Sunday, August 16, 2009

tiny produce - a quick post

I work in the semiconductor industry so I understand the concept of putting even more punch into a smaller and better package. But do we want this for our produce?

At the farmers' market a couple weeks ago, I ran across these small pears. And when I say small, I mean SMALL! Look at it in comparison to a cherry tomato. A grape! The kiwi looks like it's going to unhinge its jaw and eat my little pear. And this was supposed to be the same thing as an Asian pear? Those big grapefruit-sized, wonderfully crisp yet juicy monstrosities?? I asked the vendor, "Why are they so small. I normally see them much larger." I guess it's just in the way they trim the trees.

Many of the vendors at the farmers' market aren't exactly known for their well-developed rhetoric, but I'll admit I was hoping for something a little more informative. Alas. I was intrigued enough to buy a bag, and, after all, isn't that what counts? Making the sale?

So I brought them home and washed a couple of them off. I then marveled at just how minute they were. I was beginning to feel like I did in 5th and 6th grade when I was the tallest person in my class, boy or girl, and I let everyone know. I felt large and in charge. I mean, a pear with the diameter of a quarter? Insanity. Had I drunken from the "Drink Me" bottle or eaten the "Eat Me" cake?

Either way, I don't know what had happened, but they actually made me ill. Maybe they should trim the trees a little differently because the big ones never made me sick.

melting pot soup

I am very blessed to have a wonderful brother-in-law. While he has innumerable pride-inducing characteristics (great husband and great father just to name two), one of my favorites is his interest in food. He works to create the website and has a non-work-related love of cooking interesting meals. At one point, he was making his own cheese in their ground floor tiny kitchen. Amazing.

At some point he and I were talking about some sort of Italian wedding soup. I don't know where that name came from, but I must have recently seen a can of Campbell's Italian-Style Wedding Soup ("Meatballs and Spinach in Chicken Broth" as it is described on the label). I think he had also told me of a version he made, and it piqued my interest.

I figured, instead of meatballs I could use the feta and spinach chicken sausage my local grocery store sells. I seared it off and chopped it into large-ish bite-sized bits. The mirepoix would, of course, stay the same (carrots, celery, and onions). And while the sausage was searing in another pan, the mirepoix would get things going in my large pasta pot. Once those had sweated out, I added in some chicken stock. I don't remember how much, but definitely too much. I ended up having an entire pasta pot full of this soup. But wait, I've gotten ahead of myself.

Right after I added the chicken stock, I started cutting up my bok choy and giving it a quick rinse. That's what I was substituting for the spinach...a decidedly non-Italian ingredient, as far as I know. I threw in the sausage since, while seared, it needed to be cooked through. I added some more water (as if there needed to be more volume). Then after a few minutes of boiling, I added the orzo. Did I mention that's what I replaced the little nondescript pasta balls in the Campbell's soup with tri-color orzo. It is a favorite of mine.

Not much longer after that I added in the bok choy. Some hot red pepper flakes and some freshly ground black pepper joined in on the fun. Not much salt was needed since broth usually takes care of itself. As you can see from the next picture, I made A LOT of the stuff.

The way I figure, this melting pot soup sums up the various cultures to which I was exposed as a child growing up in New York. Every family had Chinese food from time to time (my Jewish friends always having big family dinners at the Chinese restaurant on Christmas, a tradition of which I was mildly jealous). And though we ate Chinese food fairly regularly, I am aware that it pales in comparison to the real deal. But what can I mother could eat her weight in Schezhuan green beans (though, being a bean pole herself, I suppose that is not much of a feat). And, of course, Italian food was ubiquitous in the city. Even though we were a borough away from Little Italy proper, we were only a few blocks up the hill from a neighborhood whose light poles were painted the green, white, and red of the Italian flag. And then Campbell's soup - I have such distinct memories of their "alphabet soup" from childhood. This might sound gross to many, but we added milk to our beef broth-based alphabet soup. It cooled the soup down to suit our childhood palettes, but more importantly, it's what our mom and dad did, so it was the right way to eat your soup. The next step, of course, was to crumble Premium Saltines (original, thank you very much) into the soup by the handful. That is still one of my go-to soups when I need something comforting.

