Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Woodsy Type

A couple weeks ago I went to the Dupont Farmers' Market with a couple friends in the early morning. This was not usual because one of the friends (Nina) is NOT a morning person. But the other friend (Sarah) was, so Nina sacrificed for her visit to town. They are good friends.
At the market that day I saw something I had only seen in a blog post before: hen of the woods, also known as maitake mushrooms. They were going for $8 a paltry pint, which sounded like a deal because it was less than the $10 every other pint cost. Plus, they were just so interesting! Then Sarah got one, so I had to follow suit, no excuses.
La mise en scene
Then the poor thing waited in my fridge in its paper bag for a whole week. I felt like a bad mother! I had to do something by the following Sunday, and act I did. After some searching (never being one to go into battle unarmed), I found a likely candidate recipe, but it didn't knock my socks off in terms of a meal, so I embellished. You know, like I never do usually.

I tried to take the methods from that recipe and amp it up with another recipe, from one of my favorite cookbooks by Judith Jones, for a mushroom risotto. It is not unlike most risotto recipes, so I won't go into the tweaking, just to say I didn't embellish it too much because I wanted the special mushroom flavor to shine brightest.

It was pretty good. I think I may not have risotto down, because the rice seemed a bit overblown, maybe overcooked? Does it ever get so full of moisture it just explodes? Like that.

Mushroom, olive oil, salt = yum

I made enough for 3 tidy servings, bringing some to work, and the aroma in the office made it seem like I had it better than I did. I guess I'm just one for that woodsy type!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Anaesthetic Bread

I have a friend from college who called the ends of the bread "the butt," whereas I grew up calling it "the heel." No matter, we still managed to be friends.
And while this picture of my last loaf of bread purports all-American friendliness......really, it's got a bit of a problem. Some issues under the surface, you might say. I don't think I did anything too unusual, but it was a first recipe from a new book. Apparently I didn't tuck the edges up underneath as neatly as I needed to in order for this NOT to be called the "butt" of the bread.

You've heard of anaerobic, right? Well, this was ... anaesthetic!
It came out looking like a butt. I ask you, what is a girl to do in this case but slice the ends quickly off and laugh herself a silly fit? ;-)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Girl at Work

Here is a short post about food at work. Well, food is always at work while we're noshing on it, but I mean food which I consume at work. Here is Case #1:
Le Grilled Cheese avec Cornichons
'But how,' I can hear you saying, 'does she manage this gourmet fare at the office, with neither grill pan nor George Foreman at the ready?'
Well, dear Reader, I will tell you, I have never used a George Foreman grill, and my grill pan has only been used to spectacular disappointment thus far. We have a toaster over at work, which I bribed into both melting the cheese and crisping the bread slices. And the cornichons were carried in a jar from home to give the meal a 'je ne sais quoi' of specialness. Ah, les francais...

Case #2: Ye Ol' Irish-American Celebration Midday Dinner
As I get older, I am forced to reflect on many things. One of them is how much effort and of which type I feel like putting forth for certain celebrations. This year, while I had planned to trot down to the Dubliner, a fine neighborhood-in-a-stretch establishment, to partake in Irish music and food and frolic for that day when the Irish Snake-Charmer went out of business, I came home and decided that what was really calling my name was the corned beef stewing in my pot for 3 1/2 hours. So I went with that instead. :)
But at least here's the proof that the next day at work I did honor the ancestors. With corned beef, potato, and kale salad.
More to come on butt bread, chocolate fudge espresso cookies, the secret to delicious instant polenta, and springtime. Stay tuned!

And special note for Ginny: thank you soooo much! You turned around my evening :)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wedding favors; returning with joy

Before I get into more baking bliss, I am giving credit where credit is (partially) due. For a weekend in February, I was in a friend's wedding in Mississippi, and it was a happy, happy affair. I was glad to leave the funk of bad eating habits and avoidance for a bit, and happy to let the new attitude stick on me if it could. I had some small worries on the trip, but mostly I came back with a heart full of happy.
Sushi, sweet wings, cinnamon-spiced potstickers
 Since this is a food-centric blog, I will highlight that aspect of the trip, but as usual, use food as a vehicle for explaining what's going on with me. To the right here is Plate #1 of Rehearsal Dinner food at Pan-Asia- a wonderful restaurant, very atmospheric and modern, nevermind delicious.
Delicious cucumber-vinegar salad, tasty scallop stirfry, beef chow mein
And to the left is Plate #2 of food that I was determined to enjoy and sample, but not overdose on. I didn't. I love being able to sample and enjoy without filling up on one or two things; thankfully, so does the bride! 

Below, my 'artsy' photo of wedding 'schtuff' I had accumulated by the reception: wedding program, scarf, lei, bouquet, and clutch.

 And lastly, here is me seeing things through rose-colored glasses. I saw this lone red-boa feather on the sidewalk outside work a couple days after returning to DC, and it reminded me of the great time all the guests had playing with the costumes and photo booth at the wedding reception.

2) When one selects good people to surround oneself, one is encouraged to be a good person.

