29 October 2009

Midweek Over, time for weekend

As soon as Puppy got home with the CSA share, I decided to cook everything up the next day itself, because I've seen far too many veg go the way of the dodo, because I took too bloody long to get to them. This is good, because nothing spoiled. This is bad, because I now have 10 lbs of potatoes, some onions, 1/4 of a cabbage (which is what was left after making piles of cabbage soup, which is still making my tummy happy) and spices. This means that the next couple of days will be a bit ... interesting, unless I make a grocery store order, which would mean staying home until they come in with it. And what would I get from the store anyway? More cabbage, more onions, more potatoes. I think the cabbage and potatoes in my fridge don't really need the company.
So this means that I'll need to get a little creative. Fortunately for myself, I've kept my pantry rather well stocked. I've got various tinned and dried beans, noodles (thin and thick), pasta (spaghetti, macaroni, rotelle), rice (sushi, basmati, long grain), and of course, all the spices I'd need to cook all those things up.
Since we have been eating fairly healthy, I can go with something a little junk food-y. Enter beans and pasta. The tomatoes aren't strictly necessary, but I think they're nice, all the same.
The thing about beans and rice is that they're delicious, nutritious, and filling, but they can get monotonous, unless you've got a nice variety of vegetables (raw and cooked) to accompany. Frankly, I don't think that my potatoes and onions are going to do much for me on that account. However, if I put them on pasta, they do tend to feel like a break from the norm, and it's a nice enough change of pace that I can get away with (essentially) not very much else, since Puppy and I are both fiends about pasta.
We eat rice (literally) every single day, and it's our usual food. Pasta is a fair bit more expensive than rice, so I tend not to buy it very frequently, and when it comes on sale, I tend to go a little nuts, and buy like 10 or 15 boxes. This means that if it were left to us, said 10 or 15 boxes would be gone quite neatly in 2 or 3 weeks. And then it'd mean no pasta again until the stuff comes on sale. This is why I tend to get a fair bit, but stretch it out a little. Maybe over the course of two or three months.
So. What I do is that I start off as if I were making a very sturdy pot of beans. I boil them up in the slow cooker, stove, or pressure cooker (depending on whether or not I've soaked them), and drain off the cooking liquid. I rinse them off to remove all vestiges of cooking liquid. Instead of cooking them like a soup or a stew, I tend to do the dry roasting technique, like I've got in the book (dry roasted garbanzo beans). Essentially, you start off with popping of spices (I like cumin and coriander), add a touch of aromatics (garlic, onions, whatever), and then toss in the drained and rinsed cooked beans. I cook it off until the spices have melded nicely.
I tend to be a little generous with the oil, because I find that the pasta likes that little extra bit of oil. Then, I toss through some roughly diced tomatoes, and cook them with the beans until they're wilted and release a bit of a gravy from their juices. It's quite a savoury smell coming up from the pot at this point. To finish, I throw in some basil and parsley, and a bit of salt to taste. I toss it through with my short cooked pasta (rotelle, farfalle, macaroni, what have you), and throw in a splash of lemon if it needs it. You could serve it with some crusty bread and a green salad, but I don't because this is the sort of thing I make when I don't have the vegetables I need for greens, salad, or much of anything else.
If I did, I'd have made beans and rice.

27 October 2009

Amble in the Rain. Ramble on the Blog.

I may have mentioned it before, but I'm a fan of the sun. And right about now, this little fan is turned off, because it's rainy and cold and mucky. And of course, it doesn't help that I have to go out in said muck to get to work, back into the muck when I run errands, and back again to get back home. Trust me, as soon as I get home, I'm curling up with a steaming hot bowl of rice, and piling it high with roasted vegetables. Our CSA gave us a bunch of different beets (no thanks; I'll leave that for Puppy), potatoes (yes, please!), and celeriac (mmmmm). I strongly dislike celery, but the celery root isn't quite so offensive.

I find that if I treat it like a potato (with regards to cooking), peel off the knobby outside skin with my trusty vegetable peeler, and just roast it with a bit of oil, I'm golden (get it? golden? roasted?)!

