Saturday, February 27, 2010

Breakfast of cowboys

Here's a surprise: Muffins are even better when you dunk them in a half pound of melted butter and roll them in sugar. 
The Pioneer Woman calls these French breakfast puffs, but they did not strike me as very French. They struck me as very American. Also, very delicious. If you're interested, this is one of the recipes that appears in both the Pioneer Woman's cookbook and on her web site
First, you make a fluffy, sweet, nutmeggy muffin. PW calls for shortening, which somehow seems nastier in a muffin than in a pie crust, but since I had a tub in the refrigerator, I used it. Pale, puffy muffins emerged from the oven 25 minutes later.
I thought that a half pound of butter (Pioneer Woman calls for salted butter) was more than we needed for dunking the muffins, but Isabel ran out before the last two muffins were coated. You don't just dip the crowns in the butter, you drench the whole muffin.This meant that there were two sticks of butter coating 10 muffins, which is about 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter per muffin. Is that a lot? How much butter do people who butter muffins put on their muffins?
After buttering, we rolled the damp muffins in cinnamon sugar. 
"Don't be afraid to really coat 'em up," writes Pioneer Woman. "Let the kids help!" 
I let my kid perform the whole messy operation.

"Cinnamony sweet perfection!" gushes the Pioneer Woman. "The deliciousness of these beauties is not to be underestimated." One of the mysteries of Pioneer Woman is how she manages to be both immodest and charming at the same time, which she does.

At any rate, we all agreed with her -- cinnamony sweet perfection! All except Owen.

"Tastes like a donut," said Owen. Then: "No offense, but it's a little too sugary and you can taste salt in there." 
He was responding, I think, to the salted butter. I told him he's crazy, that salt, sugar and fat are the qualities we look for in a food, and that when he gets the whole trifecta in a single dish he should rejoice, and that he should never say "no offense" because just those two words are offensive. 

I didn't really say that. I don't think I said anything. This morning I offered to toast one of yesterday's leftover puffs for breakfast, but he declined. He wants pancakes, so I am now going to make Pioneer Woman's pancakes. They appear to consist mostly of sour cream.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I must say, canned clams are very convenient

I made the linguine with clam sauce out of Pioneer Woman Cooks the other night and we all gobbled it up because it was so very delicious.

The gist of a subsequent conversation with my husband:

Tipsy: She calls for 3/4 cup of cream in her clam sauce, in addition to butter and Parmesan. Everything tastes better with cream! I could make any of my boring recipes better if I sloshed in some cream. She's like that person who always tells you what you want to hear but doesn't really have your back.

Husband: I disagree. It's not her job to make things healthy, it's her job is to publish recipes that taste really good.

He has a point. Julia Child didn't stint on the cream. Subject requires more thought.

He also told me I should post this link to a story about ballpark food. I would eat the poutine, but nothing about a Twinkie cheese dog sounds appealing.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I'm psyched for the chicken-fried steak

Someone sent me this book a few weeks ago and I immediately sat down and read it cover-to-cover. It's a charming, scrapbooky volume that sucks you in with the gorgeous photography and anecdotal sidebars. I find even the recipes -- some of which are on the Pioneer Woman site, some of which aren't -- fun to read. When Isabel saw it she had the same response and told me I had to cook from it it next. She asks very little from me, so I agreed.

Yesterday, for my birthday, my mother bought me a copy of Michael Pollan's Food Rules. Rule rule #41: Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Greeks. 

What he really meant, but was too polite to say: Don't eat like the Oklahomans. Under any circumstances. Ever. I have scoured Pioneer Woman Cooks, and it contains nary a recipe that doesn't break some food rule or another. Except maybe the salsa. Everything is swimming in heavy cream or fortified with ground beef or drenched in icing. Apparently, the Marlboro Man doesn't like vegetables or fish, so Ree Drummond simply doesn't cook them. They seem to have an unusually happy marriage. It makes a person think.

Last night, I served Drummond's meat loaf,  a mighty 12-inch ziggurat molded from ground chuck, milk-soaked bread and Parmesan cheese that is then wrapped in bacon and slathered in sweetened ketchup and baked. Fabulous. Owen ate an enormous wedge. My own Marlboro Man almost kissed my feet. It was very awkward.

I owe a final review of Moro. Coming soon.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Some pretty pictures of food. For a change.

