27 February 2009

Spring Garden Update

Screw you economy! Optimism thrives!

When life forbids you from making tamales, make a casserole

I've been craving tamales for a few weeks now, but I just don't have the time to devote to cooking lately. Midterm I start to lose a little steam and get just a tad crabby, so when I develop a craving for something, I WANT IT NOW. I guess you could say this casserole version of chicken tamales is a deconstruction of the classic, but really I like to think of it as inside out tamales with a couple extra gooey treats. It isn't even close to the authentic tastiness that is the tamale, but it does the late winter trick.

The recipe can be found here. For a vegetarian version of this dish, I've used black beans instead of meat before, and it came out just as yummy with an added fiber bonus. Just remember to pat the beans dry beforehand or the cornbread layer will become soggy from too much moisture.

The ingredients, mostly. Enchilada sauce (I love homemade, but alas! no time!), cornbread mix, creamed corn (sometimes I use fresh if I need to use up my frozen supply), green chilies, egg substitute, crushed red pepper and cumin. Not pictured: shredded cheese, fat free half and half (sub for milk), and shredded chicken thigh meat.

The wet ingredients before baking

The cornbread layer after its first baking


Pardon my Ziploc--I bring hubby his dinner at work....

25 February 2009

Another recession meal

Another cheap meal I often make is almost vegetarian and very cheap. Miso soup (I add udon because I love the texture of the noodles in the soup) and stir fried veggies is not only cost-effective, but a great way to clean out your fridge. Whenever I need to use up my base veggies like carrots, scallions, courgettes, etc., I take out my trusty miso paste. Miso paste, for those of you who live in the Moscow/Pullman area, can be found at the Moscow Co-Op for pretty cheap--I think I bought mine for $4.99.

I'm not sure I liked miso the first time I tasted it in an aubergine side dish. In fact, I'm pretty sure I wrinkled my nose and didn't try a second bite. This rarely ever happens to me, considering I am perhaps the least picky eater on this earth. As an aside, once I found a piece of a band-aid in my hash browns at a rather questionable establishment, and I ate around it. I was hungry. What can I say? I was a waitress in less than fancy restaurants for too long--you tend to get over yourself quite quickly in that segment of the workforce.

Right. Back to miso. The second time I tasted this umami-filled treat was at a Japanese restaurant many years ago. The delicate but powerful soup was my favorite part of the meal, and soon after that visit I began regularly buying miso for home. There are many different types of this fermented soybean paste, but I have to say my favorite is genmai, or brown rice miso. It's earthy, a little smoky but not overpowering. While traditionally the soup is made by combining the paste with dashi, a broth made by simmering wakame (sea kelp) in water, I usually also add chicken stock or broth along with the requisite wakame for a touch of extra flavor (I imagine this can easily be substituted for the traditional plain dashi or even veggie stock/broth). I also add cubed extra firm tofu, a handful of matchstick carrots and scallions cut on the diagonal. I add the fully cooked udon last and am very diligent these days in making sure I remember to do this, as one time I placed it in the pot and then took a twenty minute phone call. Brilliant move.

Stir frying veggies doesn't have to be an exact science or draw upon more than a few ingredients. I usually fry leftover veggies from other dishes in sesame oil, a few cloves of minced garlic, a dash of soy sauce and a generous dash of oyster sauce. Some might prefer to serve the veggies over rice given the cost effectiveness of rice, but then I wouldn't have udon in my soup....*stomps foot* I LOVE MY UDON! It too is pretty darn cost effective, particularly if you buy it in bulk at the Co-Op like I do.

I only use about 4 tbs. in each batch (about 10 cups of water and stock), but this tub keeps in the fridge for up to a few months. I mean, it is a fermented paste after all...

Veggies. Are you calculating how cheap this is??!!

I cheated on my dried udon this week and opted for a package of udon on clearance in the refrigerated section...

It really is that easy.

Eating my veggies, mom!

