Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Despite what my mother believes, the sniff test doesn't always work

Even though I am in my 30s, I still call my mother (2,000 miles away in Brooklyn) to ask her if a food I'm considering eating is still good. Nine out of ten times, her suggestion is to conduct a sniff test. The basic process is: 1) open container. 2) stick your nose as close to the food as possible. 3) inhale deeply. It's not rocket science. My mother has an amazingly fine-tuned schnoz for such things, whereas I'm not sure my nose's palette is quite as refined. Nonetheless, I frequently rely on the sniff test. After all, it's what my mom does.

Enter StillTasty. This great tool was advertised by Tasting Table Everywhere today, and I'm a little frightened to see where I've gone wrong so many times. I freeze and refreeze things that, according to StillTasty, shouldn't be refreezed (or in some cases, shouldn't be eaten altogether based on the way I've thawed it in the first place).

I see this as being an endlessly useful tool. You can find products by category or just by entering its name into the search function. I just came across "Parmesan Cheese, Commercially Grated and Packaged - Opened" in the Dairy category and found that my big tub of grated Parmesan from Costco is still good to go. (And yes yes, I know a block of Parmesan is preferable with "just in time" grating as needed, but I needed a lot of the stuff for a couple lasagnas a few weeks ago, and it just seemed easier on my arms.) There are indications for how long something would last in the fridge versus how long it would last in the freezer. There are even little storage tips, and while many of those are just common sense, they are reminders of what you should be doing, regardless of what you are doing, which is always helpful.

So, while I'm sure the sniff test will win out many times, I will turn to StillTasty more often than not. Even though I don't think I've ever really gotten sick from something in my fridge...or maybe I'm just blocking out the experience.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Summer Soups?

With the beginning of summer (we've had weeks of what any normal human being would call summer here in Texas already), it's pretty odd that I've been craving hot soups lately. This craving wasn't helped (and was potentially multiplied by a steak craving) after watching the last Everyday Food episode that aired on PBS this past weekend. I like a lot of the dishes they tend to produce because the name really does fit - 9 out of 10 times it's something you could do on a weeknight either for one or for a family of four. Their recipes are pretty basic, and they explain things quite well, which I would imagine is very helpful for someone not so comfortable in the kitchen.

This past episode was called "Soups and Salads." They started with something that is a kin to my favorite thing to order at a Vietnamese restaurant - Seared Beef and Noodle Soup. (http://www.pbs.org/everydayfood/recipes/seared_beef_and_noodle_soup.html)The recipe had a few moving parts, but it's really rather accessible by anyone. I would say the most difficult part of the whole thing would probably be cutting the carrots into julienned strips, but since you can buy a bag of carrots already julienned at the grocery store, I can't imagine that'd be a prohibitive step. The next difficult thing would likely be searing the steak, but since you're about to put it in a bowl with hot broth, under cook it. No harm done. Rice noodles might also scare people who haven't used them before, but they're just as easy as cooking couscous...pour boiling water on them...and wait. I love their consistency i.

Another soup they featured was a Chickpea and Pasta Soup. (http://www.pbs.org/everydayfood/recipes/chickpea_and_pasta_soup.html) This one had a little less personality than the Noodle Soup, but I think it's got potential. Basically, you sear a little garlic, add broth and water, dump in some pasta (they used elbow macaroni which I think suits this) and some garbanzo beans. She topped with parsley and parmesan. Frankly, I think it would have been more robust with chicken broth (sorry to my vegetarian friends out there) and maybe with the addition of mushrooms or spinach (or some sort of veggie that holds up in a soup). This is suggested as a good portable thermos-type soup for kids to pack in their lunch or for an easy work-friendly soup. This is making me think I need to invest in a soup thermos.

Speaking of spinach, my last ode to the "Soups and Salad" episode of Everyday Food is not a soup but a salad. Pretty basic, but the Beef and Spinach Salad really solidified my need for steak in the next couple days. (http://www.pbs.org/everydayfood/recipes/steak_salad_with_spinach.html) It's not that this recipe is earth shattering (which I think is the point of Everyday Food), but it's just good, hearty, healthy, tasty, interesting food. Blue cheese and walnuts (though you could easily use another nut like pecans) always add umph to salads. When you include grapes in there and some tasty baby spinach leaves (which are awfully meaty for a vegetable) topping it all off with steak, I wonder why I'm not eating this just about every night.