Peppermint stick milkshake at Lunchbox Laboratory in Seattle. 
Cheeseburger plate at Lunchbox Laboratory.
 Bacon cheeseburger at Lunchbox Laboratory. 

I apologize for this nasty picture, but can you see how much bacon is on there? That sounds like a good thing, but wasn't. Too smoky. It's the right kind of mistake for a restaurant to make. We loved this place.
Golden Grahams milkshake from a food truck in Portland. I couldn't get the kids to order this so I had to order it myself.
Okay, so this is not pretty, but we ate it all up: pandan ice cream on a bed of warm sticky rice showered with a pound or so of chopped peanuts. Served to us at Ping restaurant in Portland's very petite Chinatown.
I was going to say that the food in the Pacific Northwest is the best in the country, but once you leave the big cities it deteriorates sharply. A few years ago, when Owen and I were visiting the town of Fossil, Oregon, the waitress asked him to break open one of his chicken fingers to make sure it was cooked. The sad part is, we had to go back the next night because the only other restaurant in Fossil had been shut down by the health department. Above is a "sundae" Owen ordered in a diner in the town of Phoenix, Oregon. I thought it was funny, but he was totally fine with it. "I don't like rice on sundaes," he said. It does make the Ping sundae look like a little grotesque.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

850 miles

Over the weekend, my children and I drove from San Francisco to Seattle and I won't mince words: It was miserable -- wet, monotonous, endless. Next time, we're flying. If not for audiobooks, I think we would have turned around at Eugene. Old Man and the Sea -- huge hit. My Antonia -- less of a hit, but tolerated. It's not really a boy book. Here's a passage in which the narrator recalls the bread Antonia's immigrant mother baked:

I remember how horrified we were at the sour, ashy-grey bread she gave her family to eat. She mixed her dough, we discovered, in an old tin peck measure that Krajek had used about the barn. When she took the paste out to bake it she left smears of dough sticking to the sides of the measure on the shelf behind the stove, and let this residue ferment. The next time she made bread, she scraped the sour stuff down into the fresh dough to serve as yeast.

Today, of course, we call this a starter, and "sour, ashy-grey" bread is very fancy. 

We love Seattle. In addition to touring the Ballard Locks with cousins and watching GI Joe: The Rise of the Cobra with friends, we've eaten much delicious food. Highlights: The chicken liver and kimchi fried rice at Joule, and Tilth's butterscotch pudding, which actually tasted of Scotch. 

Today, unfortunately, we have to get back in the car. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Better cream of tartar biscuits

Every photograph ever taken of Owen would look like this if he had his way. He's eating biscuits, watching League of Super Evil, and no one's making him get dressed. 

Thanks to An Honest Cook, who recommended this excellent recipe, the second batch of Crazy Heart-inspired cream-of-tartar biscuits was stellar, producing 18 tall, tender, very light and fluffy biscuits. Far above average in the biscuit department and I highly recommend.

The kids and I are supposed to start driving to Seattle this afternoon, otherwise I would use the leftovers to attempt this incredibly tempting recipe for biscuit pudding from Salon.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The good, the not so good, the ugly

First the good.

Milk mayonnaise. Please make this. It sounds odd and doesn't look like much, but it's much. The recipe and a beautiful description are here. I've made it two nights in a row and have a big crush. 

- Isabel. She now makes dessert every evening after she finishes her homework.
The Nigella Lawson cinder toffee didn't work -- she burned the sugar -- but she cleaned the pot herself without being asked. I was shocked. When I was 13, I would have left the pot for my mother and gone upstairs to watch Bob Newhart reruns.

- Isabel's brownies. 

- Christmas tree is gone.
Now, the not so good and the ugly.

-The Moro tortilla was unwieldy and swimming in oil. The instructions call for you to flip the wet mass of egg, potato and onion, and  I seriously considered doing it. 
I stood there at the stove with a pot holder, ready to execute. Then I said, no, and put it under the broiler.
 It wasn't attractive or delicious, but at least it wasn't on the floor. Accompanied by milk mayonnaise, an acceptable dinner.

-Moro roasted skate wing with caramelized garlic and sherry vinegar.
I went to the Chinese market to buy sardines or mackerel and when there were none to be had, decided to try skate wing, which was splayed out on the ice right next to the sole. Everyone loves sole, and the two fishes looked kind of alike. Skate wing is cheap: $2.99 a pound, which would be a steal except. . .

