Despite the rampant growth of my basil and other herbs, I’m still sort of a struggling gardener. For years, I was sure I couldn’t grow anything. My mother has one of the greenest thumbs around, but I was sure it had skipped a generation. I killed lots of houseplants before Don finally believed me. But last year, as I started getting more and more interested in cooking with fresh herbs, I became determined to try one more time. I concocted a plan that would force me to water the plants (often my fatal flaw) by putting them in planters right next to the back door and keeping a filled container of water right next to them so I could just water on my way out the door. And it worked! I grew basil, thyme, and rosemary, and the plants stayed alive all summer long. Everybody was impressed. The rosemary came inside over the winter, and managed to survive that, too.

This year, I was ambitious. Herbs, schmerbs! I’m an old hand at those by now. I’ve got basil, thyme, parsley, chives, lavender, and that same hardy rosemary growing outside the back door. We upgraded from one planter on the back stoop to five of them on the old picnic table, dragged as close to the back door as we could get it. And then I told Don that I planned to grow tomatoes. He laughed. I was insistent. He humored me, and — very late in the season — we finally bought some ‘Topsy-Turvy’ planters and he built an a-frame for them to hang from. We planted two tomato plants and a pepper plant, and surveyed our work with satisfaction.

And then there was some wind. And the a-frame fell over. Mighty Carpenter Don, defeated! I managed not to have hysterics, and we picked the planters up and hung them from the old tetherball pole out by the garage. Quite far from the house. Not remotely close to the back door. In no way conforming to my ‘water on the way’ plan.

I water them. Sometimes. When I can drag the hose out there. I’ve gone from a determination to grow tomatoes to viewing this as a sort of social gardening experiment, without much of the social or the gardening.

Unlike me, my mother-in-law is a conscientious and responsible gardener. She planted her plants at the appropriate time, and waters them regularly. She’s been rewarded for her efforts by a garden full of bounty, and when Don went over to their house to borrow his dad’s table saw the other day she sent him home with some fabulously fresh tomatoes.

I’m sending Don back to borrow another tool as soon as possible. As for me — there may be hope yet.


neglect

31Jul08

Cookshooteat isn’t the only thing I’ve been neglecting. I’ve been practically absent from the entire internet for the last several months, and I apologize. I don’t have any good excuses beyond being both busy and lazy. In the meantime, I’ve been cooking — but never taking pictures, alas — and gardening. My herb garden has suffered from neglect as well. Over the last two years, I’ve been astonished at how well things like basil and thyme grow under my less-than-watchful eye; to be bluntly honest, I truly, truly suck at watering things. If the cat didn’t have one of those pre-filler food dishes she’d probably starve to death (okay, that’s not true, she is a master of annoying us until she gets what she wants, so she’d bring our attention to her plight soon enough). This year, though, while they’ve been growing just fine, I’ve been somewhat lax in my dead-heading duties, and my basil has gone completely (and somewhat excessively) to flower. Oops.

Now that I’ve finally broken out the camera again, I’m hoping to get back to posting here, although I can’t promise that it’ll be anything like regular. I don’t seem to have the self control that other food bloggers do that allows them to take gorgeous pictures of their food before eating it; I don’t have the patience to do anything but gorge. I’ll try to work on that.

In the meantime, I should probably go and do something about that basil.


monkey bread

04Mar08

I have no idea why they call it monkey bread.  What do monkeys have to do with biscuits and cinnamon and sugar?  It doesn’t make sense.  I’m sure there’s some reason for it, though.  Maybe you intrepid Internet monkeys can figure it out (see what I did there?).  If you’ve never had monkey bread, you’re probably living under a rock you might not recognize the concept immediately.  It’s basically little chunks of dough tumbled into a bundt pan with cinnamon and sugar and butter to make a gooey, sticky unit that you pull apart to eat.  Kind of like a commune for donut holes.

