Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Chiles En Nogada--A Chile Relleno of a Different Color, Not To Mention Taste

We’ve all had traditional chiles rellenos.  As a matter of fact, I had one for dinner tonight, in a combo #23 (along with a deliciously greasy shredded beef taco, cheese enchilada and of course, rice and beans) from Super Mex, the local chain Mexican dive.  Traditional chiles rellenos are usually a mild green chile (usually a poblano or Anaheim) which are roasted, peeled and seeded and stuffed with a mild, melting cheese.  In the US, it’s usually a Monterey Jack or mild Cheddar.  In Mexico, it’s typically queso Chihuahua or queso Oaxaca, both of which are mild, white and very amenable to melting into pools of gooey goodness.  The stuffed chile is then dipped in an egg batter and shallow-fried.  When nice and puffy and golden brown, the chile relleno is removed from the pan, and dressed with a mild red chile sauce.  Properly made, a chile relleno is a thing of beauty.  Poorly made, well, it’s a poorly made disaster.

We’ll make traditional chiles rellenos eventually, because even though I got a good fix tonight courtesy of Super Mex (still burping good salsa burps too…..), the chile relleno fix doesn’t last too long, and I’ll get to craving another hit pretty quickly.  And mine are pretty damned good and close to authentic.  Especially for a Polish/Norwegian girl from South Chicago.

But now we’re talking about a different kind of a chile relleno.  Technically, “chile relleno” translates literally as “stuffed chile”.  So, chiles en nogada are a form of chiles rellenos.  But they are as far from what you’ll find in Super Mex combo #23 as a beautiful Maryland blue crab cake is from a “Krab patty” made with that chopped, pressed and dyed faux “krab”.  OK….bad analogy….the chiles rellenos in combo #23 are actually really GOOD.  “Krab patties” are never, ever, really good, or even passable.  But you get the drift.

This is a relleno like you’ve never “relleno-ed” before.  Let’s take a look at it, shall we?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Can't Beet It

Yes, I know tomorrow (Monday, May 28th) is Memorial Day in the U.S., and the “traditional” start to summer and the grilling season.  Yes, I will be grilling, carne asada, (hey, it’s a Pan-Cultural-Fusiony thing), which is so ridiculously easy and also so similar to the marinated pork I just wrote about, that I won’t bore you with the details (OK, *if* you’re interested, marinate some skirt or flank steak in some red wine vinegar, some oil, some S&P, some herbs [cilantro, dried oregano, garlic] and maybe some lime juice.  How long you marinate depends on how thick the steak.  Flank overnight, skirt 2 to 4 hours.  Covered, in the 'fridge.  Grill, slice against the grain, make tacos with corn tortillas and some salsa fresca.  Carry on.)  But this post isn’t about grilling, although I suppose you could do both dishes on a grill, and they’d work.  No, it’s about roasting and pan-roasting and the magic of old time, old-school, French-style pan sauces.  And yes, I am fully aware that the picture of those beets up top looks like some sort of oozing, alien life form.  Sorry.  Roasted beets apparently aren’t very photogenic, but they sure are tasty, especially when mixed with a tangy dressing and made into a lovely salad.

First up the beets.  Like many of the veggies I cook with lately, (thanks to my CSA, The Growing Experience), I came late to the beet love.  Oh, we ate enough of them when I was a kid, and I liked them just fine.  They were always canned, and my Mom usually mixed them with thin-sliced onions and some vinegar with a touch of sugar, to make sort of a quick pickle.  As an adult, I bought them, again only in cans, for the same preparation, or julienned to toss into a green salad.  But they were only rare guests in the little kitchen.  Too many other, bright, shiny, trendy things to play with.  I certainly never bought fresh beets.  I wouldn’t have had a clue as to what to do with them.  They were, well, intimidating.  Hard, leafy, and they *gasp* STAIN THINGS.

Yeah.  Like dishrags.  OK, that rag was a little tired even before the run-in with the beets, and frankly the beet stain rinsed out pretty quickly (and came off my fingers just as easily), but the juice color is an issue.  I wouldn’t use a good towel around them, jus’ sayin’.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Two Quick, Important, Notes....

...about this weekend.

