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....

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Tao of Bao

Not too long ago, I was faced with the most hated and feared of all leftover situations….the dreaded LEFTOVER leftovers (GASP !).

Way back before time began (OK, last winter to be honest) I made one of my favorite recipes for a pork roast.  You take a shoulder roast (sometimes called a butt for some unknown, butchery reason…), either bone-in or boneless works fine, rub it well with 2 parts chipotle chile powder to 1 part kosher salt, and toss the meat into a roasting pan or Le Creuset-type Dutch oven.  Cover the pan with foil or the lid, and throw THAT into a preheated 275° oven for about 3&1/2 to 4 hours, and then pull the pan from the oven, let the meat rest for about 15 minutes, and pull it into shreds and chunks with 2 forks.  Served on warm corn tortillas (homemade is best, come on…….YOU can do it, I showed you how), with a sprinkle of cilantro and a drizzle of fresh-squeezed lime juice (OK, simple salsa cruda if you must), folded over to make simple, soft tacos, well, that’s about the best eats you can get.  One of my favorite techniques, ever.

And the initial round of leftovers makes great enchiladas or tostadas, mixed with the appropriate sauces and cheese and other add-ons.  Or spectacular pulled pork, gently reheated with some barbeque sauce.  Homemade would be best, but Trader Joe’s (yeah, TJ’s again, so…..?) “Kansas City BBQ Sauce” is a perfectly fine alternative.  And the leftovers chill out in the freezer really, really well.

Which is where my about 1 pound hunk of chipotle slow-roasted pork shoulder has been hanging out since about January, when I made it.  In the freezer, that is.  A couple of weeks ago, I got a hankering for some pulled pork sandwiches.  I’d gotten a lovely, small head of tender, just harvested cabbage from The Growing Experience in my share, and that cried out for slaw.  Which led to pulled pork sandwiches.  I had the requisite TJ’s BBQ sauce in the fridge, I had the makings for slaw, I had hamburger buns in the freezer as well, so sounds like dinner to me.

So I pulled the pork out and let it thaw (it was already shredded down when I froze it).  The day I made the sandwiches, I plopped the shredded pork in a saucepan, and added just enough of the bottled sauce to moisten it.  I have a bad habit of making this dish too drippy when I reheat the meat in the sauce (same technique works for slow-cooked roast beef as well, try it with brisket and swoon), so I was careful to use just enough BBQ sauce to loosen up the shredded meat.  Heat it over a very low flame for at least half an hour, covered.  As it warms up, the meat will release some liquid, and the steam will condense back up and drop down into the saucepan, to help “juice up” the mixture.  Which is why you want to go easy on the sauce you add to the meat.

Yes.  The sandwiches were great.  Some standard slaw (with a hit of horseradish in the dressing) and bread and butter pickles on the pulled pork, it was delightful.

But, not only have I digressed (which is not all that surprising, now is it….?), I have gone completely off track.  Because this post is NOT about using left-over slow roasted meat for pulled BBQ sandwiches, delightful though that may be, it’s about using the LEFTOVERS from that.

And finding your inner peace with the never-ending wheel of leftovers.  As in…the Tao of bao.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Sad, Sorry Saga of My Macarons

If you’re at all a “foodie” (Lord, but I really hate that term, ‘though I can’t for the life of me come up with an alternative), and unless you’ve been living in a cave or on an island in the Bering Sea, you must be aware of the Über-Trend that is the macaron.  Seriously, you can’t avoid them.  They’re the new bacon.  They’re everywhere.  Trendy bakeries in the “hip” sections of town.  Cookbooks by French pâtissiers.  Certainly ALLLLLLL over the Interwebs.  They're so in and hip, they're almost out.  Heck, they’re even in the freezer case at my local Trader Joe’s, so you KNOW they’re a) trendy, b) hip, c) buzz-worthy and d) borderline overhyped.

By the way, you may be noticing that I get a lot (a LOT) of my provisions at Trader Joe’s and probably wondering….”hmmmmm, could this chick cook without Trader Joe’s”?  Simple answer:  NO FREAKIN’ WAY.  Take just about any other of my usual haunts away from me, even rip my BevMo Rewards Club Card from my hands, but don’t mess with my Trader Joe’s.  I *heart* Trader Joe’s.  But, I know, what a surprise….I digress...

