Thursday, February 25, 2010

Better Butter

Growing up I realized early on that the food in my house was very different than the other houses in our small town. This was before Heinen’s had moved to town and before Giant Eagle had an organics section. My mom was in a food co-op that would order all the health foods and exotic ingredients that are easy to find in grocery stores today. The co-op met at a local town hall to unload the truck. I don’t know exactly how the whole process worked, I just know the place had a very distinctive smell and we were left to play in the basement with all the home school kids while the grown-ups divvied up the food. And we came home with crazy foods; brown foods with words like “natural” and “organic” all over them and produce that wasn’t waxed.

I thought we were such freaks. I loved going to friends’ houses and eating Skippy peanut butter on white bread and cheetos for lunch. We were totally deprived of all the processed sugar and foods that were being marketed to us on Nickelodeon. Fruit snacks. Frosted Flakes. Slim Jims. Not in our house.

Looking back I wish I would have appreciated it more. This is totally the way I eat now, but at the time it was torture. My taste buds were very different back then – I didn’t like cheese, eggs, potatoes, tomatoes, yogurt, beans or most veggies. Today these foods constitute like 90% of my diet. But my mom was persistent and our family dinners turned me into the food adventurer I am today.

One thing that was always different was our butter. Ours was in an old jelly jar and we called it “better butter”. I would forget this was different until a friend would come over after school and when we fixed some toast for a snack they would look at me like “I’m supposed to do what with this?” when I handed them the jar of butter. I suppose this isn’t really too weird compared to other stuff we were eating. And I’m not sure how much “better” this butter actually is for you. But I grew up on it, so to me, this is what butter on toast or mixed in basmati rice should taste like.

Ready for me to blow your mind? Here is the super complicated recipe for Better Butter:

Equal parts butter and oil.

Boom. You’re welcome.

So when you are diluting butter with oil I’m not sure exactly how much healthier you are making the situation, but the whole spreadable thing is nice. To elaborate on the recipe a bit, the way my mom makes it is just to leave the butter on the counter until it is nice and soft. Then put in the food processor with equal parts oil (whatever kind, I use canola cuz it is cheaper, but olive oil would be lovely and probably healthier) and combine. Then pour into a container and refrigerate. It will harden to a more butter like consistency, but it is much easier to spread than regular butter straight out of the fridge. And it melts into a more oily spread that I prefer.

I have some exciting news about the basement kitchen that I have been keeping from you – we got a fridge!!!! My parents are remodeling their kitchen and decided they wanted a counter depth refrigerator, so we got their old one for the basement. It is wonderful to have it down there. It has an ice maker! Major bonus for ice cream making. And I was running up and down the stairs constantly, which was good for my glutes, but annoying in the middle of making dinner. My mom’s fridge just felt empty without the jar of better butter in there. So I made a batch with some local butter from the farmers market. It’s not from a food co-op, but its close.

Oh yeah, oh yeah

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cheering Up February

If the display at Heinen's is any indication, we are in the peak of citrus season. I would have let it pass me by and just picked up my usual 5 navel oranges, but there was so much orange filling the shelves that I had to take a minute to look around. There were signs up with a description of each fruit's flavor and venturing out of my comfort zone I picked up 3 Cara Cara navel oranges (only 1 made it long enough to be in the pic below), 4 blood oranges, 3 honey tangerines, and meyer lemons. Sometimes you just have to indulge in citrus.

Speaking of indulgences, I got two fun presents in the mail yesterday. The first was a giant box from Zappos with these Sorel boots. They were on sale and considering how HAPPY I am in Cleveland, I know they will get plenty of use around here. I had been on this quest for rubber wellie boots and even ordered these Hunters, but they didn't fit my "athletic" calves. These Sorel boots are much more flexible and still water-proof, so no rubber for me. Just in time for another winter storm warning.

My second present was the first issue of my subscription to Gastronomica. My aunt and uncle gave me some money for Christmas and I decided to use it to subscribe to this beautiful magazine. I had kind of forgot about it and then I found this lovely in my mailbox.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Tale of Cooking: In 3 Parts

Part 1. My Big Fat Southern Pigskin Super Bowl Party

Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon. ~Doug Larson

Superbowl Sunday. I don’t care much about the game, but an excuse to cook a meal centered completely on pork is a holiday in my book.

A pigskin theme party needs lots of bacon, so to start things off I made chorizo stuffed dates wrapped in bacon. I use this recipe from Cleveland Foodie, but I no longer make the sauce cuz I find that people don't use it and there is plenty of flavor in the appe's three ingredients. These are ALWAYS a hit and added bonus, they are shaped like little footballs with toothpicks stuck through them.