Yes, it's simple, but I've found myself scaling back on the spicing and the aromatics (garlic, onions, what have you) when I've got such top-notch produce from my CSA. Yes, Indians love their spices, but they also really love clean flavours, where the vegetable comes out by itself. For most of my life, I couldn't really afford the organic vegetables. The CSA made it possible for me to discover those unsung heroes of the plant kingdom (I'd never heard of mizuna, used kohlrabi, had five different varieties of chard and kale in one sitting, or seen that many different kinds of potatoes), and really let the flavours come through. Thus far, for me, Kale meant that curly stuff that's ever so yummy with all the attendant spices and cooking in the oven.

You know the type. You add a bit of curry powder and salt and a head of garlic to 3 kg of chopped kale (stems and all, of course). Then you throw in a tin of cocounut milk. Then you wash out that tin once or twice with water, and pour that into your dish too. Then you pop it into the 350ºF oven for 25 - 40 minutes, until it's as tender as you'd like for it to be.

Well, as I started to get different varieties, I started to cut back on the amount of spices. Then, I cut back on the salt. Then I cut out the garlic. Before I knew it, it was just water, coconut milk, and kale going into the baking dish, and simmering away tantalisingly. It's not that I'd grown to dislike spices. Far from it, actually. It was more that I started to notice that I craved more of the kale's own taste coming through. I also noticed that doing very little to the vegetable made it "safe" for a wider variety of people.

I've had people eat at my house who can't have various spices, pepper, etc. Some are on low salt diets. Some are watching their caloric intake. All said and done, I still cook very flavourful food. It's just that I'm relying on different techniques from what I used to.

Take my daikon. All I did was julienne a large daikon radish, sprinkle it with black sesame seeds, and a bit of sesame oil, and popped it into the oven for about 10 minutes. That's really all it needed. I could have done it on the stove, but I feel like I would have ended up getting it mashed, and would have lost the texture of the julienne that I worked so hard to create (actually, it wasn't that hard).

By the by, if you find yourself the lucky recipient of lots of daikon, use it to practise your chopping techniques. It's the perfect shape and size to do any number of pretty cuts. Just peel off the outer skin real quick, and chop off the top and bottom pieces. Then, slice a thin slice from the bottom of the circle to give yourself a steady base from which to work. Then, slice the daikon into rounds. The thinner you slice them the finer your final chop will be. I sliced mine about 1/8 inch thick. Then, stack up the rounds, and make vertical slices, so you have a fine little julienne. If you decided to go a little larger, and make 1 inch rounds, you can then slice 1 inch vertical slices, and end up with 1 inch wide daikon "french fries". Just rub a little oil onto a parchment lined baking sheet (or use silpat, or use a nonstick baking sheet with a bit of oil), sprinkle a bit of black sesame, and bake at 350 for about 10 - 15 minutes. They're quite yummy on their own, or dipped in a bit of soy sauce combined with sriracha and a touch of ketchup.

Then, once you've got your stick shapes, it's just a few more cross wise cuts to make an adorable dice! Easy peasy. And because the daikon is uniform in width throughout (unlike those stubborn carrots and parsnips), you'll have a fairly easy time in keeping everything uniform. I actually had fun while dicing everything up the other day, because it looked sooooo cute when I was done.

Yes, I'm easily amused.

OK, let me be honest now.

I'm totally /not/ in the mood for roasted vegetables. I want soup, damnit.

When I get home, I envision that giant head of cabbage that Puppy brought home with that CSA haul. I'm going to pop some black mustard seeds, and some cumin seeds in some hot fat. Then, I'll throw in the sliced cabbage. In a separate pot, I'll boil up some udon noodles (the thick ones that I love so much). Once the cabbage is all coated in the spices, I'll add in just enough water to cover. By the time the water for my udon comes to a boil, and the noodles cook through, the cabbage will be tender and savoury smelling. I'll finish it with a bit of red chili flakes and salt, and pour it over a bowl of hot, freshly boiled noodles.

Or maybe I'll be lazy and have it with rice.

And then top it off with some shredded carrots. Mmmm. Carrots.

Ohh! Ohh! And a clove of minced garlic. And I stir it all through to combine the flavours and aromas. And then I shall promptly sink into a pile of fluffy pillows, cover myself with a few layers of thick fleece blankets, and grab a book to read.