It's an extremely thin piece of fish covered with slippery gray skin and it really does sort of feather out at the edges, like a wing, or a fin. Handling the fish back home, I realized I didn't know what a skate was and went to the computer to check.

It's a relative of the ray. The Moro recipe calls for searing and then roasting the skate, which made a bad thing worse.

And though it tasted fine -- pleasant, even -- this was one of those mind-over-matter meals. Frankly, looking at this photograph, I'm appalled that we even tried.

- Cream of tartar biscuits from this recipe out of Yankee magazine.
Jeff Bridges makes cream of tartar biscuits in Crazy Heart. I'd never heard of them, but found recipes all over the internets. And? They were intensely sour, flat, inedible. Straight to the chickens. I have to try again with another recipe.  Or is it possible I forgot to add the baking soda? It is possible. I really wanted a biscuit this morning.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Duck breasts & another problematic dessert

Having now cooked my first duck breasts, which were meaty and succulent, I don't want to ever roast another whole duck, which inevitably emerges from the oven gray and desiccated. Is there a recipe or technique out there that I'm missing? Should I just give up on roasted duck?

The Moro duck breasts with pomegranate molasses looked like steak, but were more tender and, in my opinion, more delicious. They were also dead easy. As Sam and Sam Clark might say. You sear the meat in a cast iron skillet, pop it into a very hot oven for 15 minutes, then make a quick pan sauce with a splash of water and some pomegranate molasses. If you haven't tried pomegranate molasses, it's inexpensive, keeps like ketchup, sells at Whole Foods (at least in this town), and tastes like very tart jam. Try it!

For dessert: rosewater and cardamom ice cream.
Moro: "This ice cream is not to everyone's liking, but those who appreciate the exotic, heavenly scent of rosewater will adore it."
I do appreciate that exotic, heavenly scent, but did not adore this ice cream, which was thin and insufficiently sweet. Not exactly bad, but nothing any of us needed to eat ever again, or even just the next day. The desserts in Moro have been a disappointment. In fact, this was the biggest hit yet. The churros & chocolate were a fiasco, the Malaga raisin ice cream was inedible, and the walnut, lemon and cardamom cake moved almost directly from oven to chicken coop. Odd, since almost everything else from this book has been wonderful.

Tonight: a Moro sardine or mackerel recipe, if I can find sardines or mackerel. Otherwise: Tortilla Espanola. Whatever I end up cooking will be served with the reportedly amazing David Leite/Amanda Hesser milk mayonnaise, featured on food52.

Monday, February 08, 2010

We're going to eat a lot of persimmon pudding

I've been derelict, not cooking at all, serving everyone grilled cheese sandwiches and pancakes. The last week has been nutty  -- in good ways! Chief among the positive developments: My mother came home from the hospital, is eating with gusto and feeling better than she has since September. The new chemo is doing its job. Cancer will shock you when it goes on a mad rampage, but it can shock you every bit as much when it suddenly turns tail. The last few days have been disorienting in that regard, but we're not complaining.

Garden update: 

Back in December, I ordered a bunch of bare-root trees and they finally arrived. Yesterday, we planted. I went overboard with my order, but especially in the persimmon department: fuyu, chocolate, and hachiya. What is wrong with me? They are very beautiful when fruiting in the fall (see aspirational photo at top), but we struggled to find places for those three trees. If even just one survives, we are going to be drowning in persimmons.

Which is a truly nightmarish image. 

This is how a young persimmon tree looks in February:
Can you even see it? The tall stick in the foreground.
We also planted four fig trees along the street outside the fence, since deer do not eat fig leaves. We can never have too many figs. And we put in some (more) raspberries, grapes, blueberries, and two columnar apple trees, which are wonderful because you can plant them in tight spaces. They grow straight up like . . . columns. This is what the Scarlet Spire columnar apple tree looks like as of 5 minutes ago:
An asparagus.

After the big morning in the yard, my husband threw an all-boys Super Bowl party and I went to the movies to escape the shouting and potato chips. I didn't love watching Jeff Bridges throw up, but otherwise really enjoyed Crazy Heart.

(I should say, I have a horror of watching people throw up, even in movies. Maybe especially in movies, because you can't leave the room. Others will probably not be similarly offended.)

