Sunday, November 6, 2011

In the Proverbial Soup

Tonight I made two different pots of pork soup. It started with a pork roast:

This was a bone-in pork shoulder. It was disappointing as a roast (kind of tough). Obviously it wanted to be stew or soup. So the first step was a trip to the spa, so to speak.

I also had a chunk of another roast in the freezer that I added as well. I covered it with water, added salt and pepper, and cooked it long and slow in my crock pot. When it was done, I could literally just lift the bones out. I divided the pork and broth between two pots and made the two different soups. Each got a large onion.

For the Southwestern soup I gave it a rough dice. For the Asian soup I sliced it into thin half-moons. The Southwestern soup was the quickest to put together. I added a 15-ounce can each of hominy and black beans (rinsed and drained), a can of tomatoes with jalapenos, cumin and ancho chili powder (a goodly quantity of each). I stirred all together and put it to simmer. The flavor's good but next time I'll use double the beans and hominy.

The Asian was more complex. I put the pork, broth and onion in the pot with a good amount each of chopped ginger and garlic as well as about a half-cup of soy sauce. I let that simmer for about an hour, then added the mushrooms and bok choi:

 I used a pound and a quarter of mushrooms. I'm probably at least half Hobbit, but I think the term "too many mushrooms" is one of the worst oxymorons in the English language.

When I make this again (and I plan to) I'll experiment with other vegetables. I'll also experiment with chicken and (gasp!) shrimp.

When the veggies were tender, I cooked some soba noodles, put them into the bowl and ladled the soup over it:

(I don't know about you, but I always loved those big beautiful bowls in Asian restaurants!).

I had this for dinner tonight, and it was delicious. I did some serious slurping with the soba noodles (which I've always loved). I'm storing the soup without the noodles and cooking them separately for each serving because any sort of pasta gets gummy and nasty when stored in broth.

I ran short of containers and, believe it or not, I had to store the Southwestern soup in two plastic pitchers! But now I have lunches and/or dinners for quite a few days.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Breakfast Soft Tacos

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and Mexican food is far and away my favorite ethnic cuisine. So it only made sense to combine them for a quick, delicious start to the day This is for one serving but it multiplies easily.

about 1/4 medium onion (I used sweet but you can use any you like)
1 tablespoon diced canned green chilis
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute if you prefer
pinch each salt and ground cumin
2 tablespoons queso fresco or grated jack cheese
2 medium corn tortillas
salsa to taste

Dice the onion. Melt the butter in the skillet and add the onion and chilis. Saute until onion is soft and golden.  Beat the egg with salt and cumin and add to the skillet. Scramble to taste. Warm the tortillas for about 15 seconds in the microwave and top with the egg mixture.

Crumble the queso fresco between your fingers and divide between the two tacos. Add your favorite salsa to taste.

You can vary these by using hotter peppers, different cheeses or scallions instead of white/yellow onions.

Keep a fork and napkin handy, because the salsa can make them a bit drippy. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

My night with the Cake Boss

(A special thank you to the security guard at the Wells Fargo Center who took this picture with his Smart Phone -- doofus here left her camera in the glove box!)

I've been a fan of Buddy Valastro since Cake Boss premiered. I always found him to be engaging and funny. I know some people think they edit the show to make him look good. I can tell you after tonight, he doesn't need any help. He radiates energy, joy, warmth and -- love. I'm sorry if that sounds hokey, but it's the absolute truth.

The show was a lot of fun. He talked, took questions (while decorating an absolutely gorgeous wedding cake, practically without looking). He had people up on the stage for competitions to see who could frost a cupcake or make a frosting flower like he could (uh...nobody). He made a stunning frosting rosebud BLINDFOLDED. And he had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. Two extra-nice touches -- a sign-language interpreter for the hearing-impaired in the audience, and a staffer standing by the autograph line to photograph people with Buddy with their cameras. A lot of thought and care for the audience went into this show and made it even more special.

He stayed after the show to sign autographs. I'm told the line went all the way around the perimeter of the building, and it's not a small building. I can't stand for that length of time, so I sat in one of the folding chairs out in the lobby and waited two hours for my turn to get my copy of his book signed. It was worth every minute of it. When it was my turn he held out his arms and said, "Hello, sweetheart" and gave me an amazing hug. (I get one hug a week. I'll be living off of this one for a long time.) He signed my book and chatted with me for a moment. This was nearly midnight after what had to be an exhausting time for him (he's been on tour for the last several weeks).

