24 August 2009

On Faux Calzones and the Start of a New Semester

They're back. It seems like it was just yesterday that the howling from the campus hill died down to reveal the more peaceful whisper of wind blowing in the trees and the faint sound of deer munching on foliage behind my house. I still remember sitting on my front porch in my little valley in Pullman with a cup of coffee (still in my pajamas because I don't have neighbors and hell, I love PJs), waving to the long line of U-Hauls headed out of town toward Colfax, Seattle, Bellevue and beyond. From that day for a few months, I parked anywhere I wanted, enjoyed shopping at grocery stores without being hit by errant carts driven by young adults too busy to look up from texting their friends in the next aisle to notice the human being bent over the produce, I even enjoyed long walks down my road with no sidewalks without jumping into the bushes to avoid SUVs barreling down the roadway well over the speed limit.

Ahhhh. Those were the days.

They started arriving in small groups, really only venturing out during the daytime to purchase ice cream cones from Licks during the heat wave or scour the campus looking for their assigned fall classrooms, but one day last week, as my dogs did their final business of the evening, I heard them. At first a howl that sounded like the coyote that plagued the valley for most of the summer, and then suddenly increasing into a cacophony of voices screaming "Go Cougs."

The students are back.

I've been a bit of an online and real-life ghost since they appeared, struggling to meet some important deadlines for writing the dissertation, tweaking the syllabus I created over the course of the summer and getting ready for the academic job market this fall, but part of me needed a little comfort food once I realized they were here to stay in my final year at WSU. There's no escaping them--the police blotters alone can attest to the sharp spike in DUIs and alcohol offense arrests.

With all the sadness of a little kid headed back to elementary school, I picked up a loaf of Salted French bread from the Moscow Co-Op like it was my lunch box and decided to use it for a most unorthodox meal: the faux calzone. The meal was less well thought out and put together than it was third grader-with-rubber-cement-and-confetti caliber, but it hit the spot of my soul that cried out for salty, cheesy comfort in the face of losing a prime parking spot at the local Safeway.

After scooping out the insides of the bread and freezing the breadcrumbs, I layered a quick pizza sauce made from tomato paste, water, fresh basil and oregano, garlic and olive oil inside the bread, along with freshly cooked and crumbled Italian sausage removed from its casing, and a mountain of provolone and fresh mozzarella. After a half hour in the oven, I drowned my back to school sorrows in the sweet and savory warmth of pizza bread.

Stuffed and feeling better about the state of my lost summer, I took solace in the finished syllabus before me: it's the best I've ever engineered. I have missed teaching, despite what this post may have indicated, and I can't wait to get back into a classroom to talk about books.

I mean really, who wouldn't give up a front row parking space to discuss books for a living?

Naked bread

No longer naked, just saucy

Some crave chocolate. Not I. Bring on the cheese!

Eat a slab. Just don't tell your cardiologist.

Once you're fully stuffed, grab a kitteh and cuddle off the calories.

14 August 2009

General Tso's Chicken

Hi, my name is Erin, and I'm addicted to General Tso's Chicken and Hot and Sour Soup. [*hi erin*] Whenever I get sick, you can bet the first place I call is the local Chinese restaurant, sometimes even before I call a doctor when I'm really sick. This week I was craving the old General standby, so I decided to recreate one of my favorite takeout comforts at home. After finding a number of promising but very fattening deep fried versions via Tastespotting, I came across La Table De Nana's version, which called for a quick pan fry instead of deep frying. After adding sugar snap peas so I could at the very least claim to have eaten some veggies, this was one of the best mock takeout recipes I've ever tried at home.

Crispy Golden Chicken Pieces

Spicy Sauce

General Tso's Chicken, adapted and reprinted from La Table De Nana

1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp. hoisin
3 tbsp. white vinegar
3 tbsp. ketchup
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 cup water
3-4 tbsp. cornstarch
1 lb chicken breasts, cut into 1" cubes
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. sesame oil
4 green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced.
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger (use fresh if you have it on hand)
Hot red pepper flakes, to taste

1.In a bowl mix first 6 ingredients.
2.Dredge your chicken cubes in cornstarch. Shake off excess.
3.In a large skillet heat olive oil and fry chicken until done.
4. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
5.In the same skillet heat sesame oil and quickly stir fry green onions, garlic and ginger.
6.Add the sauce mixture you have made and simmer until heated through.
7.Return chicken to pan and toss to coat with sauce. Continue cooking until heated through. Serve with rice.

13 August 2009

Crab Bisque and Apple Brie Panini with Homemade Bread

Thrift stores are a wonderful thing. While the current fashion is to think of them as places where one can "upcycle" materials such as clothes, housewares and appliances, I have always relied on thrift stores since I am a perpetual student with no money. I've been in college for literally a decade this year, so I'm no stranger to the 50 cent cardigan. As I wandered around the Palouse Treasures thrift store a few days ago, I ended up in the kitchen section, where I inevitably find all kinds of interesting gadgets and drink/serveware that have seen better days. I was amazed to find a bread machine, still wrapped and in the box, for only ten dollars! Of course, I bought it. I've used a bread machine before, but at nearly a hundred dollars, buying one of my own has just never been an expense I could muster.

