Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Things I've Cooked Recently

Pan-fried mozzarella (with canned tomatoes) (surprisingly easy-- from How to Cook Everything)

Tomillo sobre tomillo / Thyme over thyme by jjramos
Pasta with onions, green onions, honey, olive oil, and lemon juice

French-style scrambled eggs (she's not kidding, these are incredibly good)

Pasta risotto with butter and scrambled egg sauce, with garlic and thyme

Mushroom, green onion, and goat cheese sandwich on whole grain bread with thyme and lemon juice

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Flavor Bible

I'm not sure I can accurately convey how much I love The Flavor Bible. I finally own it myself, but this is actually the third time I've bought the book. It's probably the best gift I ever gave to my friend Brian, and I got it for another friend last year for Christmas. I will probably end up giving it to everyone I know who cooks eventually. It's that great. It so completely deserves it's name.

It's basically the best aid to improvisational cooking that I've ever seen. The bulk of the book is a massive list of almost every ingredient imaginable, with a brief description of its flavor profile or role in cooking, and a list of other ingredients that make good flavor combinations with the header ingredient. There's a brief introduction at the start of the book that talks about the principles of balance in cooking, and all the different considerations that go into developing a dish, and comments all throughout the book on various ingredients by the chefs who the authors consulted to develop the flavor indexes, but the core of the book is very simple. It's a series of lists.

It's an extremely powerful presentation, and it's very flexible in how you can use it. Brian, for instance, mostly uses it to tweak existing recipes by adding new seasonings. I originally got it for me because he'd mentioned how every so often he gets bored with his own cooking, because he falls into a rut of using the same seasonings over and over again. The Flavor Bible makes it very easy to solve that problem.

I've used it that way myself. Especially with simple dishes, it's very rewarding to look up a few ingredients (say, pasta, olive oil, and eggs) and see what other ingredients lie at the intersection (scallions, as it turns out), and what their main qualities are (the weight of the ingredient, the volume of the flavor, whether it's astringent, piquant, bitter, and so on) I'll often get ideas for several variations at once this way, and they're almost always good. A few more tweaks (shallot instead of garlic, a splash of lemon juice) and it begins to turn into something entirely new.

"Entirely new" is really where it's at for me in using this book. The other night, for instance, all I knew about what I was going to do for dinner was that in flipping through the book I'd noticed that honey was listed as a good combination with scallions. That surprised me, so I wanted to try it. I made a list of other likely ingredients that went with both honey and scallions, and start thinking about what I could make with them, and what else went well with them. I ended up not even using honey (my honey turned out to have crystallized) but the scallion, mushroom, and goat cheese sandwich, on whole grain bread and seasoned with thyme and a fair bit of better, ended up being delicious anyway.

It's made me very aware of how limited my repertoire still is. The vast majority of the cooking that I do is vegetarian and takes place entirely in a frying pan, and much of what I do on a regular basis involves making either pasta sauce (which I'm very good at) or beans and rice. There's a lot of territory to cover there, true, but strangely, becoming more proficient at and getting more tools for improvisational cooking like this has made me more interested in acquiring more traditional cookbooks, and in mastering more recipes from How to Cook Everything. I feel like there's a lot of important information encoded particularly in traditional cultural recipes, and if nothing else, I think mastering a lot of good recipes is going to be the best way for me to gain confidence in my kitchen skills.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

New Toy

Fried egg pasta variant--
Whole wheat pasta
splash of lemon
salt & pepper
3 eggs
2 shallots (instead of garlic)

Sauteed the scallions until brown and kinda roasty, then added a good bit of salt and pepper and a splash of lemon juice. Set aside. Sauteed the scallions in the same pan until softened and just beginning to brown, then set them aside with the scallions and fried the eggs sunny side up. Dumped the vegetables back in for the last minute of the egg cooking process. Dumped everything over a bed of whole wheat linguine, mixed it up a bit, added another splash of lemon and some salt.

Sweet, astringent

Olive Oil

olive oil

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Five Links

Post format totally copped from Jeff Rient's Gameblog.

Emeril Lagasse's Chicken Marsala recipe Replace the onion powder and garlic powder in the spice mix with minced garlic and shallot (add when you cook the mushrooms) and you're good to go.

In Praise of Fast Food Not sure I'm ready to praise fast food, per se, but the industrial food revolution has been good for us in a lot of ways. I want high quality processed food that makes my life easier while still being food.

L.A. schools' healthful lunch menu panned by students. The key here is the third paragraph from the bottom.

Oven-Fried Sriracha Chicken Incredibly good.

Vegetarian Eating in the Land of Iceberg Lettuce A New York vegetarian moves to Kansas. 

Friday, January 6, 2012


“Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.” -- Alice May Brock

I couldn't live without garlic. Garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper. Those are the foundations of my home cooking, and garlic is my favorite, although it's probably the least important out of the four. But damn, is it delicious. I know people who cook without garlic, but I don't understand them.

Garlic is largely what got me into cooking-- real cooking, the way I do it now. Mark Bittman's Pan Sauce recipe, which begins with an aromatic vegetable, sauteed in fat or oil, then add a little salt and pepper and a little flavorful liquid. (Usually, but not always, an acid.) That's the beginning of most of what I do in the kitchen, that's the beginning of almost every meal that's based on what I have in the house, rather than a recipe and a grocery trip. Discovering that, and mastering garlic, dramatically expanded the range and power of my kitchenosity. 