That’s a sure sign that a trend is peaking though, when it shows up at Trader Joe’s.  I first saw macarons in the freezer case about a year ago, and of course, because I am a trend-oid, and have to be the first with the newest, and having never seen them anywhere else I frequent, I snarfed up a box.  They were really, really good, and again, I had to think if they’re that good processed and frozen, they must be magical when made fresh, by loving, skilled hands, in a fantasmic, fairy-dust sprinkled kitchen.  Like mine.

Ummm.  Well, OK.  Realistically, the only thing my kitchen is sprinkled with is dog hair (sadly lacking in the fairy-dust department am I).  And, as I find out on a far, too regular a basis, my skill is frequently exceeded in spades by my hubris in assuming I have any kind of skillz (mad or otherwise) at all.

This is one of those stories, one where reality jumps up and slaps you upside the head and sets you down to beat some sense into you.  One where the magic disappears and not only do the wheels fall off, but the entire vehicle disintegrates around you.  I promised you all honesty in this blog, my entire cooking life, warts and all.

Well, kiddos, get out the Compound W, this is ugly.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Happy “Birth-A-Versary” Rosie !!

Permit me a small digression (which God knows, I NEVER do….) from your normally scheduled food-centric blog, to celebrate a most momentous day in my life.

Five years ago, today, on July 17, 2006, Princess Rosie came to her Forever Home, and entered the world (and heart) of her Mazziedog (that’d be me).

So, since I don’t know when the Princess was actually born, we’re calling it a “Birth-A-Versary” because it’s a combination BIRTHday and anniVERSARY for the Princess Rosie Dog.

I found her at the Long Beach, California animal shelter, operated jointly by the City of Long Beach and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Los Angeles (SpcaLA).  You’ll see a link to their website off to the right.  They do good work.

I was mourning the loss of my 14-year old black miniature poodle, Ella.  Who was a DIVA in every sense of the word.   I once had a friend who called her “Ella Fitzpoodle”, which was absolutely appropriate, since she was named for Ella Fitzgerald.  You could totally imagine my Ella in a sequined gown, hogging the spotlight.  I desperately needed another doggie soul to love and cherish and coddle.  And I found Princess Rosie.

Or rather…..she found me.  I seriously tried to walk away from her 3 times.  Literally had my hand on the front door of the building, but she kept pulling me back to see her again.  Part of the problem was that the shelter staff had pegged her as being 4 years old, and I’d wanted a younger dog.  But, after meeting her, I realized there was no way she was that old.  She was MAYBE, maybe, two at the most.  It was, as they say, a match made in Heaven.  Eventually.

She WAS initially very standoffish….didn’t seem too interested in me at all.  I was a little, well, disappointed.  But after knowing her, I came to realize it was because she is SO completely focused on HER PERSON.  She had totally bonded with the shelter’s staff.  She had no use for me, other than as another interesting person passing through her life.  She KNEW the staff, and they were HER PEOPLE.  Not this big ol’ stranger.  Probably had a lot to do with why no one else wanted her.

She’d been in the shelter for almost 2 months.  Picked up as a stray, they held her for 10 days waiting for someone to claim her.  No one did.  Then they put her up for adoption, and for 6 weeks no one wanted this sweet, gentle little girl.

Or maybe….just maybe….karma was saving her for me.  I like to think that’s what happened.

The staff brought her out into a little play area for me to meet her, and she basically spent the whole time trying to charm the volunteer.  But then, I sat down on the grass, and she loped over and buried her head in my lap, and then flopped over on her back, and gave me her tummy to rub.

Well, I was smitten.  I signed the papers post haste, and she was sent off the next day to be spayed.  The following day, a Monday, I picked her up from the animal hospital after I got off work.  She was ecstatic to see me again, and seemed to know that something good was happening.  I gently settled her into the passenger seat of my car (she had an owie tum-tum after all), and kept talking to her and stroking her head as I drove the 5 or so miles home.  When we got there, she sort of looked around, and I swear I saw her smile.  She seemed to look me in the eyes and say “I’m safe now, aren’t I ?  I’m home.”

And so she was.  My regal, prissy, prim, *good girl* (with a deep, deep mischievous streak, Rosie stay OUT of the trash and leave the drapes alone), Princess Rosie.

