Sunday, August 30, 2009

What's the Occasion?

I get this question a lot. Who/what are you cooking for? The answer is me, and the occasion is that it's Sunday. A few years ago I had gotten out of a relationship that had gone on past it's expiration date, we're still good friends and she's a lovely person but we really weren't meant to be together long term and live together. (she didn't eat meat or want to have cable television in the house - for anyone who knows me, it's a wonder that we shared an apartment for 2 whole years). Anyways, for the first time in awhile I found myself living alone and re-thinking a lot of things in my life. It's also when I really discovered cooking and that I had an enjoyment of it and a little bit of skill at it. I had obviously been feeding myself for much of my adult life but I had never really taken much of an interest in it other than making sure I was eating and trying to do it somewhat healthily. I was living in a beautiful basement apartment in the Central District of Seattle. The owners lived upstairs - he was a contractor and she was an architect and they had restored this beautiful, big Victorian home and made the street level into a one bedroom + small den apartment. My friend Michal lived there and it was one of those places that you go see when your friend moves in and you say, "if you ever move out of here, I want a heads up because I would totally move in". And sure enough, a year later I did. It was within walking distance/short easy bus ride of downtown, the waterfront, Capitol Hill, Pioneer Square, the Seahawks stadium, everything I needed. It was totally cheap, had a huge bathroom, a washer and dryer and also a great kitchen - these things rarely come in a place for under $1000 in Seattle. And I found myself cooking more for myself as a way of being nice to myself and taking care of myself. I would invite friends over for dinner, and a large part of winning over my now ex-wife was done in that kitchen. (thinking about that now, it's amazing I still want to cook at all!)

I don't remember how it started but I started making pretty large and elaborate dinners for myself on Sundays. I was usually recovering from some sort of fun on Saturday night and had a kitchen full of groceries and would make myself something comforting and good every Sunday whether it was just me or a house full of friends. I've really kept that going all this time. Saturday is usually a day I run around, get things done, clean, do laundry, go out, etc. but Sunday is a quieter day at home and I always cook something. It's only lately that I've been talking more about what I cook, it's part of a process of gaining confidence in what I make and sharing it with others. As I consider making this my life's work, I need to really be ready to share what I make and accept people's thoughts on it - good or bad. But regardless of who's here, if I'm alone or entertaining people, Sundays are always a big dinner at my house. Whether it means I'm eating the leftovers for a week or not! It doesn't matter how much work or how complicated a dish is, I won't just heat something up on Sunday night or make something easy. I'm worth a big dinner to start off my week and this is my way of giving myself a nice treat before returning to work on Monday morning.

So that's what the occasion is on Sunday and why I make a big Sunday supper. Part of it is probably the Italian in me, but it's how I like to wind down and prepare for what lies ahead on Monday and I love the feeling of going to bed with a full belly after a nice and fun weekend.

So I guess since it is Sunday I should talk about what I made tonight. Yesterday at the Farmer's Market I found some great local NY strip steaks. I threw one on the grill tonight very simply seasoned with salt and pepper, then topped it with some sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions and horseradish creme fraiche. But the star of the meal was the salad - OMG the salad. At Mirror, a local restaurant they have an amazing fried goat cheese salad that I love but haven't had in awhile. I was thinking about it this morning and wondering how hard it would be to recreate at home. I did a little reading and found a John Besh recipe for a similar dish with fried goat cheese and followed those instructions. It's easier than I thought - slice goat cheese into rounds, dredge in flour, dip in a beaten egg, then coat with bread crumbs and cool in fridge. Right before you want to serve them you heat up a pan with oil and fry at a high temp so the outside is crispy and browned but the inside is creamy goat cheese goodness. I threw them on top of a simple arugula and tomato salad with olive oil and red wine vinegar and it was out of this world. I almost forgot about my steak!

