Saturday, October 29, 2005

Dear Diary (this has nothing to do with food)

I was jerked out of a beautiful sleep at 3am by the sound of Odd Toddler crying on the monitor. I turned on the picture to the video and saw he was standing up in his crib, holding his hands out towards the door, and stomping angrily in place. I waited for a second to see if he would lay back down and go back to sleep (as he often does), but his crying only got louder and more frantic.

I got out of bed and went to his room, lifting him out of his crib. He put his head on my shoulder and wrapped his legs tight around me, ceasing the crying right away (which ruled out teething pain as the problem). I went to sit in the rickety creaky old rocking chair in his room, but that started him fussing again. He gave me The Look and pointed towards the door, so I got back up and took him to the living room where I sat down in the Snuggle Chair. He put his head back on my shoulder, laid his stuffed Baby Bop between my chest and his, and I rocked him for about 20 minutes. When I was sure he was asleep again, I walked back across the house towards his room. The instant I crossed the threshold into his room, his head popped back up off my shoulder and he started fussing again. It was now 3:30am.

Frustrated and exhausted, I let him pick up the supplies he needed from his crib (his other dinosaur, my basting brush, and, inexplicably, the lid to my last Chapstick) and I took him into my bedroom. The Carnivore scooted over, gave up one of his pillows (because Odd Toddler cannot sleep unless he has a pillow with a leopard-print pillowcase to lay his head on), and we all three snuggled up in the bed together. Odd Toddler laid his head on the pillow and closed his eyes. I breathed a sigh of relief (too loudly apparently) and closed my own eyes. Within seconds, Odd Toddler was sitting up and grunting, pointing towards the door. "You want some water?" I asked. "Yesshh," he answered.

I got back up, went to the living room, found his water sippy cup, and headed back to bed. Odd Toddler sucked greedily on the sippy, tucked it next to him, gathered his dinosaurs into his arms, and laid his head back on the pillow. I did the same.

Just as I was drifting back off to sleep, Odd Toddler climbed over me, slithered off the bed and stomped loudly into the kitchen. By the time I got in there, he was hanging from the handle on the refrigerator. "You want some milk?" I asked. "Yesshh," he answered, grinning maniacally. I retrieved his milk sippy cup from the fridge and gave it to him. "Dadoo," he said (his version of thank you), and we traipsed single-file back into my bedroom. We both climbed back into bed, waking The Carnivore once again, and assumed our sleeping positions.

No sooner had I drifted back off than Odd Toddler tapped me on my head and violently shook his milk sippy (translation: This is empty and I need you to get me more milk ASAP!). I stood back up, grumbling fiercely, and went back to the kitchen to refill his sippy.

Finally, after everything seemed well with his world, Odd Toddler laid his head back on the pillow, and I started to fall back asleep. Apparently though, Odd Toddler was not sleepy. Every two minutes (I know because I would look at the clock, close my eyes, and the next thing I knew, I was struggling back up out of sleep, looking back at the clock to see that only TWO minutes had passed), Odd Toddler would lift his foot up and kick me in the head. After six or seven kicks, he sat up in bed and began grunting again. The Carnivore made an angry noise, so I hooked Odd Toddler under my arm, grabbed two pillows and headed to the living room.

On normal difficult nights, Odd Toddler and I sleep head to toe on the living room sofa. This is extraordinarily uncomfortable for anyone who is larger than two feet tall, but for some reason it works every time (except this one, of course) to soothe the terroristic tendencies of my beloved child. I laid our pillows at each end of the sofa, pushed the coffee table up against the sofa so that Odd Toddler couldn't roll off in his sleep, and got a blanket out of the linen closet. We both laid down, everything seemed to be perfect, and I started to drift back off. Again. Odd Toddler sat back up and grunted. Again.

He slithered over the coffee table and waddled into the kitchen, where he pulled out his seat at the table and reached for his bib. I checked the time (4:45am) and just stared at him. He grunted once and then twice, stomped his feet loudly, and pointed at the fridge. "You want a bowl of cereal?" I asked incredulously. "Yesshh," he answered.

And amazingly, it only went downhill from there.