24 February 2009

Spaghetti Carbonara, or Recession Pasta My Way

I'm a big fan of pasta, and I'm an even bigger fan of cheap pasta. In these "troubled times" I've found more and more that these two qualifications are just enough to lure folks over to the dark side of simplicity. I place "troubled times" in quotations because really: a) I've never been a big spender. I don't subscribe to cable and I don't own any fancy electronics (I still have no clue how to use an Ipod); b) I'm a grad student in the humanities, so being paid less than the poverty level isn't really new to me. What the hell does that mean? Well, I've always cooked with a miserly set of mind, and if I can fit this dish into my cheap budget, then it's golden. Hello Recession Pasta!!

So to begin, five or six slices of cheap or really good bacon will work just the same, at least to this starving home cook. I used a nice thick cut from the Moscow Co-Op, but I usually don't buy meat from the Co-Op. Anything will do really.

Chop your bacon into pieces and then fry it up. Once it's done (I never time this) remove from pan and drain on a paper towel. Reserve about 2 tbs. of bacon grease and pour out the rest (I save the rest for Sunday morning potatoes!). Turn off heat and then re-heat to about a medium heat, and add one chopped onion. Once the onion is just about translucent, add two or three minced garlic cloves and reduce heat to medium low. Then add about a pound of cooked pasta (I use whole grain for nutrition, but any thin spaghetti will work--I've even used farfalle before) and toss to coat with the bacon grease. Add bacon, 3 beaten eggs, 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese (I used Romano because it adds a depth that Parmesan can't for my tastes), a handful of frozen peas and 2 tbs. chopped fresh flat leaf parsley. Toss to coat and cook over medium low heat for a few minutes, or just until the eggs set.

Note: I often beat the eggs beforehand with the cheese and parsley and let it sit to room temp. It helps to ensure the eggs don't overcook.

Mmmmmmmm bacon.

Fully combined and ready for consumption.....and fully ready for CHEAP consumption.

Environmentally Conscious Food Journalism

I love this link. If ever I felt like a spoiled American, that moment has been humbly deepened. I link to all of you a seven-photo essay on the pragmatics of food consumption.

Check it: http://www.africanloft.com/photo-essay-comparison-of-food-consumption/

23 February 2009

Theo Chocolate

While wandering around the Co-Op yesterday, Ian and I spotted Theo Chocolate's Milk Chocolate Coconut Curry bar, and I knew I just had to have it. I've tried a white chocolate truffle in the past that included curry and pistachios once before, but the combination of the darker milk chocolate and a mixture of coriander, turmeric and toasted coconut was like marrying my two obsessions (curry dishes and chocolate) into one tasty experience.

This was definitely a great find. Can you tell there's turmeric in there? Take a look at that dyed packaging! I once cooked with turmeric while wearing a white shirt, and three years later, it's still a dark yellow. I always wondered why my mother made me change out of my good clothes before eating a hot dog with mustard....

22 February 2009

An animal lover's plea

I will go ahead and admit what you all have most likely already figured out: I'm an animal lover. I do consume meat, but I have a fondness for pets that has led me to adopt two wonderful dogs and a beautiful cat.

Imagine my surprise yesterday when after letting my dogs out for a little potty romp, a cat meowed furiously from yards away. At first I thought it was a wandering cat in heat (this happens quite frequently around here, and it really bothers me that people *let* their cats out to contribute to the kitty overpopulation we currently have) but it came closer and closer until we sprinted to the edge of the fence, only to find the cutest, most starved cat I've ever seen. Rubbing up against the chicken wire fence, rubbing its head on my hands and desperately trying to eat grass, I figured out it was starving pretty quickly.

My husband and I went back into the house ready to bring some food out for it, but as I entered the back door I heard it sprint around the bushes. Thinking it went on its way, I was amazed to find the poor dear meowing furiously at the front door. It's clear this is a domesticated cat rather than a feral one, and with a dose of hesitation, I brought it a bowl of food on the front stoop.

I probably should have just closed the door after that. But I couldn't.

The poor starved kitty kept meowing and it scarfed down the food so quickly that we locked up the other animals and let it inside. With the coyotes and deer ruling this valley, I can't imagine letting a cat who quite clearly cannot fend for itself out to try once again just that. So.....we let it into the basement. My two dogs and cat have been rather curious since then, and my poor sweet Johnny Cash was so worried that he slept virtually on top of me all night, only stirring when he heard poor basement cat meowing for food/attention.

