Thursday, September 29, 2011

Simplicity: On the Go

There are so many meals in a day. Sometimes a few meals need to be on the go. But that doesn't mean they have to kill you (see: fast food).

Many people will skip breakfast if they can't take it to go. That's why frozen bananas and protein powder are so valuable. When I make this shake containing rice milk, frozen banana, frozen blueberries, and protein powder, my wife thinks she's getting a real milkshake. The best part is, it actually makes her day. More energy, more taste, less "ooooh, I really shouldn't have had that milkshake" feeling.

Once again, I don't write recipes, I encourage technique. Tweak the amounts on those ingredients and find the consistency that works.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mimic Takeout: Beef Stir Fry

You can be sure when you see the sign "No MSG" that there are people in the kitchen that still know more about what goes in the food than you do. That's all fine and good, but sometimes it's nice to be able to make your favorite take out dishes yourself.

Maybe you like chicken chow mein, but you would like more chicken. Maybe your kung pao comes out too hot. Whatever the reason, it is possible to recreate the tastes and nuances of takeout food.

This is the beef stir fry I make.

It isn't greasy, but the extra virgin olive oil I add after cooking gives the buckwheat noodles (soba) a good feel. The beef is from grass fed cows (from Uganda, but it was on sale). I used red cabbage instead of napa because I like the color and I prefer its taste.

We sat on our lounge chairs and ate with chopsticks. It fit in perfectly with the type of evening it was. The beauty is that you can keep the noodles and the beef veggie mix separate in the fridge and combine and microwave (or bake for crispy).

Hot wok, hot fat (olive or veggie oil), onions, garlic. Then beef cut in strips once onion if soft, then cabbage. I take half out before I add noodles to the pan. Cook your noodles first, of course.

This dish is also good with all varieties of rice noodle and, of course, chow mein noodle. Season to taste, soy sauce and /or red pepper.

What You Know: Taste

I was talking to a new friend from Holland over the weekend. His wife is an old friend of ours and now she does the cooking. I of course don't hold this against him. He works strange hours and provides for her so that she can take care of a home and enjoy her life in Holland, living behind a dyke.

What was interesting is when we talked about our tomato garden. "I love tomatoes," he began, but then he continued, "They have a light taste, very easy to eat. I can't imagine someone not liking a tomato."

I told him that if he loved a food like that, he would love cooking it too. Tomato isn't just another ingredient in catsup for him, it's an entity. It's a part of his life.

If you are going to cook for someone you love, you should think about foods and tastes you feel passionate about. It is more likely you won't do anything to ruin the taste. Ruining, however, is all in your perspective. When I worked with an accomplished cook in another state with mushrooms, he had a different idea on how to bring out the flavor.

I grill my mushrooms in light oil (not low fat, just light in color). Once it takes the oil into its gills, I add a light seasoning, an herb like rosemary and a spice like sage. Most of the time, cheese gets involved, like swiss or mozzarella. It is a warm, lingering taste.

He doused his in balsamic vinegar, basically acid blanched it. The taste was bright. It popped, then the balsamic stayed for a bit (aged balsamic) then blended in to my palate. I would have ruined it if I went vinegar, because I didn't see it the way he did.

If you like something, say tomatoes, try different things. Grill them. Grill the skin first, then try opening it and grilling the meat. USe tomato paste in beef stew and lentil soup (there's really no other way). Buy sundried tomatoes. Incorporate two styles of tomatoes in one dish.

Think hard about the taste you like, then follow that direction. Learn how your favorite tastes work together.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Weekend Fuel - Overly Easy Over Easy

Delicious, beautiful things aren't always easy. But this is.

If you are going somewhere after breakfast, it helps to reduce prep time and cleanup. Eat, go to beach, end of to-do list. This dish will not make you feel overfull like pancakes and sausage will. It will give you the fuel you need to tackle your Friday or hit your hotspot on the weekend.

You cut the cherry tomatoes in half, wash the spinach (no need to dry, just rinse really well) while your skillet is getting hot. Do this by sprinkling a little water in it when you put it on the fire. When the water is gone, the pan is ready.