Friday, February 05, 2010

Again I am wrong about something

This is the tiny frizzle hen that inspired me to buy Owen a frizzle hen last fall. Owen's black frizzle was ugly, miserable, and cantankerous and a rogue dog killed her a few weeks after we brought her home, which was almost sadder than if she'd been nice.  This one looks like a fluffy chrysanthemum with a little chick face sticking out, and she's very sweet.

I had misgivings about yesterday's 4-H visit to the retirement home because it struck me as patronizing. Just because people are old, doesn't mean they want to sit around and watch show-and-tell with scraggly barnyard animals. 

Oh, but they did. I was so wrong. When the 4-H club arrived, there were about 20 people waiting in the lounge, pumped for the show, wheelchairs drawn up to formica tables.
Each of the kids made a brief (or, in Owen's case, meandering) presentation, and then brought their animal around for residents to meet and admire. 
It went on for about an hour, and by the end the kids were no longer shy, everyone was chatting, the animals were running around, and there were a few moderately amusing mishaps. I don't want to get corny about the healing power of animals/the rightness of generational mixing, but it was an unexpectedly lovely afternoon. 

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Hanging up the hatchet

The handsome and burly bird on the right? Our third rooster. The "science" of sexing newborn chicks could use some new talent.

The photograph doesn't do this bird justice. Darlene (I don't choose the names!) has a silky white neck ruff,  his back is splashed with gold and gray, his long tail feathers are an iridescent emerald green, and he's absolutely gorgeous.
But he does rude things to the hens accompanied by violent squawking, which is embarrassing when you're trying to chat with a neighbor. I could live with that, except he also crows for about an hour just before daybreak and therefore, by the law of our suburb, has to go. I'm listening to him crow as I type, just him and the garbage trucks. Someone is going to complain, it's only a matter of time.

I'm done with do-it-yourself culling. The Humane Society says they'll take Darlene, though they can't promise to find him a home. Even if they eventually euthanize him, I assume it will be done via needle, which can only be easier than the messy executions meted out to Floppy and Arlene. 

Anyway, they do have some success pushing the roosters, so fingers crossed. 

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Moro victory lap

The picture is as bad as the dinner was delicious.

I'll start with the pastry triangle at top. Moro calls these fatayer, and they are like Syrian calzones. You make a simple yeast dough and let it sit while you roast and puree some squash. Then you roll the dough into four circles, and fill each one with squash, feta cheese, lots of chopped fresh oregano, and toasted pinenuts. 
Pinch into a rough triangle and bake.  As Isabel pointed out, these are like a bready version of the pumpkin ravioli you get at Italian restaurants, but in ravioli the counterpoint to the squash is grated Parmesan, which sometimes lacks the power to overcome its cloying sweetness. Here, the counterpoint is feta, and nothing can shout down feta, not even squash. They're evenly matched and the oregano, in the role usually played by sage, adds complexity. Everyone loved fatayer.
Some of us loved the chickpeas and spinach even more. It's not like other chickpea dishes, so don't stop reading!
You cook your chickpeas, cook your spinach. Set both aside. Heat some oil in a skillet and add cubed bread and fry until golden, then add garlic, cumin, fresh oregano, and red pepper flakes and saute a little more. At this point you put the beautiful fried bread into a mortar (or food processor) and mash (or puree) with vinegar. 
I had assumed the bread cubes would be a garnish, and thought the mashing step was a mistake when I first read the recipe. I reread the sentence. Did as told and ended up with a crumbly, dark paste that I toss this with the chickpeas and spinach. It was brilliant. The bread crumbs hold the intense flavors of the spices and garlic and cling to the chickpeas better than any liquid sauce.  A great, great dish.

On the other hand, the  beetroot soup with cumin
is not a great, great dish. I like the British terms "aubergine" and "courgette" but prefer the American  word "beet." I made a pot of this vegetarian Moro soup for my lunches because no one else in my family likes beets. I'm glad I didn't try to convert them with this soup, because while it was cooked for a long time, it tasted curiously raw. It was much better the second day, as soup often is, and I will keep eating it for the vitamin C and betacyanin, but would rather eat leftover chickpeas.

By the way, that's the Jim Lahey whole wheat bread on the plate. His cookbook, My Bread, is fascinating and contains recipes for 

-banana leaf rolls (long-rise, no-knead bread that incorporates fresh bananas and dates and is baked in banana leaves)
-bread made from seawater
-peanut butter-and-jelly bread
-celery root pizza
-a pancetta, mango and basil sandwich.