I know a lot of students abandon their animals around break times rather than wait to place them in a shelter or board them, but I'm waiting damn it! The Whitman County Humane Society is at full feline capacity currently, so we have been placed on a waiting list to get basement cat into the kitty hotel (notice how I haven't named her? i'm avoiding--i might have to keep her...).

If anyone in the Pullman, Washington or Moscow, Idaho area is looking to adopt a cat, I can't imagine a more friendly or beautiful cat. I wish I could keep her (I think it's a female, but I respect its privacy...) but I already have a pretty thriving animal community in this house. Contact me in the comments area or call my office number at (509) 335-8745 if interested. Remember--just as there are many kids in this world who need good homes, animals are no different. Adopt and save a life!

10 February 2009

Signs of life

It's been winter here FOREVER. It even snowed in June so despite the abundance of flowers, fruits and veggies that benefited from an extra frost period, I feel as if I've been shoveling snow for centuries. Oh yeah, and there isn't even snow on the ground. Yet after being snowed in for almost all of my holiday "break" (I use this term lightly, yes), colder temperatures and sporadic slightly warm temperatures are torture for someone looking to just have ONE WEEK without feeling as if my whole body is thawing from a long stint in the freezer.

So imagine my surprise when signs of life began emerging everywhere. My garden was buried under leaves, twigs, branches and 30 inches of snow for weeks, but somehow a little taste of greener pastures managed to emerge and I couldn't have been more grateful.

Look at these buds.....

The other sign of life? A deep friendship that has formed between my grumpy rescue cat, Johnny Cash, and the schizophrenic pitbull, Zelda. Alright it's not so much a friendship as it is a really cute sleeping arrangement. I'm pretty sure they chased each other around the living room right after I took this picture.

Yes, that's a tacky couch. Don't judge.

Seafood Fettucine Alfredo and Tofu Caesar Dressing: A Healthy Makeover

If I haven't already mentioned it, I'm a sucker for Italian food. When I make pastas at home, I rarely ever use the traditional semolina pasta but rather opt for whole wheat since fiber, nutrients and grains are never things I pass up on a plate. With a healthy pasta alternative, I reason, it's alright to splurge with a little cheese.

I've had a desperate craving for seafood fettuccine alfredo for quite some time, and yesterday I went to the store to replenish my whole wheat fettuccine supply in hopes of making the dish for dinner. Amidst the sea of pastas Safeway is now offering (who knew so many companies would jump on the whole wheat bandwagon?), the only pasta not represented was....fettuccine. For the first time in many, many moons, I bought and consumed semolina pasta, and I have to admit...it was a welcome reunion.

I did want a slightly healthy alfredo sauce given my pasta splurge, so a makeover of Cooking Light's already significantly lighter recipe was in order, and it turned out really well. The sauce starts off rather thin, but thickens once removed from heat. Luckily for my craving, I regularly stock shrimp and scallops in my freezer courtesy of my Costco trips, and the only other ingredient I was missing was lump crab meat, so *ahem* I used imitation. It's cheap. Sue me.

Last week I also scouted out an interesting Caesar dressing recipe, and despite the fact that I only use oil and vinegar on my salads, I really wanted a creamy, indulgent salad to accompany my creamy, indulgent pasta. I didn't have to feel guilty about my indulgence, however, since Rita at Pink Bites posted a wonderful recipe she found on Oprah's website for Tofu-Caesar Dressing. I only changed a few things, but the dressing came out fantastic, and with enough yield that I can get some serious mileage out of it.

Healthier Seafood Fettuccine Alfredo
Adapted from Cooking Light

6 bay scallops, rinsed and patted dry
10-12 shrimp, patted dry
1 1/2 cups shredded imitation crab meat
1 tbl. butter
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
2 green onions, chopped
1 1/4 cups fat free half and half
2 tbl. cornstarch
3/4 cup Romano cheese, grated
12 oz. fettuccine, cooked according to directions
Italian parsley to taste, chopped
1 tbl. fresh squeezed lemon juice, optional

1. Heat butter in a large pan, and saute onions and garlic for about a minute. Add scallops and shrimp and cook until shrimp is pink and scallops are cooked. Add shredded imitation crab meat, fat free half and half, and simmer for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper to mixture, Romano cheese and simmer for a minute longer.

