Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Comfort Food, A Comfort Tool

Christmas before this one I asked for and received an electric skillet. Mostly it has set on the bookshelf in the utility room, but I have used it occasionally, and several times recently for pancakes, for which it is fabulous. I still miss my late 60's wedding gift electric skillet and I can't think why I ever got rid of it. I especially and fondly remember it sitting on my orange formica kitchen counter slow stewing chicken cacciatori. It had a large domed aluminum cover which made cooking large hunks of meat possible and I used it most regularly for pot roasts.

Last Saturday I made a renegade run to Whole Foods (shopping usually a joint excursion) and although intending to get some short ribs, bought a really nicely marbled 3 pound chuck roast in anticipation of slow cooking on Sunday. Thank God, the weather finally turned and Sunday was indeed a grey rainy day, something we have been desperately in need of to break the drought (32 days). Late Sunday I invited Friend Bonnie to join us Sunday evening for dinner.

In the old unenlightened days, I always dumped a packet of Lipton's Onion Soup Mix on my pot roast prior to adding liquids. Shunning such shortcuts and packages of convenient anything these days for many and complex reasons, I still used boxed beef broth this time after searing. Plus carefully arranged a bed of lots of onions and laid 3 perfect carrots and 3 lovely Yukon Gold potatoes in peaceful circumference around the roast. A glug of red wine and a big glug of Wouscestershire sauce went in also. After squishing down the roast slightly since this cover is not as large as the previous one, the electric skillet seemed difficult to regulate down to a slow simmer, although maybe the old one cycled on and off equally but I was unable to see through the old aluminum cover. About 90 minutes later it was done. Perfectly. Gorgeously.

We ate in front of the fireplace, on the coffee table and sitting on the floor, watching West Wing all together. Although my husband did not rave about the pot roast as he is not a fan of "soft meat", Bonnie and I raved. And for me, this is exactly how Sunday night should be.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

What's the point he asked?

While bragging to my son that I had made pizza at home from scratch last Sunday, he said incredulously "I really don't get that, Mom", ie when you can buy it so easily. My answer was/is "because I can".

I was using a recipe I ran across recently in - of all places - the Wall Street Journal, advocating the simple pleasure of Pizza Margherita (nothing but tomato sauce made from scratch from canned tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil and mozarella cheese). As I had also recently seen an old Cooking with Julia Child at Home show where she makes the same pizza with another modest but genuine Italian chef, I decided this was a concurrance of information to be acted upon. Also, I'm very not busy now that all the holiday cooking is over. And I like learning about basic foods, which pizza is, kinda. Primarily, I do just want to know if I can.

And also you get to make a big mess and mix with your fingers. At least that's what I did. Both chefs advocated mixing the flour and yeast and water with your fingertips in a big bowl and kneading sensually by hand - no food processor or dough hook. Ah, the pleasures of kindergarten fingerpainting and playing with clay, re-visited. Both chefs think waiting through 2 risings is important (contrary to other hurry up recipes I found later), although I think 2 hours the second time made my dough a tad too elastic. It was really hard to roll out into a circle without the edges constantly springing back, rubberband-like, but I couldn't remember the remedy and didn't want to spend any more time than was already committed - about 4 hours start to finish. I did (privately) attempt twirling the crust in the air. Much harder than it looks on TV. More holes, but finally a rough circle created.

Both chefs said a conventional home oven would work. But there was also a lesson here re having the other right equipment. Shortly before baking time and while waiting out the second rising, I remembered we had leftover stone tiles in the garage and dug one out and put it on the bottom rack of the oven as Cook's Illustrated advised (having searched my cookbook library for a tad more advice during the first rising). But alas, no "peel" to schooch the pizza onto the tile. Also my pizza pan was not of the type recommended by the WSJ guy who used perforated pizza pans, no tile. So borrowing from both recommended options (use tile OR use perforated pan) and because I couldn't get my holey and elastic pizza off my pizza pan even if I had a peel, I put the pan on top of the tile for the first half and then after it had dried somewhat, schooched it semi-successfully off the pan and onto the tile, where the crust broke and the cheese made a little puddle of burned stuff which is still there waiting for clean up. I think I need to spring for a wooden pizza peel. Only $20 and a very cool rustic type tool.

Served in front of the football game on the coffee table in the den, the first half of the pizza was a C- for texture but a B+ in flavor (I thought). The pieces left behind on the pizza pan continued to crisp up and when their turn came, were better than the first, I would say it was almost commercial quality, at least a solid B overall, or maybe an 8 out of an Olympic 10. Or was it the beer influencing my evaluation. Not bad for a first try anyway and I did it all myself. Because I could.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Doesn't everyone eat like this?

God, I'm good. At throwing together meals I mean. I wish they still had that TV show on the very early Food TV Network where one chef and one audience member who were contestants were given X number of ingredients and 20 minutes to do their best thing. I think I could win, maybe, I might.

Late Sunday I cooked a pork loin roast and although rushing it, it came out very nicely. Seared then tossed into high heat, but on a bed of apples and onions. So last night (Monday) I needed something quick before I left the house. Sauteed the lovely Oyster Mushrooms I could not resist at Whole Foods last Saturday (OK an indulgence - it was $5 for 1/2 a pound), added the leftover bits of onion and meat juice, plus green peas. Looking more like a soup so making a mid-recipe decision to go that direction, I added a couple of frozen cubes of turkey broth, soy sauce, hot pepper flakes and voila: Asian pork soup (or something). Quite nice, I thought, and such a great "diet" dish.

Unfortunately, by 9:00 was starving so indulged in a bowl of popcorn.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Me at Rio Grande Gorge near Taos last week.

One finger in the pie today

"All I know is that writing is the only thing I do that doesn't feel like I should be doing something else." - Gloria Steinem

Entering the world of blogging today. All I know is I want to write about food. Custom Cooking is the name I chose for my on-again, off-again semi-serious catering business. I may have permanently discouraged myself after baking 18 dozen biscotti for Lyssa this Christmas. Not to mention tthat the first double batch was sans sugar. May have accidentally invented Doggie Biscotti (entrepreneurial alert!).

My hero of food writing is John Thorne who write the Simple Cooking newsletter and has apparently made a living of it, in addition to writing cook book reviews - talking about getting paid to do something you love. Would that I could.