 3 PM today. But, thankfully, I was able to assemble this semi-filling, semi-healthy lunchish platter. That’s rotisserie chicken, cornichons and olives, some delicious Dutch cheese, half a Landjäger sausage, and an organic apricot.

What I need is to figure out a way to incorporate more vegetables into this type of super-speedy thrown-together meal, ya know? Then I wouldn’t feel so bad about my spastic work-from-home eating habits!

Saffron-chèvre peas

My husband recently confessed to me that he loves and misses peas. Yes, peas. I’m not sure why it is that it never occurred to me to make them — partly because they’re kind of sweet, and I used to have a mild aversion to sweet vegetables (remedied by wonderful squash soup and parsnip purée recipes), and I think because I’m a bit of a snob about only getting fresh not frozen veggies when possible. And peas are usually frozen. (This recipe uses frozen peas, anyway.) But he recently brought home a deli dish of a cold pea salad with cream and onion, and I went nuts for it. So I decided to try my hand at my own variation. Et voilà !

1 shallot (or one bulb if it’s a large shallot)
about 1 Tbsp butter
about 5 Tbsp milk, to taste (I use whole un-homogenized)
about 3 Tbsp heavy cream
1 pinch saffron threads (about 10 threads total)
1 bag frozen peas
About 3 Tbsp un-flavored chèvre (creamy goat’s cheese)

Finely mince the shallot, or if you prefer the texture, leave it in rings.

Sautée the shallot in butter and a tiny bit of salt until brown and beginning to become translucent. Add in the milk and the cream and simmer a bit. Add in saffron threads, adjusting quantity for desired saffronicity — but remember, it takes a while for the full flavor to “bloom” so start small. I added my saffron in two batches.

Then, while the saffron-milk sauce is very gently simmering, cook a package of microwave peas to half finished (my directions said to microwave covered with a bit of water; I just zapped for 3-4 min. instead of 6-8). Remove with slotted spoon and add to saffron mixture.

Crumble up the chèvre and toss it into the mixture, in three batches, mixing as it simmers and waiting for it to fully melt before adding the next batch. Stir the mixture constantly on low heat until the peas begin to soften and a few start to burst ever so slightly.

Of COURSE we ate them before we remembered to take a picture. They go great with ham steak, though.

Smoked salmon & hazelnut linguine

Yet another dish I cooked up on the fly without noting any specific quantities. Let’s see if I can reverse-engineer this baby, because it was DELICIOUS.

Set a large pot of salted water to boil for your fresh linguine (we use Seattle’s Cucina Fresca brand. Not to be confused with my friend Brooke).

Mince 1 shallot (or 1 bulb if large) and 2 garlic cloves with a few sprigs of Italian flat-leaf parsley. (I use the chopping attachment to my Cuisinart hand mixer.) Brown a tablespoon of salted butter in a skillet (I like cast iron). Once brown, add another tablespoon, reduce heat to medium low, and add in minced shallot-herb mixture. Add 1 cup double-strength chicken stock (I use the Organic Better than Bouillion). Reduce to very low and let this simmer while you…

Pour 1/4-ish cup milk (I used whole) in a pot, bring to gentle boil. Add a tablespoon or so of unbleached white flour, mix in the lumps, and roux it up. Eventually add a glob of cream cheese (1/3 c?), a similarly sized glob of sour cream, a quarterish cup grated parmesan, and a splash of kefir, and enough milk to thin it all out. Mix and melt but don’t overheat it to burning.

Crush some raw hazelnuts (I smashed them in the pestle part of my mortar and pestle with a mojito muddler, because well, we just unpacked and I can’t find the damn mortar. Assuming the mortar is, in fact, the stick part. You know what I mean. Smashy smashy.) Coat with a bit of olive oil and nice salt, and toast in (toaster, if you like) oven until the oil sizzles and the nuts begin to brown and become fragrant.

When finished, break up chunks of dry (non lox-style) smoked salmon, being careful to remove any bones, and stick the salmon in a bowl to warm up in the remaining heat of the toaster oven.

Boil the pasta for 30-60 seconds less than the stated cook time. Drain, combine with sauce, curse about having made way too little sauce for that quantity of pasta like you always do. Oops. Add in hazelnuts and salmon while combining, garnish with grated Parmesan; devour immediately.

Back to food (and food blogging) with BEEF

Well, as you may or may not have gleaned from various Tweets and status updates or from real-life knowledge, the hubby and I had a busy first quarter. We went to Rio de Janeiro in late February, where hubby served as the wedding officiant for two great pals. Then we came back, almost immediately closed on our new house, and then almost immediately moved and have spent almost every waking second on home improvement or spending loads of money on theoretical home improvement. Oh, yeah, and both of our day job companies are gearing up for major releases. Busy!

But oh, so worth it. Don’t worry, some Brazil-specific posts are coming soon, about all the deliciousness therein. But for now, let’s focus on COOKING in a KITCHEN that I OWN. Not only did I make some interesting appliance discoveries, but I just care so much more about the place since it’s mine! We’ve tinkered with a few meals or dishes here and there, but this is the first fully cooked at home DISH that I did in my new cuisine, upon Grant’s request: Beef Stroganoff.

I used the Epicurious recpie with some substitutions and quantity wild guesses, and it turned out lovely (though I prefer a higher meat-and-sauce-to-pasta ratio so I might use half the noodles next time, or double the rest). Grant wanted to make it with ground beef instead of steak like the recipe calls for, so we compromised on inexpensive but still not ground up stew meat. (The idea of it with ground meat totally grosses me out, but maybe that’s just me?)