I wanted to keep the main course fairly simple. I used this recipe from the Splendid Table for the Ultimate Cheater Pulled Pork. The “cheating” is using liquid smoke to mimic the flavors of a smoke house. I bought my 5 pound pork butt from the Westside Market. You should try this recipe mostly cuz it is fun to say pork butt. The pork butt is chopped into chunks, placed in the crock pot, sprinkled with a rub and the secret ingredient - liquid smoke (surprisingly easy to find, right next to the BBQ sauce at Heinen's for $1.79), and set on low to cook overnight. Twelve hours later I woke to the sweet smells of smoky pork that had filled the house. So yeah, I’m kind of a big deal, I can cook while I sleep.

In the morning I took the pork chunks out and placed them on a baking sheet to cool. I poured the leftover juices from the crock pot into a cup and placed them in the fridge. Once the pork was cooled enough to handle, I began pulling it apart with my hands. Little know fact - food always tastes better when someone’s hands have been all over it. I threw out any fatty pieces, but mostly it was steaming pink shreds of yummy smokey goodness. Place it back in the crock pot and in the fridge until game time.

By the time we were close to kick-off, the leftover juices in the cup in the fridge had separated enough that I could skim the neon layer of orange fat off the top and throw it out. I took the pork out of the fridge and set the crock pot back to warm along with some of the now skimmed juices. The rest of the juice I mixed with some store bought BBQ sauce and warmed it up to serve with the pork on rolls. This pork is a crowd pleaser – if cheating is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

I couldn't leave bacon out of the dessert. Last year I saw an episode of Throw Down with Bobby Flay about bacon desserts. Bobby lost (Spoiler alert – Bobby always loses on Throw Down) to this recipe for bread pudding with a bacon creme anglaise (which I also really love saying) from Chef Jerome Chang of New York City's Dessert Truck.

Sidenote: I want to start this dessert truck phenom in Cleveland, we are missing out on convenient sugar!

Bread Pudding (before the Bacon Creme Anglaise)

Ok, so this recipe uses 10 egg yolks, 4 slices of bacon, 3 cups of heavy cream, and 2 cups of half & half, so it really should only be made once a year for the fattiest of feasts. But my goodness it is delicious. I made the creme anglaise on Saturday and the bread pudding on Sunday. The bacon flavor is very subtle and the final product was rich and chocolately and very decadent. And you get to say crème anglaise.

Keeping with the southern theme of the party I also served coleslaw and sweet tea vodka with lemonade. Friends pitched in with guacamole and lots of desserts. It was a wonderful Sunday night feast!! Oh and there was a football game, too, score!

Part II. Adventures in Ice Cream Making

My family came over after work on Friday night for dinner before heading over to JCU to see Seth Myers from SNL perform a comedy show. My whole fam is pretty into SNL and the show was hilarious. The funniest bits were his off the cuff audience interactions, asking couples how they met and the craziest thing they ever bought on e-Bay has never been so funny.

My house isn’t too far from JCU, so I offered to fix a quick dinner before the show. I made Turkey and Hominy Chili with Smoky Chipotle the night before so it could just be quickly re-heated after work. It was spicy and excellent with a dollop of sour cream to cool it, some shredded cheddar and a bit of fresh cilantro. I also made two quick side breads from mixes I had, but couldn’t help adding a little something more to each. The first, a sweet and spicy cornbread made with Jiffy Cornbread mix plus half a minced jalepeno and a few big glugs of local orange blossom honey. And the second, cheddar and chive biscuits made from Tastefully Simple’s Perfect Parmesan Biscuit Mix, subbing cheddar for parmesan and adding some fresh chives. My mom brought chips and guac and a salad to round out our dinner.

The grand finale was Goat Cheese Ice Cream and Blueberry Sauce from David Lebowitz’s The Perfect Scoop. Jenny was kind enough to let me borrow her ice cream maker and this was our third attempt with ice cream making.

Goat Cheese Ice Cream with Warm Blueberry Sauce

My first attempt was a vanilla gelato that turned out tasting like snow ice cream. Are you familiar with snow ice cream or did we make this up? Growing up in Chardon meant a LOT of snow without a lot of snow days. The snow plows were just too used to it, so unless the timing was just right, we always had school. So to make the most of the snow we would mix it with milk, sugar and vanilla in a big bowl and eat it like a giant ice cream sundae. Until one time we made it too late in the season and Becky found a slug on her spoon. No one really ever had a craving for snow ice cream again after that. So the first attempt at gelato making was ok, but didn’t conjure the sweetest of memories.

Chris took a turn with the machine making rosemary and honey ice cream that came out with a soft serve consistency and a fantastic flavor. It was very sweet and the rosemary and honey were a lovely pairing. But Chris also decided to put little flakes of the chopped rosemary in the ice cream which I didn’t like and did my best to eat around.

The third time was a charm. Under David’s tutelage the goat cheese ice cream turned out beautifully and topped with the warm blueberry sauce tasted like a warm creamy cheese cake. I can’t wait to try more of his recipes.

