Friday, July 24, 2009

How many salads can you eat in a summer?

An alert reader (Thanks, Mom!) sent me a link to the New York Times Food section this week. In it, Mark Bittman pairs up ingredients for 101 salads. I'm always looking for inspiration, and there are some combinations which would stretch my salad boundaries. What do you think of jicama, mango, coconut milk, and curry powder? Watermelon, feta, mint, and olive? (Actually, I've made that one before, and it's terrific.) Dandelion greens with preserved lemon and feta? He's classifications are a bit loose (he sneaks anchovies into the vegetarian listings), but there's really something for everybody. Check it out: if you add some good bread, you can get a killer meal that only requires chopping.

And now I'm off for a week-long conference in Michigan. See you soon.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The fight continues

We've identified the bully: the BlackandWhite cat. That's what we call him - feel free to suggest something more appropriate to a bully. Bruno? Butch?

After naming our enemy, our next step was to formulate a plan of attack. Andrew bought a water gun after researching the best choice in Popular Mechanics. (A good academic researches everything.) Here he is, preparing for battle.

Andrew put Phi out in the garden on her leash as bait, and then waited. The first night was unsuccessful, because the BlackandWhite cat spotted his stalker. The second night, Andrew chose a more hidden location, but the cat never appeared. Progress is slow, but the oppressor will be vanquished.

Friday, July 17, 2009

As requested, orecchiette in four easy steps

1. Mix the dough. This is a piece of cake if you have a heavy-duty mixer. If you don’t I suggest making cakes instead – they’re easier to stir. Throw in your bowl: 2 cups flour, 3 eggs, 1 teaspoon each of water, oil, and salt. Let the dough hook knead it forever, or at least until you get tired of waiting. My experience is that the longer you let it knead, the more tender your pasta will be.

2. Roll out the dough into cylinders with a diameter of about ½ “.

3. Squish each piece in the middle. Use lots of flour at this stage, and when you lay the finished orccchiette out.

They'll look like this.

4. But once I cooked the first batch, I realized that they’re better if they're squished out flatter. Take a look at the finished product, mixed with pesto sauce. I pressed out each piece so that it had a diameter of about 1 ½” and I tried to press the centers just a bit more than the edges, so they would cook evenly.

These really aren’t that hard, as long as you have a machine to knead the dough. Now that I’ve made them a few times, I can roll out the dough (which makes enough for three adult servings) in about fifteen minutes. They last in the fridge about a week, with wax paper between the layers. And did I mention that they are delicious?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The garden offensive

There's a new bully in the neighborhood, and the fact that he is a cat does not make me dislike him any less. My cat, Phi, often spends time outside, where she wears a harness and is attached to a line. She likes to sit under the pine tree and dream of catching squirrels. (A dream that does not seem likely to come true, as mousing is not apparently one of her skills.) On Sunday, we let her out for a few hours. When we brought her in, we noticed her safety collar had come off and she had a tiny scratch near her eye. I wasn't too worried because she's gotten tangled up in the branches before. But after last night's session outside, she had a tiny sliver of her ear ripped off. I'm so mad, and I feel terrible for her, because she's tied up and can't get away from scary cats. She's also ten years old and only weights seven pounds, so the bully is picking on a tiny old lady.

Andrew has grand plans for a cat-frightening device, which involves motion detectors and sprinklers. But in the end we will probably just sit outside with a bucket of water until the bully cat shows up and dowse him.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sunday evening

My week goes a little bit smoother if I can get a good chunk of cooking done before the workweek starts. And I do this at the same time every week - Sunday at 7pm, when "The Big Broadcast" comes on. This is a radio show playing classics from Way Back When, like Gunsmoke and Dragnet. The old shows entertain me while I work, even though I am a little saddened by how many characters die on Gunsmoke every week.

Last night decided to document all that I was doing, so that those of you who don't cook that much can see what preparation cooking can offer you.

The first thing I started was a pot of lentils, which eventually turned into lentil soup, pictured on the right. I try to make at least a gallon of bean soup at a time, because Andrew eats it every day for lunch, and it freezes pretty well.

("There's just one way to handle the killers and the spoilers, and that's with a U.S. Marshall and the smell of... Gunsmoke.")

Next I prepped vegetables. I had bought corn and green beans at the market, so I blanched them for use later this week. Here's a picture of everything resting in the cold water bath. We might eat the veggies cold, on a salad, or I might throw the beans in a stir fry and make the corn into soup. But this way the corn won't have gone bad waiting in the fridge, and the next cooking will go quickly. (Plus, I've noticed that having pre-cooked veggies like this means we eat more of them.)

For dinner we had Vietnamese spring rolls, filled with tofu and red pepper, served with peanut sauce. I love these but I don't get to eat them often; all the ingredients come from the Asian supermarket, which is a long drive from our house. Yesterday I finally figured out the secret words to convince Andrew to go there for me: "Why don't you take the motorcycle?"

Lastly, I made a dessert which we can enjoy all week. Excuse the terrible picture, but trust me that it tastes great. It's a cherry cake, made from this recipe.

("The fabulous freelance insurance investigator with the action-packed expense account.... Yours truly, Johnny Dollar.")

Friday, July 10, 2009

A bit more of Boston

I'm heading into another writing weekend and it's unlikely I'll be unable to blog for a while, so I thought I'd throw up a few pictures of our vacation to keep you all entertained.

Andrew loves hiking. He also loves landscapes and animals. So when I downloaded the pictures from the previous two weeks, I found two hundred photos of rocks, water, and animals (snakes, squirrels, and birds, mostly) and a grand total of three pictures of either Andrew or me. So take a look at the following picture and imagine looking at a hundred and fifty more just like it:
Because it was so gray and rainy in Boston, the few pictures we took look less than inspiring. I liked this bridge over the Charles River because it looks like the Washington monument doing the splits:

And if we had managed to take more picture of ourselves, they would all show happy people eating.

Monday, July 06, 2009

A tourist in DC, part two

Independence Day weekend gave me another excuse to tour through my own city again. Saturday we went and saw the fireworks downtown with our good friend D. Viewing the fireworks show they put on over the National Mall is one of those things I've always meant to do: what could be more patriotic than explosions over the Washington Monument? But it's also one of those events that looks a bit less inviting up close. Who wants to spend the entire day staking out a place at the Mall to get a good view for a twenty minute show? In the end, we compromised a bit and found a park with a good view next to the Potomac which only required a three-hour stakeout and a half-hour walk to the car. And it was plenty enjoyable. I wasn't that wowed by the fireworks themselves (must be the recession) but it was still a great way to celebrate.

My brother and his family were in town for a brief visit, which gave us an excuse to head downtown the next day too. We began with lunch at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, which boasts a food court featuring cuisine from up and down both Americas. The ingredients are always traditional - corn, cactus, grains, etc., but they put it away together in modern ways. Highlights of my lunch included a hibiscus-guava fresca, which tasted pleasantly (and strongly) of flowers, and Indian pudding, a corn and molasses pudding.

We made a brief appearance in a few Smithsonians, but the highlight for Andrew and I was the Smithsonian Folklife festival. This is an annual festival on the Mall spotlighting music, food, and history of featured countries. In the "Music of the Americas" pavilion we caught a concert by a mariachi band. They were excellent - every one of the sixteen performers could play a traditional instrument and sing solos. At the end we found out that they were a high school mariachi group from San Diego and that blew me away. I can't imagine being that talented at anything when I was seventeen.