2. Remove sauce from heat and add cornstarch, stirring until the sauce thickens. Pour sauce and seafood mixture into a large mixing bowl and add hot fettuccine, tossing to combine along with Italian parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Tofu Caesar Salad Dressing
Adapted from Pink Bites

8 oz. soft tofu
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 garlic clove
2 tbl. tahini
Fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tbl. capers
1/2 cup olive oil
Italian parsley

Combine all ingredients in blender, reserving oil and parsley. Slowly add oil and parsley to mixture. Chill and serve.


09 February 2009

There has never been anything false about chili

A few months back, the Web was afire with President Obama's chili recipe. Just to note, I never grow tired of saying President Obama. President Obama. President Obama. See?

I digress. Once the chili recipe hit the Web, it seemed to garner some extreme opinions that closely resemble the polarization of our political landscape. It seemed everyone was either professing undying gratitude for a chili recipe that didn't require copious amounts of water from which to quell the fires of spice or decrying Obama's chili as a fake that dare use beans in a dish so obviously owned by the state of Texas (can you sense a bit of sarcasm in there? I thought you might..).

I happened to love this chili, which is a little tamer than the chocolate infused version I so often make, but after growing up in the Midwest, I feel I have a little 'splainin to do. Being the nerd that I am, I did a little research at the Washington State University Library to determine where chili came from and how it has been adapted regionally throughout the United States. Chili con carne (literally "peppers with meat") is the official dish of Texas, where beans, tomatoes and any other added ingredients are strictly verboten. Of course as one can tell by the name, its origins are not in the United States, but rather Mexico, arguably either in the 1840s or 1880s. Basically, the dish consists of meat (most often beef), onion, garlic, cumin and chili peppers, and at its first inception was a way to stretch quantities of meat through leaner times. Often the dish was served by reusing leftovers and dished up at local cantinas.

The first documented mass tasting of chili by Americans (at least that I could find) was at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, held in my dear Chicago, but before this mass exposure, women called "chili queens" served it up in San Antonio during the 1880s. Emigrants from Texas to other states and other American folk who saw the potential of chili to feed the masses began opening chili shops around the States, and thus, a collective "YUM" was uttered round America.

The controversy over the inclusion of beans in chili stems from a fight between two men: H. Allen Smith and Wick Fowler. Both writers, Fowler a journalist and H. Allen Smith a writer of fiction and nonfiction works including The Great Chili Confrontation, embarked upon the first chili cookoff in October 1967 at Terlingua, Texas. From what I could gather, ol' Wick Fowler dubbed the famous line: "If you know beans about chili, you know chili ain't got no beans."

Years later, the controversy over beans rages on, and most people commenting on the Web would probably despise Cincinatti style and Louisville style chili. Cincinatti style includes both beans and cheese often over spaghetti while Louisville style has tomatoes and is plated over spaghetti.

Growing up, I have fond memories of the chili my mother made, which included pretty much all of the above: meat, kidney beans, tomatoes, cheese, saltine or oyster crackers crushed over the finished product and served over a steaming heap of macaroni pasta. It was cheap, it was hearty enough to fill up three very tall and energetic children and my father, who ate chili like some people drink water. To this day when I make the dish, I can remember my mother's kitchen. She made it when we were under the weather physically, on Halloween after traipsing around for hours in rain or snow soaked costumes, and basically any time the seasons shifted gears to fall or winter. My dad also turned me on to one of the best chili joints in Chicago, Bishop's Chili. Give it a try the next time you're in my Windy City, and don't forget to hug Lake Michigan and give a fist bump to the Art Institute for me. Just be aware: it has beans.

