Friday, April 30, 2010

Guitars, Buicks, Pineapple Pizza

The following post comes courtesy of the dreamy dude in my life, known in this blog as Special Someone. Although I initially pegged him for a "he's just not that into food" kind of guy, I was clearly mistaken. Also, anyone who uses the phrase "hogwash with Hollandaise sauce" is obvi a keeper.

Hello blog-world. The esteemed but exhausted Economical Epicurean (the EE) has passed the keyboard this week to the gentleman she calls her Special Someone (he is me) in the hopes that my rambling prose may inspire her to start blogging again regularly. Now let me preface this entry by highlighting the fact that I am very much not a writer, nor particularly known for creating the type of fine food focused alliteration that you have come to expect from the EE. As a side note, I did, however, start my college career with the best of intentions on becoming an English major. My first semester I signed up for a myriad of courses including ENG 101, ENG 102, ENG 103 and so on. It wasn't until half way through the semester that I discovered these were all Engineering courses. I was not necessarily the sharpest bulb in the pencil box back then. Obvi. Unfortunately, by the point I realized my error the die was cast and I was yet another victim to the allure of the siren song of thermodynamics. Alas. Anyway, I will try to minimize the misplaced modifiers and eliminate egregious errors but I must give apologies in advance for any absence of alliteration.

With that introduction out of the way, I now bid you greetings from the moral high ground of the Special Someone Estate (SSE), conveniently located in the ultra-trendy west SoDNoB (South of Duke, North of Beltway) district of Alexandria, in the humble Commonwealth of VA. Apparently, my one requirement in writing this blog is that I must, at some point, provide an absolutely delicious recipe that can be made by you the reader for pennies on the dollar. So I will get to that. Eventually.

First, a little more about myself. Aside from food and cooking, I have many passions and hobbies in my life. Those that probably most affect my culinary orientation and the style of my recipes include old Buicks, Film Noir, the art of Rafael DeSoto, guitars, softball and collecting antique pinball machines and other assorted old junk. So basically my cooking style has both a vintage and sporty but still artsy/musical flair to it. As can be imagined, variations on the ever classic ambrosia abound in the SSE.

Now there have been some rumors spread about me in recent editions of this blog that perhaps I only eat to live. The implication being that I am not a "food purist" or, dare I say it, even a "foodie," let alone qualified to ghost write a food blog. To that I say, hogwash with Hollandaise sauce. I have three main rebuttal points supporting my love of food:

Point A. Would someone who was not into food go almost six years eating the same meals based on the day of the week? This was back in the days when I worked a lot and didn't have much time to cook nor be as creative as I might like with food, so I just picked my favorite meals and had them repeatedly. I have heard, but do not know for a fact, that Julia Child used to do the same thing. BTW, in case you would like to recreate this scrumptious meal plan: Sunday was pizza night, Monday was fish sticks with macaroni and cheese, Tuesday was steak sandwiches, Wednesday was spaghetti, Thursday was chicken and rice and Friday was taco loco time. Saturday night was a wildcard night with anything goes. For the movie fans out there this meal plan may conjure up visions of Rainman, but I assure you it was for convenience and deliciousness--not out of disdain for food or compulsive necessity. Besides, it wasn't like I had pizza on Mondays and fish sticks on Wednesday. Which would definitely have been a little strange. Definitely.

Point B. If I wasn't into culinary delights, why would my parents have gone to all the trouble of trying to set me up with someone who had their own cooking show on television (or as the hipsters out there like to call it, "TV")? True story. After I returned from living overseas a while back, my parents were going on and on about how they had found this wonderful woman for me, how she was single (at least back then) and that she seemed really nice and perky. They were sincerely describing this mystery woman as if my mom had met her in the grocery store and she was dying to meet me. Eventually they revealed this perfect match was Rachel Ray. The kicker being that of course neither of them actually knew Ms. Ray, but were just very familiar with her "TV" show and thought we would be great together, presumably due to our mutual appreciation of food. Thanks so much for that dating help Ma and Pa--the EE is better than RR anyway!

Point C. This isn't so much a rebuttal point as it is a non sequitur observation that very few food blogs seem to include much discussion about 1955 Buicks. Which, when I think about it, is really kind of sad.

