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, October 26, 2011

Of Pot Roasts And Physics

A week or so back, the weather in Lotus Land was conducive to a pot roast.  (Remind me to expound at some point about how completely whacked the Southern California weather has been this year….or not.)  At any rate, it felt “Fall-ish” and I was in the mood for big-time comfort food, which of course, pot roast exemplifies.

Now.  When I was a snot-nosed kid, I *hated* pot roast.  Just loathed it…….dunno what the heck my problem was.

Well, actually, I think it was an overload of “good, solid, Midwestern meat and potatoes” meals when I was growing up.  God knows, my mother tried, tried, to inject some variety and some *gasp* SPICE into her cooking, but Daddy, well, Daddy didn’t like much of anything that didn’t sit on his plate and declare itself in a loud voice as being “BEEF” and “POTATOES”.  OK, pork was allowed (if it was in chop/ham/bacon form) and chicken made the cut (breasts only, please, never a whole and roasted bird).  And rice and noodles were OK.  Noodles only, please.  Pasta?  Come on, them there’s foreign.  Spaghetti and meatballs (and very, very occasionally, when we were livin’ on the edge, spaghetti and Italian sausage and peppers) were OK.  Tacos were most absolutely NOT OK.  Nor was lasagna.  Chili was acceptable, so long as it was ground beef, canned kidney beans and canned tomatoes.  Light on the onions and garlic.  NO fresh chiles.  A dusting of chile powder (mild) would pass muster.  I hated that stuff too.

My poor mother.  She was open to experimentation, and loved to cook.  Finally, when I got to be a snot-nosed young adult, she took to making two meals.  She’d cook a roast or stew or a pot of spice-less chili for Daddy, and then she and I would have tacos or manicotti or enchiladas or whatever.  Trust me, for us, in the day, THAT was exotic !  It actually worked out fine, especially once I started cooking and would take over making dinner for Mom and me.  Compromise, baby.  It’s what it’s all about.

But back to pot roast.  I actually used to tell my Mom when she cooked it, that I couldn’t understand how pot roast could smell so good when it was cooking, but taste so blah when it was done.  Maybe my snot-nosed palate couldn’t appreciate the beauty that braised meat becomes when cooked properly.  Maybe my Mom’s recipes sucked (onion soup mix anyone?).  Who knows?  But in my advancing dotage, I’ve certainly come to not only appreciate the delights of a pot of braised, succulent meat in a silky, savory sauce (braised beef short ribs are my absolute favorite, death-bed type meal), but to respect it and anticipate it.

Marry that with some (yes) potatoes, creamy and smashed, and well, it’s pretty much Nirvana (not to mention comfort and warmth) on a plate.

And…as an extra added bonus (insert wild applause here), we learn a lesson in physics !  YAY us, especially considering again, I never actually, technically *passed* a college-level math class.  Nor a college-level (ok, fine, even a HIGH-SCHOOL level) physical science class.  But I rocked in the biological sciences……does that count?  I think it does.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pickle Me This

So, this is going to be an almost picture-free post.  Why, you may ask (come on, I can hear you asking…..).  Well.  For a couple of reasons.  First, I again, really didn’t think the outcome was going to be worthy of a photographic extravaganz-o of the steps and preparation and mise en place that went with making these delightful little nummies.

More importantly (she says, looking sheepish and sort of embarrassed), I didn’t think I’d like the output enough to want to share them with all y’all.

Frankly, I was just looking for a reason to be able to throw away excess, rapidly decomposing produce without feeling guilty about it.

I figured…….I got teeeeeny-tiny green tomatoes off of my valiant plant that would a) never ripen and b) never grow large enough to bread and fry.  I *could* just toss them into the trash now, or….*FLASH OF BRILLIANCE*….I could pickle them and then throw them into the trash when I realize I hate the finished product.  Why, the latter is the obviously more attractive option !  No shame in tossing something that sucks, as opposed to tossing something that rots because you can’t figure out what the hell else to do with it.

Same deal-io with the zucchini.  I had a surfeit from The Growing Experience.  I stuffed ‘em, I roasted ‘em to toss into pasta, I grilled ‘em, I ate ‘em as crudités.  I was getting done with zucchini….(and I have another 2 giant specimens in my crisper as I type….zucchini fritters are up for later in the week….).  So for those zukes starting to get a little long gone on the Road To Slimy….let’s try a zucchini pickle and I can toss them with a clear conscience, since they will clearly suck because, well, homemade pickles are…..A Project.