In any event, it's a soup informed by my culinary past in the Melting Pot of all Melting Pots. And it's darn tasty.

dinner party

I am unabashedly overjoyed to be out of the stay out until 4am crowd (well, at least not as a regular weekend occurrence) because it means that I have moved into the dinner party set. Yes, some of us had dinner parties a decade ago, but a decade ago I don't think I really saw cooking for what it is - a therapeutic way to let my creativity flow....not to mention some tasty vittles as a result.

So you can imagine how pleased I was to receive an invitation to a friend's house for a dinner party a few weeks ago. And let me say, this was a proper dinner party. The cocktail of the evening was a basil gimlet (OUTSTANDING drink, I might add, and one that I need to try at home sooner rather than later). The appetizers were figs drizzled in honey, olives, baguette slices with some sort of sun-dried tomato tapenade (maybe I'm not remember that part right, but it was good whatever it was).

Then came the entree. A perfectly cooked beef roast (red and bloody in the middle, but out to just ever so slightly pink towards the ends....something for everyone). Since we were in absolutely no rush and have a wonderful time making conversations in between nibbles of sticky figs, the hostess put the roast in while we were there. The hour flew by (no doubt helped along its way by the gimlets) also because the rest of the meal was a sort of dinner theatre. The way this apartment is set up allows some people to sit at the island's counter, watching what the cook is doing, and someone else could stand over to the side and participate in the island's conversation while talking to the cook. While all of this conversation was taking place, our hostess was deftly grilling bias-cut yellow squash and zucchini, large slices of avocado, and onions. The cheesy polenta that she had made earlier in the day and let set in a baking dish didn't fare quite as well on the grill as the vegetables, but taste-wise it was certainly a star (I'm willing to make that trade off any day - cheesier polenta that doesn't grill problem here).

I feel as if I'm leaving something out, but the red wine we had with the dishes was the perfect accompaniment. It was all perfect. We then retired to the sectional to look over some magazines and continue our wine and conversation when the hostess exclaimed that she had completely forgotten to serve us her chilled melon soup as a starter. Oh well - we'll have it for dessert...and that we did. It was delicious. There was a dollop of what I surmised was greek yogurt on the top and she had added some dried herbs to the soup that I would have never considered - perfection.

The piece de resistance was that she insisted some of us take home leftovers. I've never been one to shy away from the leftover, so I gladly accepted. The first dinner companion said she would only take leftovers if it were in a tin foil swan. The gauntlet was thrown. Ask, and ye shall receive. A tin foil water fowl was created (one can't say for 100% sure if it was a swan, but the point was easily made). So how would our hostess follow up that masterpiece? With a tin foil fish, of course.

The picture doesn't do it justice, but I got to bring home a fish whose shape I can only describe as being shared with that of Flounder from Finding Nemo. It was perfect. However, it could not have been more perfect than the leftovers found inside. My dog, of course, got a tiny nibble of the meat (I'm a sucker for the pooch. What can I say). But the vast majority was left to me. I think I got two meals out of that beef roast and it was even more flavorful each time I bit into it. I'm thinking I'm going to have to try my magic at some point with a beef roast. Yum

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Is work more important than food blogging??

As some of you may have noticed, my blogs have been on a hiatus. This is not due to the fact that I haven't had and note-worthy food-related activities. On the contrary...and there are pictures to prove it!

This note is to say, forgive me, foodies. My day job (the one that pays for my food) has been a teeny bit busy lately. But don't fret! I have 4 blog posts in the hopper, some replete with visual aids. I commit to you all now before Blogger, the fridge, and my mother - I will post them before the weekend is through!

So check back come Monday morning, and if I haven't posted, send me nastygrams. Seriously. Yell, scream, throw tomatoes....

Much love from the busy foodie...