Thursday, November 29, 2012

A soupçon of soup's on

I went to bed completely done in by 12 hours mostly on my feet preparing, delivering, and serving a Mexican buffet for 30 persons. It was an excellent gig for my fledgling catering biz, which has had a bit of a dry spell of late. I was so tired when I got home after an hour in the van, which included getting back to DC from a distant suburb, dropping off my assistant and scooting home, that I almost could not walk from the garage to the house. To make matters more challenging, my beloved Scooper (the King Charles Spaniel, who is older than kitty litter) got me up at 4 am. His body has no clue what the end of daylight saving time means (oh, and did I mention that he's blind and deaf?) Got him out to pee, got him his breakfast, got a glass of juice, sat on the sofa for a bit and then lay down and managed to doze off. I think that hour of dozing was entirely in REM sleep and I awoke remembering that I had been dreaming of cooking and, holy cow, even what it was I was cooking: a six course meal consisting entirely of soups. Once I was fully awake I began writing down some of what I remembered. I don't think I finished the meal inside of the dream. But, no matter. The idea resonates with me and I will gather to together my squad of tasters early in 2013 for a sampling and critiquing.

Now I know that a dinner of all soups is odd enough itself, but with an international flair? Them's fightin' words. I ended up tinkering with the specifics if not with the overall concept to represent 7 countries with the 6 soups (Republican book-keeping I think it's called). Read through them and you'll get it. Even though all these soups are to be served hot (it's winter after all), I still think it's a cool idea. (And I know my witticisms are those of an eternal sophomore.)

With the exception of the first course, the broth of each soup will be poured over the other ingredients at the table, lending a certain class-oise to the occasion.

I like to begin with an amuse bouche. The one I dreamed up is to be a shooter (in a shot glass) of miso. Obviously it is representing Japan.

The next course would logically be an appetizer. I chose escarole as a component of a salad soup. It has a nice crunch and a hint of bitterness that could be counterbalanced with some paper-thin slices of radish and mushroom. In order to tie this to France I will add court bouillon to it at serving.

A soup course (of course) could precede or follow the salad. Here comes Greece with avgolemono soup, made with rice and chicken and a lemony broth.

It's time now for the main courses: I will present a meat and some seafood. Here they come:

Oxtail soup from Germany

Italy's cioppino

He's not done yet, Myrtle. There must be a dessert lurking out there.

Indeed there is a dessert. It will hint of America and Mexico. I call it ...

Fudgesicle Tres leches soup with creamsicle balls

Those who are familiar with Mexican cuisine (also known as grub), know that the "three milks" are condensed, evaporated, and heavy cream. Some years ago I re-created the beloved creamsicle flavor of my youth (with the help of some SunnyD). Believe it or not, fudgesicles are still made.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gold Medal Pork Medallions

We have a winner!

Put these on a ribbon and hang them around my neck as the first prize awarded at the Pork Lovers Convention of Peoria/Pretoria/Pittsburgh/Pittstown and Pittsfield.

Had enough? Yea, so have I. Brine your pork tenderloin for 4 hours, rinse it, dry it and rub it with glee (and spices): equal parts cumin, espresso powder, garlic powder; and 1/2 part paprika (smoke 'em if you got 'em); 1/2 part wasabi powder. Let the pork sit at room temp for an hour if you have the time. Saute over medium high in butter and olive oil - side one til you see the sides of the medallions showing some signs of cooking coming up from the bottom; side two until 145 degrees is achieved (maybe 3 minutes) ... any higher than that and you should simply not use this recipe.

In case you are wondering, yes, this was one of the finest things I have cooked in many a moon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fish cakes redux

No dux were hurt during the preparation of this dish.

I've made a bunch of fish cakes since my last post of them. Never, I mean never folks, have they been this good. Food process 8 oz shrimp and 10-12 oz white fish (I had swai) along with 2 egg whites, and a few chopped scallions. With wet hands, form 6 patties and coat them with the most special bread crumbs you can come up with (I made some from leftover Pillsbury buttermilk biscuits). Salt and pepper them to taste and fry in 1/4 inch oil about 2 minutes per side. They were crispy on the out ... soft and delicate at the in.

One of the things I've discovered is that I like my cakes to be less shrimp than white fish (flounder, catfish - both are good - swai is better).

Monday, November 12, 2012

Black beans - Music please, maestro

Yes, it's corny sophomoric humor, and I may not be a junior any more; but I refuse to be a senior (except in the actuarial tables).

I avoid cooking dried beans most of the time, but caved in to the idea while shopping at my favorite Hispanic market the other day. Heck, these dark-skinned little devils are cheap, nutritious and tasty. Somewhere in the Google-verse I found a recipe that included a bunch of stuff to add after the cooking is done.

I didn't write down the measurements (that would be so Food Network). I just added a lot of the stuff I knew I liked and less of anything questionable. The slightly citrus-y cast the beans took on from the orange flavor and vinegar was really nice. And with my beloved fluffy white rice as a vehicle on which to serve them, these beans made my meal.

Add some or all: garlic (while the beans are cooking is a good idea), garlic powder, cumin, black pepper, salt, dried oregano, SunnyD (or orange juice if your nose is in the air), lime juice, EVOO, rice wine vinegar.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Kimchi, a little dab'll do ya

When I espied a beautiful large head of napa cabbage at the market yesterday I knew it was destined to become kimchi. If you don't know what kimchi is, you will now understand the value of wikipedia (but only if you go there).