And life will be good.

26 October 2009

Sift your Beans

They were fairly slammed today, so Cliff asked me to soak him some chickpeas, as we were out of hummus. He said, "And make sure to sift through to make sure there's nothing extra in there. You do sift your beans, right?" "Of course", I answered guiltily. The short answer is, of course. The long answer is, of course I do, when it's more than what I make at home (maybe one or two cups at a time). If it's that small an amount, I'm bound to catch whatever it is that's foreign, because I don't buy chickpeas in mass bulk (more than 10 pounds at a time would be too much for home use, and when you buy in very large bulk as restaurants do, there's going to be ... extras in the beans, regardless of how good your vendor is) either when I'm transferring the beans to my containers that I store them in (juice bottles, etc.) or when I pour the beans into the bowl for soaking, or when I drain them and transfer them to a pot. When you're using such tiny quantities, you'll catch on soon enough.

However, if you buy your beans loose, or in large quantity, or in bulk, or aren't constantly vigilant about everything, you'll want to sift through the beans. In fact, come to think of it, my saying that it's a small quantity at home is actually just an excuse for my laziness. I tried to justify my at-home laziness by saying that it's a small quantity. But who do I have to justify to? Not Boss Man. As far as he's concerned, when I'm here, I sift the beans. What I do or don't do at home doesn't make a difference to him.

No. I was trying to justify it to myself, because I know full well that I should know better. And I do know better! There are few things as unpleasant as being interrupted from a happy tasty food daze by a giant slab of stone cracking your jaws in half. No thanks! It's just that it takes all that extra time.

By the by, it doesn't take all that long.

Get your dry beans measured. Then, grab a cookie sheet. Dump the measured beans onto the cookie sheet. Ta-da! All the beans are in one layer! This means that giving everything a once-over takes all of 3 seconds. If there's any rocks, you'll find them now. Let me tell you from multiple personal experience, that it's far better to spend the all of five seconds it'll take you to sift through the beans than to chomp down on a big, painful rock, and feel your bridge work crack through, and your orthodontist silently cheer as he sees yet another year at the country club paid in full from your laziness. Then you have that bother of trying to figure out who's responsible for this, and you'll never talk again. Just avoid the trouble in the long run.

I spent the extra five seconds on it, and it worked out just great. No rocks, and no wasted time.

So why was I skipping that step all these years? Same reason you all do. You know in your heart of hearts that it's the right thing to do. And you expect (as you should) restaurants to do so. And we do. We're thorough about anything going into your food. All the leaves are washed and re-washed and inspected for ... special prizes that mother nature left behind, all the beans are sifted by hand, the fruit is carefully washed and inspected for more prizes from nature, and you're getting nice, clean food. So why don't we respect ourselves enough to do it at home? You're going to all that effort to cook for yourself. Might as well spend the extra five seconds on those minor details that save your teeth and your sanity.

The first time you chomp down on a bit of dirt in your food, you'll think back to this long, drawn out diatribe, and you'll thank me for reminding you (and myself) that it's important to pay attention to the details.

23 October 2009

Components make up the whole

"roasted yucca til it was crisp w lots a garlic, and folded it in2 the hummus of the day. yucca hummus y'all."

Boss man posted that on Sacred Chow's facebook yesterday. He let me try the roasted yucca. Damned if it didn't knock me off my feet, and launch me to the heavens! I'm a huge fan of yucca, mind you. It's one of those things that I could happily use in everything I make, and still not get tired of. The rest of the planet agrees with me. Cassava is so widely eaten that I can't really think of a country (with farmable land) off-hand where it's difficult to come by. It's seen in cuisines from South America, to Africa, to Asia (China and India and the islands in the south Pacific being huge fans of it) and any other place where money is a little tight from time to time.

But this isn't about the wonders of yucca. It's about flavouring things just so.

Your dish will only be as strong as the weakest component in it. This is why you see chefs seeking out the finest ingredients that their budgets can allow. They know that if one ingredient's quality is less than that of the surrounding ingredients, the end product will be compromised significantly. This goes double for flavour. If the components of the dish are highly tantalising and tempting, then you'll most likely wind up with a fantastic end product.