He ate two bowls of Cheerios and then asked for a banana. I got yesterday's half-eaten banana out of the fridge, but he balked at it not having a pointed end (which, I might add, was only missing because HE had bitten it off). I got another banana and asked him if that one would do. He nodded and I peeled it. And then he balked at that one too. I carried him to the fridge and held him in front of the open door while he pondered his choices. He finally picked out some leftover steamed broccoli, but then got angry with me when I took 15 seconds warming it up.

Once he was finally full, and it was 5:15am, I gave up and started the coffee. We sat on the sofa together and I found some old Scooby Doo cartoons on TV, which delighted him. Everything seemed to be going well again. He snuggled tight against me, pulled the covers over his lap, and leaned his head against my shoulder while we watched the cartoons in the dark. An hour later, he was still awake and I, even after two cups of coffee, was falling asleep sitting up. At 6:30am, I woke up The Carnivore and asked him to take over so that I could get some sleep. Just as I was falling asleep, Odd Toddler opened the door to the bedroom, yelled "MAMA," and slammed the door loudly enough to wake the dead. The Carnivore rushed in and scooped him up, and I finally got to sleep.

An hour later, I heard the phone ringing, but was able to ignore it and stay partly asleep. Until, that is, my cellphone started ringing. And then the house phone rang again immediately. It was obvious who it was. It was my mother. And she was NOT going to be ignored. Dazed, I got out of bed and stumbled into the living room just as The Carnivore picked up the phone. Odd Toddler smiled at me, and then his head fell onto a pillow, his eyes shut like lead weights and his mouth fell open. It was 8am, and he was finally asleep. Since he is in the living room though, that prohibits me from getting busy in the kitchen, and the ONLY thing I want to do when I'm this frustrated and sleep-deprived is to try some new recipes and then get online and blog about them.

So I poured myself some coffee and decided to go upstairs to my office to get some work done. As I walked up the stairs, in my brain haze, I managed to spill coffee on not just a few stairs, but on EVERY SINGLE stair. The Anal Carnivore (argh, that isn't really a picture you want in your head, is it, of an anal carnivore?) will be appalled when he sees the mess I just made.

It is now 9:30am, and Odd Toddler is still, blessedly, asleep. I, on the other hand, am coming apart at the seams.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Vegetarian Confidential

I am apparently only capable of doing so many things food-related before I hit overload. I can make food, I can write about food and I can read about food, but not all at the same time. Lately I've been in a reading-about-cooking kind of place, and whether there aren't enough hours in the day or whether its a matter of stage fright after reading the masters, I haven't recently felt the urge to write about food as long as I'm busy reading somebody else's food memoirs. Especially when its as thrilling and downright trashy as Kitchen Confidential. I am of course watching the television show as well, though it pales in comparison to the book (as is almost always the case).

I spent much of Sunday afternoon reading out loud to The Carnivore. I quoted entire pages, hooted with the hilarity of it all, and brimmed over with newfound knowledge. Most of the book requires Google's vast translator abilities (because we can't ALL speak New York kitchenese) and now I keep wanting to try out my new vocabulary. Alas, I'm having a hard time working "mise-en-place" into casual conversation.

In the restaurant expose (where is the accent mark that goes over the final letter when trying to sound like 60 Minutes?) section, the author goes into a tirade on my people:

"Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. The
body, these waterheads imagine, is a temple that should not be polluted by animal protein. It's healthier, they insist, though every vegetarian waiter I've worked with is brought down by any rumor of a cold. Oh, I'll accommodate them, I'll rummage around for something to feed them, for a "vegetarian plate," if called on to do so. Fourteen dollars for a few slices of
grilled eggplant and zucchini suits my food cost fine."

The man is a former heroin-addict who writes like he's on a cocaine bender (see also: Elizabeth Wurtzel), so its hard to be insulted by his rantings. And besides, since I eat seafood and dairy, I can at least pretend I might be cool enough to run in his Big City chef circles. As if.