I was well into adulthood (I hear some friends snickering) before I could appreciate this preserved vegetable concoction. It's a perfect diet food (I know, I know, I promised not to mention the diet every day, but the early days are the easiest - you lose some water - and 4 pounds I might add). Hardly any calories to speak of, no fat, some spice (to taste), and a side dish/condiment that will last all winter in your fridge.

There are as many ways to make kimchi as there are to make chili or potato salad. I've made it maybe a dozen times, and never the same way twice. The napa is chopped and salted (maybe 2 Tbs total for the entire head), weighted down in a bowl and left overnight. (It's a good idea to cover it with a towel to keep out any detritus floating around your house.) Then drain and save the salty water that will have accumulated. Add other vegetation (scallions, carrots, and radishes for me). Add something spicy. I use chili/garlic paste. Toss the whole thing thoroughly, taste it for spice and adjust as you see fit, re-cover it and, except for tossing it once daily, leave it alone for one week. Now refrigerate it and start noshing it as you desire.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A too heavy subject

Sunday, November 4, 2012

How do I diet? Let me count the weight.
Must reduce calories by hundred times eight.
To know what to stick to, there must be a plan.
Will I glom onto it? Don’t know if I can.

In for a penny, or in for a pound;
Not an aphorism that seems awfully sound.
Were I single I’d not have a date.
Must succeed or I’ll soon be called “late.”  

How I wish this was not necessary, but since quitting smoking a bit more than 18 months ago I have steadily and slowly gained nearly 20 pounds. I’ve been eating like a wanton (better that it should have been a wonton) and of late inhaling large servings of ice cream after dinner. This afternoon I filled my shopping bag with some things I will transform into snackables tomorrow. I regret that the ice cream must go by the wayside for some time to come.

My goal is to pare away the 20 lbs over the remainder of November and then during December. I hereby make a New Year’s resolution: I will eat ice cream on Jan. 1, but not a day before.

Below I am sharing with you a few of my ideas for stuff in that snackables category I referred to.

Begin the Terrine – layers of zucchini, chayote squash and cubanelle peppers with some low fat sour cream, part-skim mozzarella, salt and pepper (paprika for color). I’ll poach the chayote and the cubanelles a bit to reduce them to a texture more or less compatible with the zucchini. Then weigh the whole thing down (in a glass loaf pan by the way) and bake it for 30-40 minutes. As I contemplate this idea I am full of the milk of human self-doubt. Will this work? (It worked.)

Splenda-id Cucumber Salad - my mother liked to slice up some cukes and douse them with vinegar and sugar. In my case I had a boatload of pickling liquid from my dills, which welcomed some Splenda as a counterbalance.

Orange Junius (my title; the Julius version is no doubt under copyright) – This will be carrot/dried apricot salad dressed sensibly, i. e. no mayonnaise. I’m thinking some rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, pepper and Chinese Shiaoxing cooking wine. My little food processor does a fine job of shredding veggies. While the photo shows raisins, I found that dried apricots have 1/2 the calories. And I love them. Do I need better reasons?

Egg flower soup - broth, egg and peas. Other than a bit of seasoning that's all this requires. When the egg is drizzled into simmering broth which has been stirred into a mini-vortex, it "flowers" beautifully.

I'm pleased with how these innocuous thingies turned out. I promise not to talk about my weight everyday for the remainder of November and during the month of December. I'll save my crowing for January 1, when I will be eating ice cream and lobster.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Breaking news! "Slider gets a home run"

A baseball axiom - never slide into first base.

When I saw the Pillsbury buttermilk biscuits on sale at 59 cents for a container, I wrestled an elderly lady to the floor for the last one.

30 percent off on some top sirloin wasn't a bad deal either (except that Scooper got into the package and ate part of it while I was pumping gas. I wrestled him for what I could get back and used it for my burgers). As Julia would say, "You would too, you know."

Carmelized onions, Swiss cheese, little burger-ettes on those savory biscuits - a bit of heaven in not-so-heavenly DC.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Pop goes the pork chop (into the microwave)

You've got 20 minutes and your time starts now!

Tonight I felt I was the sole contestant on "Chopped," competing against myself to get a 3-course meal on the table in front of both myself and my spouse, Peter.

Contrary to my usual MO I researched microwaved pork chops via Google. I saw numerous recipes, every one of which called for a cook time at least four times as long as I deemed necessary. I had brined these suckers for 4 hours - I wanted them tender - I didn't want the meat to seize up the way it does in a frying pan - they were only 1/2" thick for Pete's sake.

Paprika gave the thin little devils some color; no salt was needed due to the brining; a bit of garlic powder and black pepper rounded out the flavor profile. Now stand back for the cook time, bearing in mind that I was doing two 5-6 oz bone-in chops.

1 minute 30 seconds on each side (they were uncovered on a plate). Then, covered, a 5 minute rest period. From now on I may never cook pork chops any other way. Tender and tasty and tantalizing and terrifyingly good. (Can a pork chop be alliterative?)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The potato, the mung bean, and the fried cake

 No, this is not a pre-quel to "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes." No tomatoes were harmed in the making of this dish. (One dog did turn himself completely inside out trying to jump onto the stove.)

Dramatis personae: a potato, microwaved in anticipation of Sandy coming for dinner; one cup of mung beans supplied by Whole Foods without yours truly having a clue what to do with them; a bit of onion and a bit of green bell pepper; an egg; a bit of hunger.

Many years ago I was fond of sprouting mung beans between damp paper towels. I got over that.

The mungs cook fairly quickly: about 20 minutes in 3 parts broth to 1 part beans. They do not require soaking. (Heck, I should have put a whole slew of beans out to soak during the hurricane.)

If I had it to do over, I'd call this "fun food part one." (Oh, did I mention the 1/3 cup of sour cream?)

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