I found this recipe over on Dine and Dish when I wasn’t even looking for monkey bread.  I haven’t made it in years — actually, I only made it once, when Don begged me to, early in our relationship, and it came out terribly so I haven’t made it since.  Man, am I glad I gave it another try.  Don gave me a dubious look when I announced what I was making, and made a few scornful noises.  He even let it sit for a while after it came out of the oven without trying it.  But then, after one of his interminable Stargate episodes ended, he wandered into the kitchen and popped a chunk of it into his mouth.  When I came into the kitchen a few minutes later, a quarter of it was gone and he told me it was the second-best dessert I’d ever made (nothing tops Grandma Sylvia’s lemon bars, ever).

It’s not just dessert, either — for the last two days I’ve cut a big hunk of it off and popped it in a tupperware to take to work in the morning.  Microwaved for thirty seconds in the break room, it’s a fantastic breakfast, although I have to eat it with a fork so I don’t get the company-owned computer all sticky.

Monkey Bread

3 cans “homestyle” buttermilk biscuits
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup margarine*
1 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a bundt pan or other tube pan.

Mix sugar and cinnamon in a large plastic freezer bag.  Cut each biscuit into fourths and drop into bag.  Shake thoroughly, making sure each biscuit chunk is coated in cinnamon sugar.   Layer into greased bundt pan (my interpretation of “layer”: dump carefully).

Meanwhile, heat margarine and brown sugar in a saucepan and boil for one minute.  Pour over biscuits in bundt pan.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes and let stand 10 minutes before removing from pan.  Burn your fingers trying to sneak a taste while it’s cooling.

*Sorry, Mom!  Avert your eyes.


You might remember that when I made my balsamic roasted pork tenderloin, I discovered that what I thought was one large tenderloin turned out to be two medium-sized ones.  Well, we only ate one of them, and the second one languished in the fridge for several days.  Poor, lonely pork tenderloin.  Neither of us felt like eating it by itself — we’d eaten all of the apples and onions I roasted with the original dinner — and we were far too lazy to do something sensible like making some side dishes or something.  Meanwhile, the contents of the fridge were dwindling, and we were scraping together meals out of whatever we could find and utterly failing to either go to the grocery store or eat the damn pork.  Finally I decided that it was time to do both.  So I headed to the store and re-stocked the fridge with our usual selection of produce, and by the time I’d unpacked everything I’d figured out what I was going to do with the pork.

So, the next night (I almost never cook on grocery night, which is kind of ironic), I threw together these not quite carnitas.  They’re really nothing like the real thing — totally different spices and process — but they’re still shredded pork in a tortilla, darn it.  Don’t judge me.  I served them with the produce we had on hand, which didn’t include either cilantro or lime, which are really pretty necessary if you want really good carnitas, in my opinion.  Or really good anything vaguely Mexican.  But whatever, this is a leftovers meal, so beggars can’t be choosers and I forgot to pick up either cilantro or lime at the grocery store anyway.  It doesn’t really matter, you can serve it with whatever you’d like.

Not Quite Carnitas

1 pork tenderloin, leftover from previous dinner
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

With two forks, shred the pork.  Mine was sliced into thick medallions because I’d thought we were going to eat it that way, which made shredding pretty easy.  You can do it however you’d like.  It’s not rocket science.

In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add garlic and saute for a few seconds — not too long, you don’t want the garlic to brown.  Add pork, paprika, onion powder, salt, and pepper.  Saute, stirring frequently, until pork is beginning to brown and is thoroughly warmed through, about eight minutes.

Meanwhile, chop, slice, and put out your accompaniments.  I set out shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, sliced red onion, sliced avocado, chopped scallions, sour cream, and cheddar cheese.  Plus tortillas, of course.  If I hadn’t been forgetful at the grocery store, I would have omitted the sour cream and put out fresh cilantro and lime wedges.  But whatever, it was still awesome.

On Photography: Um, there isn’t any.  It was way too dark to really light anything and also I was hungry and didn’t feel like assembling my tortilla all pretty-like and honestly I kind of forgot about it.  But this using-up-leftovers recipe came out so well that I decided to share it with you all anyway.  Aren’t you glad?


There are certain members of my family who, when presented with a turgid, glistening pork tenderloin resting moist in its taut plastic, will be unable to refrain from making extremely pornographic genitalia jokes.

