Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Turmeric kills cancer cells, say experts

Good news for curry-eaters all over the world -- turmeric has been shown to destroy esophagial cancer cells. Eat up!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Egyptian Potato Soup

This is a very easy and delicious soup taken straight out of Olive Trees and Honey by Gil Marks, one of my favorite cookbooks (with, of course, a few modifications of my own). It's a nice light alternative to those creamy European-style potato soups (but not so light anymore after I garnish it with lots and lots of grated cheddar cheese).

Batata lamoun

Olive oil
3 large leeks or 3 onions, chopped [I used green onions as I didn't have any leeks on hand -- but since they're pretty small, some of them burned on me, as you can see, so you have to be careful.]
2-3 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced [As I always do, I doubled the amount of garlic. I can never have too much garlic.]
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 pounds boiling potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped [I don't have a scale but I used about 5 or 6 small/medium potatoes and it's about the right amount.]
6 1/2 cups water
1 bay leaf
About 2 teaspoons table salt or 1 tablespoon kosher salt
Ground white pepper to taste [White pepper has a really interesting fiery taste and you can find it at Asian stores, but feel free to use black pepper if you don't have it.]
About 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the leeks, celery, garlic and turmeric and
sauté until softened, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the potatoes, water, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the potatoes are very soft, about 45 minutes. Leave as is, or, using a wooden spoon or potato masher, mash the potatoes. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice.

Monday, October 19, 2009

New cookbook

I have an idea for a new cookbook. It's called, "That's Gross, Grandma!"

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A quick salad

Threw together a salad tonight to go with some soup. (More on that later.) It got thumbs up from everyone involved in the dinner (i.e. me and Brian). Really tasty and I'll definitely make it again. You need:

-Mixed baby greens/spring mix/whatever. Greens should be tender and with a sharper taste - arugula and radicchio and stuff on that order.
-A handful or so of unsalted dry roasted peanuts, crushed. (I think I'll try this recipe again but with walnuts.)
-A cup or so of grapes, cut in half for forking ease.
-Olive oil.
-Lemon juice.
-Grated parmesan cheese.

Just toss the greens, the peanuts, and the grapes together. Drizzle enough olive oil to just lightly coat everything. Add lemon juice, pepper, and parmesan to taste. Couldn't be simpler, and it's REALLY good.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fine dining

Fine dining: Is it worth it? Is it worth 75 more of your dollars to have the chef shake your hand when you walk in and not leave you alone for the rest of the night? Is it worth it to have little paper doilies underneath the lemon wedges on a platter they bring out for your ice water? To have the suit-jacketed owner lurk unctuously about your table and recommend the shrimp cocktail? To have two forks to choose between? I think not.

Food: How good can it be? Is the $35 entree really that much tastier than your favorite comfort food or mom-n'-pop ethnic restaurant? Are you paying for stuff tasting better, or are you paying for poor lighting, artistic presentations and too many modifiers in ingredient names (lightly pinkened baby Chilean portobello mushrooms braised in summer red Mallorquín grape wine served with a delicate sprig of tenderly seared sesame-crusted plantation mint)? Yes, chefs create unique specialties -- but so do cooks, without knowing that they're doing it. A good cook chips away at a recipe with his own changes over time until it becomes something completely different. All new dishes must be a variation on some well-known theme -- so what is the difference between a chef and a cook, really? Is there an answer to this question?

And where does creamed corn figure into the workings of the universe?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Redwall quandaries

I'm reading the Redwall books by Brian Jacques right now, which have their flaws but are really great reading all the same. If you like food, they're worth reading just for all of the mousewatering - uh, mouthwatering recipes the forest creatures come up with (there's even a Redwall cookbook which I'd really love to have).

Here are my only questions:

1) Where are they getting the milk for all of the butter, cream, and cheese that they eat? There's no way a mouse can milk a goat, and given the amount of interspecies tension in these books, I doubt a goat would allow it. Goats are probably one of those Warlike Creatures the mice are xenophobic about. Are they stealing from human farmers? "Goatsmilk cheese" has been referenced at least once, but is there some other animal they're milking? Are they milking badgers? This, like "What was the noodle incident?", is one of those questions I guess you're just not supposed to ask an author.

2) Why do the Redwall mice get to be so damned self-righteous about never harming another creature on one page, and then go fishing the next? Why are weasels which prey on land animals evil, but otters which prey on sea creatures good? (HINT: It's because otters are cute.) I'm a bit of a hypocrite in saying this, because I don't eat meat of the land or the air but do scoff the occasional shrimp -- but I feel bad about it afterwards, and I'm not self-righteous about it. And I have an evolutionary reason for wanting a little fish in my diet, especially if you go with the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis. Mice and hares and moles don't even EAT fish in the wild! (Of course, neither do they wield swords, play musical instruments or wear habits.) Also, what about the badgers? Badgers are in the weasel family and eat mice, frogs and birds. Don't Constance and Mother Mellus and Lord Rawnblade ever look at those mice a little too hungrily when the mouse chef is a little too tardy in bringing out the hazelnut bread and redcurrant tart? This is another one of those questions you're not supposed to ask. I think it may be a cultural thing, as it seems like Europeans tend to think of "fish" and "meat" as two different categories more often than Americans do. This was certainly true in Spain, where I decided to abandon my dietary isms for a semester to make it easy on my host parents. (Actually, one time I said "I'm really going to miss Spanish ham when I go back to the US and stop eating meat." "Why can't you eat ham?" they said. "Well -- I'm not going to eat meat anymore after I leave," I said. "But ham isn't meat! Ham is ham!" they replied. Same with sausage and sobrassada. I had a hard time figuring out their definition of meat after that.)

