Saturday, March 30, 2013

Foodie Faves: Storage Solutions

A garage is a place for storage. Cars, trucks, bicycles, motorcycles. Also (in my case) rakes, lawn mowers, grass seed spreaders, brooms, saws, and various jars with different sizes of screws. And trash cans, the chair that one day I thought I’d recover, the sewing machine my mother-in-law gave me without knowing how completely inept I am with any needle and thread, and a big box of tiles from when we re-did the bathroom. And so it likely is with you. Just about anything you keep but don’t necessarily want to have on display, you put in the garage.

That’s sort of how my appliance garage works. I have various appliances that I use frequently, but I don’t have the sort of kitchen where I can let these things just sit out all the time on the counter. It’s one of those “open architecture” kitchens that essentially shares its space with the dining room. The  rooms are separate, but not distinct – the architectural equivalent of Siamese twins.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Alaskans Are Coming!
What's cooking? Texas Breakfast Pizza

There’s something about the pending arrival of houseguests that stimulates in me the strangest behavior. In advance of friends who arrived yesterday, one item on the list – that I made in all seriousness – was “Organize recipes.” Really. I mean, isn’t that what you always notice?

In any case, it turns out I didn’t have time for that particular task because I keep my recipe files in the pantry, where as I glanced around at the shelves, I spotted a jar of Vidalia onion dip with an expiration date from the year after Joe Gutenberg rolled out his first printing press. Before I knew it, some deep-seated need to clean out the shelves had taken over – what my husband refers to as a Random Strike – and I spent the next couple of hours examining every can or jar or box in the place for those items that now threaten the health or safety of anyone I might be feeding. Not that there was much chance of those items making it to my table – if they’ve been part of the larder landscape for that long, I must already have a subconscious block against them.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Big Mess, Little Mess – Both Great Soups
What's cooking? Cold Spring Pea Soup

A note to readers: At the outset, I want to say that this post does not include the recipe for “my” famous gumbo, because in fact what I make is not “my” gumbo, but the gumbo of a brilliant cook who goes by the name of Crescent Dragonwagon. Her magnificent recipe, if you are so inclined, is on pages 237-240 of The Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread: A Country Inn Cookbook. But if you keep reading this post, you'll find a much easier recipe, this one for Cold Pea Soup.

I made gumbo yesterday. Or rather, I made gumbo yesterday afternoon and so far into the evening that it poked a hole in today. Good thing I’m a nightowl.

Some people, learning how long it takes to make, would tell me I’m crazy. And they might be right. At least a couple of times during the process, I had to stop and do some stretching exercises just to keep my shoulders from seizing up.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Foodie Faves: My Mandoline
What's cooking? Balsamic Brussels Sprouts with Spicy Pecans

My food processor is a miracle worker at chopping a big pile of onions or grinding basil and pignoli nuts together for pesto. My blender produces the most velvety textures when puréeing vichyssoise or the strawberries for a sorbet. And when I want butternut squash in a half-inch dice for risotto or garlic in a fine mince, I’m even plenty handy with just my chef’s knives.

But none of those tools will give me the wafer-thin rounds of radish for a salad, or perfectly even slices – only ⅛ inch thick – of pear for a tart. Or those exquisitely cut carrots in a matchstick julienne. And while the food processor will slice Brussels sprouts for a sauté, the results are wildly erratic and are often accompanied by a bu-ta-bu-ta-bu-ta-bu-ta noise as the ends get stuck in that space between the lid and the slicing wheel.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Old Friends, New Friends
What's cooking? Lentil Soup with Roasted Garlic and Bacon

I spent the day yesterday at a workshop for bloggers. For a person born before... to be kind, let’s say 1960 – and I will not be mentioning here how much before 1960 – there’s nothing like a bracing encounter with the world of technology to make you feel old and slow. Vimeos, hangouts on YouTube, search engine optimization, analytics, keywords,... You can feel out of touch in less time than it takes to say, “Tweet this.”

When I started this blog, it was not much more than a way to keep myself in the wordsmithing game. Leaving New Jersey, I’d left behind a writing group that had been as closely knit as any I’d ever heard of. I didn’t expect to be able to duplicate that experience in any way. And I haven’t. But it turns out that if you leave the door open for new experiences, life can surprise you.

Bloggers – at least food bloggers, and maybe it’s just the ones here in Austin – are a remarkably welcoming group. The ones at yesterday’s workshop and those I’ve met in other venues here have been happy to share what they know about the technology, about food styling, about photography – even to show me how to use Twitter, which still strikes me as being a tiny bit insane.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Foodie Faves: Kitchen Wear

You know, everyone says you should always wear an apron in the kitchen. They’re probably right, but here’s the thing: I don’t like aprons. They make me feel restricted, confined, and overdressed. Like I’m trying to be my mother, which I assure you I am not. And I don’t even think she wore aprons. (OMG, does this mean I am trying to be like my mother? Let’s not go there.)

I do, however, have the occasional need to row against the tide. As a woman who came of age when Gloria and Betty were rewriting the text of women’s lives, I've spent a good part of my adult life in a series of small rebellions. I was the first woman to wear long pants to work at the Wall Street firm I joined out of college. Amazing, yes? Who do you think had made that rule? A bunch of old white guys. Fortunately, I worked for a younger white guy who agreed with me on the ridiculousness of that particular decree.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Monkey See, Monkey Do, or How I Overcame My Fear of Frying
What's cooking? Thai Sweet and Spicy Wings and Turnip & Cabbage Slaw with Yogurt Dressing

It was the sort of comment you make without thinking. And for me, that always means trouble.

I was just forwarding a recipe to our friends, Bob and Laurie, who are avid fans of both chicken wings and Thai food.

“This looks good and really easy,” I emailed, attaching a link to a video in which a professional chef was featured making one of his restaurant’s most popular dishes. “I thought you might want to try it.” Then I added in a moment clearly without real thought, “I would even offer my kitchen up for the test...”

“Excellent,” came the reply. “I vote we pick one of our recipes and cook up a mixed batch and sample!”

So now I was stuck. Hmmm, how hard can it be, I thought. I’d only watched the video once and it did look easy. But when I went back to the site, it turns out that the only thing there was a video of the chef cooking it – no recipe, no measurements, no guidelines other than what the guy said as he blithely whirled away in his professional kitchen.