Regardless, I had one of those rare Sarah-might-grow-up-to-be-a-chef-after-all epiphanies this week, and I'm excited by the feeling of invincibility it has instilled. A few weeks back, when I was dragging around with a sinus infection and feeling more than a little sorry for myself, I skulked through the living room and glanced at the television, where Giada de Laurentiis was licking her lips and spreading some sort of gruyere and mustard concoction on thick hearty slices of sourdough bread. I sat on the coffee table (a no-no), transfixed and eager to see what she was making. I was disheartened when she slapped some turkey on the magnificent-sounding cheese spread, but was intrigued again when she pan-fried the sandwiches in olive oil. Doped up on pain medicine, I headed straight upstairs to download the recipe.

I mulled over the turkey issue for the past week or so. The sandwich was so simple that I couldn't do what I often resort to, which is just skipping the meat and continuing with the rest of the recipe. After all, that would result in nothing more than a fancy-schmancy grilled cheese sandwich in this case.

And then came one of those inspirations I've been praying would begin to come naturally for me, that Aha! moment when you realize how to take a completely unusable recipe and make it your own.

VEGETARIAN VENETIAN PANINO

  • 4 oz gruyere, grated
  • 1 Tbs butter, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbs Dijon mustard
  • 1 small garlic clove, chopped
  • Poblano pepper
  • Red bell pepper
  • Onion slices, to taste
  • 4 huge hunky thick slices of fresh sourdough bread
  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  1. Blend the gruyere, butter, mustard and garlic in a food processor until thick and smooth.
  2. Put the peppers on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil in the oven at 500 degrees, turning every few minutes, until skin of the peppers is charred, about 10 minutes. Place the peppers in a bowl and cover with a towel; let sit for 10 minutes. Peel and discard the skin of the peppers; remove stem and seeds, and slice into thick strips.
  3. Spread the cheese mixture over one side of each of the four slices of bread. Arrange the peppers and onion over 2 of the slices. Top sandwiches with the remaining bread slices, cheese side in, pressing gently to adhere.
  4. Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Cook until golden brown and heated through, about 4 minutes per side.
  5. Serve hot.

These sandwiches were out of this world yummy. Even The Carnivore agreed, though I had suspected he would have a problem with substituting roasted peppers for turkey. Sadly, I served the sandwiches with Broccoli & Cheese Soup (a little too much cheese in this meal, thanks anyway) and the soup couldn't really hold its own against the beauty of the panini. Gonna have to try out some new soup recipes. Especially now that I've read how easy it is to make your own broth for soup bases (though Anthony Bourdain would shudder to know that I will be bastardizing it by making it vegetarian, of course).

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Sweetest Thing

Post-vacation reality set in with a vengeance today. Thursdays are my toughest day of the week to begin with, but when you add in the work that doesn't get done when self-employed people are out of town, well, suffice to say it is taking some juggling to keep all of my clients happy right now while I trudge through a mountain of paperwork. I finally made it to the bottom of a week's worth of mail today and found an invitation for an event tonight that I would have loved to attend if it weren't for bad timing. This started the day off on a bad note to begin with.

Too much work piled up, coupled with saying goodbye to my father (we have been known to go as long as three years between visits), made for a sulky Sarah. This afternoon, when I started growling with frustration on the phone, Mom suggested I go home and have a good cry. She must have mistaken me for one of her other daughters, because I don't have time to cry.

I comforted myself by working my butt off to knock my to-do list items down, and then I spent time going through the photos I took last week. The one above, with Odd Toddler kissing his cousing Emily, was so sweet as to make me roll my eyes until the former English major in me started to make connections. Kissing is to sweet as sweet is to...dessert. Aha!

Before I got sick, and then left town, I had purchased the ingredients to make Seven-Layer Cookie Bars from a recipe I cut out of the AJC Food Section recently. Tonight, since we had salad with leftover Blackberry Vinaigrette (which was even better on the second day), Lenny's Lasagna with San Marzano tomato sauce, and baguettes with an olive oil and herb dipping sauce, I was freed up from cooking duty. Leftover night is necessary since Thursdays are so hectic, but it is the act of whipping something up in the kitchen that relaxes me on a nightly basis. I found the remedy for all my ills in this little square of newsprint.