I've loved the man on TV ever since the show premiered. It fills my heart to know the real man is even sweeter, warmer and more wonderful.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

On a (fin) and a prayer

I had guests last night and I made cioppino (Italian seafood stew) and homemade rolls for dinner. My guests are Italian, so I was a little nervous because I'd never made cioppino before and it's an Italian-American classic. Well, I got some luck right off the bat, because the store had both the shrimp and clams on sale! In fact, large shrimp were only $3.99 per pound, so I bought an extra pound and it's in my freezer. So I started off prepping the shellfish:

(I may be a bit of a dork, but I think clamshells are gorgeous.) So I shelled the shrimp and gave the clams their "spa treatment." You have to soak clams in at least two changes of water and a little cornmeal to clean out the grit. (Sand is not my favorite condiment in my stew.) I also cut up a pound of red snapper fillets. You can use any mild white fish you like.

Meantime, I started the broth:

It involves crushed tomatoes, garlic, onions, red bell pepper, olive oil, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, lemon juice and red wine. I gotta tell you, this smelled great! I can't really tell you an exact recipe because the amounts were, as my grandmother would say, "by guess and by God."

When the broth came to the boil and smelled really great, I added the seafood.

My guests wanted crab in it, so they brought it. Can you say "yummy?"

I cooked it until the clams opened and the crab was hot, and served it with the rolls I baked. If I do say so myself (and I do), it turned out really well for a first attempt.

Of course, the best part of any meal is the people you share it with! My good friends Paolo and Diane said they really enjoyed the dinner.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Getting sauced on Saturday night

I don't know very many people who don't like spaghetti. Premade sauces are convenient and quick (and if I'm perfectly honest, some of them actually taste pretty good). But they're expensive and sometimes have chemicals or other ingredients that aren't exactly traditional. Besides, making your own is really easy. It takes a few minutes to put together, an occasional stir, and just a low, long simmer. Also, it freezes beautifully, so it's something you can make ahead and have on hand when you need a quick meal. So last Saturday night I decided to make a batch of sauce.

This is basically the recipe my Irish family used when I was growing up. So we start with the basics:

I use three large cans of tomato sauce, one small can of tomato paste, fresh garlic, oregano, bay leaf, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper. I start by mincing two or three cloves of garlic (okay, three or four -- I love garlic). Of course you can use a garlic press, but mine is really wimpy so I just mince it with the good old chef's knife.

So I pour the cans of tomato sauce into the pot. I use about a third of a can of water to rinse out the cans and get all the sauce that clings to the insides. Add the can of tomato paste and wisk thoroughly to disperse the paste through the tomato sauce. Add the garlic, herbs, salt, pepper and a generous splash of olive oil. You can make this fat-free, of course, but the olive oil just adds so much incredible flavor.

Wisk the seasonings in thoroughly. Simmer over medium-low to low heat (stoves will vary). You need to keep the heat low and stir every so often because tomato sauce will stick and burn fairly easily. But it's only a few seconds about every fifteen minutes. Allow to simmer for about two and a half to three hours, or until it reaches the thickness you like it. I leave mine for three or even a bit more because I like mine REALLY thick.

There are a lot of ways to vary it. You can add mushrooms:

You can break up Italian sausage and add to the sauce (I personally love sausage and mushroom sauce). You can add black olives, or you can even add meatballs. You can add just about any veggies you like. Let your pantry and your conscience be your guide!

You can also put it on a lot besides pasta. Ever have a hot meatball hero sandwich with melting mozzarella or provolone on it? To die for! You can also use the sauce for pizza, as a baste for chicken or meatloaf -- the possibilities are endless.

As soon as I can afford an immersion blender I'm going to learn to make it from fresh tomatoes (but that's another post).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Our (Occasional) Bread

Sorry, but I haven't made it up to baking daily yet.

I can't think of a better jumping-off point than bread because it's so basic. Every culture has a version of bread, and recent archaeological finds suggest that even our prehistoric ancestors may have eaten bread. So bread it was. I started with bulgur-wheat rolls. It was a cool, damp day so I was afraid the dough wouldn't rise. I needn't have worried:

(Yes, I know -- I needed to use a bigger bowl).

I'm not telling my therapist this, but kneading bread dough is great for working out your frustrations. A sturdy dough like this will take a pounding. I felt SO much more relaxed after kneading the dough than when I started (of course, the glass of wine I had while working probably helped). The recipe was supposed to make a dozen rolls. I was really startled by the size they turned out. Next time I'll make two dozen from the same dough:


But I have to say, they tasted spectacular with the homemade soup I made the same day. I cheated and had two of them.

I felt psyched after the success with the rolls, so I decided to try a loaf (besides, I had another packet of yeast to use up). I probably need to work on loaf shaping, because this was supposed to be round but came out looking more like a giant amoeba:

Of course, I could always call it "rustic" or "artisan" instead of badly formed.

One more packet of yeast in the cabinet. Hmmm...

Come Along With Me!

Hello! My name is Mary and I'm on a journey.

I've always loved food and cooking, but hid from it for too many years. Now, with the help of some dear friends (who are world-class chefs) I'm exploring as much as I can of the culinary world. I hope you'll join me on my Cuisine Quest.