Sunday, February 24, 2008

Chilly Scene of Winter, with Gifts

So here is what my sidewalk has looked like pretty much for the past two months. I slipped on ice four times on the way home from work a couple of weeks ago. I usually love winter, but this one has done me in. We finally have some warmer weather and I can see the sun peeking through the blinds so I'm going to keep this short so I can go out and see how much of the ice has melted.

I'm not too hopeful, but if the sidewalks have cleared enough for me to walk without fear, I will be a happy camper.

I have been remiss in showing off the culinary gifts I received from my knitting student before the holidays. I am excited about both of them but have not yet decided exactly how I will use them.

The first is this beautiful jar of raspberry flower honey, from Katz and Company.

According to their website, this is "a unique honey gathered from hives of the coastal raspberry crop possessing mellifluous straw color and floral scented overtones."
The flavor is lighter than the clover honey I am used to, and I can taste the raspberry. And maybe it's my imagination, but I think I can see a hint of pink in the color.

It's pretty tasty all by itself with tea, but I am thinking about some kind of glaze that will really bring out the floral undertones.

This other item also has me excited:

This is 1-year aged organic Carnaroli rice from Acquerello, in Italy. According to Italian Cooking and Living's website, Carnaroli is the preferred rice to use for risotto. The grains are whiter, stay firmer and absorb more liquid than Arborio and Baldo, the two other rices used for risotto.

I have never made risotto, and I am so excited about the possibilities here.

The third gift I got might not be of interest in the kitchen, but it is quite clever and I love it. This "book" is a hand-made sewing kit made of felt. Each page has sewing accessories - needles, a needle threader, straight pins, safety pins, and buttons. It is lightweight and flat, so it will travel well.

What makes it even more exciting is its versatility. There is still plenty of room on each page for me to add anything else that I might need - maybe even a few knitting accessories here and there.

I've said it before and I will say it again. I am one lucky knitting teacher!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

My New Distraction - and It's Not Food Related

I don't have much to say this week. I have been distracted by my new toy:Some background: The last time I bought a new TV was in 1990, after I had moved to Chicago and the super-charged outlet in my apartment fried the new little Motorola TV I bought (so I wouldn't have to lug my old big TV up from Austin) after something like three months. For the next six months I lived without one. How did I spend my time? I read a lot. I didn't even have a decent sound system so I couldn't listen to music. I read a lot of literary theory and philosophy and, because I didn't know anyone yet and had no-one to talk to about all of the ideas that were accumulating in my brain and no one to distract me from them, I do believe I went a little crazy for a while. It all came to a head on Presidents day - it was cold and grey and rainy and all I wanted to do was stay home and watch TV all day. I wanted it so badly, in fact, that I ordered one over the phone from Sears. It was basically the same Zenith I had owned in Austin, maybe a little updated, but still just your basic TV.

It lasted almost ten years and then it died a sudden death. I bought my next TV, a Toshiba Stereo speaker, from a friend who had a couple of extra TVs in her house. It was already over ten years old when I bought it. It was a good deal and I really didn't want to spend money on something new, so it was perfect.

Until it started developing these little white lines across the top of the screen. And then, when the sound started going out every fifteen minutes or so a few months ago, I resigned myself to the idea that I was going to need a new TV. Which scared me, because the technology had changed so much that I had no idea how to go about selecting one. It kind of became a game to me to see how long I could hold out with my rapidly declining Toshiba before having to buy a new one.

I had discovered that if I turned the cable off instead of the TV, I could reduce the number of times the sound went out, so I got in the habit of leaving the TV itself on. One day the week before last I turned the TV on in the morning to check the weather and all I got was a big white screen. Uh Oh. I knew the time had come - I was going to have to suck it up and buy a new one. And even though the picture was ok later that night (I guess it just needed to be turned off for a while), I knew I couldn't count on it.

So last weekend I trekked on over to Best Buy, at Stacey's suggestion, and got some excellent help in figuring out what kind of TV I wanted and which one I should buy. That's it up there - a Sony Bravia. They delivered it yesterday morning and I haven't come up for air since. I can't stop myself from watching all kinds of different kinds of shows to see how great the picture is. I hope to get over my obsession pretty quickly and back to normal, but that won't be happening today. I'm too obsessed with seeing how awesome Spiderman is on my new TV, and how good all the food looks on the FoodTV network (see, I did manage to write about food after all), and how real the courtroom looks on Law & Order for now.