First of all, and I know this is short notice, but tomorrow, May 12, in the United States is the US Postal Service's annual food drive.  It's called "Stamp Out Hunger", and its sponsored by, among others, the National Association of Letter Carriers, the Postal Service and the United Way.  I wrote extensively about this cause last year, and it's still very close to my heart.  My box (yes, a box, I'm up from last year's bag) is ready to put by my mailbox tomorrow morning.  It's chock-full of staples, rice, beans, pasta, juice, canned low-sodium veggies, peanut butter, dry cereal, tuna, applesauce, etc.  You don't have to set out a lot for the letter carriers to collect, every donation will help.  But please, don't use this as an excuse to clean out your pantry, and donate that can of escargot you bought in 1987 on a whim.  No glass, no expired products.  It should be things *YOU'D* want to eat.....

Here's a couple of  links for the full scoop on this so very worthwhile project.

Sooooo many, many people will be happy and grateful that you helped.  Make a difference, please.  It could very easily be you, or someone you care about, that needs help from a food bank someday.

Speaking of people we care about, Sunday is, of course, Mother's Day.  Honor Mom.  Make sure she knows just how important she is to you.  Not just Sunday, but every day.  Some day, and trust me, I know this....you'll wish you'd told her more often how much you love her and need her.  And always will.  If she's not physically with you, tell her anyway.  She'll hear you.  I know mine does....

Have a lovely, caring weekend everyone.  Foods are coming again soon.  Maybe something to do with beets, and lamb chops and curry.  Maybe some poblano chiles and queso fresco and walnuts and pomegranate seeds.  Maybe......?

Give of yourself, to Mom, of course and to those we don't know who need our attention.  I love you Mama.

Friday, May 4, 2012


¡ Hola amigos !  And that, sadly, is about the extent of what my sad little brain retains from many, many years of high school and college Spanish lessons.

That and “¿ donde esta el baño ?”, which is frankly just as important of a phrase.  Perhaps even more so…

But, I digress, as always.  This, however, may be the earliest digression yet.  No, apparently that tendency of mine didn't go away during my hiatus.

Tomorrow (or today, depending upon where you are and when you’re reading this) is Cinco de Mayo.  Which, although it is most likely, what I call a “faux-li-day” or a contrived holiday (see other examples, St. Patrick’s Day, Groundhog’s Day, Sweetest Day, and darest I say…Halloween), is still however, in the grand tradition of holidays, faux or real, an excellent excuse for some “good eats” (to borrow a phrase, thanks AB).  Yikes.  THAT sentence structure even hurt MY brain…..let’s carry on, shall we, and try to recover from that horror ?

For dinner tomorrow, I’m planning on making a very traditional Mexican dish that features all the colors of the Mexican flag, which of course I’ll share with all ya’ll in a bit.  But for immediate inspiration, not to mention satisfaction, here’s a suggestion for the star of your particular fiesta.  I made these earlier this week, and they were a) easy and b) tasty, which, in my book, makes the recipe a winner.  Even throwing together some refried black beans, salsa and guacamole from scratch didn’t add to the stress/effort level all that much.

So, let’s make some tacos, shall we?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What a long, strange trip it's been...

(with thanks, much, to The Grateful Dead for the riff line...)

Well.  *THAT* certainly wasn't how I planned to spend the Holidays, and all of the Winter and the early Spring.

Let's just say...I wasn't myself.  I was...."under the weather".  "Indisposed".  Had had "better days".  "Down for the count".  

OK.  Enough with the euphemisms.  Fact of the matter, I spent about 4 months sick as the proverbial dog (sorry Princess and Goober....figuratively "as a dog" not literally...).  Honestly, I pretty much spent from Thanksgiving to Saint Patrick's Day sleeping, or wishing I WERE sleeping.  It was all I could do to shag my sorry butt out of bed to feed the Kidz and do some laundry.  It was bad.  Really bad.  As one of my friends said, I now know what it must feel like to be 110 years old.

I won't go into the gruesome details of what hit me....let's just say that a) modern medical science is a miracle, and b) there is, in fact, better living through chemistry.

I really wasn't doing much during the time I was gone.  I wasn't able to do much.  I certainly wasn't cooking.  I also certainly wasn't mentally or intellectually (or physically, frankly) capable of writing a coherent blog post to let all y'all know what was going on.  And for that, I am deeply and profoundly sorry.  I feel (and felt) so guilty that I'd just abandoned this little effort.  And you all (however many you may be, I appreciate you !  Really !).  But I just.....couldn't.  I look back on those last two or three posts in late November/early December, and they were....strained.  I was pushing it, and myself, and eventually it just didn't work any more.  In fact, early in November, I'd taken a sabbatical, and told you it wouldn't happen again.  Unfortunately, it did.  Big time.