I don't know beans about chili and I don't purport to be an expert, but beans are cheap and I'm a grad student. Considering that the dish itself came about because poor folks needed a way to stretch out their meat supply, this is no time to be advocating purist snobbery. So screw the purists, I'm adding beans! Obama's chili recipe is pretty close to my mom's, but it is definitely a milder version than most might be used to, given that there aren't actual chili peppers included in the recipe. Now for your viewing and cooking pleasure, I give you....Obama Chili.

**Note: All chili history information gleaned from H. Allen Smith's The Great Chili Confrontation and this site, which also provides the history of the dish even before the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Obama's Chili (with beans suckers--from this site)
Obama family chili recipe

1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
Several cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground turkey or beef
1/4 teaspoon (each) of ground cumin, ground oregano, ground turmeric, and ground basil
1 tablespoon chili powder
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Several tomatoes, depending on size, chopped
1 can red kidney beans

Sauté onions, green pepper and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add ground meat and brown. Combine spices together into a mixture, then add to ground meat. Add red wine vinegar. Add tomatoes and let simmer, until tomatoes cook down. Add kidney beans and cook for a few more minutes. Serve over white or brown rice. Garnish with grated cheddar cheese, onions and sour cream.

A little mea culpa for Moscow's Red Door

Yesterday I went on and on about the lack of good food in this area (homesickness takes its toll) but it would be unfair of me to not acknowledge a couple of decent meals I've had in Pullman/Moscow restaurants. For our one year wedding anniversary, Ian and I went to the Red Door, an establishment that offers a pretty decent menu. Why is called the Red Door? Quite simple, really: the front door is red. The interior is very dim and I love the booth seating with high backs so I don't have to watch other people eat, but it does get extremely noisy with the acoustics. It probably didn't help that we were seated right next to their sound system and it sometimes felt like we were at a rock concert....

Please pardon my horrible pictures, but the lighting in Red Door is not exactly conducive to good quality photos. Oh yeah, and I'm not technologically capable. Needless to say, I won't be winning any awards for these anytime soon.

Our appetizer was a trio of seared scallops, collard greens and crispy pork belly, which has potential to be a great dish. The tenderness of the scallop, the slightly chewy texture of the collard greens and (my favorite) the crispety-crunchety but still buttery taste of pork belly (anyone catch that Maya Angelou SNL skit reference?) is comforting to me. What arrived at our table were decent and fresh scallops, a tiny amount of pork belly and a big heaping slop of very vinegary, salty greens. Already I was disappointed, and luckily the salad made up for the horrible mess of this appetizer.

Being not exactly famished, we decided to split the blackened tuna salad that came with a honey-dijon dressing. The greens were very fresh and the tuna was cooked absolutely perfectly, but my one complaint here was the dressing. It seemed a little too sweet for the tuna and I would have preferred it to be a bit more tangy. One triumph here though: IAN ATE TUNA AND SCALLOPS. He's not exactly a fish man, but shortly after eating at Red Door, he began asking me about seafood, and I'm proud to say he's been eating it a couple of times a week now. Yay!!!

My main course was described as "Half Young Chicken. Tandoori-style Spices. Creamed lentils, green basmati rice cake, yoghurt-mint sauce, house-made peach chutney."
I should have remembered that ordering chicken in a restaurant is always hit or miss, but I figured I was safe in not ordering simply breast meat, which always comes out dry and tasting like a hockey puck. The chicken wasn't so much a half chicken as it was a couple of limbs from what I can only imagine was an anorexic farm animal. I picked and picked but wasn't able to cull much meat out of this poor guy. The meat was tender and falling off the bone, however, and I didn't taste any hockey puck, so I *guess* that's a tiny victory. Kind of.

The basmati cake wasn't so much a cake as it was rice mashed together with a bread crumb glue, while the creamed lentils were fantastic. This is not surprising given our dubious honor of hosting The National Lentil Festival. The yoghurt sauce was my favorite part of this dish, which happened to pair very nicely with my dry rice cake, and the chutney was....not very memorable.

