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April 2009

Bringing Home the Bacon

Bacon_cleaver I had a productive morning today. First, I made a big pot of dhal. Santa Maria had some friends coming over and we wanted to serve them lunch. Then I started an even bigger pot of chicken stock. Then I worked with Santa Maria to compile a menu for the week and a shopping list. Then I went off to the Food Coop to get our groceries.


In my flurry of productivity, I forgot one thing: what I would eat for dinner tonight. I only realized this on my way home after work. I considered stopping off for a burrito at our local take-out joint, but thought better of spending the eight dollars when I remembered that I had dropped $232 this morning buying organic food for the week. 

So after helping to get the kids into bed, I started thinking about what I could cook myself. Well, first I did the dishes, because I can't think straight in a messy kitchen. Then I decanted and filtered the chicken stock and put it in the refrigerator overnight so the fat in it will float to the top. 

Doing this little bit of kitchen labor helped me clarify my thoughts. I considered what was in the cupboard, and what about that burrito had tempted me. The neighborhood burritos are very tasty. They are restaurant food, obviously, and to my palate restaurant food is always one or two decibels (to mix a metaphor) too strong. It's all that fat and salt. On the other hand, sometimes that's what one wants.

The first salty and perfectly fatty thing I could think of was bacon. And I wanted something green. As usual, we have frozen peas on hand. The two seemed destined for each other, over pasta, with Parmesan cheese. So much so that when I mentioned what I wanted to do to Santa Maria (who, by the way, was more or less content to warm some left over chicken-rice soup for herself), she said, "Yeah, carbonara." 

Not quite, baby. No eggs for me. And, anyway, who ever heard of peas in carbonara? How can I help it if bacon is tasty. I put on a pot of water for the pasta, and started to saute some finely chopped bacon. I thought of what else to add, and settled on pine nuts. Why not? 

The bacon wasn't browning properly because I used too large a pan. So I added some olive oil, and it started to sizzle. I tossed in some crushed red pepper because that would keep the sizzling going in my mouth when it came time to eat it. One of the liberties of cooking after the kids go to bed is that I can really spice things up. And before I finished the dish, I tossed in a thinly sliced clove of garlic to tie it all together.

This wasn't the first time I had made an impromptu meal involving various ingredients and some pasta, but it was the first time that it came out so well. And of course, Santa Maria wanted some too. I was happy to share mine. A little bit of that fat and salt goes a long way for me.


Speedy Bacon and Peas Pasta
  • some fast cooking pasta such as capellini
  • two strips of bacon, diced 
  • a shake or two of crushed red peppers 
  • a handful of pine nuts 
  • 1/4 cup or more of frozen peas 
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced 
  •  1/4 cup sliced Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or to taste  

Put a pot of water on to boil.
Saute the bacon in a large frying pan, and add the crushed red pepper.
Put the frozen peas in a small pot with some water and boil for a few minutes, until they are a bright green, not a dark green, and then set them aside.
If the bacon is not getting crispy enough, add some olive oil.
Toss into the pan the pine nuts.
When the bacon is crisp and the pine nuts are brown, add the garlic.
When the water comes to a boil, salt it heavily, and add the pasta.
Add the peas to the frying pan with the bacon and other ingredients.
Combine the pasta in the frying pan with the rest of the ingredients and add the cheese.



 



Letting Sleeping Birds Lie

Roast_chickenLast weekend, before I got sick and stopped cooking for a few days (as well as writing), I cooked up this lovely bird. Previously, I had written about the challenge of finding the time to roast a chicken. The solution I came up with then involved using a high heat to speed the process.  I've since devised another way: just forget about the bird entirely. The above chicken roasted while I took my afternoon nap.

I put some chopped ginger, some thyme, and a whole lemon (cut in half and squeezed) inside the cavity and let it roast for a little over an hour at about 375 degrees. I put a good amount of water in the base of the roasting pan to keep it from smoking. The chicken came out delicious and crispy. Usually, I baste the chicken with white wine while it cooks. I didn't this time, and I didn't really miss the light French flavor that all that wine gives the chicken. 