Oh, and the radishes.  Bought ‘em.  Forgot about them.  In the pickle frenzy thought….ehhhhh, why not.  For the same reason.   To far gone to leave too much longer in the crisper.  Not fitting in the delightful may-new (thanks, Julia) plans for the week.  Why not…..PICKLE ‘em ?!?!?  So I can then toss them with no tsuris.

Well, why not ?  Hmmmmmm.  First up.  Pickling, as I said is a “PROJECT”.  Canning jars.  Jar lifters.  A huge, HUGE vat ‘o’ boiling water into which you which you drop those canning jars, and lids, and rings, and *gasp*…..sterilize them !  Now, I know enough about microbiology to know that I shouldn’t be messing around with this stuff.  After all, I never actually, technically, passed a college-level math class.  Add in the fact that you’re usually doing all this canning stuff in the dead of summer, when the humidity is 90-plus percent, and the temperatures are 100-plus degrees, and *I* have no air-conditioning, and well, that doesn’t sound like a good time in Cow-Town for me.

I’d much rather be sitting on the verandah sipping a tall, iced, cool, delightful adult beverage, fanning myself gently with a lace fan and charming the pants, errrrr, socks off of the Tarleton Twins……(raise your hand if you got the “Gone With The Wind” reference….).

But I digress…..

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Loaf Of Bread, A Pot Of Soup, And Thou….(and, please God, let’s not forget the wine !!)

Last week, we had a blessed (but lamentably brief) blast of actual Fall weather here in SoCal.  It was LOVELY.  It was chilly.  It rained, one day in just a short, fierce, burst, which faded into a real chill in the air, and the next in a sustained, day-long, gentle shower that made that lovely sound of rain falling from the eaves.  I loved it.  It made me feel as though I actually lived in a place that has *SEASONS* (well, other than smog, fire, flood and urban unrest…..).  I actually put on a pair of sweat pants.  I actually toyed with the idea of turning on the heater (which usually doesn’t happen until around Thanksgiving).  I actually toyed with the idea of building a fire in the fireplace.

Sadly, it didn’t last long.  Today was 102° in my little burg.  A new record for October 12 !  Yay us.  Or not.  My kitchen is still unbearable at 9:30 at night.  Luckily, I *DIDN’T* make the pot roast I’d planned for today…..

But last week, last week was lovely.  Knowing early on in the week that rain was forecast, and feeling the change in the weather, I had the bright idea to make soup and bread on that rainy Wednesday.  I had gotten that adorable little butternut squash in my CSA share the week before, (the one in the “décor photo” for the blog this month) and when I saw it, hoped it would soon be cool enough for me to make this delightful red chile and winter squash soup I’d discovered last year.  And really, what could be better with homemade soup than homemade bread.  Just the thing to warm the heart (and the soul), not to mention the kitchen, on a drizzly, coolish (OK, full disclosure….when I say there was a chill, it was like 65°, for SoCal, that’s a chill) autumnal Wednesday.

Sadly, I also attempted to make a fig tart with what I suspect was the last of this season’s figs.  I say sadly because, well, it was a mess.  You won’t be seeing pictures or a description of that.  I had high hopes for it, I’d made it last year and it was pretty spectacular.  It’s a brown-butter custard poured over halved fresh figs, which are layered in a “deep-dish” tart pan.  For what ever reason this time out, the custard never wanted to set.  Maybe because I did two layers of figs.  Maybe because I put the tart pan (actually my spring-form cake pan) on another baking sheet to contain any leaks (which I didn’t do last year).  Maybe it was the Kitchen Karma biting me in the butt.  Who knows?  But after cooking the damnable thing THREE TIMES longer than the recipe called for, when I stuck a knife in the middle, it was still liquid.

Damn.  I hate when that happens….

I did eat one slice (small), and while it was not gag-inducing (now there’s a ringing endorsement, isn’t it?), it was also not what I’d call good.  So the rest of the miserable mess sleeps at the bottom of the trash can, after languishing in the fridge for three or four days until I killed my guilt over tossing it.

As I said, we won’t be seeing that, nor discussing it any longer.  Move along people, nuthin’ more to talk about here.