Also, with Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday following quickly on the heels of the wedding, I was encouraged to reflect on how not to return to the previous destructive behaviors. I came up with the Conclusions above. And songs like this help.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Scottishness and savory scones

I was on a Scottish jag last week- listening to Scottish folk songs, reading a great travel writing book about Scotland, rereading a romance that takes place in the Scottish Highlands, and finally, making Scottish shortbread.
So, to the shortbread. [Unless you're interested in the links above? Let me know :-)]

The recipe I used was for Sharp Cheddar Scottish Shortbread from Jana at Cherry Tea Cakes, a fellow DC food blogger who has some very entertaining stories and a lot of energy to devote to cooking up fabulous creations. I ended up at this recipe (you do know that I search and search, looking for the exact right fit for my mood, right?) because I had the task of making something for book club that 1) was savory, since others claimed they would bring sweets, and 2) was Scottish or Indian, since those were the two ethnic backgrounds tapped into for the book we had read, Arthur & George, by Julian Barnes. (It was a very interesting book, and I can't spoil the ending, but I learned a lot about British history reading it.) By the way, I ended up not needing to find a savory recipe, as 3 people cancelled on the day of due to RAIN. It's rain, people. Unless you are this creature, you should not let it deter you.

Anyway, the biscuits, while being quite fragile, were very tasty. I mean, how can you go wrong with cheese and butter, right? They were really crumbly before baking, which is why I had to abandon any hope of rolling out and go for slice-a-log approach, and they were very crumbly after baking, since I had to slide them warm into plastic bags and slog through the rain to Grandmother's Elyse's house in Columbia Heights. But they were still delicious!

Feel free to assail me with recommendations on how to improve that crumbly-ness. :-)

Lesher Scottish Shortbread (adapted from Sharp Cheddar Scottish Shortbread by Cherry Tea Cakes)

1/2 cup salted butter (left out to reach room temperature)
good pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
7 ounces Lesher cheese, grated
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Using electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment good old elbow grease, beat together softened butter, salt, black pepper, and cayenne until blended (take as many breaks as your arms need- and switch arms for coordination skillz!). Add cheese and flour and mash some more until it looks like it could almost be called a dough. Press dough into disk (wet a little with a tsp of water if needed to stick together), wrap in plastic wrap and chill for half an hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

On lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4-inch-thick round. Using 1 1/2 round cutter, cut out rounds and arrange 1 1/2 inches apart on baking sheets. Mold dough into a long block, as if you are a sushi chef. Try for a squarish log of about 12 inches. Slice off to form shortbread squares and place on papered pans.

Bake until lightly golden and beginning to brown on edges, about 9 to 11 minutes, turning once. Cool on sheets.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

This Week Recap(tured)

Hey All!

So I've had some downs in the past few weeks, feeling those ol' blues again. And they had a different feeling, a kind of 'I know this isn't based on anything specific, so I have to just try to wait it out" feeling, which doesn't do much when you are feeling powerless in general. I also started binge-eating, a new and not-good symptom. (Since when do I buy Hershey bars? That chocolate is half plastic!) Symptom of what? I'm trying to figure it out.
The icky feelings have mostly receded this week though (O Happy Day), thanks to a sick day on Friday.
Here was my attempt at getting out of the hole I'd dug on Wednesday evening:
It was a super simple recipe, which I'd settled on by searching lemon + pasta on supercook, a good website for inspiration, if not for the exact recipe you use. You plug in ingredients and it gives you possible recipes you can make from a number of cooking sites it searches for you- perfect! Just buyer, beware, it doesn't quality-test some of the search results...
I took this MS recipe (I don't like giving her name any more currency) as a base, and did what I wanted with it: no whole wheat spaghetti, but semolina linguine should work; parsley on the windowsill (first cut!) but not 1/4 c- oh well. It was kind of exciting to use parsley cuttings from the windowsill kit I got from Mom. :-) The parsley and chives seem to be acclimating, but sadly not the basil. It might be a little cold around here, even in a plastic greenhouse.

Fast forward to Saturday morning: I'd had the Friday to myself, I'd gotten a haircut (a real one!), and I was feeling better, more committed to getting back on track. I had Pink Lady apples wrinkling in the crisper, so I decided to make a fruit compote for breakfast, throwing in some chopped prunes (a la francaise), brown sugar, butter, 5-spice powder, cinnamon, and fennel seeds (My own improvisation, no recipe). You may deduce from the fact there is no picture that it went fast. But don't worry, it was enjoyed thoughtfully in two servings.

Next adventure: biscuits yesterday. I amassed a few potential recipes for something to bring to Book Club on Sunday, but reading through found that one of my frontrunners, Irish-American Sodabread Scones, should be made day-of because they get very dense and rock-ish after that. But I wanted to BAKE Saturday morning. So I made these Buttermilk Cheddar Jack Biscuits from the DC blog Cherry Tea Cakes.
Buttermilk Parmesan Biscuits
There they are, resting on our Book for February (we were a little late getting together on a date to meet), Arthur and George. Pretty good. I am looking forward to the discussion.
As always, I adapted: substituted 1/3 whole wheat flour, exchanged cheddar jack for parmesan (apparently the only cheese that does not go bad, and therefore I have 4 varieties of it still on my fridge shelf). I had one and a half of these before a dance class in the afternoon (which was great fun and had a great instructor), which is why for dinner you see one and a half below. Not a mouse. Just me.
The biscuits were joined on the plate by various leftovers cleverly (if I do say so myself) combined with others: spaghetti squash and beans (from the cinnamon-spiced red-and-black beans from the party, and I hope leftovers that last like that don't gross anyone out, ahem, Eileen) and the last lettuce leaves of a greenleaf head mixed with some bagged herb salad from TJs, tossed with homemade vinaigrette. It felt like the perfect proportions for what I needed.
Here's to recapturing more of what I need in the weeks ahead!