And was she, in fact, younger than what the shelter thought? Yep, I'm pretty sure she was no more than two, maybe even younger. About 6 months after I brought her home, my soul friend Judi visited with her husband and her then 9-year old granddaughter. Who took one look at Rosie tearing around the house and yard at warp speed, tossing stuffed squeeekie toys in her wake and very, very seriously announced "Rosie's had too much sugar !" What was that line about the mouths of babes....?

I honestly don’t know who saved whom.  I think it’s a toss-up.  I’ve had dogs all my life, starting when I was about 5 or so.  I’ve never had a dog that loves me as completely as Rosie does.  It’s a constant amazement to me.  And I try, every day, to live up to that total devotion, and be the person she thinks I am.

I get to rub that tummy a lot now.  Because now *I’M* her person.  She’s Mazzie’s little sucky, clingy dog, and that’s how we both like it.  She’s friendly, she likes to meet new people, and she’ll charm the socks off of you, but she’s definitely Mazzie’s girl, and after you’ve ruffled her ears, and scratched her chin, she comes straight back over and lays on my feet.  I’m her person.  And she’s my Princess.

She even puts up with me when I do this to her:

Or this:

And she tolerates Lulu The Goober, even when Lulu decides Rosie’s her new favorite chewie toy.

Thanks for putting up with this brief digression from food.  But all y’all need to know what’s important to me, and Rosie certainly is.  Supremely.

And don’t worry.  There’ll be another one of these in September when The Goober has HER Birth-A-Versary.

We now return you to Foodie Central, direct from the little kitchen !

Oh, and by the way.  When I went to save this in Word, the default file name that came up was “Happy”.  Which I thought, was completely appropriate.  Because I certainly am, happy that is, and I know Princess Rosie is too.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Get Your Grill On

Ah, yesssss.  ‘Tis Summah time, and the livin’ is easy.  Or should be, lest you  raise a sweat and begin to, shall we say, *glow* in the summer heat and humidity.

OK, true confessions time.  This has been, for the second year in a row, an uncommonly cool and cloudy summer here in SoCal.  NOT THAT I’M COMPLAINING.  Not at all.  I tend to get cranky when the temperature gets too much above about 85°, and downright surly and churlish (LOVE that word) when it approaches triple digits.  So mid-seventies to low eighties is just ducky by me.  Granted, my roses look a bit forlorn and ratty, they do like their hot days and clear nights, and my tomatoes were damned slow to set and ripen, but me, I’m diggin’ my very cool Left Coast Summer and hope it lasts.

The rest of you, especially those in the middle of the U.S., babe, I feel for ya.  I see the news reports, and, having spent my early years in Chicago, and having visited the South and D.C. in the summer, I sure don’t envy you.  And I hope all y’all get some relief soon.  I’d love to send you my marine layer.  Some screwy weather going on for sure…

Anyway, for most of us, even those of us still sleeping under a blankie (with two hermetically attached fuzz bombs), in Mid-July, Summer certainly means grilling, because who the heck wants to turn on an oven, or heat up a range-top when the mercury’s about to blow out the top of the thermometer like it used to in the Loony Tunes.  (Do they still even PUT mercury in thermometers any longer?  I’d bet not….hazmat and all that stuff…but again, I digress.)

No single day, of course, speaks more to grilling and cooking outdoors than the 4th of July.  Here’s what went down in the little kitchen, and the larger patio, for that commemoration of our Independence.  As you can guess by the header shot, there was an adult beverage (or 2….maybe 3) involved and these guys made an appearance….

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Next Installment of The “Way Back Machine” Recipes

This one is so absurdly, ridiculously stupid simple, I feel almost guilty posting about it.  Almost.

About guilt…see, first of all, I try to make it a rule not to feel guilty too often.  It’s not good for the disposition, and it gives you heartburn (or worse).  I’m also pretty shameless….I admit to enjoying the occasional frozen pizza, fast food hamburger and Blue Box Mac & Cheese (with the squeezy cheeze goo though, not the orange powdery stuff).  And all of that is guilt-free (see first rule, immediately above).  And I'm not above the occasional meal of Spam (it's a taste memory what can I say), or hot dogs with canned chili (ditto....).  And I do likes me my share of quick-'n'-dirty (read EASY) one pot meals.

Like this one.

All of which, could, admittedly, be guilt-inducing, if I allowed myself to feel guilty about such non-monumental things.