Let’s move onto a beautifully successful soup and a flavorful, hearty loaf of hearth bread, shall we?  Works for me….

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Continuing Chronicles Of The Lost Recipes…

Sometimes, sometimes……you just gots to take the easy way out.  Somedays, the magic in the little kitchen is just rolling.  I mean, *ROLLING*.  I am on fie-yah, baby.  I’m like Harry Potter with the Elder Wand in his hand (sorry, just finished reading The Deathly Hallows, and watched the first half of the movie over the weekend….I guess I’ve been “Potter-ized”).  Everything I touch just…works.  Pita bread from scratch ?  But of course !  Handmade corn tortillas that would make an abuelita proud ?  No hay problema !  Pierogies that would bring a tear to the eye of my Polish babushka ?  Routinely !  Cookies, and cakes, and stews, and roasts, and braises, and breads…..OH MY !  I can DO that.  I *DO* do that !

But somedays, (yes, I realize that’s not a real word, but its how I talk, so therefore how I write), somedays the train just doesn’t ever leave the station.  The ship never sails.  The horse never leaves the barn.  Insert the no-go metaphor of your choice here.  In other words, I’m the little engine that couldn’t in the little kitchen.

Rather than resort to the evil pizza delivery Megalopolies (which really don’t sell very good pizza, do they) or the even eviler Golden Arches, or the shame of the Blue Box ‘O’ Cheeze Goo, I go back to my neophyte cook roots, and go for the easy route and the “what can I pull out of the pantry using good quality packaged stuff” meal.

I….I….(twitch, shudder, twitch)…become…..Semi-Homemade (AARRRRRGGGGHHHH, there I’ve said it).

Confession is always such a difficult thing, isn’t it ?  But so freeing once it’s out there.  Now.  I don’t do this often.  Most days I am a firm believer in fresh and local and seasonal and scratch.  Because I have come to learn that those elements make a dish taste better.  Good ingredients treated respectfully and well, lead to good meals.  Pretty simple equation.  And now that I have the luxury of time, much more achievable than when I was working 50-plus hours a week.

But some days, quick and dirty (not to mention easy) works just groovy, and in this instance, the results are more than adequate.  In fact, they’re pretty damned good.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Saying Goodbye To Those Tomatoes

No matter where you are in the country, as we’ve established, the weather is turning towards the inevitable chill.  Even if you are lucky enough to live in an area with mild winters, as I do, the simple shortening of the days and the diminishing sunlight is changing the way the local plants and crops behave.  There just aren't enough warm, relatively close, rays of The Great Star to ripen those summer fruits and veg and bring them to their full glory now.  Add in the cool-ish evenings, which we’re getting even here in SoCal, and it’s time to not only put away the flip-flops and shorts, but also the recipes for peaches and cherries and berries and corn and zucchini, and, *snifffffff* tomatoes.

I know that some super-duper MegaMaster gardeners have managed to have tomato plants overwinter, and even bear some fruit, but me, I’m happy to have mine survive the summer and bear fruit when they’re supposed to.  And sad though I am about it, I have to admit my glut of tomatoes has dwindled to a trickle, and I will probably pull the last of them off the vine tomorrow.  Too soon it will be back to the hothouse grape tomatoes (which are the only ones worth buying off season as far as I can tell).

It’s also time to reconcile ourselves to the fact that some of the later-set fruit will, unfortunately, never ripen.

So, it’s time to make some fried green tomatoes, I say !  If you’re lucky enough to live in the Southern States, those below the Mason-Dixon Line, and not the "Western" Southern States, I hear tell that all y’all are lucky enough to actually be able to purchase green tomatoes for this delicacy.  Even at the MegaMarts.  We here in Botox-land are not so lucky.  I think I’ve seen green tomatoes available commercially a grand total of once, at a farmer’s market.  It wasn’t until I started growing tomatoes myself that I was able to sample this Southern treat, and see what all the big whup was about.

Now, I honestly think I grow tomatoes as much for my three or four rounds of fried green tomatoes every season as I do for the final, ripe product.

OK, maybe not, but I still have become addicted to these tart, crispy little bundles of goodness.  Especially when served with a spicy shrimp rémoulade.  Yeah, baby.  That’s what I’m talkin’ about.