For example, there are many times when I'm about to make smashed potatoes with loads of coconut cream and garlic, but I stop myself, because the oven roasted potatoes are so delicious that I can't stop myself from eating half the tray before moving forward. For this reason, I've made mashed potatoes all of two or three times tops, and when I do, there isn't very much of it.

I'm so not joking when I say that potatoes are much beloved in my home. First I boil them off in the pressure cooker, because I can have them easier to handle in about 5 minutes (after reaching pressure, of course) as opposed to going through the grunt work of peeling and dicing the little monsters, only to smash them later. The hell with that. If I have a limited amount of time in the kitchen, you can bet your buttons that I'd sooner spend it having a glass of wine than doing make-work that's going to be for naught in any case.

But I digress, as you do.

The point is that the reason that my cooking is good goes beyond and above the fact that the final product is great; it's because the journey (to me) is really as important as the destination. It's why I can be so creative. While I'm cooking, there are multiple places where I can stop, even with simple dishes, like an aromatic vegetable sautee. You start off with popping the spices in oil, then add in your peppers, carrots, onions, garlic, what have you. Once they get tender, you can actually just stop, and use that as something (maybe to toss with pasta or rice, or in between a thick, crusty baguette, or add some water and make a soup, or add some beans and make a stew, or ...). If you choose, you can cook down some tomato in there, and stop at that point as well (add beans, make a daal, add leftover potatoes and other cooked veg with a bit of water for a veg stew, use the cooked tomato & aromatics as a spicy bruschetta thing ...). Then, if you have any, you stir in some beans (washed and drained), vegetables (in bite sized pieces), and a bit of salt and pepper, and cook the veg or beans with the aromatics and tomatoes for about five minutes. You could stop there and use the beans and/or veg with the aromatics and the rest as a sort of curry that you serve over rice, or add water to make a soup or stew, or throw in some cooked grain (barley, brown rice, large couscous), let it simmer for a few minutes, and have at.

See what I'm saying? At any point, you can stop, keep going, or take multiple diversions. That's the soul of good cooking. So there was boss man, in the kitchen, roasting up that cassava, and boiling up the chick peas. As I mentioned he let me taste the roast cassava. So divine. Then I tried a bit of the plain hummus. ALSO divine.

Then he blended them together.

Oh yes.

The whole was far superior to the sum of its parts, but the individual parts were quite tantalising on their own, thank you very much. I would have been quite content to eat that roasted yucca all by itself. Who doesn't like yucca that hasn't been fried, but tastes like it has (nothing at Sacred Chow is ever fried, ever, for any reason)? Who wouldn't want to just bury himself or herself in that mound of creamy dreamy hummus? ("What do you eat hummus with?" "A spoon!") Now that they're combined, you get little crunchy treasures that are enveloped in that creamy robe of protein.

Think of that the next time you're in the kitchen, and really take to heart how important it is to be intimately involved in every step of the way. Then get lazy can call for delivery.

18 October 2009

The prince arrived?

Either a really handsome prince in red tights stole a kiss from me this morning, or I need to check the locks on the doors. I'm too lazy to call the front desk, so we'll go with the former.

15 October 2009

So I'm at Sacred Chow, doing the thing where I pretend to know what I'm doing, with regards to techy stuff. You ask me to design you a flyer? I can do that in my sleep. You ask me to cook something? No problem. Tell me what you want, and I'll churn out something delicious.

You ask me to maintain a website? I'm going to cry and hide behind large objects.

So today, I realised that our site is a little ... behind the times. There's lots of places where they have very functional and useful features. We've got our facebook connect and twitter connect, but that's pretty ghetto as far as outreach goes. It means we depend on outside sources to make our in-house stuff get out there. It's fine for minor updates and the rest, but those features stunt your ability to get out the maximum information on the main website.

Enter, the event calendar. For anyone who's seen one of these before, you'll know how eminently useful they can be. You can set certain people to have posting access, sync it up to your outlook (to post, or to receive), and it makes the reaching out thing a lot smoother. Furthermore, it keeps you organised, and with it.

So I decided to use WebCalendar, because it would run natively on the server, since our hosting allows PHP and a database. What I didn't anticipate is that our server doesn't /have/ a pre-made database in there already, like ODBC, or what have you.