We  let the bird sit all afternoon while we went out to play. Santa Maria loved this approach. When it was time to eat, the meat was just the right temperature for the kids. I found it a little too cool for my tastes, but I enjoyed my nap, as well as my time outside with the kids before dinner.

Roast_chickenLast weekend, before I got sick and stopped cooking for a few days (as well as writing), I cooked up this lovely bird. Previously, I had written about the challenge of finding the time to roast a chicken. The solution I came up with then involved using a high heat to speed the process.  I've since devised another way: just forget about the bird entirely. The above chicken roasted while I took my afternoon nap.

I put some chopped ginger, some thyme, and a whole lemon (cut in half and squeezed) inside the cavity and let it roast for a little over an hour at about 375 degrees. I put a good amount of water in the base of the roasting pan to keep it from smoking. The chicken came out delicious and crispy. Usually, I baste the chicken with white wine while it cooks. I didn't this time, and I didn't really miss the light French flavor that all that wine gives the chicken. 

We  let the bird sit all afternoon while we went out to play. Santa Maria loved this approach. When it was time to eat, the meat was just the right temperature for the kids. I found it a little too cool for my tastes, but I enjoyed my nap, as well as my time outside with the kids before dinner.


Letting Sleeping Birds Lie

Roast_chickenLast weekend, before I got sick and stopped cooking for a few days (as well as writing), I cooked up this lovely bird. Previously, I had written about the challenge of finding the time to roast a chicken. The solution I came up with then involved using a high heat to speed the process.  I've since devised another way: just forget about the bird entirely. The above chicken roasted while I took my afternoon nap.

I put some chopped ginger, some thyme, and a whole lemon (cut in half and squeezed) inside the cavity and let it roast for a little over an hour at about 375 degrees. I put a good amount of water in the base of the roasting pan to keep it from smoking. The chicken came out delicious and crispy. Usually, I baste the chicken with white wine while it cooks. I didn't this time, and I didn't really miss the light French flavor that all that wine gives the chicken. 

We  let the bird sit all afternoon while we went out to play. Santa Maria loved this approach. When it was time to eat, the meat was just the right temperature for the kids. I found it a little too cool for my tastes, but I enjoyed my nap, as well as my time outside with the kids before dinner.


Broccoli a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

The kingdom of Stay at Stove Dad has been beset in recent months by a terrible stomach bug. All winter long we did battle with various intestinal ailments that are better left untold. 

Recently, everyone has been healthy. More recently (specifically at 2:37 a.m.), I was hit by the bug yet again. I'm laying low, eating nothing but tea, plain pasta, bananas, and chocolate, and hoping, begging, and praying that the rest of my family is spared my present fate.

I just came across a news item on the Internet that could be useful to others. Apparently, if one eats two-and-a-half ounces of broccoli a day, it can help prevent more serious stomach illnesses. Details are here.

Just don't expect short-term coverage. We had broccoli for dinner last night, and it doesn't seem to have helped me at all.


Recipe for Steamed Broccoli

My kids love to eat broccoli when we prepare it this way. They haven't yet gotten it into their heads that vegetables are miserable things to be feared. The trick, which comes courtesy Santa Maria, is to dress the cooked florets in a Balsamic-vinegar dressing. 


1 head broccoli, washed and cut into tiny florets (kids love small things to eat).
Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil
Salt

Steam the broccoli.
Combine the vinegar, olive oil, and salt in a dressing to taste.

Serve the broccoli dressed, with a little more dressing on the side for the kids to dip the florets in.




Sometimes I Feel Like an Oeuf

Eggs I have a euphemism for the kind of cooking I do at home—I call it rustic cuisine. My intentions are highfalutin, that's for certain, but my execution is anything but. With two kids running around, a job to keep, and my various other responsibilities and ambitions, life just keeps cutting into the time I have in the kitchen (or is it the other way around--does my time in the kitchen distract me from those other important things?).