So now having clearly proven my "foodie" credentials (or as we like to say on the mean streets of SoDNoB--my "food cred") it is probably time to provide today's recipe. The short name for the meal is Lasagna with Pineapple Surprise, but my sister's lovingly applied but slightly longer name for it is "What the heck is in this Lasagna? OMIGOSH it is Pineapple. Good grief, you put it in everything so I am not Surprised." I came up with this one night when I was thinking about how much I really like pineapple on pizza, although unlike in the Hawaiian tradition I prefer it with pepperoni rather than ham. Since lasagna has many of the same elements as pizza (tomato sauce, mozzarella etc.) I decided to try it in my lasagna and with that impulse, a classic meal was born. The recipe is pretty simple--make your lasagna the way you usually do, just add a layer of pineapple in the middle. If you normally put ground beef in your lasagna, probably best to not include it in this pineapple version. My sauce of preference is Ragu Super Chunky Mushroom, which seems to harmonize quite nicely with the pineapple. Sometimes I like to also add a layer of pepperoni (or you can try ham), but that will be up to your tastes and budget.


Your lasagna recipe

1 can pineapple chunks or crushed pineapple (strain out as much juice as possible)

pepperoni (optional)

Anyway, hope you like it and do not consider it an iconic fail. Also, hopefully after reading this disjointed effort, the EE will now be motivated to return soon with yet another one of her great blogs!

Monday, April 12, 2010

On My Mind

I've been thinking a lot about whether to continue with this blog. On the one hand, writing and cooking are two of my favorite things to do. On the other, I've been lacking inspiration for quite some time. Not really on the cooking side, but on the "coming-up-with-worthwhile-things-to-say-about-cooking" side.

About a month ago or so I got a great haircut, the kind that real grown-up women get, one that seemed to give me a new lease on life, at least for a few days, or till I realized I would have to blow-dry my hair for an hour every morning to make it look the way it first did. Similarly, perhaps a makeover to this blog would be good for a spell. Anyone know how to do that kind of thing? I am pretty tired of this generic, late '90s-ish template.

Since right now I don't have anything to say that can be condensed into a single pat post, I will resort to a kind of list of recent musings on cooking and eating. Perhaps this will spark something worthwhile for a better-crafted post next time. One can hope!

~After a brunch of oatmeal with a bruleed crust, my friend Rachel W. was inspired to go out and buy a blowtorch to fancify her morning cereal. The other day she texted me that she was making oat bran brulee. Livin' it up while stayin' regular! So, if you too own a blowtorch, that's something fun you can do. Be careful, of course!

~I've started cooking a lot differently now that a Special Someone is around. I probably don't cook for him more than once or twice a week, but when I do, it's mostly goodbye weird one-pot experiments with ingredients that may or may not work together (see: this entire blog), hello real sit-down dinners with a protein, a starch, and a green vegetable. Like the grown-up haircut, maybe it's a sign of progress. Yes, I AM worth opening that whole package of chicken breasts.

~Speaking of Special Someone, one of our (hopefully not tragic) differences is that he eats to live and I live to eat. But he raved about this one experiment I created a few weeks back, sort of a pasta puttanesca meets spaghetti bolognese. Puttanese? Bolognesca? In any case, I made a spicy tomato sauce with ground turkey (instead of ground beef - so yeah, total insult to both puttanesca and bolognese. But still delicious). It had a lot of garlic, Worcestershire sauce (no anchovies on hand), olives, ground fennel seeds. It was really good, and that is all I can think of to say about it for now.

~I tried Mark Bittman's Minimalist recipe for "weeknight tagine" from a couple weeks ago, and have a few thoughts. I'm pretty sad about the end of his blog, Bitten. The Times has condensed all its food blogs into Diner's Journal, which I guess is good news for their budget, but bad news for those of us who have no interest in restaurant trends or wine. Anyway, this tagine, while delicious, was not the first dish of his I've tried that makes me question how well he tests his recipes. He calls for using whole chicken thighs, browning them on either side, and then basically braising them for fifteen minutes. The idea is to turn a traditionally time-consuming recipe into one you can make any weeknight. However, chicken thighs take a much longer time to cook than this recipe implies. My suggestion, if you are strapped for time, is to cut up the chicken into chunks. You can cook them whole, but it will take at least half an hour, not fifteen minutes. Other than that minor misdirection, the recipe is a near perfect mix of sweet and savory.