After playing around with it for hours, I ended up with a loaf of whole wheat bread that just begged to be panini'd (not a word, you say? bah!). After arranging Fuji apple slices and some brie on the freshly baked bread, I spread on a honey mustard mayonnaise and went to town.

Honey Mustard Mayonnaise

1 tbl. mayo (I used my Vegenaise)
1 tsp. stone ground mustard
1 tsp. honey

1. Mix the ingredients in a small bowl until ready for use. Serves 1.

After wandering around Tastespotting for awhile last week, I fell in love with the Tomato-Crab Bisque from Eating Well, Living Thin's blog. While I didn't have tomato juice on hand, I did have a big bottle of R.W. Knudsen's Organic Very Veggie juice that was a wonderful replacement. Lower in sodium than most juices (or even low sodium tomato juice), the veggie juice was already wonderfully complex in flavor, so mild, tender crab meat was its match made in heaven.

In other news, Zander the Howlin Wolf made it onto ihasahotdog (the sister site to icanhascheeseburger)! He was thrilled to hear the news, and would like to thank the academy. See Zander in all his glory here: http://tinyurl.com/pz2bsf Or just look below....

12 August 2009

Summer squash: or, the most vibrant side dish ever

I love summer squash, but I get a little tired of gratins. In fact, when it's as hot outside as in your preheated oven, it's best to find a way to grill it instead. While BBQ'ing a few chicken breasts and preparing a salad, I sliced up the summer squash and added it to the saute pan insert for the grill. As a side dish, the summer squash had a nice bite to it but was mild enough that it didn't induce a lemon face.

Grilled Summer Squash with Mustard Vinaigrette

1 medium summer squash, sliced into coins
1 tbl extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp stone ground mustard
Pinch of salt and pepper

1. Place sliced summer squash into a pan on grill. Cook for about 6-7 minutes, or until tender. Remove from grill.
2. Place grilled squash in a bowl and add remaining ingredients. Toss lightly.

Fresh Tomato, Shrimp and Cannelini Bean Pasta

I adore summer pasta dishes given the incredible quality of produce, but at times the outdoors call my name a little too loudly for me to whip up anything that showcases the fresh ingredients. In this instance, I decided that summer tomatoes just needed to be utilized. After parboiling four huge heirloom honkers in water and then peeling, I downed a few cups of watery tomato juice and sauce, and then added the fresh tomato chunks to a couple tablespoons of olive oil and five cloves of chopped garlic. I didn't write down a recipe here since it's a pretty straightforward endeavor. After simmering down the tomatoes and the juices they released, I added a can of cannellini beans, a handful or two of shrimp, a few servings of cooked whole wheat pasta, a little salt and pepper, and a couple tablespoons of chopped basil.

The result? Fantastic. What to do after dinner? Return to the outdoors.....

02 August 2009

My absolute favorite potato salad

I've been making this recipe since I first saw it in an issue of Bon Appetit, and I remember thinking at the time, why the hell didn't I think of putting my yearly bounty of fresh herbs into what is usually a boring, tasteless side dish at BBQs? I've already lamented my hatred for pasta salads, but my hatred for the mayo-saturated, overcooked potato salad has only been able to find solace in this recipe.

I don't follow it to a T since I generally tend to add more herbs than are called for or sub out ones that I don't have on hand for those that are about to wilt, but this is another great way to not only clean out your surplus of fresh summer herbs but satisfy a hungry crowd.

Ian and I used the fresh red potatoes we procured at the Farmer's Market to make this dish, and it made a wonderful accompaniment to the quick frozen burgers we threw on the grill on one of the hottest days of the year for the Palouse. With Romano broad beans and fresh garden sugar snap peas, as well as fresh strawberries and blackberries rounding out the meal, I almost forgot that I have been hot and miserable for the past few days. Almost.

Creamy Potato Salad with Lemon and Fresh Herbs
Bon Appetit 2007

3 pounds baby red potatoes
3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
3/4 cup mayonnaise*
3 medium green onions, thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, cut into 1/3-inch cubes
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley**
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel***

1. Bring potatoes to boil in large pot of water. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 17 minutes. Drain; let stand until cool enough to handle, about 20 minutes.

2. Cut potatoes into 3/4-inch pieces. Place 1 layer of potatoes in large bowl; sprinkle with some of vinegar and salt and pepper. Continue layering potatoes with vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add all remaining ingredients; toss. Season with salt and pepper.
1. Bring potatoes to boil in large pot of water. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 17 minutes. Drain; let stand until cool enough to handle, about 20 minutes.

2. Cut potatoes into 3/4-inch pieces. Place 1 layer of potatoes in large bowl; sprinkle with some of vinegar and salt and pepper. Continue layering potatoes with vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add all remaining ingredients; toss. Season with salt and pepper.

* I used Vegenase
** I sometimes use cilantro or a mixture of both
*** I throw a little lemon juice into the mix