I find that I don't necessarily cook things the way I imagine they should be. From accounts of high-end restaurant kitchen practices, for example, I've derived a Platonic image of how best to dice a carrot. But the way I cut them up, I'd be lucky to stay employed in a roadside dinner.

I don't really mind the imperfections in what I cook. They are so marginal that they never really matter. My food is delicious and I know it, from my own experience and from seeing the rivulets of pleasure ripple across the face of my wife, children, and friends while they eat it.

All my life, I've had a fast metabolism that's kept me skinny and perpetually hungry. Since I was a teenager, I've eaten like a ravenous wolf on speed. To be satisfied, I used to just eat, eat, eat, and eat some more. I'm no longer a teenager, though, and I'm no longer so sure that I need to eat constantly.

I'm often not sure what to do. Tonight was one of those nights. It's a family ritual of ours to go out for pizza on Friday nights. We go to the local place where we can get a pie for fifteen dollars. The kids love it. We love it. But it doesn't really give me enough to eat. Or does it? It's nine pm now and I can't tell if I need to eat more, or not.

I decide that I do want to have more food, but I'm perplexed. I don't want a whole meal, but I want something, mostly protein. I settle on some hard-boiled eggs. They are the perfect food, a no-nonsense shot of mighty protein. All business. There's a reason they are often served on bars in France. What better fuel for drinking?

When I make them, I follow the seat of my pants. I don't really know what I'm doing. Sure, I've cooked them dozens of times in my life, but how long are they really supposed to cook for?

I look in Bittman's "How To Cook Everything." He suggests poking a hole in the shell and gently lowering them on a slotted spoon into boiling water. It sounds like far too much work.

I opt for my traditional method. I start them in cold water; bring them to a boil; go off and do something else (such as this blog post) while they knock about in the pan; wait for a while and wonder how long I should leave them cooking (in this case, until my wife says, "how long are you going to let them boil?"); then drain and leave them to cool a bit (and finish whatever else I was doing), until my wife says "are you going to eat those eggs?" Then I ask her to peel them for me and I enjoy them to no end. It is the height of rustic cuisine.


Cauliflower Power

Roast_cauliflower On Sunday, when Santa Maria and I were planning the week's meals, we punted a bit, putting down  frozen empanadas for one meal (she tried to punt two more times by penciling in an order from Fresh Direct, but I didn't go for it—too much of a luxury at the moment).

Last night we ate the empanadas, which have many advantages. They require no prep, cook in about ten minutes, are quite filling, and I like their taste. Still, I find them uninspired. They're fine for lunch (and they make great road food; just be sure to keep them warm with a towel, and not a plastic bag, which will leave them soggy). I expect more from my dinners.

We got lucky last night. Our fantastic babysitter had made a batch of thirty-one homemade empanadas for her family, and she brought us two. She makes hers with turkey and they have raisins and other spices inside. They're delicious little pockets of wonder. I hope to get the recipe from her someday.

We matched the empanadas with two easy-to-make vegetable sides, spinach and cauliflower. I take the laziest tack imaginable with the spinach, buying the pre-washed kind and throwing it in a huge frying pan with nothing but its naked moisture. I always marvel at how it cooks down to nothing, although it tastes exactly like what it is—undressed.

The cauliflower is almost as easy, and turns out much more fancy tasting. I roast it in the oven with a touch of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Nothing more. The roasting browns the corners of various florettes and makes for a mouth-watering experience. The trick is to use less oil—and more salt and pepper—than you think you need.

Cauliflower,  spinach, and the two types of empanadas? Now that's something I could call dinner.

Roasted Cauliflower:

Turn your oven to 350 degrees.

Wash and cut up a head of cauliflower.

Throw it in a roasting pan with about a tablespoon of olive oil and some salt and pepper.

Put it in the oven, and stir occasionally.

It should be done in about twenty minutes (the smaller you cut up the head, the faster it will cook).