Part III. Learning to cook with Eggs

Each batch of ice cream made with a custard base calls for 6 egg yolks. This leaves you with an abundance of egg whites. My first batch of custard for the goat cheese ice cream turned into a icky scrambled eggs mess due to many rookie mistakes I made: 1. used skim milk, 2. forgot to add the sugar, 3. did not temper the yolks properly, 4. let the mixture boil. Fail, fail, fail, fail.

I took my time the second time, following David’s instructions as closely as possible. I remembered to use whole milk and sugar, I tempered the yolks by ladling some of the steamy milk into the yolks very slowly, whisking the whole time, and I used a candy thermometer just to be sure I wasn’t coming close to a boil. Sometimes cooking reminds me of chemistry class (which I secretly loved). The results were perfect; a smooth custard. While the custard was still warm I strained it over the crumbled goat cheese and stirred until it was nice and smooth. Custard success!

On Sunday afternoon I met up with my S-3 work girlfriends for lunch and to see the movie Valentine’s Day. That movie has the cutest cast and worst script of all time. It was long and weird and hard to follow. But it was great to catch up with my friends. We also celebrated Jenny and Morgan’s birthdays and since I am always looking for an excuse to make cake, I volunteered to supply. My two batches of custard making left me with no eggs and 12 egg whites in the fridge. So I really only had one option – angel food cake – which is one of my favorites. I like Ina’s version, called Black and White cake, with a semi-sweet chocolate glaze drizzled over top. In fact, it is the very cake I made for my own birthday last year.

Black and White Cake

More fun with eggs, this time whipping the whites into a foam with high peaks. Last year I made rookie mistakes with this cake and it took me literally 45 minutes of holding my hand mixer over the bowl before the eggs were the right consistency. Not this time. The trick is to make sure the eggs are very fresh and at room temperature. Check and check – eggs from the farmers market and I let them sit out on the counter for an hour before I attempted the whipping. They were forming peaks within a few minutes. I may have even gone too far because when I went to fold in the flour, the eggs were almost the consistency of marshmallow and the flour wasn’t mixing in well. But it came together and baked up like a dream. A glorious chocolately dream.

And we all sang happy birthday and ate cake and lived happily ever after.

The End.
(for now)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mystic Weekend

On Saturday night, Rachael had the girlfriends over to celebrate her birthday.   In total Rachael style, the birthday party was also a Pure Romance party and she had a tarot card reader upstairs reading fortunes.  I was reluctant to participate at first, but a few glasses of wine and some gf coaxing and I was totally into it.  I don't put complete faith in fortunes or horoscopes, but there seems to be a nugget of truth in them.  Well, truth or selective hearing.  All in good fun though.  I am a total newbie to tarot, so forgive me if I get any of this wrong, but here is what I learned: 

There are 16 difference personality types and I found out that I am a Queen of Cups.  Most of the girls at the party were also Queen of Cups because they tend to gravitate to each other.  Here is a personality description from 

Loving. Tenderhearted. Intuitive. Psychic. Spiritual.  The personality of the Queen of Cups combines the positive water energy of the Cups suit with the inward focus of a Queen. Because she has a sweet, loving and sensitive nature, the Queen of Cups has a kind word for everyone and never reacts with anger or impatience. There is a gentleness about her that soothes and calms. Compassion is her watchword. Her reactions to the world are guided by her feelings. In all matters, she lets her heart lead the way. She senses emotional currents and knows what others are experiencing without having to ask. She is never moody, but understands moods and their influence. She trusts her intuition and so is more open to knowledge that comes from within herself and beyond. She is often moved by the beauty and tragedy of life. The Queen of Cups feels deeply and has a reverence for all aspects of God's creation. Her love includes and embraces everyone and everything. 

I definitely consider myself a feeler as opposed to a thinker, but the part about not being moody is way off.  The reader also told me that Queens of Cups are old souls, social butterflies, have deja vu, and are best matched with a King of Wands.  She described the King of Wands as hard-working gentlemen, which Chris definitely is. 

She asked me to think of some questions for her.  I asked about my love life, my future career, and whether she saw me moving anywhere.  And in the cards she saw.... 

I am with the right man, but she does not see marriage in the near future.  If I move, it will not make me happy.  I got the higher education card, but it won't be for a few years.  I am well liked and respected at work and will be successful in what I do.  Money will not be an issue and the Wheel of Fortune card came up, so in four months I should consider gambling because I could win some money.  The Tower Card was reversed (I think) meaning that my worst fears won't be realized (not sure what those even are).  I should pray more because my prayers will be answered.  And the kicker card was the Empress.  Basically she told me that I need to be very careful if I don't want to have a baby and I may even be pregnant now.  It doesn't necessarily mean I will have a lot of children, but it does mean I am very fertile.  And to drive that home, the only other girl at the party who got that card already has 3 kids, gulp.