Okay, I’m one of them.  It’s pretty hard to resist, what can I say?  It doesn’t help that butchers — those pervs — often seem to intentionally cut pork tenderloins in… uh… interesting ways.  We had one at my cousin’s house a few weeks ago that had two rounded, bulbous — never mind.

I’d originally intended to do something more interesting with the pork tenderloin I picked up last time we were at the store, but life’s been pretty hectic lately.  It wound up sitting in the fridge until I pretty much needed to cook it ASAP or throw it out.  And I’ll be damned if I’m throwing away something I didn’t buy on sale!  So, despite the fact that Don was moaning in bed with the flu and it was really late and I barely felt like cooking at all, I made the pork.  And lo!  It was actually really good.  Even Don managed to heave himself up in bed long enough to eat two plates full.

Balsamic Roasted Pork Tenderloin

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 red onion
1 package pork tenderloin*
1 apple (optional)**

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  In a gallon-sized ziploc bag, mix balsamic vinegar, olive oil, rosemary, salt, and pepper.  Shake the bag to combine them thoroughly.  Cut the red onion into either large chunks or wedges, and add it and the pork tenderloin to the bag.  Smoosh the whole thing around to make sure everything is coated thoroughly, and leave to marinate for about an hour while you watch some episodes of “The Office” that you Netflixed.  Once you remember that you have pork marinating, head back to the kitchen and line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil (or don’t, but I do it because I hate to wash dishes and my baking sheets are too big to go in my crappy dishwasher).  Dump the contents of the bag out onto the lined baking sheet, trying not to let too much of the marinade splash out.  If you were less lazy than I, you might even use tongs or your hands or something to get the stuff out, rather than just inverting the bag over the pan.  Make some effort to at least arrange the pork loin in a straight line, if nothing else.  Cut up an apple, if you feel like using one, into wedges, and scatter it over the onions and pork loin in the pan**.  Pop the whole thing in the oven and roast for 30 minutes or until pork is no longer pink inside.

*I picked up what i thought was one large vacuum-sealed pork tenderloin.  When I cut open the plastic, it turned out to be two medium sized ones, which was fine.  Just grab however much you want to eat of the vacuum-sealed tenderloins, it doesn’t really matter.

**I used an apple — a granny smith, specifically — and we were both kind of unimpressed.  It just sort of tasted like oniony apple instead of really adding a lot to the other flavors.  Next time I’ll omit the apple from the roasting pan and make my mom’s cooked apples separately instead.

On photography: I was so hungry that we ate all of the onions and apples and one of the pork loins before I remembered that I probably ought to take a picture for you people.  So I wiped off the cutting board as best I could and stuck it in the light box, resulting in this rather plain picture.  Sorry.  Next time I’ll do you up a plate.


hi slashfood!

27Feb08

I must be doing something right with this food photography experiment — my pot roast ingredients are today’s Daily Food Porn on Slashfood!


My history with eggy dishes is not so good. Wee frittatas aside, most egg-based things turn out to be disasters for me. I’m not even all that good at just plain frying eggs. Fortunately for me, Don’s kind of an egg-frying Rain Man. Utterly incapable of creating anything edible otherwise, but makes perfect fried eggs without even thinking about it. Freak.

Anyway, I remained undaunted by my long history of eggy chaos, and for some bizarre reason I decided to make a quiche. Specifically, a crustless quiche, which therefore really isn’t a quiche, even though it’s not really a frittata either since you make it entirely in the oven, in a quiche (or pie) pan. Qui-tatta? Quichatta? Whatever. I found a recipe and fiddled around with it, and lo! It wasn’t a disaster! Nothing burned, the oven didn’t catch on fire, I didn’t spill egg all over the kitchen OR on the cat, and it even came out looking kind of picturesque!

Don hated it. He says he’s just not a quiche kind of guy. While I don’t know if that’s true — I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him eat quiche before, although it was crusted and delicious — I have to admit I wasn’t all that crazy about it either, at least for dinner. As one of the items on a brunch buffet, definitely; as part of a light lunch, with a light, peppery salad, totally. It’s just not a stand-alone dinner dish. Although I could see it as a side dish, if you’re the sort of person who serves quiche as a side dish at dinner (I can barely get a vegetable on the table, myself).