Add a little olive oil, throw in the spinach and stir. When it wilts a little, push to the side. Put tomatoes open side down. Make room for two eggs, then carefully put two eggs in that space.

Turn off the heat. Cover your pan. All that should take 2 minutes. You can make some toast if you want.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Simplicity - Wings

I love wing night! Actually, I miss wing night. Pizza places and and family restaurants used to have wing night that rocked. Sure, there's happy hour, but wings are an afterthought during happy hour. It's not that wings are impossible to find, it's just that they usually aren't good enough for me.

Compound that with the fact that my wife is off of processed foods and simple sugars and we have what we can call a conundrum. So I made these:

In classic happy hour fashion, I served with some celery and yellow bell pepper instead of carrots. The wings are in a mustard sauce made with dijon mustard, brown mustard, apple cider vinegar and agave nectar.*

You can feel free to use regular vinegar, any mustard, honey, sugar water, high fructose corn syrup, whatever you want, but the main thing is 4 parts mustard, 2 parts sour, 1 part sweetener. These are the elements that the good boys from Buffalo conceived in a sauce you can roll meat in and serve alongside a nice lager. Tomato or mustard being the foundation. Try lemon/lime juice and maple syrup mixed into organic tomato paste. Your friends will think you had it delivered from the sports bar while they leech off your dish Season Ticket.

Tell the girls not to be shy when they come for cocktails, these wings have a low glycemic index and no preservatives. Easy on the Cuervo, but have seconds of these wings.

Sometimes, attraction comes from simplicity. Feed the soul while saving the body with this spin on buffalo wings.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Deconstructed Classic: Burger with grilled onions

My wife likes burgers and fries. I think most women do.

"Even the ones that say they're icky?"

Especially the one that think they are icky. Closet eaters, every last one of them. They down half a cosmo' and they're calling to the barman for those sliders! Side of sweet potato fries please.

I think they're great, if done well. That probably goes for most things, but the burger is a long time victim of abuse. Neglect is the worst kind of abuse. Our burger meat has been put out to pasture. Actually, it hasn't been put out to pasture and that's the problem.

There are certain large institutions that have their focus set on real estate more than feeding people. They'll give you stuff to eat, but they aren't feeding you. That's because the little bit of meat that ends up in the patty is taken from parts that you couldn't find at the market. The rest is fillers. "All beef" just means the meat part came from a cow, that's it. The cow itself hasn't even been eating the stuff it was meant to eat: grass.

The reason I say this is that I was on my way home from the gym and I thought about a hamburger. I used to work out, then do one of two things: go to Little Caesar's and get a $5 Hot and Ready pepperoni pizza and the market for one of those big Foster's, or go to The Burger Place and get a Patty Melt Burger no mayo and a maltball malt washed down with a dark lager. Life was great!

Nowadays, it takes a little more care to bulk up properly, so I didn't do either of those things. I made this for my wife and I:

This is a lesson in presentation. My lettuce is cut into square, then arranged. Grilling onions is as much about appearance as it is about taste. Those black edges are crucial for my wife. I can make them any shade of brown for my patty melts, translucent for soups and dips, but the black edges need to be there for this burger. You throw the patty on top. Tomatoes should always be to the side. You can not like them at all, love them a lot, or be somewhere in the middle. That's just one choice I don't like to presume.

The sweet potato "roasts" can be very crispy if you want to give them air while in the oven or cover them if you like them soft. There is yellow and gray squash, also roasted in the corner (gray is Korean).

Altogether it was very satisfying and no one missed the bun. No one missed the terrible, low quality oil either, but one wouldn't, would they?

This takes a cast iron skillet and and oven or toaster oven. Heat both of these things immediately upon entering the kitchen (see: Put the fire on).

Cut the ends off of two medium garnet yams (sweet potatoes), then cut the sides off lengthwise (like you rip wood before you cut it). Lay the yam on its side (the flat one, see?) and cut lengthwise so you have 4 to 5 planks. You might end up getting good enough to get a plank of skin you can toss. Rip those planks into 3 to 5 fry shaped pieces. Put those on foil on a pan for the oven.