I have to say that my experience at Best Buy was positive from start to finish. I got excellent help and information while I was trying to decide what I needed. The person who helped me did not try to sell me more than I needed, although I did end up buying one size bigger than I had originally intended (for which I am thrilled now that it's here and I'm watching it). When we were talking about whether or not I could get it home by myself in a cab, he offered to match the free delivery I would have gotten if I had bought it online. I decided to wait until the weekend to have it delivered so I wouldn't have to take off work. They called me the night before to confirm delivery and told me it would be between 10:30 and 12:30 Saturday morning. When 12:30 rolled around and I was trying to figure out how long to wait before calling to see where they were, they called me to tell me the truck was on its way. They would have set it up for me, but I wanted to do that myself so I would know how. It was pretty easy.

So I will see you later, hopefully next week. I have to catch the top five celebrity meltdowns.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cheese and Green Onion Omelette

The past few weeks have been all about rediscovering Sunday breakfast for me in my humble little abode. There's something about getting up, putting on a pot of coffee, and getting out some cooking magazines and recipes to go through that begs for a little indulgence.

First on the list was pancakes. Thanks to my holiday baking I had some leftover buttermilk in the fridge so I whipped up a batch of buttermilk pancakes that came out just the way buttermilk pancakes should - light and fluffy, with the perfect balance of density and sponginess that soaks up the maple syrup without disintegrating.

And then I got on a little bit of a cheese kick. It started with the idea of grilled cheese sandwiches, something I have not had in the longest time. But once I thought about them, I really wanted one, so I bought some nice sharp cheddar cheese and a beautiful loaf of sesame semolina bread (that's the last of it up there with the omelette) and set about making one for myself.

And it was . . . ok. There was nothing wrong with it, but it did not leave me craving another. What it did leave me with was about a half a pound of cheese. In addition to the Manchego, the freshly grated Grana Padano, the Locatelli Romano, which is similar to but has a sharper taste than the slab of Parmigianno Regianno. And then there's the Idiazabal, and the beautiful softTaleggio I bought at Pastoral the last time I was there, which melted beautifully in a nice tasty batch of polenta.

What to do with all of these cheeses? I will have to get creative, that's for sure. I have some ideas, of course. And if they work out, I will share them.

But back to the lovely sharp cheddar cheese and Sunday breakfast. I had some green onions, eggs and cheese. See where I'm going here?

Since my last failed attempt at making an omelet I have purchased a lovely Italian non-stick skillet that is just the right size for making omelettes. Why yes, now that you've asked, that's exactly why I bought it. I bought a small one on impulse at Jewel (yes Jewel, they're actually inexpensive but they work really well) for the purpose of toasting spices and nuts, and I liked it so much I got the next size up.

And may I say it made a beautiful omelette? You can see all that beautiful sharp cheddar and green onions oozing out of the center.

The secret to a successful omelette? Use water instead of milk. You've probably heard it before, but I'll say it here. Milk can make the eggs hard, but a good hard whisking of water in the mix just before you pour it into the pan makes all the difference in the world.

I have some different herb combinations that I will sometimes use with my omelettes, like tarragon, thyme, or Sunny Paris. But most of the time I just use salt and pepper, so the eggs can shine all by themselves.
If you've never made an omelette and are afraid to try, it's actually pretty easy. I can't say my way is authentic, but it looks like an omelette and tastes like an omelette, so it must be an omelette (see: duck).

If you think of it in time, take out two eggs and let them come to room temperature. (This is not critical, but years ago someone told me eggs cook better when you bring them to room temperature. I can't find anything to back this up, but it's a habit by now.)

Wash and trim from 4 to 6 green onions and slice them about 1/4 - 1/8" thick. Grate about 1/4 cup cheese. If you want toast with your omelette, this would be a good time to stick the bread into the toaster.

Crack the eggs into a bowl and add salt and freshly gound black pepper. Melt a pat of butter into your omelette pan and add green onions. Saute until they have just started to caramelize and put them into a bowl.

Add another pat of butter into the pan. Pour a splash of water (not too much or it will be runny) into the egg mixture and whisk vigorously. When the butter in the pan has melted and is foaming, add the egg mixture to the pan in a continuous stream, whisking the whole time. Once the mixture is the the pan, keep whisking, working your way around the pan, so that the parts that are cooking keep mixing with the raw egg. Once it starts to set and the liquid no longer fills in the spaces from the mixing, stop. Run a spatula around the edges of the eggs until it is completely freed from the bottom of the pan. At this point, you can lay the cheese and the green onions just to one side of the middle of the omelette. Fold the side that the mixture is closest to over the cheese and onions. Turn off the heat. Grab the handle of the pan from the bottom and take it to the plate. Slide the unfolded part onto the plate, and then turn the pan over so that the stuffed, folded side falls on top of the unfolded part, which creates the third fold. (If that doesn't make sense, you can fold the third part while it's still in the pan, but there's a chance it will break. It will taste the same though, and you will get better with practice.)
And now, if you'll excuse me, I think I need to go take some eggs out of the fridge.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Chasing away the Winter Blues: Sloppy Joes

It's been really cold here, even for January. The weather dropped down to the single digits and even dipped down below zero, which it usually does not do until February, and then for a week or two. When it happens in January, we don't know what to expect for the rest of the season.