Leek and Mushroom Crustless Quiche
Adapted from Good Housekeeping by way of MSN

1 pound leeks (about 3 medium)
1 pint baby bella or crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
6 eggs*
1 cup milk
1 tablespooncornstarch
4 ounces Gruyère cheese shredded (1 cup)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 10-inch quiche dish or 9 1/2-inch deep-dish pie plate (or forget to grease it and freak out about it later, like I did — fortunately it came out fine, but probably only because my quiche dish is brand new).
To wash leeks, cut off roots and dark green portion of leaves and discard. Cut each leek lengthwise in half, then slice into approximately 1/4 inch wide pieces. Fill a large bowl with cold water, and toss the chopped leeks in. Swish them around, to allow the sand to sink to the bottom. You may need to repeat this step a couple of times with fresh water until your leeks are completely clean, as they can be very sandy. Drain thoroughly.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet on medium until melted and lightly bubbly. Add leeks and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook 12 to 14 minutes or until leeks are tender and browned, stirring frequently. Transfer leeks to prepared quiche dish and spread evenly. Add remaining oil and butter to skillet and heat; then add sliced mushrooms and saute until tender, about five minutes, stirring frequently. Add to leeks in quiche dish, spreading evenly.

Meanwhile, in bowl, with wire whisk, beat eggs, milk, cornstarch, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper until well blended.

Pour egg mixture over leeks and mushrooms in dish and stir lightly to combine everything. Sprinkle with Gruyère. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean (it actually took about 45 minutes for mine). Cool on wire rack for 5 minutes.

*In an effort to make this a little healthier, I actually used two eggs and about a cup of egg substitute, which is usually just egg whites. I also used skim milk because that’s what we have in the house.


endive thingies

20Feb08

If you’ve never had tapas before, you should make an effort to try it.  It’s kind of like eating an entire meal of appetizers — which, as we all know, are the best part of the meal anyway.  Our favorite tapas restaurant at the moment is Jaleo, in Crystal City, VA (there’s another location in Washington, DC but we like the Crystal City one better).  It’s both expensive and kind of a trek, so we don’t go there often, but when we do get to go it’s always a fun experience.  Usually we try to order new things that we haven’t tried before, but we do have a couple of standbys, and one of them is so delicious and so simple that I decided I needed to make it at home.

On the Jaleo menu, this is called endibias con queso de cabra, naranjas y almendras (endives with goat cheese, oranges and almonds), but here in our sophisticated household we just call it “endive thingies”.  Endives, incidentally, have been ridiculously hard to find.  Maybe I’m missing something, but most of the stores I go into don’t even HAVE belgian endive, and if they do it’s about an inch long and wilted.  Sigh.  But I lucked out on my last grocery trip and found some moderately decent endives, so I finally got to make this dish.  It was so good that now I’m honestly pondering spending a ridiculous amount of money to ship in endives from California.  I think I have a problem.

Try this, though, and you won’t blame me.

In making this dish last night, I got to do two things I’d never done before: supreme (or segment) an orange, and toast almonds.  Taking apart the orange was almost ridiculously easy; I’d seen it done on TV and of course read Rachel’s excellent tutorial, but I didn’t really realize just how simple it was.  Awesome.

As for toasting almonds, I had to admit I was nervous about it.  On the Food Network, all anybody ever says is “you’ll know when it’s done because you’ll smell it.”  Um, what?  That’s not really helpful.  So I resolved to keep a careful eye on my panful of almonds to make sure they didn’t burn, since I had no idea what I was supposed to smell and when I would smell it and what it would smell like.  Then I promptly forgot about them while I enthusiastically segmented three oranges.  But just as I was about to finish the oranges, an incredible nutty, almost meaty scent came floating over.  I’d so completely forgotten about the almonds that I actually spent time trying to figure out who was cooking something so delicious smelling — I was positive I didn’t have any meat in the oven but it smelled so good!  Yes, I can be kind of an idiot.  But I did figure out what was going on, and whisked the almonds off the heat in the nick of time.  Phew!