In the interim, I did however, get to know the good and the bad (mostly bad, as in REALLY bad) of pre-packaged, pre-prepared dinners from the local groceries, Trader Joe's, Sprouts Market and Fresh & Easy.  Don't go there.  Really.  You don't want to go there.  The good news about that was I had absolutely zero appetite, so the fact that the stuff I was trying to eat was crap really didn't matter.  Honest review, the best of that motley bunch came from TJ's, but even much of their stuff just wasn't good.

The upside.  I lost about 30 pounds.  My pants (and underwear, I know, TMI) are falling off my hips....I look like a geriatric, female WASP gang-banger  It's not a good look.  I expect "What Not To Wear" to be knocking on my door momentarily.  The Grrrrlz however (lookin' at YOU Lulu.....) had no such issues with the foods being offered in the little kitchen for those 3 or 4 months.  As a matter of fact, between the increased amount of goodies in the Princess Bowls (ewwwwwwww, ahhhhhhhhh, Mazzie didn't eat dinner again, SCORE for the dogs) and the, shall we say, lack of exercise for said dogs, Ms. Lulu's sporting quite the little pot belly these days.  She sort of looks like a Buddha with gray fur.  The dry doggie crunchies have been replaced with a "lo-cal" variety as a result.

But enough about that.  It appears the storm has passed.  I've been back in the little kitchen for about a month now, cooking regularly and enjoying the offerings of my CSA.  There's been a bread or two made (how I missed the smell of bread baking), and delightful adult beverages are once again being consumed.  Mayonnaise was made yesterday for farm-fresh artichokes.  I'm getting back into the habit of taking pictures of what I'm doing (*that* actually is harder than it sounds....I've made some great meals that I've thought after the fact about documenting).  I can take a shower without wanting to pass out in the tub (trust me, that's a huge improvement).  Pre-prepared food hasn't made an appearance in my home in at least a month.

Even better.....as of today, The Evil Voldecourt no longer owns my Dodgers.  There's a new boss in town, and he's NOT the same as the old boss (shout out to The Who for that reference).

So.  I'm back.  I know I've said that before.  But this time I really mean it.  I'm back.

Tomorrow (or the next day).......we cook.  I hope to see you then.  And thanks, from the bottom of my heart, for hanging in with me.

Monday, December 5, 2011

You Betcha Want This Ciabatta !

‘Bout time we make some darned bread around these parts, isn’t it?  I mean, there’s that pesky title of the place, about “Yeast” and all, and we haven’t seen bread in months !  Literally MONTHS I tells ya !

Bad Roberta.  Bad baker.

Well….it’s not that bread *hasn’t* been being made in the little kitchen (OWWWW, grammatically massacred, much?), it’s just that they’ve all been recipes/techniques I’ve shared with all y’all before.  Like a loaf of my sourdough or two, and some cornbread (no need to share that one, who can’t make cornbread??) and some of that M. Grill knock-off rosemary-olive oil bread.

And this ciabatta.  I actually baked this a few weeks ago, but got sidetracked telling you about it with the surprise that was that cranberry jelly (still loving that, by the way) and the gnocchi.  See, I get easily distracted…..EWW, Pretty !  SHINY !!  GLITTERY !!!!!!!!

And bread, bread….bread is not pretty, shiny nor glittery.  Bread is humble, bread is plain, bread is modest and unassuming.  Well, not really, but you get the idea.  Compared to the flash and dazzle of homemade gnocchi, bread is pretty unpretentious.  But then you pull a fresh-baked loaf out of the oven, and schmeer (highly technical cooking term alert) it with good, sweet butter, and sprinkle it with coarse salt, and of course you remember how sublime good bread is, for all its simplicity.

So, now’s the time to revisit bread, and a damn fine bread this is.

And considering how wet (slack is another term you’ll hear for wet, soft doughs) this dough is, pretty easy to work with, and get an acceptable result from (good heavens, my internal Grammar Police must’ve taken the night off….).  Just take a deep breath, read the technique through, and follow the internal Zen that is working with a slack dough.