Slice your squashes across the grain at an angle, whatever you can bear. The girl(s) you're cooking for probably know you're not Bobby Flay, you'll be fine. Put these on foil an a pan for the oven as well. Drizzle all that stuff that's on foil on pans with olive oil and put it in the oven. Crispy things are not covered and not crispy things are covered. Use more foil, not newspaper.

Slice two onions and throw them into a very hot skillet with a little olive oil. You need the entire round of the rings to be touching the heat, so maybe don't throw them in, place them evenly throughout.

Always buy grass fed beef, always buy it in one pound packs. Take one of those one pound packs and split in in four heaps. pound out four burger shaped patties. This is not the time to be stuffing with ingredients, not tonight.

Now add more olive oil to your onions and flip them. They will be slightly shrunken and blackened on one side. Also, they will fall apart. These are good things.

Get some garlic paste and Worcester sauce out of the fridge. Move the onions over to the side. Place two patties on the pan and put a teaspoon of garlic paste on each, followed by Worcester. The mixture and exposed meat will look bloody, that means it's time to flip. Stir the onions a little when you do. Repeat the garlic and Worcester thing, turn the heat off and cover your skillet.

Two plates, place your lettuce squares (I said that earlier, do I have to walk you through everything?) and cut some tomatoe slices. Mine are little and from the garden so it was easier. Pull all the oven stuff out and spoon the squash on the plate (corner is good). Get two paper towels and dump the sweet potatoes on it. Roll it like this:

Then put it on the plate. Uncover beautiful onions and place them on the lettuce and place the patty on top. Serve with a honey mustard dressing (1/4 c mustard, tblsp ea Apple cider vinegar and agave nectar).

There are some nice gluten free beers and red wines that would go great with this too. You can handle that.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Next Leg of a Journey

So I was going to do this series on paying $50-$80 per week on groceries, but then I realized this blog isn't about the money. I'll just tell you I spend between $50-$80 (never $100!) a week on groceries so when you see me using really awesome looking food, you'll know I don't spend more than you. I do make fifty bucks look good.

Also, my wife decided to do the Reboot after watching the incredibly done Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead" a la Joe Cross. I wonder if he knew what the outcome of that documentary was going to be?

The outcome for my wife was astonishing. She doesn't crave chocolate or sweet bread anymore, so I'll have to find something else to bribe her with. She did the 5-5-5 entry reboot, where you move to only micro nutrient foods for the first 5 days, then 5 days of juice only, followed by 5 days of micro nutrients again. She actually did 17 days of juicing, then 7 days re-entry with micro nutrients. I had to revamp the way I cook for her.

Good things came from this journey. I made my first microgreen salad for her. I had to put some grilled veggies next to it because of my natural aversion to leaves:

The dressing is the most valuable thing to come from the first five days. Both vinaigrette and mustard have very low calories and no sugar. Because of this, I developed a honey mustard vinaigrette that would eventually evolve into this:

1 shotglass mustard (brown or dijon work wonderfully)
1 shotglass extra virgin olive oil, cold pressed (it's not more expensive, in fact you can get a little bottle)
1 shotglass organic raw apple cider vinegar
a splash of rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of blue agave nectar
1 inch of ginger, finely cubed

When you whisk it up, it will be golden in color. It will also be delicious.

If you are adaptable, it doesn't matter what the special dietary need is in your family, you can meet it. Don't run for the hills if you meet a great girl and she has Celiac disease, there will be some posts that follow with gluten free dishes. Don't get caught up with gluten free alternatives, there are plenty of foods that are delicious and aren't trying to be other things.

Many people are going vegan or vegetarian because good meat is hard to find. Don't write them off as hippies, or some other kind of granola eating extremist. If you are a carnivore, think back to your meat-eating ancestors. What do you think they ate if they came back without a kill or the livestock was diseased?

Cooking for love isn't all about the flambe and fine wine, it's about the overall technique.