Lastly, the other amazingly simple soup that has my mouth watering (and is also adding a "pro" to the columns for the thermos purchase) is Nigella Lawson's Pea and Pesto soup. (http://www.nigella.com/recipe/recipe_detail.aspx?rid=153) I typically like anything that Nigella does (with few exceptions). I find her style infectious and her shortcuts perfectly defendable. This soup has 4 ingredients plus salt. Boil frozen peas with some lime juice and two whole scallions. Once they're boiled, take out the scallions. Pour the whole thing in the blender, throw in a few dollops of the fresh pesto stuff from the store (see...there's a shortcut I can get behind), and your soup is done. Another thermos wonder.

I'm hungry. Time for supper.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tasty Words

I'm trying not to drown myself in more things to "waste my time," but I just can't read enough about food. So, I've added a few more blogs to the list on the right of your screen.

Orangette - The author, Molly Wizenberg, came to the same realization in 2004 that I have come to more recently. She knew that what she wanted to do needed to be somehow connected to writing about food. Now she has a very successful blog, a monthly column in Bon Appetit, and even a well-received book (A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table). She even met her husband through her site! Check out the blog at http://orangette.blogspot.com/.

Copywriter's Kitchen - I love the description of this blog. "Fast frugal scratch cooking for freelance writers and other busy people." (Plus, I think the name probably appeals to my grammar nerd tendencies.) The Spring Risotto with Asparagus recipe looks scrumptious, and I plan on trying it out some time soon. Visit the blog at http://www.copywriterskitchen.com.

The Wednesday Chef - I don't remember how I stumbled up on this one (I think from one of the blogs above). The most recent post right now is about baked rice (do you detect a theme in the recipes I'm reading about?). I've never heard of baking rice before (that's not in a casserole), so this might be another use besides stew for my Le Creuset dutch oven. I'm new to this blog, but I think it has some great potential...especially since the author is on a trip to Paris. Only good food experiences take place in Paris. Check out The Wednesday Chef at http://wednesdaychef.typepad.com/.

Monday, April 13, 2009

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

I have been avoiding Twitter like, well, a really chewy and lukewarm scallop. I just can't understand why anyone would want to follow me in 140 character limits (as we've seen, I'm not much on short sentences), and, frankly, I'm not sure who I would want to follow who doesn't have their Twitter updates automatically updating their Facebook status. Yeah yeah, I can follow celebrities, which is mildly appealing, but with the varying level of detail they go into, I'm not sure it wouldn't just drive me crazy.

That is all until now. This might change things. Today as part of the Tasting Table Everywhere newsletter, they featured a way to keep up with your favorite Chefs and food trucks/carts. They even have a way to follow the Food Shark in Marfa, TX (!?!?!?). There's even a link to "Find More Twittering Food Trucks." This may just be what I needed to get me onto Twitter. Here's the link: http://tastingtable.com/email/campaign/548.html.

If you're unfamiliar with Tasting Table, it started with the New York version and has since expanded to LA and "Everywhere." They have a feature article every newsletter and there's a weekly "Weekend Update" with food-related goings on. They also update the openings, closings, renamings, etc. of the restaurants in NYC (and I assume LA). As a former New Yorker who goes back every now and then, I often archive mentions of new or interesting restaurants so I can visit them when I go home. (I really want to create something like this for Austin, but I suppose that's a project for another day and another time.)

And with that, I leave you with one last thought - I am acutely aware that I have been shirking on my blogging duties. There's really not much of an excuse outside of the fact that my stupid laptop at home (Dell Inspiron 1501) doesn't have a working battery any more. So it lives on my dining room table and not by my bedside or by the couch, two places where I do some of my best blogging. The battery has so little use that you have to shut down completely before moving to a new location. It takes forever for the shut down and start up process to take place, that I've essentially demoted my laptop to a desktop.

But not to worry, I promise I'll get back to it. ...and I might even buy a new battery.