To assemble, slice the base off of your endive, then carefully peel off the larger leaves and arrange them on a plate.  Place a segment of orange in each leaf, then crumble goat cheese over the orange.  Sprinkle toasted almonds over the whole thing, then drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil over and serve.  You can garnish with a little bit of chopped chive, as they do at Jaleo, but I barely got the olive oil on before I was cramming the things in my mouth.


We didn’t do anything particularly special for Valentine’s day. If we weren’t so busy, we might have gone out for a nice dinner over the weekend or something, but that just didn’t work out this year. Don got me my favorite peach roses, which the cat has been happily snacking on when we’re not looking, but other than that we elected to just have dinner at home and not get too excited. That said, we did take the opportunity to treat ourselves to a favorite — bruschetta.

I’ve generally avoided making bruschetta too often because it involves an awful lot of chopping, if you make the “standard” topping of tomatoes, onions, and basil. And we all know that I’m kind of lazy. But I had an epiphany last week (I’m prone to epiphanies, you may have noticed) over bruschetta at an Italian restaurant, made with an extra layer of pesto. Bruschetta isn’t really one simple thing, or even something that requires — or even accomodates — a recipe. It’s really more of a concept. And, like all great concepts, it encourages creativity.

So we took a few of our favorite flavors and put them together in, quite literally, the easiest possible fashion. A baguette, sliced* and drizzled with oil. I stuck the slices on the grill pan for kicks, although next time I’ll probably just fling them onto a cookie sheet and into the oven for a few minutes — or maybe onto the pizza stone, to make sure they’re extra crispy. Then pesto, the fresh kind from the grocery store. When it’s summer, I’ll be making my own, since I proved last year that I can capably grow basil in a volume beyond anybody’s actual capacity to use it. But for now, since it’s winter, I gave in and used deli pesto. May the basil gods forgive me. It was good, anyway, so I doubt they’ll care. I slathered a thin layer of pesto on each browned and crispy slice of baguette, then sliced up fresh tomatoes and plopped a slice on each piece. On top of that, a slice of fresh mozzarella.

Onto a cookie sheet, then, and into the oven for significantly less than two minutes along with whatever’s in there for dinner proper. Unless this is dinner, then just stick it under the broiler for a second. All you want to do is get the mozzarella even creamier by letting it just start to droop and melt; if the tomatoes and pesto get a shock of warmth, even better. Then it’s out of the oven and onto some sort of plate — a serving platter, if you’re nice, your dinner plate, if you’re hungry — and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the whole thing.

And there you have it. Bruschetta, our way (for now). Happy eating.

*Since I’m only cooking for two, I actually sliced the whole baguette and then put half of the slices in a freezer bag and popped them in the freezer for later.  Next time I want to make bruschetta (which may wind up being tonight, I’m drooling as I type this), they’ll be ready to go.  I can either warm them up in the microwave first or just pop them directly into the oven.


mmmmeat!

12Feb08

We headed up to New Jersey this weekend to visit family and get a little relaxation time in.  While we were there, we got the chance to visit Gauchos in Westfield, a tiny little Brazilian barbeque restaurant.  And I mean really tiny.  The six of us filled up the biggest table in the place, and there were only maybe ten other tables.  But the food was fantastic!  The men at the table elected to order the rodizio, which is basically all-you-can-eat meat.  The cook comes out with meat on a giant skewer and slides it down onto your plate, then disappears back into the kitchen only to reappear with another kind of meat on another imposing skewer, dripping barbeque-y goodness.  This goes on for as long as you can stand it — they only stop coming when you insist that you’re full.

There was sausage, flap steak, sirloin cap, chicken wrapped in bacon, pork wrapped in bacon, and a few other things I can’t remember.  Each meat could also be ordered individually as an entree (which is what the ladies at the table chose to do — I had the sirloin cap and it was fantastic).  Any way you order, the whole deal comes with fried yucca, french fries, fried polenta (which Don fell in love with after previously insisting that he didn’t eat polenta when I wanted to make it last month), black or red beans, rice, and the salad bar, which was small but excellent.  The sheer volume of food was exhausting!  But I still ordered the flan for dessert.  Who can pass up good flan?

*Bonus points if you’re not my mother or sister and can identify the movie the title of this post references. 



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