Usually garlic is the foundation of a dish, rather than a centerpiece, but sometimes, man, I should want some barely crisp, chewy, browned-until-sweet garlic, and whatever it's on is just the delivery mechanism. My mom has a recipe for shrimp with fried garlic (which I really need to get for myself) but I make pasta.

Linguine with Garlic
5-6 cloves of garlic, crushed or roughly chopped
1/4 lb. of linguine (or other pasta, but linguine is ideal)
2 tbs olive oil
salt & pepper

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and salt it. Cook the pasta 6-8 minutes, or until chewy. (al dente!)
2. Put the oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Saute the garlic until it begins to brown. Add a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.
3. Toss oil and pasta together. Serve. 

Variation: Linguine with Fried Eggs
As the garlic softens, break 2 (or more, when I'm really hungry) eggs into the pan and fry them in oil until the white is hard but the yolk is still runny. Break up the egg some as you toss it together with the pasta; the yolk and top of the white will finish cooking in the heat of the pasta and oil, and create a delicious, creamy sauce.

The non-egg version is actually new for me. I picked up Spaghetti with Fried Eggs in college, made it a bunch, and eventually determined that I really needed to leave the garlic in the final product. And add more garlic. A lot more.

Just garlic is another lesson I learned from Bittman, and it is a delicious lesson indeed. He adds chiles and a few other spices, and while I'm sure that's delicious, garlic, olive oil, and boxed pasta are the things that I always have in the house (in great, Costco-provided quantity!) so that's what I go for when I really need some cheap, easy comfort food.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Wheat Thins

So it turns out that it's godawful hard to find crackers that actually have fiber in them. They go on and on about how they're "whole grain" and "multi-grain" and "made with seven seeds and nuts" but as far as I can tell if the box itself doesn't say "Fiber" it's all useless. Wheat Thins Fiber Selects are pretty good, though. 6 grams of dietary fiber per 13 piece serving doesn't make them a nutritional powerhouse by any means, but they're easy and keep well, which makes them a good work lunch option, and they beat out a lot of the contenders in that category.

I eat them with cashew butter, which I just discovered, and is delicious. I always hated peanut butter as a kid, and still do, but I wanted to add another source of vegetable protein to my diet, above and beyond legumes and grains. That means nuts. Me being me, that means wandering around the grocery aisles where nuts be and picking out some random things that I have some vague notion will be delicious or am otherwise curious about. Curiosity, in this case, very much rewarded.

All talk of grams and servings aside, I actually try not to pay too much attention to nutritional information. I do, somewhat obsessively-- I'm the only person I know who regularly reads nutritional labels and ingredient lists-- but I try. Compulsions notwithstanding, I don't think it's that useful. I've only flipped through In Defense of Food, but the idea, from there, that food is about more than its parts, and that we don't fully understand what's in food or why we need it, has stuck with me.

In particular, I suspect that modern nutrition's attitude towards fat and towards types of fat is deeply misguided. Odds are good that the sodium scare is problematic as well. To the degree that increased fat content makes food more calorie dense, and proportionately less nutrient dense, well, obviously that's problematic. But I'm still interested in cooking with lard-- because I suspect it's not any "worse" than the mechanical concoction that is vegetable shortening, and on the occasions that I eat fried food, or pastry, why not?

So I try not to obsess over the numbers. Eating food that's as colorful, plant-based, and unprocessed as I can is more important. (Nutritionally, anyway. Tastiness is, as ever, key.) I don't always succeed, because numbers are so dang fun. And fiber is important. It's only recently that I've realized how big a difference getting enough fiber makes to the way I feel, and just how much fiber is "enough." So when I'm going to be eating crackers or pasta or otherwise boxed, packaged grain type food anyway, I do check that number.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sweet Potatoes

I love sweet potatoes. Especially compared to regular potatoes-- not bad, but not particularly inspiring, either. My life has been immeasurably better since I discovered sweet potato fries. The vegetable helps a lot with my number one guiding rule of nutrition-- the more colorful, the better.

Baked sweet potatoes, though, don't do a whole lot for me. They're not bad on occasion, but I kind of lost the taste for them after a few too many Baked Potato Wednesdays at my college cafeteria. They were one of a number of foods there that were much better in concept than execution, at least execution repeated interminably. Part of the problem was that there was a period where sweet potatoes were one of the few things I ate at the caf. After a few weeks of a diet based on cottage cheese, sweet potatoes, white toast, and apple sauce, all the components start to lose their interests.

So I roast them. Not much harder, and I think far more tasty. My recipe goes like this:
1 onion (yellow, white, or sweet)
1 sweet potato
1 tsp olive oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper 
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the onion and the sweet potato up into 1 inch cubes. Peel the potato if you like, but it's not necessary. Toss with olive oil, salt, and black pepper, then spread out on a baking pan, or any flat, oven-proof dish. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Serve with a squeeze of lime or lemon juice. 
Serves 1. Multiply ingredients as necessary.
Foxboy, of course, feels strongly that these should be sprinkled with chili powder, "or cumin." I'm perfectly happy with the dish as presented. Last Friday, dinner was this and a baked beet, and it was excellent.