SEVEN-LAYER COOKIE BARS
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (I got out most of my frustrations by pounding a package of graham crackers until they bled)
  • 12-oz package of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 12-oz package of milk chocolate chips
  • 12-oz package of butterscotch chips
  • 1 1/2 cups flaked coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 (14-oz) cans sweetened condensed milk
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Coat 9x13 pan with cooking spray.
  3. Melt butter and pour into baking pan.
  4. Sprinkle crumbs evenly on butter and pat them down to even out.
  5. Sprinkle semisweet, milk chocolate and butterscotch chips evenly over crumbs.
  6. Sprinkle with coconut, then with nuts.
  7. Pour milk over layers.
  8. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until mixture bubbles and browns on top.
  9. Let cool.

In my painful lack of patience, I skipped the last step and ate a piece with a spoon. It was worth it. Now if the rest of the batch would just harden up...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Deferred Gratification

The Carnivore and I took our first vacation together in more than three years this past weekend. It was a long time coming, and it was sorely needed. My sister was getting married in Virginia and it was my first chance to see my dad in over a year. My other sister has a baby 4 weeks older than Odd Toddler, and this was the first time she and Odd Toddler set eyes on each other. It was love at first sight. They did a LOT of kissing. My brother has posted some of the photos of the kids, along with some pictures of my incredibly gorgeous sister at her wedding, on his site.

After five days away, we were glad to get home and I was happy to be in my kitchen again. We ate fabulously while we were gone (we were on the coast after all), but I get such pleasure from cooking that I spent three hours this afternoon working on tonight's dinner. A few weeks ago, a friend of my mother emailed a recipe for Blackberry Vinaigrette. Paula was aware of my new salad dressing fixation and the recipe she sent was the signature dressing at a golf course in Tennessee for which she was once a chef. The recipe intrigued me greatly but was low on the instant gratification scale. The first step was to make blackberry vinegar, a process that takes at least a week. I am not a patient person.

I had several aborted attempts to begin the vinegar, but finally began steeping it nearly two weeks ago. By the time it should have been ready though, we were leaving town and I was sick to boot. So I left the beautifully tinted vinegar in the refrigerator and headed East, thinking of the vinegar no less than twice a day while I was gone. This morning, nearly giddy with anticipation, I went to the store to get the rest of the ingredients.

BLACKBERRY VINAIGRETTE
  • 1 cup blackberries, fresh or frozen (I used frozen - the only fresh ones I could find looked downright nasty at the supermarket)
  • 1 pint cider vinegar
  • 1/2 Tbs minced shallots
  • 3/4 Tbs Dijon mustard (this was a hard one - I have neither a 3/4 Tbs nor a 1/4 Tbs measuring spoon - did a little bit of guesstimating here)
  • 1/4 cup blackberries from vinegar, pureed and pressed through a sieve (easier said than done - plan for some extra time here)
  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil (I used only 1 cup - I like to lean towards the vinegary side)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp minced garlic
  1. Add blackberries to cider vinegar and let stand in the refrigerator for at least one week. Remember that a watched pot never boils.
  2. Strain out 1/2 cup of the blackberry vinegar and whisk it together with the shallots and the rest of the ingredients.

This was BY FAR the best of the dressings I've had the pleasure of making. I served it over a mix of baby greens, thinly sliced red onion, and crumbled feta cheese. It had a terrific, layered mix of tastes, yet none of them were overbearing. The berries added just the touch of tartness, balanced perfectly by the sweetness of the honey and the acidity of the vinegar. The Carnivore was a big fan as well. I'm wondering now how weel this would do in some of my cold bean or pasta salads. Will have to think on this. In the meantime, I will be eating salad daily for the next few days while I savor the beauty of this vinaigrette.

On a side note, I also made Lenny Robinson's Favorite Lasagna tonight, but this time I used the leftover San Marzano tomato sauce that I had frozen a few weeks ago. Eureka! For now at least, I think I have found the best use for that sauce. It added a delicate tartness to the lasagna that went well with the rich custardy ricotta filling. Still, while the tomato sauce married perfectly with the lasagna, I've yet to be convinced that the expense of those particular tomatoes is worth the mediocrity of the finished sauce. We ate at an Italian place in the la-di-da section of Richmond this weekend where they served an incredible red sauce that bowled me and The Carnivore slap over. My sister practically drank the stuff. She and her husband live across the street from the place, and they eat there often. I'm hoping to convince them to ask the chef for the recipe.

