I’ve abandoned this blog and set up a far less ambitious one over here.


AB’s sardine toast

We tried Alton Brown’s Sherried Sardine Toast yesterday. Because it yielded four servings, we halved the recipe for two; also, because we decided to make it at the last minute, we didn’t let it sit for a while to let the flavors combine. It was still tasty. The avocado provided a thick creamy texture, which was good with the salty bite of the sardines.

The recipe is as follows, though I’ve marked our substitutions. (I do fully intend to try this recipe as written, but I try not to let lack of a few nonessential ingredients stop me from trying a new recipe.)

Alton Brown’s Sardine Toast

2 (3.75-ounce 2-layer) tins brisling sardines in olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves, divided (we used garlic sprouts*)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (I used rice wine vinegar)
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest, reserve the lemon and cut into 4 wedges
Freshly ground black pepper
4 (1/2-inch) thick slices crusty bread, such as sourdough, country loaf or rye
1 ripe Hass avocado
Coarse sea salt

Drain the oil from 1 tin of sardines into a small bowl and set aside. Drain the oil from the other tin into another small bowl and whisk in 1 tablespoon of parsley, vinegar, lemon zest, and black pepper, to taste. Add the sardines, stir to combine and set aside for up to 1 hour.

After 45 minutes, put a rack 3-inches from the broiler and heat the oven to the broiler setting on high. Brush each slice of bread on 1 side with the reserved oil. Put the bread, oil side up, onto a cooling rack set inside a half sheet pan and broil 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. (Since I had only one tin, I just brushed the bread with a little oil, and used the rest for the sardine dressing; the bread got toasted in the toaster oven.)

Halve the avocado and remove the pit. Smash the flesh in each half with a fork.

Spread the avocado evenly onto the toasted bread. Top evenly with the sardines. Pour any remaining dressing on top and garnish with the remaining parsley.

Season lightly with sea salt and serve with lemon wedges. (I served up the extra half-an-avocado alongside. Mmm, avocado.)

*garlic sprouts! I had always heard before to discard the green sprout that comes up out of garlic cloves, but one of our older relatives was actually cultivating them. So we did the same; we put an ordinary bulb of garlic in a shallow bowl of water. In no time at all, the roots started to grow like crazy, and the green sprouts came shooting straight up out of the cloves. Snipped up into omelets or whatever else, the sprouts produce a great garlic flavor with very little fuss. It’s like having garlicky chives growing in the house.

book club dinner

I get together with friends for a monthly book club, which is really more of an excuse for snack pot luck. Sure, we discuss the book, but we also nosh happily on the food offerings, which (this time) included chocolate rum cake, crab dip, pita and hummus, a cranberry cheese log, raspberry brie wrappers, and ginger snaps, among other tasty snacks. I have learned to eat light and healthy before book club.

This is the dinner I throw together if I know I’m going somewhere full of tasty (though not terribly nutritious) snacks: a small amount of protein, served alongside a large amount of greens. Sometimes it’s as simple as a fried egg over a salad of mixed greens, with salt, pepper, and maybe a sprinkling of cheese (I like my eggs runny, so I just pierce the yolk and let the yolk and cheese flavor the greens). Last night it was half of a salmon patty (K got the other half) and a generous helping of stir-fried spinach.

The salmon patty was from the freezer section at Costco; it’s 100% wild Alaskan salmon, and incredibly easy to prepare. You just pry a patty from the tube and pan-sear it for 4-5 minutes on each side, and it turns slightly crispy on the outside and wonderfully savory. It provides a lot of nutrition and flavor for minimum effort, and we make them last longer by sharing a patty between us.

The spinach was also from Costco, in the fresh veggies section; we got a giant bag of baby spinach (it was too big to fit in the refrigerator drawer) but spinach cooks down like nobody’s business, so it goes quickly. Give your spinach a quick rinse and spin in the salad spinner and it’s ready to go.

I think this mini-dinner came together in under ten minutes, easily. To make a “real” dinner out of it, just add some starch, in the form of pasta, rice, bread, or potatoes.

