Friday, April 24, 2015

Dictionary Caesar Salad

Growing up I had never had a Caesar salad. I had heard the term, but I had no idea what it was. This was before the Internet, so I couldn’t just look it up on wikipedia. So instead I checked my dictionary, which told me it was a mix of romaine lettuce, a coddled egg, olive oil, garlic, anchovies, and parmesan cheese.

I decided to make that. Only without the anchovies because, well, because they’re anchovies!

I did not have a recipe. I owned a few cook books, but I never used them, because cookbooks are written by people who love cooking, and thus come up with really complicated, labor intensive ways to create very simple dishes. But I figured, I would just toss in the ingredients and hope for the best. And amazingly, it turned out great. This is the recipe I invented 30 years ago based on my Miriam-Webster dictionary definition.

Time: 15 minutes

Romaine lettuce, cleaned and torn into bite-sized pieces
Grating cheese (parmesan, romano, or asiago)
Olive oil
Garlic (minced or run through a garlic press)
1 egg
Croutons, if you like (see recipe below)

Pour some olive oil into a large mixing bowl. I probably use a third cup if I’m making it just for myself. I probably should use more, as I explain below.

Put in the garlic. I use a garlic press - garlic presses are awesome – but mince it if you prefer. I like my salad very garlicky, so I usually use a couple of cloves per person (depending on clove size). If I have a cold I go crazy with the garlic, because garlic is supposed to be good for you. You should always put the garlic in the oil right at the beginning so it can infuse into the oil a little bit while you’re doing everything else.

Coddle an egg. I had to look this up in the dictionary too. It seems it’s just a barely-cooked egg. I have no idea if I’m doing it right, but what I do is boil water in a sauce pan, turn off the heat, carefully lower the egg into the water with tongs so it doesn’t break, leave it in one minute, take it out with the tongs and run it under cold water. This makes it mainly raw but cooked around the edges, which may or may not be what coddling is supposed to be like.

Crack open the coddled egg and pour it into the bowl. Mix it all up with a whisk or a fork.

Add grated cheese until you’ve got something that’s thick but still thin enough that you can toss the romaine in it.

Remember when I said I don’t use enough olive oil? The reason I believe this is so is because when I toss the salad at this point, it is never cheesy enough, and my theory is if I put in a bunch more oil I could add more cheese before I drop in the lettuce.  But instead I do this:

Grate more cheese over the salad and mix it in. Taste it when you think there’s enough cheese, and if there’s not, put in more until it tastes the way you like it.

One day when I was out of croutons I decided they ought to be easy to make. I’d heard they were made from stale bread, and since I had some bread that was a little stale, I figured I might as well try. Now I much prefer my croutons to store-bought ones.

Home-made croutons:
Stale Bread
Spices (basil, oregano, maybe some paprika)
Olive oil

Cut up your bread into crouton-sized pieces. Pour a little olive oil into a frying pan, swish it around and heat it. Set the heat to medium, or perhaps medium high. Drop in the bread pieces, sprinkle some spices on top and stir it all around a little. Flip the croutons after a while so they can cook on the other side. Or, if they’re square, on several other sides. Keep doing that until they’re crisp and golden. Put on your Caesar salad.

The Great Search for the Perfect Multigrain, Fruit-Filled Pancake

Blah blah blah, just skip to the recipe

When I was a kid, I liked any old pancake, just as long as it was swimming in syrup. But as an adult, I began to find those standard, starchy, white flour pancakes a little revolting. Then one day I had these great multi-grain pancakes somewhere, and decided I needed to learn how to make those.

Sometimes it takes a lot of experimentation to get just the recipe you want, and it took me years to find the perfect pancake recipe. I’m not saying I was searching diligently – it probably would have taken me weeks in that case – I’m just saying it was something I had to figure out.

I tried one of these whole-grain mixes in a health food store, but I was unimpressed. I bought a whole wheat mix in the grocery store (the one you have to add eggs and milk to; I figure that’s better than a batter that’s just powder and water), but that was too whole grain. So for a long time I would buy one box of whole wheat pancake mix, one of standard, and combine them. That wasn’t too bad.

I used to always eat my pancakes with a side of sausage, but when I became a vegetarian I discovered that a breakfast of nothing but carbohydrates and maple syrup left me spacey, which is when I started slicing a banana into my batter.

One day it occurred to me that pancakes were probably a pretty simple thing that I could just make from scratch, and the Internet proved me right. I started mixing white and wheat flour with eggs and milk and the like, and that worked pretty well.

One day I wanted pancakes and I was out of white flour, but I did have some chapatti flour I’d bought at an Indian grocery store, so I tried that instead. And it was perfect. I’ve tried other combinations – during my gluten-free experiment I was mixing rice and buckwheat flours – but whole wheat and chapatti is still my favorite.

Time: 20, 25 minutes.