And then it got bizarrely warm for a day or two, and then bitterly cold again, and then we got the mother of all snowstorms this past week - over ten inches in some places. Needless to say (but I will say it anyway), it's the perfect time for some good solid comfort food.

Ever since I started working on the south side, I have bemoaned the lack of good restaurants. Now before you get all offended on me let me say that I am not talking about good sit-down-and-have-a-lovely dinner restaurants. I'm talking about it's lunch time and I didn't bring anything from home so let's order something in. The only restaurants within walking distance to the office are Burger King, White Castle, Popeye's, Subway, a crappy Chinese restaurant, and an okay diner-type place. At least there's a Dominick's so I can always find something, but it's a challenge.

And then there are a couple of restaurants that deliver, but they all pretty much have the same things - Italian and fried. And the food is basically good there, it's just greasy and unhealthy. The only vegetable they seem to have heard of is ketchup.

And one day last fall I didn't have anything with me and everyone was ordering from Ricobene's, which is known for its breaded steak sandwiches. One of which I had ordered some time earlier at the urging of my assistant, who assured me they were the best breaded steak sandwiches in Chicago. Which, in her defense, is probably true, it's just that I'm not really a big fan of breaded steak sandwiches so I can't really judge.

So I looked at the menu, my eyes wandering up and down over all of the fried, breaded, meat-heavy options, unable to pick anything that stood out in any significant way from anything else. But I had to pick something. It was getting close to lunchtime and I was holding up the ordering process. And then I saw it, down at the bottom of the menu, hidden among the burgers and club sandwiches.

I believe I had my first Sloppy Joe when I was in junior high school. My mother found the recipe, most likely in the food section of the paper, or maybe from a friend, and she made it for dinner one night. It wasn't just sloppy, it was a huge mess. The meat kept falling off the bun and there was a greasy puddle of water on the plate that made the bun soggy. I think I still have the recipe she used, which calls for corn flakes. It tasted all right, but it was too loose and sloppy for me. I don't remember how often we had sloppy joes after that first night, but I never felt compelled to make them or seek them out after I left home.

Until I saw it on that take-out menu from Ricobene's, and knew that it was the only thing I wanted to eat that day. I knew I was taking a risk, but I didn't have a taste for anything else. And when it came I slowly opened up the foil and, unwrapping it, saw exactly what I was hoping to see - a soft toasted bun stuffed with a thick, smoky mixture of beef, onions, and green pepper. And it tasted exactly the way I thought it would. Meaty and comforting, with a slight hint of barbecue and whatever it is that gives it that "sloppy joe" taste.

It was so good that I thought about pulling out that old recipe of my mother's. But I couldn't remember where it was and wasn't sure I wanted to use it anyway, it was so thin and watery. Now part of that I attribute to my mother's cooking, but some of it I think was due to the recipe. I decided to go online and get some ideas to make something up.

But the recipe I found at submitted by Tamara looked easy and good, and got such glowing reviews that I decided to make it just as it was. I'm glad I did. It delivered everything I was looking for - thick, meaty, smoky flavor that was heaven on a bun. I used kaiser rolls instead of the hamburger buns my mother used, which worked much better. The kaiser rolls are denser than the buns and can stand up to the flavor and texture of the loose mixture much better. I brushed a skillet with vegetable oil and toasted the kaiser rolls on both sides, which gave it even more flavor.

If the winter chill is getting you down, cook up a batch of sloppy joes. It only takes about half an hour to make, but will satisfy you for hours.
Home Cookin Chapter: Beef and Lamb
Servings: 6

1 pound lean ground beef
1/4 cup chopped onion1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
3/4 cup ketchup
3 tsp brown sugar
salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste
Package of kaiser rolls or hamburger buns

In a medium skillet over medium heat, brown the ground beef, onion, and green pepper; drain off liquids.

Stir in the garlic powder, mustard, ketchup, and brown sugar; mix thoroughly. Reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat cast iron skillet or griddle over medium heat until water sizzles when sprinkled on it. Brush with vegetable oil and place buns or rolls, open sides down, on the pan. Heat until toasted, then turn and heat outsides until warmed. Spoon Sloppy Joes onto the bun and serve while still warm.

Submitted by: Tamara ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 2007 Printed from 1/19/2008/.

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