~As always, I'm really late in catching onto a food craze, but the banh mi sandwich is my new obsession. And it turns out I no longer need to travel all the way to wretched Virginia to get my two-buck fix: Saigonese in Wheaton makes one that, in my opinion, is superior to the original Banh Mi DC Sandwich in Falls Church. Eat that, NoVa!

So, I guess that's all I have to say for now. In the meantime, I'll hang around the stove and see what happens.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Vacation Inspiration

A couple weekends ago, I tried to relive a shortened version of last year's Florida trip. My friend Sarah and I flew down to Tampa, surprised her sister, Emily, who lives in the area and who took the incredible photograph above, and spent a few days cruising around St. Pete Beach and thereabouts. Back in Washington, there were still 10-foot tall, prison-gray snowbanks lining the streets, so I was grateful to be anywhere but home.

Sarah and I rode bikes from Dunedin to Tarpon Springs, a Greek fishing community and evidently the nation's natural sponge headquarters - who knew? We had a delicious early dinner Mykonos, a restaurant near the piers, where I ordered a baked lamb-and-orzo special. It was so good I would've jumped up and done the hora in its praise, had my legs not been so sore from the first bike ride of the year.

I came home to the chilly air and lingering snow, determined to make a baked lamb-and-orzo special at home. I know you're scoffing, "Lamb? And she calls herself economical." But this impressive dish that serves up to 10 people can be prepared for under $20, easily. Allow me to break it down for you.

Lamb shoulder, like pork shoulder of the previous post, is on the fatty side, so it tends to be a lot cheaper than leg of lamb or lamb chops. I found a big ol' 3-pounder at Shopper's for $15, and according to my mother there are better deals out there (try Costco or Middle Eastern or Indian markets). The other main ingredients in the dish - orzo and canned tomatoes - are cheap, and the rest of the ingredients are likely already in your cabinets or fridge. When the lammy is slow-simmered in a simple tomato sauce, then baked with the orzo, the results are a meaty miracle (4 out of 4 other Owens who tried it, plus 1 out of 1 Sanders, concur on this point).

I poked around the internets for a recipe, and was initially disappointed to find that the nearest version of this dish came not from some wrinkled yaya but from Martha Stewart (adapted from Greek cooking authority Vefa Alexiadou, in case you were worried my recipe is not authentic enough). Some of the steps in Martha's adaptation seemed a bit gratuitous to me, so I cut them out with no ill effects (e.g., she has you cook the lamb and tomatoes in a skillet and the orzo separately in a pot, when all you really need is one Dutch oven to do everything). I also lightened up the amount of butter and olive oil and it's still delicious, so you're welcome. I seem to be lacking eloquence lately - or maybe it's all the time now - so I will conclude simply: OMG DELICIOUS.

Recipe: Lamb and Tomatoes Baked in Orzo

Adapted from Martha Stewart. Makes 8-10 servings, and keeps well for a few days. The leftovers are delicious. Although the cooking time is long, the prep is easy. Sauteed spinach in garlic is the perfect accompaniment.

1/4 C olive oil
4 to 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
3 lbs. boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1 or 1.5 inch chunks
1 15-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 T red wine vinegar
1/2 t sugar
salt and pepper
1 lb. orzo
2 T butter
chopped rosemary from 2 or 3 sprigs (optional)
2.5 C hot water (more may be necessary)
kefalotiri cheese for sprinkling (unless your name is Pappas, you probably don't have this on hand; use Parmesan instead)
chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add the garlic, and add the lamb in batches, being sure not to overcrowd. Brown the lamb pieces on all sides and remove from the pot, reserving the liquid. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, and a hearty dash of salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer. Add the lamb back to the pot and simmer in the tomato mixture for 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350. Turn off the burner and add the orzo, butter, rosemary to the pot, and give it a good stir. Add the water to the pot, give it a stir, and place the pot in the oven. Bake for about an hour, or until orzo is al dente, checking on the pot continuously to make sure the dish doesn't seem too dry - if it does, add about a cup of hot water at a time and stir it around. Remove from oven and stir in cheese and parsley.