When we returned to town yesterday, waiting for us was a package from my West Coast friend Tisha. She had sent dried fish flakes, wasabi paste and wasabi powder, and I can finally make the dip recipe that I have been staring apoplectically at for the past few months while I cursed the lack of specialty markets in the small-town South. I am beside myself.

It is nice to see that patience does have a place in my world, and that seemingly everything really IS better when you have had to wait for it. Not that I want to make a habit of it or anything...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Finding Love in a Beanman

My life clearly revolves around food. Twelve years ago I met my husband in a Mexican restaurant. He managed the place; I was dating the cook. Frijolero's shut down probably 10 years ago now, but people around town still speak fondly of it. Staffed completely by artists and musicians, most of them surly to the customers, and all of them crazy good looking, it was an extremely popular place to hang out. Bands played there a few nights a week, and the restaurant shared an alley with three bars, so there was always an interesting crowd of people filing in and out. I spent entirely too much time there. If you consider that the restaurant occupied the former spot of A&A Bakery, a place my mother and I frequented during my childhood, then the story becomes even more ridiculous.

The Carnivore and I didn't get to know each other too well during that time, but we ran into each other over the years following the demise of Frijolero's, at parties, at shows, here and there around town. We would say hello and go about our business. I saw his band play a few times at the 40 Watt and I remember idly thinking that I might be interested. But never enough so that I felt inclined to act on it.

Eight years ago I saw him at a V-Roys show at the Georgia Theater and I gave him a hug. We still laugh about that hug. The fateful one that spawned a romance we never expected.

Our first date was Thanksgiving weekend 1997. The relationship started slow and went nowhere fast. The picture above was taken on Thanksgiving Day the following year. We were finally admitting we really cared about each other, though we never would have copped to falling in love. That took yet another year together.

Truly, we were made for each other. Early in the relationship we spent a long lazy Sunday together. We drank coffee and read the newspaper cover to cover, strewing sections from one end of the living room to the other. We didn't talk much, except to read something aloud to the other, or to discuss where our next meal might come from. I remember thinking I might have met my dream man.

The following summer The Carnivore housesat for a friend of his, and we spent most of our free time on the back for two weeks, reading, discussing politics or music, eating. The Carnivore played his guitar a lot, and I wrote in my notebook. He claims that is when he began to think we really had a future.

We are fairly solitary people. We like being together, but we'd be perfectly happy to spend day after day out here in the country, cooking and reading and spending time with Odd Toddler, but alone from anybody else. Its not that we are completely antisocial, just that we enjoy our peace and quiet.

We spent our honeymoon in a beach house on Folly Island. We went out to eat every night, and we hit nearly every thrift store in Charleston in one single day, but for the most part we spent our time sitting on the second floor porch, with a stack of books and newspapers by our side. The tourist season was over, and we had the beach mostly to ourselves. Just the way we like it.

On Friday we will celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. Since we will be out of town on our anniversary, we went out to eat together a few days ago at the most obvious place we could think of. A Mexican restaurant of course.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Downward Spiral


I do not get sick often so when it does happen, I am utterly miserable. I felt like death again today, but now I am going on three nights in a row of very little sleep on top of being ill. The lack of rest is not helping my attitude at all. Today began badly and spiraled out of control from there, though Odd Toddler tried valiantly to help me with my chores.

When I was a teenager I discovered the healing properties of spicy food. I have distinct and beautiful memories of my mother giving me a plate of spaghetti doused in jalopeno pepper juice when I was under the weather and congested up to my gills. This may seem like an odd combination, but one should never underestimate pepper juice and its singular ability to clear clogged up nasal passages.

In addition to the physical healing, there are numerous scientific studies regarding the emotional well-being of those who eat large quantities of hot peppers. Endorphins are released when the taste buds are screaming, and this is good for all manner of down-and-outness. Healing on all fronts would be much appreciated right now.