Flour (half whole wheat and half chapatti flour is good. Two thirds rice flour and 1 third buckwheat isn’t too bad. Feel free to try any flours you like and let me know how it works).
Baking powder
1 egg
Oil (I use extra virgin olive oil)
Fruit (bananas, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries are all quite good. Cherries or kiwi are also kind of interesting.)

Put the flour in a mixing bowl (flour is one of the few things I don’t eyeball; I use about a half-cup per person). Add around a teaspoon of baking soda per half cup of flour. Mix it together (I just hold the bowl and flip the powder inside the bowl, which looks cool, but stirring it with a spoon is fine).

Toss in an egg (1 egg per cup or less of flour) and maybe a tablespoon’s worth of oil. Scramble the egg a bit in there and stir it all in. Now add milk and stir again. I just keep adding milk and stirring until I get something the consistency of pancake batter.

Now stir in some fruit. If it’s bananas I use moderately thin slices, if it’s strawberries I cut each one into four to six pieces. I read an interview with some chef on making the perfect pancake who said you shouldn’t put in too much fruit because it will negatively effect the constitution of your pancake in some way. I think he’s nuts. My pancakes are essentially a delivery system for fruit; I want fruit in every forkful. As a guide; with bananas you want at least half of one per person.

Some people claim you should let the batter sit for 15 minutes (or even an hour!) because it will make the pancakes fluffier, but I haven’t tried that.

Put some oil in a large, flat frying pan (unless you have a griddle, in which case I envy you). Heat up the oil; you’ll want to cook the pancakes on a medium or medium-high heat (I vary).

Pour in the batter. My pancakes are three or four inches in diameter, I would guess.

The ideal is to cook the pancakes until they start bubbling on top and then flip them over. Often I get nervous and turn them over before they start bubbling. Sometimes I wait for them to bubble and they never really do and they get a bit burnt.  You’ll figure it out.

Cook them on the other side for about as long as you cooked them on the first side.  Put them on a plate, butter them a little, then pour maple syrup on. Don’t use so-called “pancake syrup” unless your taste buds are dead. If maple syrup is too pricey, try combining it with agave syrup, an idea I got at Trader Joe’s).

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Frittatas and my Experiment with Gluten-Free Dining


Blah blah blah, just skip to the recipe

I always thought of wheat allergies as one of these sketchy phobias new age people develop. It just seems every time you meet someone who says they’re gluten free, they also believe in crystals and talk about “the Goddess.” But recently a friend suggested that my stomach problems and propensity for ligament/ tendon injuries could be related to gluten, so I tried going gluten free for a while. The result was my chronic, lifelong stomach problems improved vastly.

Dropping gluten meant giving up sandwiches and bagels and a lot of other stuff. I tried those expensive, inferior, gluten-free versions of bagels and breads, but decided what I really needed was something new to eat. Eggs seemed a good place to start, and I found a huge list of egg recipes on wikipedia (the Japanese mix them raw into rice, which I found a little gross). That’s how I wound up learning to make frittatas.

A frittata is sort of like a quiche without a crust. They’re often cooked pie-sized and served in slices. I either make a single size for myself in a small pot or a pie for my girlfriend and myself in a small frying pan. I never tried any specific recipe, I just read several and split the difference, resulting in a couple of terrible meals before I got the hang of it. But eventually I found I could make really tasty frittatas.

Time: Probably around 20 minutes, maybe less.

Eggs (I use two large or extra large eggs per person).
Grating cheese (parmesan, romano, asiago, etc.).
Other cheese(s) (cheddar, muenster, swiss, gouda, whatever).
Vegetables (I’ve used zucchini with mushrooms or onions or both. Spinach and broccoli are also be good).
Meat, if you like. (Salmon is pretty good; I haven’t tried anything else.)
Basil or oregano..

Get a sauce pan or a frying pan. I use my smallest sauce pan for my individual-size frittata, but when I make it for two I use my smallest frying pan.

Chop up your vegetables (and meat if you’re using any). I chop everything pretty thin and in fairly small pieces, although not even close to minced. Put a little oil in the pan and swish it around (I always use extra-virgin olive oil because I’ve heard it’s healthier). Swish the oil along the sides too, to make it easier to get out. (Keep in mind that I use non-stick pots, and I don’t know what this experience would be like without them.)

Heat up the oil a bit, then toss in the veggies. I usually cook things like mushrooms and onions on high, stirring constantly, for perhaps five minutes, then I toss in the zucchini for another couple of minutes and turn the heat down to low.

Keeping an eye on the veggies and still stirring them now and again, break the eggs into a bowl, add a little milk and scramble them. I use an egg whisk because I read it gets more air into the eggs and that is presumably what you want.

Grate your cheeses into the eggs. The tricky part is you can’t taste test as you go, so you have to use your best judgment as to how much you’ll need. If you grate the cheese finely, like you would grate parmesan, the your eggs will wind up about the consistency of a medium-thick sauce. 