I looked a little green in the face, as I realised that I'd have to install some sort of database server.

At that very moment, I realised that I was way out of my depth, and would have to google around for ages to figure this stuff out.

Google around for ...


Google Calendars.

That was way easier than it should have been, and I'm silently kicking myself for being so dumb as to have missed that big giant "easy" button that Google tends to put onto everything. Oh. And the stupid easy part? Adding in all the Jewish and USA holidays to the thing, and having them automatically update. This way, when we add our events, it'll show up /under/ the existing day that it corresponds to, without us having to make a specific post. Ye gods, this promises to be quite useful, and I'm glad I finally thought to include the thing.


In case you're curious, go ahead and take a gander at the little calendar in her new home. Drop by and say hi.

13 October 2009

Part of Your World

When I'm walking long distances (to the subway station, work, bla bla bla), I tend to put on my ipod, not to listen to music, but to listen to podcasts. The endless chatter helps me to let my mind wander. I do my best thinking when I'm having conversations. I guess it's something about the spoken word (casual, not formal, like in an audiobook) that just gets the mental juices flowing. Unfortunately, with music, such isn't the case. I find myself getting distracted and side-tracked.

The thing is, the podcast doesn't even have to be particularly Important or Cerebral. I can do as well listening to Pottercast as I can to The Naked Scientist from the BBC. The point is that the show needs to be /chatty/ and not particularly formal. It does not work, for example, when the person is reading pre-written notes to fit a time slot. In cases like that, much like music, I find myself getting sidetracked, and focusing in on the performance more than letting my brain wander over the material presented. It's also why I can listen to the same episode a few times over. The first time, I'll have the information rattling around in my head, along with the rest of the flotsam in there. The second and third time, I get to think on it more deeply, and come to my own conclusions.

Yes, I'll listen to Pottercast episodes twice or three times sometimes. Yes, I am obsessed.

I'll wait for you to stop laughing.


Thank you.

I just wish it were as easy to podcast as it is to blog. Y'know, some form of thing where I could type out my thoughts, and it could be read, in my voice, and then easily (not the process I go through now) upload the content to a site that handles it. Hey Google. Mind getting on that? Thanks. You've managed to do everything else, so I figure this might be up your alley. You could very well take over the rest of the planet, and we'd all willingly go along with it.

Do you prefer blogs or podcasts? Which ones do you keep up with more frequently? With RSS feeds and the like, both should be relatively easy to keep up with, only iPods make podcasts easier on those of us with that technology. Wonder if the kindle will ever come down in price. I hear it does downloading of blogs too. Anyone own one that wants to weigh in?

01 October 2009

For NYC people.

Henry Westpfalz & Co, which is a machining company on 25th, b/w 6th and 7th, does the best knife sharpening ever. And they're relatively inexpensive. Costs about $6 for a standard chef's knife. I take my own knives there, as well as Sacred Chow's. You drop them off, and then pick them up when they're ready for you, usually two days afterwards. However, they're only open from 9:30 AM - 6 PM on weekdays. That means that if you drop off your knives over the weekend (say, on a Friday afternoon), you won't be getting them back until Wednesday evening.

So the nice lady at the counter told me the secret to making sure you get your knives back really quickly. Just drop them off on Tuesday or Thursday, BEFORE 3 PM. That way, when the guy comes back the next day to drop off the knives (around 3:30/4 PM), you'll have them done in a day. Just thought I'd share.

Also, they do really good work.

For those of you who live in Brooklyn, and don't mind schlepping all the way out to the middle of nowhere, ABC Grinding
does a damn fine job for INCREDIBLY cheap. I guess when you're located in guam, you kind of don't charge as much. It's right off the J Train (Cleveland St. Station) in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn. Yeah. I told you it's out there. But, the guy usually does it right in his shop, and you get your blades back in an hour or so. While you're there, you may as well pop in on one of the millions of thrift stores in the neighbourhood, and pick up actual thrift store bargains (unlike the ones in Manhattan, where they think that they poop gold, and can charge $30 for a pair of fucking used no-name brand jeans; yeah. fuck you very much, Salvation Army).