Uhhhhhh, yeah.  I’m still working on finding that Zen.  Sometimes the dogs get a little worried when Mazzie’s trying to shape an artisan loaf.

This one, though, because of the signature shape of ciabatta, is pretty much a breeze.  You “plour” (that’s a combination of plunk and pour) the dough onto a parchment, and then gently prod and coax the edges into that “slipper” shape.  Gentle, careful coaxing.  Don’t even try to “shape” the dough into a loaf, it’s so slack that ain’t gunna happen with this dough, and you’ll just get frustrated and yell and scare the little dogs.  We don’t want to scare the little dogs.  Plus, you’ll be tempted to use too much flour to get the dough to a manageable state, and then your bread will be too tough and hard, and well, you’ll get frustrated and yell and scare the dogs.  See caveat about not scaring the dogs, above.  Trust the inner Zen that the little yeastie bugs will do grand things with that blob of ploured dough.

Don’t ask me how I know that yelling scares little dogs.  Nothing that a few doggie treetz won’t cure, though.  Usually.

BTW, Lulu still has a Mohawk…..but I digress.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Another One Off Of The Culinary Bucket List

Are we all done with turkey now, at least for a while?  Everyone raise their hands if you agree.  Yeah.  Thought so.

Let’s see.  So far, I’ve done turkey sandwiches with my lovely cranberry/jalapeño jelly, with a side of reheated dressing (day-um but I made good dressing this year), turkey in reheated gravy on mashed potatoes (oh yeah….), a snack of turkey on White Lilly flour biscuits (with more of that jelly) and tonight, turkey seco tacos (spread the shredded turkey on a baking sheet, toss with olive oil, garlic, chile powder and whatever other spices float your boat, throw into a 300° oven until it gets dry, about half an hour, that’s the “seco” and then make into tacos with all the usual suspects….tomatoes, onions, lettuce, cheese, cilantro, avocados, radishes, corn tortillas….).  Those rocked.  I may, may have one more turkey meal left before any dregs go into the freezer for future consideration.  Or, there may not be any dregs…we’ll see what the circling turkey-scarfing vulture dogs have in mind !

Yeah, THOSE turkey-scarfing vulture dogs.  Fresh from the doggie spa, replete with the frou-frou little ear bows.  Rosie rocked the look.  Lulu, ehhhh, not so much.  Sort of like putting a tutu on Peppermint Pattie.  Just….doesn‘t work somehow.

But Lulu most certainly DOES rock this look....

It's Mohawk Puppy !

But I digress.  Amazingly enough, this isn’t about leftover turkey, or even adorable vulture dogs.  It’s about tackling yet another food project *I Thought I’d Never Be Able To Make*.  The culinary bucket list.  We all have one, don’t we ?  Stuff we love, but think we can’t make at home for any variety of reasons.  Involved techniques, amount of time/effort required, exotic ingredients, there can be any number of excuses.  But most can be vanquished with just that little bit of the “courage of your convictions”.

This time around it was gnocchi.

Gnocchi.  Little, pillowy dumpling-ish nuggets of pasta/potato goodness.  Good gnocchi are very good.  VERY good.  Like dreamy, sublime good.  Like, go home and fantasize about gnocchi for a month or so good.   I’ve had that kind, rarely.  But often enough to know that’s what I aspire to.

Bad gnocchi are, well, really REALLY bad.  Leaden.  Heavy.  Dense, sodden little gut-bombs that sink to the pit of your stomach, not to mention your soul, and leave you not only with a bad taste in your mouth, and a sick feeling in your tum-tum, but a fear and loathing of ever trying to make them at home, let alone ever eating them again.

Because….they’re hard to make.  They have to be.  Because anything that’s THAT good (when they’re good) and THAT bad (when they’re bad) can’t be easy.  But after growing increasingly frustrated with the gnocchi I can find commercially i.e., frozen, dried/dehydrated and/or fresh/refrigerated (with nice green mold as an option, apparently, see an earlier post about a summer veg gnocchi dish…), I was toying with the idea of breaking down and trying to make them from scratch.  But it all seemed, so….daunting.

And then I was presented with another lovely, petite butternut squash from The Growing Experience.  Literally the same day, I was channel-surfing, and found a repeat of an ancient “Good Eats” (I *heart* Alton) episode on Cooking Channel.  It was about making…..butternut squash gnocchi.

I figured it was a Sign From Above.  Or sumpthin'.