Stir-fried Spinach

Four generous handfuls of baby spinach leaves (enough to fill a medium-sized wok), rinsed and spun dry
Sesame oil, to film the wok
Garlic powder (or a clove or two of garlic, minced)
Red chili flakes
Oyster sauce
Soy sauce or Maggi seasoning, if you have it

Pour a small glug of sesame oil into the wok, just enough to film the surface, and heat over a medium flame. Add a pinch of red chili flakes, crushed in the palm of your hand, to the oil. If you don’t have a wok, a high-sided saucepan is fine. If using minced garlic, heat the garlic in the oil as well.

When the oil is hot, add the spinach, as well as a generous sprinkle of garlic powder (if using), two or three generous glugs of oyster sauce, and a glug of soy sauce (or Maggi). Toss gently to combine; don’t worry if it doesn’t get on all the spinach. Cover the wok for two minutes. Then uncover the wok and toss the spinach until all of it is wilted and has some seasoning on it.

Serve hot.

leftovers for lunch

I just finished eating lunch in my cubicle. Despite the fact that I was working the entire time, I still feel pretty cozy from my warm and wonderful home-cooked meal. Lunch consisted of CSA cabbage braised the way Orangette does it, accompanied by shreds of rotisserie chicken from Costco, covered in sauce from Ina Garten’s pot roast recipe. Both were crammed into a half-quart Pyrex container. The sauce, still smelling of beef and wine, coated the chicken and sneaked over to flavor the cabbage, which was already saturated with chicken stock and spices. Delicious.

One of the secrets to subsisting off home cooking is to make food that becomes good leftovers. I pack my lunches the night before; experience has taught me that I never feel up to packing lunch in the morning, and then before you know it I’m getting fries from the cafeteria again. No, far better to pack it up at night; then I just snag it from the refrigerator on my way out the door.

I don’t look down my nose at rotisserie chickens, either. Some days there’s no time to defrost meat to go with dinner; we’ve plenty of veggies from the CSA, and lots of uncooked starches (rice and pasta) lying around, but if I serve up nothing but starch and veggies, K starts to look a little sad. Rotisserie chickens live a long life in our household, and they’re worth every penny of the $5 that Costco charges. The fat/salt content is a little high and of course I’d rather roast a chicken myself, but sometimes we just don’t have the time.

We eat the dark meat as is, since it’s our favorite part; we have the thighs with dinner, and put drumsticks in lunches for the next day. (Or the other way about, depending on how hungry we are.) Breasts get sliced or diced for sandwiches or chicken a la king, or simply serve as a protein accompaniment for a lunch like mine today. Wings and carcass go in a freezer bag; when we’ve filled a couple of gallon-sized bags, it’s time to make stock.

I’ll almost certainly make some stock as the weather gets colder. Once outside temperatures dip consistently below 40, I can just put a hot pot of stock outside to cool and not have to worry about raising the temperature in your refrigerator. (If you’re worried about squirrels or bugs, the trunk of the car works just as well.)

CSA summer

one week of veggiesWe joined the CSA out of Breezy Willow Farm this summer and we’ve been picking up farm-fresh veggies every week since June. The picture shows a typical CSA pickup; it’s generally a good mix of fruit and vegetable.

We eat some vegetables faster than others. I opened the fridge the other day and saw a glut of red, orange, and green bell peppers. We also had two gorgeous heirloom tomatoes. I started chopping things up, and this pepper salad came together easily and naturally. It was delicious, sweet and tart and tangy; perfect for summer.

Summer Pepper Salad

3 bell peppers (I had red, green, and orange)
1/4 yellow onion
2 ripe tomatoes
few leaves basil, shredded
olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper

Dice the onion and place it in an ice water bath. (A trick I heard on the Splendid Table to reduce the bitterness. If using a sweet onion, skip this step.) To make it easier to drain later, put the onion dice in a strainer in a bowl of ice water.

summer pepper saladCut the bell peppers into chunks, removing all the seeds and cutting away the pith.