And of course no Sunday supper is complete without dessert. I had some buttermilk in my fridge I needed to use up so I found a recipe for a lemon buttermilk ice cream and added some vanilla to it. Ran it through the machine earlier and it's resting in the freezer now. A scoop of that, with some fresh blackberries will be the perfect way to top off my evening - while watching the premiere of Tool Academy 2 on VH1 - don't judge me!!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

If I say it out loud it will happen

My therapist suggested I read Eat, Pray, Love. I can't believe I've never read this before, of course I had heard of it but I hadn't realized how closely it mirrors my ideas, my dreams that I'm trying to make a reality. I'm devouring it. I recently finished reading The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn (which I HIGHLY recommend) and so I've entered the mindset of figuring out what I would do with my life if I could do anything I wanted. This is a very new concept for me. I've made a living doing basically the same thing since I was 16 years old. I've worked my ass off to move up to the level I'm at now, and constantly pushed myself further, faster, and educated myself as much as I can because I've always felt that not having a college education means I need to prove myself so much more. The truth is, I've never really thought about a career being something you aspire to. I have a career and a pretty successful one, but I always have told myself that this is just how it is and you get a job and stay with it, work hard, save and then when you retire you can do what you want. Travel, live a life of leisure, etc. But what if it doesn't work that way? What if you spend your life working for that day and it never comes? What if you're too old, too tired, your retirement fund has been drained by some asshole on Wall Street, or you give your life to a job that eliminates the need for you just before you're eligible for retirement? Why not do all that stuff you want to do now? Well most of the time it's because you have responsibilities, you can't just walk away from your life, your family, people who depend on you, etc. But what if you're 34, divorced with no kids and find yourself waking up to the possibility that you want more for yourself?

The plan:

3-4 months of travel. Driving across the U.S., visiting friends, seeing things, experiencing things, eating things and writing about it all. Then Europe, Italy in particular. Learn to cook from my Italian relatives - eat everything, taste everything, experience everything.

Culinary school. Vancouver, Canada. An accelerated 6 month program at Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. Learning culinary basics and professional cooking in one of my favorite cities in the world with access to everything fresh and amazing and local. Seafood, meat, poultry, cheese, produce, all of it. Getting a truly international food experience and education while staying close to home.

WWOOF. Worldwide Opportunities in Organic Farming. An "internship" type program in organic farming and more. Room and board provided in exchange for work all over the country/world. Get in the dirt, see first hand where food comes from and how to cultivate it. 6 months to a year of learning and working and immersing myself in food at it's most basic source.

Then work, finding work in the food world somewhere. Ideally in a small inn, resort, cafe, etc. Living and working somewhere beautiful and feeding people with my hands every day. A simple life, a life with purpose and integrity, nourishing people.

That's my dream. My goal. Now to make it happen.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Shredded Pork Tacos

I tried something new tonight and it turned out so good that I had to immediately blog about it so I didn't put it off like usual. Also I'm trying to be better about paying attention when I'm cooking so that I actually have some sort of recipe to include in the post rather than my usual style of "a little of this, a little of that" and having no idea what I put in something by the time it's done. How I usually cook new things is to research a bunch of recipes online, pull parts from each that sound good and then throw something together - unless of course I'm baking where I'm more precise with measurements and tend to stick to one recipe at a time.

So I've been wanting to make this Tyler Florence Mexican Pork Chili ever since I first came across it but summer in Tennessee is not exactly chili weather and also...I can admit it...I'm scared of cooking with tomatillos. Not sure why, I love eating them in things but just have always been intimidated about using them myself. So the other day I came across some boneless pork spare ribs in my freezer and was thinking about what I could make with them and I was thinking about the chili recipe when I came up with the idea to braise the pork with tomatillos, onion, poblano pepper and garlic then shred the pork for tacos, enchiladas, taco salads, etc. and pureed the veggies and braising liquid into a sauce. I planned to do this over the weekend but ran out of time so I seasoned up the pork last night so that I just had to throw everything together tonight when I got home and let it sit in the oven and do it's magic. The result was a late taco dinner but very much worth the wait!

-Season pork ribs (I used about 2 lbs) with salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, paprika & a little cayenne
-Chop 1 medium onion, 1 large pablano pepper, and 3 tomatillos into large chunks
-Preheat oven to 375 degrees
-Cover bottom of large covered dutch oven with olive oil and heat over med. high
-Brown pork ribs on both sides
-Add in vegetables
-Add 2 cups chicken stock, 1/2 cup good tequila, juice of 1/2 lime, 2 tablespoons minced garlic (or less, I like garlic!), and about a cup of water until the meat is covered with liquid.
-Place cover on pan and cook in oven for 2 hours
-Remove meat from liquid and rest before shredding
-Skim fat from liquid and pureed with hand blender or in food processor, reduce down to desired consistency

That's it - awesome shredded pork with tons of flavor and a great texture plus a tasty sauce for tacos or enchiladas, burritos, etc. I'll be eating this pork all week y'all!