(Above photo courtesy of the talented Emily Burnett Magdics. Check out her work!)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Stoo for yoo

Ever since I read Ruth Reichl's first memoir, Tender at the Bone, I had been fixing to make pork and tomatillo stew, a recipe that came out of her hippie days at a co-op restaurant in Berkeley. I finally made it two Sundays ago for a herd of hungry snow travelers, and it was just as good as I expected. So good, in fact, that it even stole the spotlight from a big beautiful molcajete full of freshly made guacamole.

I had meant to make it with beef, since I wasn't sure that every visitor to my house was pro-pork, but there had been a run on all bovine products at my Safeway. Plus, pork is cheaper - especially when you stray from the recipe's recommendation of lean pork and choose a big, fatty shoulder roast (about $5.50 for a 3-pound hunk). The fat adds flavor to the stew, and I for one think extra fat is a very welcome thing when you've spent the day plodding through thigh-deep snow or shoveling out a driveway.

I had never cooked with tomatillos before, but what a fun little green fruit they are! They're also remarkably cheap. I bought most of the stew's ingredients, with the exception of the pork, at the Latin market on the ground floor of my office building in NoPe. Here a 2-lb package of tomatillos cost only $1.50 (found some other great bargains, too: limes are 25 cents each; a huge bunch of cilantro is 50 cents; a can of Goya black beans is 75 cents). To cook with tomatillos, you must remove the papery husks, and they may need to be scrubbed if there's still paper stuck to the skin. With the husks removed, a tomatillo looks like a cross between a tomato and a green pepper (their stems are similar). It's the main ingredient in many salsa verdes, and it adds a nice, tart, almost vinegary flavor to this particular stew.

The stew disappeared in a matter of minutes. While I do believe second and third helpings are the sincerest forms of flattery, I would have loved to have kept more to myself. But if you are looking for an easy and cheap dish to please - I mean, really please - a big crowd, this is it.

Recipe: Pork and Tomatillo Stew

Adapted from Ruth Reichl. Makes about 12 servings (per my quantities - you can find the original recipe here). I'm sure it would also be very good with chicken or beef in place of pork, or you could even omit the meat and add extra beans for a veg version. It tastes even better the second day.

1/4 C cooking oil
cloves of one whole head of garlic, peeled
3 lbs. pork shoulder roast, cut into cubes
2 bottles dark beer (I used Negra Modelo in keeping with the Latin theme)
12 ounces orange juice
1 to 2 lbs. tomatillos, quartered
1 to 2 lbs. Roma tomatoes, peeled and chopped (alternatively, you could use canned tomatoes)
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped and divided
2 jalapeƱo peppers, chopped
2 14-ounce cans black beans
juice of 1 lime
sour cream, for serving (optional)

Heat oil in a very large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add garlic cloves, then add pork in batches so as not to crowd, and brown on all sides. Remove pork as the pieces get brown on all sides, and add salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, add beer and orange juice to a medium-sized pot over high heat. Add tomatillos and tomatoes, bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cook about 20 minutes or until tomatillos are soft. Set aside.

When all pork is browned, pour off all but about a tablespoon of the oil in the pan. Add onions and cook about 8 minutes, or until soft. Stir, scraping up bits of meat. Add chopped cilantro and pepper and salt to taste. Put pork back into pan. Add tomatillo mixture and chopped jalapeƱos. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover partially and cook about 2.5 hours. Check for seasonings, add black beans and lime juice and cook an additional 10-15 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream in each bowl, if desired.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Lynne Rossetto Awesome

I listen to a lot of public radio - begrudgingly. To me, it's ten times more tolerable than any other news radio, but this declaration comes with a lot of caveats. For example, I detest that faux-everyman windbag Garrison Keillor, yet his sinister droll still wakes me up every morning (WAMU airs The Writer's Almanac at an ungodly hour). I think This American Life tries too hard to look for the deeper meaning, but I subscribe to their podcast anyway (if you haven't heard "The Breakup" episode, you must). I think the hosts of Morning Edition are shrill snotfaces, but they nonetheless keep me company on every morning commute. I get annoyed when NPR reporters over-enunciate foreign words and names, but I still like how they cover corners of the world that most mainstream news sources avoid.