One of my favorite and now-defunct restaurants, The Normaltown Cafe, stocked all of its tables with pepper juice, right next to the usual suspects of salt, pepper and Tabasco. This is one of the many things to love about the South. Normaltown Cafe was the master of the meat and three, and it was nearly impossible to eat there without ordering their beautiful (and gas-inducing) cabbage. The cabbage became spectacular when it was drowned in the pepper juice. I was known to upend the juice over my plate and squirt everything but the cobbler.

The only two menu choices I had made for tonight were Grits Casserole & Waffles; or Corn, Poblano and Cheddar Pizza. Two meals that I adore, but neither of which I would be able to even taste in my current mouth-breathing state. The only possible solution was Black Bean Chili, otherwise known as a vehicle for hot sauce.

This recipe is a bastardized version of two or three different recipes, but closely related to one that I found in America's Bounty, one of my mother's Goodwill cookbook finds. I served the chili tonight on a bed of brown rice, with tortilla chips instead of a fork. After dousing the crap out of it with Extra Hot Picante Sauce, I felt infinitely better.

BLACK BEAN CHILI
  • 2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 poblano pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 jalopeno pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 3 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can corn, drained
  • 1 can Mexican-style diced tomatoes, liquid included (I love the Rotel brand with lime juice and green chiles)
  • 1 Tbs hot sauce
  • 1 Tbs fresh cilantro, chopped (or 1 tsp dried cilantro leaves)
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • Grated cheddar cheese
  • Sour cream
  1. Heat the oil in a large heavy pan over medium heat.
  2. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent.
  3. Add the peppers and saute until tender.
  4. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until thick.
  6. Serve topped with grated cheese and a dollop of sour cream.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Step Into The Comfort Zone


Things were pitiful around our household this weekend. I woke up on Saturday feeling like death, and the rest of the family began dropping like flies by Saturday night. It is a given that if I get sick, and of course need rest, that Odd Toddler will also get sick and will need to be comforted all night. He and I slept head to toe on the sofa for the past two nights, snuggled tight so that I could hand him his sippy cup every time he coughed. I am exhausted, and still feel like death. Surely this will be over soon...

The weather cooperated with us all weekend. On Sunday it stayed gray and cool outside all day, as if it could feel our pain. We appreciated the downtime. The foodblog book I mentioned recently, Julie and Julia, arrived on Friday, just in time for the sickness and weather-imposed exile from our endless list of projects. The book, as it turns out, is everything I had hoped it would be and more. The author is foul-mouthed, irreverant and hopelessly liberal, and I love her. I am trying not to read the book too quickly though. I would hate for it to end too soon.

As it would happen, I had just the recipe to make us all feel better. The previous weekend, in the midst of Sunday afternoon football hell, The Carnivore went outside to call his father (to have their weekly rehash of all the Saturday college football games). I snagged the remote, lowered the volume by about 15 decibels, and turned the channel with what turned out to be amazing timing. The Food Network resident hottie was on, chopping up zucchini and draining a can of artichoke hearts. I was in love before I even knew what she was making. Lucky for me, she was cooking an Italian Vegetable Soup with Phyllo Croutons. Heaven on earth. I ran upstairs immediately to download the recipe from their website.

The soup, since it looked amazingly simple to make, was put on our menu for Monday night's dinner, and a much more complex dinner was planned for Saturday night. In our sickness however, I took the pen to the menu and made some adjustments so that the soup could comfort us on Saturday evening. 'Twas a stroke of genius. Not only were the soup and the croutons both insanely simple to make, but they tasted divine. And nothing hits the spot like a flavorful, healthy and light soup on a weekend like we were having. I tripled the crouton recipe and was grateful (we always fight over the last few crunchy noodle-things when we have egg drop soup so I knew better to begin with here). Next time though, I will also add more noodles to the soup, and will cut the recipe by half. There is just no need to eat the same thing for three nights in a row (which is what we have to do with this mongo amount of soup). Below is my ever-so-slightly adapted and halved version.

To my delight, food and the preparation of it, appears to be as comforting to Odd Toddler as it is to me. He slept with one of my measuring spoons clutched tightly in his hands a night or so ago. And Sunday morning, while watching old cartoons with me, he brushed his hair with my basting brush. I am so proud.