Cut the tomatoes into chunks, discarding any excess pulp and seeds.

Chiffonade the basil leaves. When all ingredients are ready, drain the onions and combine everything in a medium bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and add salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste; stir to distribute flavors evenly.

You can set it in the fridge to chill and let the flavors meld, or eat it right away; either way works fine.

45-minute meal

I almost picked up some sort of prepared food on my way home, because we didn’t have a lot of time; we had another event to go to in the evening, and I would only have about an hour and a half at home. I knew we had a solitary squash, most of an onion, a tomato, a green pepper… and then I remembered that we had a lot of eggs.

K loves his meat, but we manage a meatless meal at least once a week. (As the Washington Post pointed out, going vegetarian is also good for the environment.) I turned on the radio and started reducing vegetables to small dice. Fritattas are easy; I was sure it would take less than 30 minutes to make.

Apparently I’d never actually bothered to time the ordeal before. Reducing two potatoes, one large squash, one wilted green pepper, and the better part of an onion to small dice took half an hour all by itself. Oh, and mincing two cloves of garlic. I’m no professional and I’ve never gone to culinary school; my knifework takes time. At least, with the radio on, I wasn’t bored.

I used my mom’s time-saver for cooking potatoes; once they were diced, I tossed them with olive oil and stuck them in the microwave for a minute or two. Potatoes always seem to take forever to soften on the stovetop, so the microwave really hurries things up a little. The onions went into olive oil and a pat of butter; once they were soft, I followed up with the garlic, then the squash and green pepper. The cooked potatoes joined them once everything was soft. Then I scrambled some eggs with milk, added shredded cheese, and poured it into the pan —

— and realized that I’d used a nonstick pan, which couldn’t go in the oven. Fine, not a frittata; it would be a scramble. K came home just as the eggs finished cooking, and I served it with sliced ripe tomato sprinkled with coarse salt, pepper, and basil chiffonade. Total time: 45 minutes. Dishes from prep: two knives, one cutting board, one pan.

All right, Rachael Ray has me beat by a solid 15 minutes. But it made a decent dinner, cleanup was easy, and there was plenty left to pack for lunch the next day. Frittatas (or scrambles) are a tried and true way to use up random vegetables, and emptied our produce drawer just in time for tomorrow’s CSA pickup.

starting off strong

Free wifi in the airport gave me access to Michael Pollan’s latest article, a screed addressing the sad lack of cookery in American households.  Apparently the vast majority of my compatriots have empty refrigerators and freezers full of TV dinners, and they sit down to said TV dinners in front of the television to watch serious culinary TV like Food Network and Top Chef.  Oh the irony.  It seems people just don’t have the time to make dinner from scratch any more, Rachael Ray or no Rachael Ray.  Who wants to make a 30-minute meal when one can pop a box into the microwave and have dinner ready in five minutes?

A central theme of Pollan’s article is that dual-income households just don’t have the time to cook any more; when both spouses work, people would rather spend their limited off-work hours away from the kitchen.  Rereading the Julie/Julia Project merely cemented that theme; the hapless couple ate at ten or eleven at night, and still had to do the dishes afterwards.  “We manage to eat home-cooked meals on a two-income household,” I said to K.  “I mean, it’s not like we have kids or anything, but I don’t think it takes too much time.  Does it?  I should keep a blog.”

Hence, this blog.

It figures, though, that after being away for the weekend and spending the better part of the day in either airplanes or airports, neither of us really felt like cooking much.  I dug out some leftover curry beef and rice for K, and he put some frozen White Castle sliders in the microwave.  I shucked and boiled some corn, and called it an evening.  So much for our home-cooked meals.

(Even the boiled corn didn’t work out.  I like to put the corn in the water, bring it to a boil, take it off the heat, leave covered for 10 minutes, drain, and eat.  Simple.  Instead, I sat on the couch with the laptop and belatedly realized that that bubbling sound I had been hearing was water boiling.  I immediately ran over and took the corn out.  Who knew how long it had been in.  Fortunately it hadn’t yet overcooked to the gummy stage.)