The one blameless thing public radio has to offer is Lynne Rossetto Kasper. If you ever saw "The Delicious Dish" skits on SNL (see Alec Baldwin's "Schweddy balls" if you can't immediately recall), they were designed to mock Lynne's show, The Splendid Table. These skits were funny but unfair, because The Splendid Table is NOT for boring cat ladies. Oh, wait...

Not surprisingly, I love Lynne and I love her show. Every episode begins with a visit from Jane and Michael Stern of Roadfood, who travel the country in search of the best local dives (I've tried a number of Roadfood recommendations, and the Sterns have never steered me wrong). Then Lynne usually does a few interviews with food experts, and gets into the hows and whys of such titillating topics as waxed versus unwaxed cheese. Okay, I admit it's not for everyone, but you have to appreciate Lynne's great big guffaw and her genuine interest in her guests' and callers' seemingly trivial gastronomical concerns. Listen with Lynne, and you too can become impassioned about the history of ramen, the politics of bananas, and the art of knife-sharpening. Plus, she often has cool guests like Amy Sedaris (though Lynne did seem a little unsure how to react when Amy kept mentioning her drug dealer). And lest you think this show is for food snobs, even The Splendid Table's resident wine critic, Josh Wesson, is credited for helping cheap wine earn some respect in the oenological domain.

Every week Lynne sends me (along with thousands of other public radio nerds with cats and M.A. degrees) an email with a recipe that she usually comes up with herself. I always read them through to the end, where she signs off "Have a great week" (you have a great week too, Lynne!), but seldom follow them. There was one that caught my eye a few weeks ago, a recipe Lynne adapted called "Salad of Pineapple and Winter Greens with Warm Roasted Chile-Coconut Dressing." The title was a bit lengthy for my taste, but what sparked my attention was the pineapple. A certain Special Someone I know is such a big fan of pineapple that he even puts it in lasagna. I hadn't cooked him anything other than a fried egg sandwich, if that even counts as cooking, so I set out to follow Lynne's recipe and make him a Splendid Table-quality first dinner.

The pineapple fan liked it (he even ate the soggy, dressing-logged leftovers for the next two days), which I guess was the whole point, but I was underwhelmed. But, as I stated before, Lynne is blameless, so I'm sure I did something wrong. Using the leftover ingredients I had bought for the salad -- peanuts, Thai basil, fish sauce, daikon radish -- I created a different salad a few nights later, one that I'm thrilled to include on this blog. It's just a remnant of Lynne's, and doesn't even have the titular pineapple, but it's definitely worth sharing. Have a great week.

Recipe: Lynne Rossetto Kasper-Inspired Crunchy Salad with Peanut Dressing

I'm having deja vu: I think I write about salads like this about 25 percent of the time, as they are my staple for weight loss attempts. But each one always seems better than the last one, so I can't resist posting them. This one contains two of my new favorite ingredients - daikon radish and fish sauce. I'm really late in jumping on the daikon radish and fish sauce bandwagons, but I'm glad I finally did. Fish sauce adds that mysterious umami taste (Lynne, as you may have guessed, loves talking about umami) and daikon is that delicious not-too-sharp radish you find in banh mi sandwiches and some Thai salads. Both are really inexpensive at Asian markets. I also used red cabbage in this salad; normally I buy green cabbage since it tends to be cheaper, but red and green are both 99 cents a pound at H Mart, so I went with the more visually appealing red. As with any salad I create, proportions are up to individual tastes, so this recipe is just a guideline.

Makes 4 generous servings. Lasts up to five days in the refrigerator. Add chicken, shrimp, or tofu to make it a more filling meal.

For the salad:
1/2 head of red cabbage (use green if you prefer)
1 carrot, shredded or cut into matchsticks
2 green onions, sliced (use green and white parts)
1/2 daikon radish, cut into matchsticks
1 handful Thai basil, cut into julienne, or cilantro
1 handful roasted, salted peanuts, chopped (food processor makes this much easier; cashews or macadamia nuts would also be good)
juice of 1 lime

For the dressing:
3 T peanut butter
2 T rice vinegar
1 T honey
1 t fish sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
a good sprinking of crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 t salt
water to thin the dressing, if desired

Mix together the salad ingredients; add the lime juice. Whisk together the dressing ingredients; add a few drops of water if you like a thinner consistency. Check seasonings and adjust as needed. Toss dressing with salad.