But, finally, what saves this post from a one-way ticket to Guilt City is that the pasta tastes REALLY really good when it’s done.  The flavors mesh together in a delightful, tangy creamy sauce that is surprisingly hearty and spicy, but not so “blow your socks off” hot that kids wouldn’t love it. Add in the bonus that the dish comes together in about half an hour, and is also ridiculously, stupid cheap to make, and there’s not a shred of any kind of guilt that needs to come anywhere close to this recipe, or your dinner plate when you make it.  With some decent bread (I made my knock-off "*M* Grill" rosemary bread) and a nicely made green salad (with homemade dressing), it was a delightful, guest-worthy meal with very little fuss and muss.

This is another dish I used to make ALL THE TIME many moons ago, and then, for some reason, just stopped.  Dunno why, it just fell out of the rotation, I guess as I went off chasing the newest, bestest, latest, trendiest trend.  Or something.  It is, however, time to resurrect, “Roberta’s Pasta with 3Ps”.

Erm, the “Ps” would be “p”epperoni, “p”epperoncini and roasted “p”eppers.  Carry on, then.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Who You Callin' A Fougasse?

According to the unimpeachable source that is Wikipedia (snarky, me…why ever would you think so….?), “fougasse” is defined as follows:  In French cuisine, fougasse is a type of bread typically associated with Provence but found (with variations) in other regions. Some versions are sculpted or slashed into a pattern resembling an ear of wheat”.

Well.  Aren’t you glad you asked?  I know *I* sure am.

What that definition, accurate though it may be (technically) doesn’t tell you is that fougasse is damn tasty, and damn easy to make, even if the recipe tells you the dough is going to be more of a batter than a dough, and will be very soft and sticky and stretchy and clingy (sort of like a couple of dogs I know, well, the soft and clingy part at least….) and you’ll have a hard time shaping it into anything that resembles a loaf of flatbread that has a “pattern resembling an ear of wheat”.

Phew.  I even lost my self there in that ramble.  Sorry about that.

All that was my attempt to explain why it took me so damn long to make this recipe (I’d originally clipped a version of it from the November 2009 "Bon Appétit").  The recipe, by Dorie Greenspan, whom I love, read as though you needed to be a Ph.D. in bread baking to make the thing.  And I’m not, not by a long shot.  But it sounded SOOOOOOO GOOD !  I mean, black olives, rosemary and a hint of orange zest, in a crispy, yeasty flatbread.  Sounds like seriously good eats to me.  And so the recipe kept calling to me, and calling to me, and calling to me, and finally I broke down and decided to give it a try.

What’s the worst that could happen?  I waste a morning in the little kitchen and some ingredients.  Nothing I’ve not done before on manys an occasion (ohhhhhh, you’ll be seeing a real splendid failure coming up in the near future.  It was a doozy.)  And if it worked….well, I’d have a nice loaf of bread to nibble on, and that’s always a plus.

And, like most things that I’ve “pulled on my big girl pants” to try recently, it wasn’t all that hard.  And it wasn’t that difficult (at all) to make a pretty respectably shaped and slashed fougasse.

One that had a flavor that was out of this world.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What We Won’t Make For Ourselves (but should)

If, as I, you are usually cooking for just yourself, or one other person, there are a lot of dishes that are “Too Much Trouble To Make”.  Or…”Too Fussy For *Just* Me”.  Or…”Too Fancy For Everyday”.

You know those dishes, we all do.  We look longingly at the recipes for gazpachos and paellas and soufflés and such and think “next time I have people over, I’m doing this !”  Or, maybe someday I’ll throw a party and make that !

But we never get around to those dishes, or those occasions.  We throw the party, and people clamor for our lasagna, green salad and garlic bread.  We have those people over, and they want our hot dogs stuffed with salsa and wrapped in cornbread.  We hold off on that crown roast of pork or truffled pasta for a “special occasion” and when that occasion hits (new job, new house, new significant other, new baby, fuzzy *or* human), we go out for drinks and dinner.

And so the dishes that are “Too Much Trouble To Make”, or “Too Fussy For Just Me”, or “Too Fancy For Everyday” fall by the wayside.  And they shouldn’t.

I’m here to tell you that most of them (well OK, the crown roast of pork probably isn’t really such a winning option for one person), but MOST of them, are not only ultimately doable for one, but totally doable most nights, and can turn the average OK day into something special.

Actually something VERY special.