Sprinkle a little basil or oregano (or both!) into the mixture. Then pour the veggies into the mix, stir it all up, and pour it back into the sauce pan. Put that back on the stove and cook it on low for seven or eight minutes. You want to cook the frittata until it’s almost cooked through, but still a little liquidy on top.

Now you need to cook that top part, which can be done on the range or in the oven. I prefer the oven, because trying to flip it over in a sauce pan would be tricky. Just turn the oven to broil and put the pan in for three minutes. Make sure you have an oven mitt so you can remove the pan again. If you want to flip it and cook the top on the range, I’d say a minute or two would probably be fine. Good luck with that.

If you’ve done it right, it should be awesome. If it’s not awesome, you probably just need more cheese. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever cooked something and then said, “there’s too much cheese in this.” 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fettuccini Alfredo/ Pasta Primavera and An Introduction


Blah blah blah, just skip to the recipe

I once had a mother-in-law who spoke in the pearly tones of an aristocrat and was fond of saying, when asked if she liked to cook, “I don’t like to cook, I like to eat ... well.”

I am much the same way. I have no particular fondness for cooking, and would live on Trader Joe’s frozen meals if I could afford to, but I like to eat well, and cheaply, and achieve this with a minimum of effort. And over the years I have learned how to do just that.

If I’m hungry, I want to eat within the next 20 minutes – I refuse to use recipes that ask me to prepare something the day before and let it sit overnight. My dishes vary depending on what ingredients happen to be in the apartment. I rarely measure things, instead putting in what seems like the right amount, just because I’m too lazy to wash measuring cups.

Over the years I have, through a mix of googling and experimentation, come up with a bunch of what I would have to call, because “recipes” is too strong a word, recipestimates. And the purpose of this site is to share these with those who just want a very simple idea of how to make something good and quick.

Now, we all have different ideas of easy. I knew a woman whose idea of making pasta was to boil and drain spaghetti then pour a can of cold tomato sauce on top. I don’t do that. And for all my laziness, I grate my own cheese because the powdered stuff is crappy. So you can be even lazier than I am, and if you are, feel free to change my recipestimate to suit your slothfulness. It’s your mouth; you decide what you want in it.

I’m going to start with exactly the sort of recipe I like; one that seems fancy and yet is brain-dead easy.  I found a recipe for Fettucini Alfredo on the Internet long ago, and was thrilled to discover that something so gourmetish was so insanely easy. It is also a good example of my use-what-you-want rule; I rarely make Fettucini Alfredo with fettucini because I consider it a troublesome pasta.

I use the same sauce and methods for both Fettucini Alfredo and Pasta Primavera, so I’ll tell you how to do either here.

Time: 15-20 minutes.

Pasta (while fettuccini is traditional, it’s also a pain, since it tends to stick to itself if you don’t stir constantly. I generally use some sort of corkscrew pasta like rotini or rotelle, although if I want something fettuccini-ish I’ll use linguini, which is less bothersome. Frozen tortellini or ravioli are also good in a cream sauce.)
Heavy Cream
Grating Cheese (parmesan or romano are good, although I generally use asiago because it’s the cheapest grating cheese at Trader Joe’s).
Black Pepper (optional)

If you want Pasta Primavera you’ll also need:

Vegetables (vegetables I like with a cream sauce include mushrooms, zucchini, and carrots).

Boil water in a pot. Throw in enough pasta for however many people you’re cooking for (I’m pretty good at eyeballing it; keep in mind that some pastas expand and some don’t). Cook it for however long the instructions tell you to.

While the pasta is boiling, get a sauce pan and melt some butter in it. You’ll want enough butter to coat however much pasta you’re making (my guess is I use around a tablespoon per serving). Once the butter is melted turn off the heat so it doesn’t burn.

If you are making Pasta Primavera you can cook your veggies while boiling the pasta. I have a steamer, so I usually just steam them, but feel free to sauté them in oil or butter. Keep in mind that some veggies cook faster than others, so put in carrots and mushrooms earlier than zucchini or eggplant).

When the pasta is cooked (I usually pull out one piece and take a bite to see if it is), drain it. Thec pour the drained pasta into the pan with the butter and stir it around to coat the pasta.

Pour a little heavy cream in (I’ll guess about as much cream as butter).  Keep in mind that the more cream and butter you use, the more cheese you’ll need to put in to keep your sauce from getting soupy. Stir it up.

Mix some grated cheese into the pasta. You want to put in enough to create something the consistency of a cream sauce, although if it’s too thin or thick it won’t kill you; as long as it tastes good. Put some cheese in, taste it, if it doesn’t taste cheesy enough, put some more in.

If you made vegetables, toss them in. Put on black pepper if that’s your thing (black pepper is actually supposed to be good for you, so if it’s not your thing, try it out anyway).

If it doesn’t come out quite the way you like, next time try more butter, or less butter, or more cream, or whatever.