I also played around with the new oven last night and figured out that it runs, if anything, slightly hot. Good to know for muffins, cakes and cookies! Mmmmm, cookies. My banana sour cream cinnamon muffins turned out lovely and moist and yummy, but they had been cooked for almost exactly the minimum that the recipe specified and were still a bit browner on the bottom than I like. Learning new appliances is never easy (our microwave LOVES to splatter/assplode) but it sure is fun! I’ll have to post a video of Grant reacting to our oven vent, which is built into the top of our microwave, opening and closing at the push of a button, with the microwave text narrating the whole while. Crazy technology.

Tales of cocktails

Every once in a while, a strange invention will come out of needing to use up a certain ingredient. Two odd cocktails were born out of such circumstances over the winter holiday break, and I figured I might as well describe them since both turned out surprisingly tasty.

First was the scary greenish concoction pictured here, for which I am accepting name suggestions. (Ideas so far include Zombie Plague and Antifreeze.) This occurred because a bottle of my fancy Q Tonic had been erroneously opened the night before, and was about to go flat — and at nearly $2.50 per 8 oz bottle, I wasn’t about to let that happen. But we had no cucumber or lime, and thus could not properly enjoy a G&T with any sort of gin on hand.

So inventiveness reigned! I mixed fresh lemon juice, Hendrick’s Gin, Midori Liqueur, Cointreau, and shook them with ice, then combined with the remains of the Q. And threw in a couple ice cubes because I figured it might take me a while to down it all, and I like my drinks chilly.

These are all the lovely spirits (or spirit-specific mixers) I used. Sometimes I just want to look at liquor bottles all day long -- so elegant.

The verdict? Surprisingly not terrible. (High praise, I know — but when you look at the thing, you can understand my skepticism, right?) I might actually make this in the future — the end bitterness of the tonic has a nice contrast to the normally-too-candy-like Midori, and I like pretty much anything that has Hendricks and/or Cointreau poured into it. (Yes, I know Cointreau is über sweet, but it’s also “spirited” so hush.)

Next up was what I guess is a variation of a Creamsicle. See, for this one, we had planned a ladies’ night out… but one pal forgot her wallet, which contained her ID (and she’s babyfaced and infallibly gets carded). Through some creative problem solving, we were able to enjoy a night of revelry anyhow, but after the fact I was left with a stainless steel flask that had about a shot and a half of Absolut Mandarin in it. Not wanting to let that stuff go to waste (or take on a metallic taste as it sat too long in said flask), I decided to put it to good use in a cocktail.

Another massive leftover we have is San Pellegrino Aranciata (and Limonata) soda, because we bought them as refreshments to include in the hotel welcome bags for out of town wedding guests this summer. We certainly don’t mind having a handful of cans left over, but we don’t often drink these normally so they haven’t disappeared yet. So I went ahead and repurposed one for this cocktail invention.

Now, so far we have orange vodka and natural orange soda. Those go fine when simply combined together, but I’d had enough of SP soda-based half-assed cocktails in lazier moments that I wanted to really jazz it up a bit and go a bit dessertier. So I juiced a satsuma, added a dash of our old friend Cointreau, and shook the alcohols and juices with ice, then poured them with the soda and added a generous measure of half and half and an orange slice to garnish.  Rich, creamy, yummy, and stealthily potent!

And the best part is, I didn’t waste a single drop of anything.

Further bread success

After our Thanksgiving extravaganza, in which Grant made an adorable but short & heavy little loaf of whole wheat bread, we’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with our Zojirushi. After our slightly imperfect Turkey Day attempt, I started doing some research as to what makes for good bread.

We learned that bread flour (or high gluten content or other glutinous binders) would help create a better web with which to trap yeast bubbles, and a faster rising yeast (like Rapid Rise or Perfect Rise varieties) would both help, and that dry milk would help over wet (aka “normal”) milk.

But even though our bread-flour, dry-milk loaf turned out great, I wanted to figure out a way to use up all the whole wheat flour I’d bought, plus I wanted to try out the quicker bread recipes that only take 2 hours instead of 3.5. So I designed a blend of whole wheat and bread flour, and I included about a half teaspoon of xanthan gum in the dry ingredients. And it worked! Check out the loftiest little loaf we’ve managed yet!

Rivers of Acidophilus

The other day (Friday, to be specific), I purchased a bottle of organic peach flavored kefir* from the Metro Market. Friday was April 21st. On Tuesday, I opened the bottle, tasted it, noticed it tasted funny, read the expiration date, and saw that it was April 10th. Yech.

So last night, I let the Metro folks know, and they gave me a free new bottle with a far-away expiration date, and all was as it should be.

Until this morning.

I shook the new bottle of kefir, opened the seal it and poured it, but I could tell from the look that I hadn’t shook it enough so I re-capped it and shook it again. Really. Hard. Cap pops off, bottle escapes from my hands, kefir explodes ALL over my kitchen. I whine at roommate who is busily working really hard under an incredibly stressful deadline to pretty please give me a hand. She being the awesome person she is helps while I whip off my yogurt-splattered outfit and change. I came back down and mopped up sticky peachy culturedness from all surfaces of my kitchen. My knees still smell like peaches.

What is it that kefir has against me? Maybe I really, really, really need to heed my naturopath’s urgings to go off of dairy entirely? But I really LIKE kefir! And until recently, I thought it liked me!

Anyway, I realize this story is kind of pointless. But in case anyone notices that I smell kind of fruity, well, I would’ve missed my bus if I did a better job of removing kefir from my legs, and let’s just say by now I find it nicely moisturizing. TGIF, folks.

*Kefir is a sorta hippie-ish, super-cultured yogurt-like substance that is usually a little runnier than yogurt. The brand I always buy is liquid. It is NOT, however, like one of those foul Dannon drinkable yogurt abominations, for the record.