I used the pork and sauce in a couple of corn tortillas with avocado, cheese, sour cream and cilantro above - so good!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Adventures In Ice Cream and Pizza

Salted caramel ice cream. Made of awesome (and heavy cream, sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt). Trust me it tastes better than this pic looks, I really need a new camera for proper food photos or I need better lighting in my kitchen...or both.

I am a horrible blogger y'all. I blame it on time and lack of photos but then I have time and I have yummy things to write about and I sit here and stare at a blank screen. Then it's midnight on a Sunday and suddenly I want to sit down and blog. My creative energy is not friends with my corporate work schedule.

Ok so I've wanted an ice cream maker for a long time now and always talked myself out of it for one reason or another. I hate single use kitchen appliances (with the obvious exception of the coffee maker that I would be lost without) so it always seemed silly to buy a machine just to make ice cream - why do you need a machine, why can't you just make ice cream and put it in the freezer? Well because you can't or actually you can, but it's called semifreddo and that's different. Anyways, to get the proper texture for ice cream it's really tough to do it without an ice cream machine so I broke down and picked up a used on on Ebay a couple weeks ago. Totally worth it. My first attempt was rather ambitious but hey if you're going to do it you should just jump right in, right? There was a salted caramel ice cream in last month's Gourmet that looked heavenly so of course it was the first ice cream I wanted to make. It did take me two attempts to get the base right, the first one involved me turning the custard into scrambled eggs, swearing a lot, dumping like $8 worth of good whole milk, cream, and eggs down the drain and muttering to myself that Ben & Jerry's is totally delicious - but then success! I made the base as directed, let it sit in the fridge for several hours, poured it in the ice cream machine and like 30 minutes later there was ice cream! I transfered to a container and froze overnight and of course first thing when I woke up I headed to the kitchen for a spoonful - I don't normally have ice cream for breakfast, but it was really hard to stop at that spoonful!

After the success of the first batch I decided to use up a bunch of rainier cherries I had and made a frozen lemon custard with cherry puree and chopped cherries. This one didn't have the rich texture I was looking for, but was still delicious. This week I'm attempting a key lime watermelon sherbet. I'll let y'all know how that goes.

I'd been wanting to make pizza on the grill for while now but haven't gotten around to it until this weekend. I picked up some pizza dough in the bakery at Publix which worked just awesome for this. I wanted something really light and simple so I took some ricotta and mixed in some lemon zest and handful of fresh herbs from my herb garden (basil, flat leaf parsley, chives, and thyme) and sliced up a nice heirloom tomato I needed to use up. I heated up the grill, brushed the pizza dough with olive oil and threw it on the grill. After a few minutes it was crisping up and getting some nice grill marks so I flipped it over, spread the lemon herb ricotta on and added the tomato. Then I just shut the lid to the grill and gave it a few minutes to finish. It was one of the tastiest things I've eaten in awhile, the crust was perfectly crisp with a little softness to it, the ricotta was bright and fresh and the tomato was sweet and delicious.

I'm planning on making this again tomorrow for a meatless monday dish, I may swap out the tomato for roasted beets though and throw a little arugula on top. That sounds really good. I can't believe how simple and quick the meal was and it was a nice summer dinner that I could cook outside and not heat up my kitchen on a hot night. Perfect.

I also saw Julie and Julia today, which was very entertaining. I don't know if I think it's as good as the book, it's hard to compare because it's two books woven together and the Julia Child part of the story was really great to have in the movie. Overall it was worth the ticket price and of course it made me head over to Whole Foods afterwards and pick up all kinds of yummy food. I realized on my very long scooter ride back to East Nashville from Green Hills that what I really love about cooking is that it makes me feel alive. There is a part in the movie where Julie is making a chocolate cream pie and talking about how awful her day was and how great cooking is because there are constants, if you follow the recipe you will get the result (well, most of the time anyways). There are few things like that in life, but when I'm in the kitchen I always know that I'm going to put work into something and it's going to yield a result I'm looking for (again, MOST of the time). It's comforting to me and no matter how simple or how fancy of a dish I'm making, being in the kitchen is always the best part of my day because I know I can do something right there.

Alright, enough kitchen philosophy here, time for bed!