I think the real problem is that I'm sore about the libelous nature of these books because I've had both rats and mice as pets. My mouse was stupid, dirty and incredibly smelly for its size. The many rats I've had, by contrast, were sweet, engaging, clever and much cleaner in comparison. And let's not talk about my love of the family mustelidae and its condemnation (except for otters and badgers) in the Redwall universe. I get that he's just using the different species as ways to represent different types of people, but it strikes me as too easy, which is the same thing that bothers me about the Harry Potter books -- characters should have to do something to be evil, instead of just being labeled as "Slytherin" or "Rat" and acting accordingly. Ah well. They're both still really fun to read!

Monday, October 12, 2009

How fish becomes fish food

I spent the last semester of my senior year in Mallorca to improve my Spanish, and it also ended up broadening my culinary horizons. Like, I learned how to make salad. This would be a pretty obvious thing for most people, but I've always hated salad with dressing and ordered just the dry leaves, leaving waiters dumbfounded and weirdly suspicious. It turns out that I just didn't like those commercial, creamy, too-salty dressings, or maybe it just bugged me that I didn't know what was in them, but I DO like salads with dressing now. I keep oil and vinegar dispensers (bought there, with "Aceite" and "Vinagre" printed on them -- oh, aren't I so hip and cosmopolitan!) on my kitchen table -- some leaves, a little oil and balsamic, salt, pepper, maybe some Italian seasonings, and whatever else you want in there, and you have a salad with very little effort. My host mom would put all sorts of stuff in, like apples and nuts and seeds; I loved her creativity. Salad is so much more a part of the meal there (as is soup, bread, and dessert -- how do working señoras find the time and energy? I think reasonable working hours and the sacred tradition of siesta have a lot to do with it), and they go a long, long way beyond romaine and cherry tomatoes with something pale and slimy out of a bottle.

Anyway, another eye-opening experience was the seafood. Stateside, I'm a "vegetarian," but I do eat the occasional bit of fish when I go out. Sometimes I'd buy those bags of frozen fish at Aldi for $3.99 and sautée or bake them and serve them to myself alongside some pasta, and they tasted fine. Well, I'm here to tell you, if you live in a landlocked state like I do, don't EVER spend any time on an island because it will ruin fish for you forever. The fish that I ate at my host house was probably fished out of the Mediterranean a day or two before, and it had a succulence and a mildness and a depth of flavor that I've never experienced. If I were a Mallorquín, I'd probably be horrified if I were served something that had been frozen for months. It's just not the same at all.

I returned from Mallorca on June 17th, and today was the first day I ate fish since I came back from there. I thought I'd give my palate a lot of time to forget what island fish tasted like. Tonight I cooked myself up a frozen Tilapia fillet, thinking I'd be able to say "Oh well" and accept what my landlocked status handed me.

ACK, PPTH, PTUI! Horrible! Dreadful! It tasted exactly like the smell I get when I open the can of freeze-dried krill I keep on the top of my turtle tank to give him an occasional fishy treat. (Some treat!) Stale, old, and saturated with "that fish taste" which I think is the reason some people can't stand fish. Disgraceful. Is this what islanders who come inland think we like to eat? No wonder Mallorquins are a bit reserved...who'd want to talk to anyone who thought THAT tasted good?

So from now on, I buy my fish -- if I do at all -- from the Co-Op and at least get something that came out of a nearby river. Life is too short. If you want an easy dinner from the supermarket, save yourself $3.69 and get a package of Ramen Noodles. You'll feel better afterward.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cheese peppers appetizer

Okay, so I made this a long time ago and I can't remember exactly how, and I'm sorry for the poor image quality, but I was just scrambling for a first post for my blog that I could make without actually having to make anything new. But basically I just cut these peppers in half (the red ones are sweet, the green ones are mildly hot ancho poblano chiles), removed the "bones" (the white parts) and seeds, and filled them with a mixture of: feta cheese, cumin seeds, fresh mint leaves, pepper, salt....and I can't even remember what else, but it wasn't too much more. I put it all in a mortar and pestle and crushed it all so that the mint and cumin would be pulverized a little and its flavor would be released. I added the carrot sticks for health and color. Then I drizzled it all with a little olive oil and pepper. I know it sounds weird, but all present at the dinner (i.e. me and Brian) agreed that it tasted AWESOME.

Man, guys, I'm sorry this first post is so lame and indefinite. I promise I'll have something better for you soon.