*****

ITALIAN VEGETABLE SOUP (adapted from Everyday Italian, serves 6)
  • 1/8 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 leek (white and pale green parts only), chopped
  • 1 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 zucchini, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1 (13 3/4 oz) can quartered artichoke hearts packed in water, drained
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/2 Tbs chopped fresh thyme leaves (I didn't have fresh thyme and so used 1/2 this amount of the dried herb)
  • 4 oz dried whole-wheat wide egg noodles
  • Freshly grated Parmesan
  1. Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat.
  2. Add the leeks and saute until translucent, about 8 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and saute until tender, about 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in the zucchini and artichokes. Season with salt & pepper.
  5. Saute until the zucchini are tender, about 10 minutes.
  6. Add the broth and the thyme and cook for 2 minutes.
  7. Cover the pot and bring the soup to a simmer.
  8. Decrease the heat to just keep the simmer going, and cook, covered until the flavors develop, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.
  9. Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the noodles and cook until al dente, about 5 minutes.
  10. Serve with parmesan and phyllo croutons.

PHYLLO CROUTONS

  • 6 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
  • 3 Tbs butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  1. Stack the phyllo sheets on a cutting board and roll up into a cylinder.
  2. Cut the rolled stacked sheets crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide sections.
  3. Unroll the sections and toss into a large bowl to separate the strips.
  4. Gradually drizzle the butter over the phyllo, tossing constantly to coat. The strips might break up into smaller pieces).
  5. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the phyllo and toss gently to coat.
  6. Arrange the phyllo mixture evenly over a baking sheet coated with cooking spray.
  7. Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, until golden and crisp.
  8. Cool the phyllo, and then coarsely break it apart.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Taking It All Too Seriously


I am without a doubt taking all this cooking too seriously. I am continually trying to outdo myself (of all people to be in competition with, I chose myself) and I find meal planning, grocery shopping, and dinner preparation to be taking an inordinate amount of my time. Tonight's dinner took about two hours to cook, and there weren't even any leftovers.

This time of year I start nesting more fervently than usual. The threat of an onrushing winter sends me into comfort mode, even though the cold weather generally lasts no more than eight weeks. This is even more absurd this year since its early October and we're still enjoying 80 degree afternoons. Regardless, I found myself searching for soup recipes this week. Soup is the ultimate comfort food for me and I have always enjoyed the slow simmering of beans and vegetables that steams up the windows in January.

Since winter is still a ways off, I picked a fairly light soup for tonight's dinner. This recipe is from Baraonda in Atlanta. I clipped the recipe last year from the AJC Food Section and tend to modify it slightly depending on what peppers I find in the crisper drawer. Tonight I was short a green bell pepper, so after a minor temper tantrum I used two additional poblanos in place of the green bell.

THREE PEPPER SOUP (an odd name considering there are four peppers in it)

  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and julienned
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and julienned
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and julienned
  • 1 small poblano pepper, seeded and julienned
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 3 Tbs butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Salt & pepper
  1. In a stockpot over medium heat, saute the onion in the olive oil until softened.
  2. Add peppers and bay leaf, and cook on low heat for 20 minutes.
  3. Add wine, increase heat to high and cook until evaporated, stirring frequently.
  4. Add broth and bring to a boil.
  5. In a bowl, combine butter and flour to make a paste, and slowly add to soup.
  6. Cook on medium heat for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Add cream, and cool soup briefly.
  8. Discard bay leaf, and puree soup in food processor, leaving it a little chunky.
  9. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

I served the soup this evening with Risotto Col Sedano and a salad of mixed greens, crumbled feta cheese and homemade vinaigrette (though it was quite difficult to stir the risotto for 30 minutes while simultaneously tending to the soup and preparing the salad.

And, since I can never leave well enough alone, I julienned an additional slice of each of the different peppers to use as a garnish for each serving of soup. Sadly I could not figure out how to make the slices float, so they sank miserably to the bottom of the soup bowls. Will add this to my list of things that need improvement...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Raising The Threat Level



Sometimes I fear I am raising a terrorist. Odd Toddler, who is getting closer and closer to the Terrible Twos all the time, steadfastly refused to take his 11:30am nap today. We have a routine around here, and we rarely deviate from it. He ate two YoBaby yogurts at 11:00, snuggled with me for a couple of minutes in the rocking chair, and then lay down in his crib to take his nap. Instead of sleeping though, he fussed. For an entire hour. I tried to work but couldn't. I finally gave up and got him out of bed.