Ian's main course was a slow-roasted wild boar shoulder ragu over fresh tagliatelle. The boar ragu was awesome, the meat tender and really full of flavor, but it was just too darn salty for both of us. The pasta was WAYYYYYYY overdone (is anyone around here familiar with the concept of 'al dente'?), but we ate it anyway. It was definitely disappointing given that it's a truly beautiful plate o' pasta.

We did order dessert but it wasn't anything to write home about. Chocolate. Whipped. In a martini glass. Woo hoo.

I've been to Red Door a few times with friends before, and I've always thought their food had great potential, but it often writes a check its food can't cash. My favorite part has nothing to do with the food at all, and that's it's location (above--a little blurry after a bottle of Cote de Rhone). Moscow, Idaho is this sleepy little town with a lot of earthy type folk and down to earth mentality, and there's a sense of community and friendliness that just doesn't exist in Pullman. Oh yeah, and there are less anorexic bottle blondes wearing giant sunglasses driving BMWs with their popped collar wearing frat boyfriends in the passenger seat.

08 February 2009

We'll always have Chicago....

I miss real food. There I said it. After living here in Pullman for almost five years while going to school, I have had recurring dreams about food. The food never attacks me and I'm never actually eating, but the setting of my dreams has almost always been in a pizza parlor, Greek restaurant or a chicken shack that feels eerily familiar to the joints I frequented back home. I have come to realize that my body and mind are still very intimately yearning for a taste of home...a taste of my dear Windy City.

Here in Pullman (and gathering from many trips to Seattle, Portland and surrounding areas) it seems that most folks appreciate tasteless food. From horribly underseasoned french fries, steaks and seafood to really doughy pizza with what seems like a tablespoon of sauce, I have yet to find a restaurant that I could proudly call "eh" let alone good. The "fancy" restaurant in town boasts appetizers I sometimes buy as snacks from Costco, and one restaurant a town over even claims its overcooked, not very fresh pasta is the best in the area....I believe them.

My mother appreciates my sadness and longing for real Italian, mouthwatering pizza and delectable Italian beef, and for the second year in a row, she has sent Portillo's to my little neck of the Palouse for Ian's birthday. Mom, I know you read this blog, you are my hero. I shall construct a statue in your honor.

I grew up with Portillo's. Crinkle cut fries, Polish sausage, the greatest milkshakes in the world, Chicago style hot dogs (no ketchup people. please, no ketchup.)and dipped Italian beef sandwiches with sweet peppers and mozz are enough to make me at once weak in the knees and horribly nostalgic.

The package we received was insulated with dry ice, and they really crammed a lot into that box. Two 1-lb. packages of beef, two decent sized canisters of gravy, eight sandwich rolls, a decent amount of roasted sweet peppers and Marconi's famous hot giardiniera made for two very happy people in my household (and three very intrigued animals sniffing and licking the air around the stove).

This was a portion of my loot. I was a little skeptical about the meat being as great as the restaurant's, but my fears were quickly assuaged when I opened up that bad boy and saw tender, mouthwatering meat staring me in the face.

The gravy. Nope, you didn't read that wrong. 18g of fat in 2 tbsp. Heaven.

Meat swimming in a bath of luxury. Once the meat cooked all the way through, I placed some in the crusty roll along with the sweet peppers, mozzarella and hot giardiniera, and then I dipped the whole bastard in the au jus. I'm always dumbstruck when people don't order these beauties dipped...

My sandwich without its makeup on. Still beautiful in the morning, no?

07 February 2009

Sushi Go Round

I've become addicted to a new game....Sushi Go Round. Highly addictive but it also makes me hungry.

02 February 2009

How to clean out your fridge

I've posted about making quiche before as one method of cleaning out your fridge, but this time around I had a host of ingredients and only a few eggs. Husband loves to scramble eggs for tortilla soup, fried rice.....or anything that will accommodate eggs, which is pretty much everything. In an effort to keep his breakfast/lunch garbage pail the way he likes it, I decided to only use one of the eggs.

Here were my ingredients:
1 egg
2 sheets puff pastry
8 oz. broccoli slaw
1/2 fat free crumbled feta

After rounding up my favorite olive oil, a little melted butter and some fresh ground tellicherry pepper, I didn't write a recipe, but it sure was good!