Without an adequate amount of sleep, Odd Toddler is nearly impossible to get along with. Today was no exception. Since I couldn't work, I did the only thing I know to do when I feel stressed out. I cooked. Through endless temper tantrums (most of them from Odd Toddler), I made baked macaroni and cheese from scratch, steamed some broccoli and cauliflower, and made Toffee Bars.

The highlight of The Day That Would Never End was when Yolie brought over a bag stuffed with fresh mesclun from her garden. She read yesterday's blog about my salad dressing fixation and so she brought new inspiration to me. I vaguely remember reading something recently about which types of vinaigrette recipes to use for bitter greens and which to use for more simply-flavored lettuces but of course the gist of it was lost. Since Odd Toddler was too busy wrecking the house and pitching hissy fits, I didn't exactly find the time to go upstairs to my office and do an internet search.

I pulled down my 1968 Southern Living Salads cookbook and was chagrined to find not one single recipe for vinaigrette. A few other cookbooks had recipes that were far too complicated for what I had in mind, and many recipes called for ingredients I didn't have on hand. In frustration I nearly gave up. But then it occured to me to try developing my own vinaigrette recipe.

Mesclun is a mix of spicy, peppery, slightly bitter greens and so it probably would have done best with a simple drizzle of olive oil and the merest dash of vinegar, but that just isn't how I work. I fiddled and I tasted, and I added and I tasted, and I adjusted and I tasted, and on it went until I found myself with a delightfully bold dressing that would have been perfect on a baby lettuce mix with some crumbled goat cheese.

Of course, that isn't the kind of salad I made. Instead, I served an incredibly aggressive salad topped with an overpowering vinaigrette. Such is life.

SARAH'S LIFE OF THE PARTY VINAIGRETTE
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 4 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp hot sauce
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 Tbs chopped cilantro
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  1. Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, garlic, hot sauce, honey and cilantro.
  2. Slowly whisk in the oil.
  3. Add salt & pepper to taste.
  4. Feed to toddler so that he will stop stomping his feet and wailing.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Goddess Must Be Crazy


It is rare for me to do anything halfway. And anything can become an obsession. When I was younger, this was often detrimental while I was still in my Youth-is-Invincible stage. Lately, the obsession has centered on cooking (finally, a healthy habit), but now I have narrowed my focus down considerably until I find I cannot see past salad dressings.

Last week, about 15 seconds after I attained the seemingly impossible goal of locating San Marzano tomatoes in the suburbs of a small college town in Georgia, I decided I would have no choice but to serve a salad with my pasta and tomato sauce, and so I climbed high atop a stool in the kitchen and manically pulled down cookbooks until I found a new (yet quick) recipe for salad dressing. Because under no circumstances will I ever pay for a pre-packaged dressing again. I wanted something creamy this time, and I found a recipe for Green Goddess Dressing in my Joy of Gardening Cookbook.

GREEN GODDESS DRESSING

  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallion greens (the green part of a green onion)
  • 1 Tbs minced fresh chives
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbs white vinegar
  • 2 Tbs lemon juice
  • Salt & pepper
  1. Combine everything but the salt & pepper in a food processor and blend until smooth.
  2. Season with salt & pepper to taste.

The Carnivore and I both loved the taste and texture of the dressing, and I was even more pleased with the ease in which it was assembled. Anything that involves throwing a few ingredients into a food processor and pushing a button is fine in my book. As I am known to do though, I scanned the recipe only briefly before beginning the dressing, just enough to be sure I had all the ingredients on hand. It wasn't until I was halfway through that I began to ruminate on the raw egg that was included. I have long read about the dubiousness of using raw eggs in any recipe, but I'm not one to panic so I continued bravely on.

However, I must recommend that the dressing be used on the day it is made. Bacteria can grow quickly in anything that involves raw eggs, even when refrigerated, and I was too scared to use the leftover dressing two days later when I again craved a salad. It still smelled fine, and it looked delicious, but fear won out. My days of living dangerously are obviously over.