Monday, May 24, 2010

Sunday Dinner

We invited Nana and Papa over for dinner last night so I made one of Tom's favorite foods, Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. I used the recipe from Cooks Illustrated's January 2010 issue. Two rising periods makes the crust better suited for a weekend than a weeknight, but if you're going to be around the house anyway, it's a great recipe to try. Tom says that it was more authentic than any of the local options.

For dessert I made Billy's Vanilla cupcakes. These are Martha's favorite vanilla cupcakes and mine as well. With a buttery, tender crumb and boasting a strong vanilla flavor, they're everything I've ever wanted in a vanilla cupcake. Add the fact that they can be made in one bowl and case closed. I don't think I'll ever need another vanilla cupcake recipe.

For the frosting, I used whipped chocolate ganache. It's so easy to make and so decadent. I made the Cook's Illustrated version from Baking Illustrated, but here's a free recipe that's almost identical. To get the whipped consistency, refrigerate until the ganache has the consistency of soft pudding; about an hour in the refrigerator. If the ganache becomes too firm, it may separate as you attempt to whip it. Once it has cooled and thickened, use a standing mixer with a whisk attachment and whip on high for about a minute. Don't over-whip or the ganache will curdle. Just whip until it has lightened and appears fluffier.

You can also skip the mixer and just use it as a dense, shiny, spreadable frosting. You can also skip the cupcake and eat it out of the bowl with a spoon. Yum!

The girls are ready to dig in. Eevy, like her Mama, loves chocolate. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Roasted Potatoes for Breakfast

Sometimes I feel like a greasy spoon breakfast but don't feel like playing short order cook over the stove or griddle. So, instead of hash browns or home fries, I make roasted potatoes. I promise that with enough olive oil they are just as greasy and crunchy as those cooked in a skillet. While the potatoes are cooking I can make the coffee, eggs, toast and maybe some veggie sausage.

Mia and Papa dug up the potatoes a few days ago at Papa's garden. Homegrown potatoes have so much more flavor than the store bought variety. If you haven't tried homegrown potatoes, you're missing out.

Eevy loves to check on the chickens. I can hardly wait until we have some at our house.

Here's some of Papa's lovely Siberian Kale.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Pioneer Woman's Favorite Sandwich

I ran across the recipe for The Pioneer Woman's favorite sandwich a few days ago. A grilled cheese sandwich with hatch green chiles? Oh, hell yes. 

First, let me say that I adore grilled cheese sandwiches. Good grilled cheese sandwiches. A good grilled cheese sandwich should have a buttery, lacy, golden-brown exterior with a gooey, cheesy interior. Soggy bread and grainy, greasy cheese make for a sad grilled cheese sandwich. Beyond that, I'm up for just about any interesting ingredients, so long as the qualities mentioned supra are in no way compromised. I'm always interested in trying new cheeses and flavors in my grilled cheese. So when I saw her recipe that included hatch green chiles, oh baby, I just about fainted. I love hatch green chiles. 

Every August, Papa buys a bunch of hatch green chiles, roasts and then freezes them. I used the last of my share a month ago, but I was fairly certain he still had a stash in his freezer. It was my intention to pilfer some sweet hatch goodness to make this wicked, wicked sandwich. 

I attempted the recipe for lunch yesterday. I won't repeat the whole recipe since you can find it here, but in short it's a grilled sandwich with cheddar, provolone, sliced tomatoes, a whole green chile, and red onion. Before I started, I noticed several things I already liked. First, she uses two types of cheese. Cheddar provides great flavor and provolone contributes smooth, creaminess. Also, I she uses my preferred method of buttering the bread rather than the skillet. 

The only modification I made to the recipe was to let the sliced tomato rest on paper towels for a few minutes to draw out extra moisture. 

I cooked the sandwiches on an electric griddle, about twice as long as the recipe recommended since I like my cheese completely melted. 

I asked Papa for his feedback. His response was, "Cut some of the cheese - either no provolone or only one slice. Too much cheese dominated the flavor of the three veggies. Serve with olives. Perhaps thicker bread. I would like to try it with a hoagie bun cut in half so as to contain the cheese."

Too much cheese? Whaaaaa? Is that even possible for a grilled cheese sandwich? Then I realized that we were having a philosophical disagreement. To me this was a grilled cheese sandwich flavored with vegetables. For him this should have been a vegetable sandwich flavored with the cheese. To me, the cheese is the star of the sandwich. Everything else the supporting cast to enhance the flavor of the cheese. I want the flavor of the cheese to dominate. 

And in my opinion, the vegetables performed beautifully. I was worried that the raw onions would be too strong, but they were perfect. The flavors were nicely balanced and dimensional. The hatch chile was a bit too spicy for me, so I took about half out of my sandwich, but I might be a bit of a pansy ass. 

I wouldn't cut back on the cheese. No way, no how. Forget it. I would use thinner tomatoes, perhaps cut with a mandoline, and I would salt them a bit as they drained. I would try to cut all the ingredients as thinly as possible, but I'd keep the bread the same thickness. I'd also like to experiment with different cheeses. 

Will I make it again? Definitely. I've been craving all day. I'll probably make it again this weekend. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Canned tomatoes, we had a good run. In the dead of winter, when all the fresh tomatoes in the produce section tasted like wax, you were the superior product. Packed at the height of freshness, you consistently delivered vibrant color and fresh, sweet taste all year long. And, gosh, were you convenient. No peeling, seeding or dicing. Just pop open a can and get ready for action. And you were so versatile. From pasta sauces, to soups, to casseroles, to salsas, you stood in my pantry at the ready to liven up so many of our family's favorite recipes. And, wow, you were so cost effective. No fresh tomato could beat your price.

But, canned tomatoes, until you find a way to line your cans with something that doesn't contain, BPA, I have to bid you a fond farewell.

I now buy the cartons and the jars. My only complaint is that most of my recipes call for either 8, 14 or 28 ounce cans and these are 24 ounce containers. Also, they're a little pricier than the cans. Of the two, I prefer the taste of the Cento but Pomi is cheaper. I buy both and use the Cento for dishes with prominent tomato flavor, like pizza or pasta sauce and Pomi for dishes like my veggie chili where the subtle tomato flavors are overwhelmed by chili powder anyway.

On Sunday I found some organic Roma tomatoes on sale at Central Market for $1.59 a pound. I had been craving spaghetti pie, so I thought I'd try my hand at making my own version of the two 8 ounce cans of tomato sauce the recipe requires. I bought a little over three pounds and put two aside for my pimento cheese sandwiches.

I dropped the remaining tomatoes in boiling water, three to four at a time for about a minute. I like to do just a few at a time so I can watch them more carefully and so that I don't cool the water.

The tomatoes went directly from the boiling water into ice water to halt the cooking.

After they cooled, I peeled, cored, (mostly) seeded and chopped the tomatoes.

Then I took a little snack break.  My hands down favorite way to use exceptionally good tomatoes (homegrown or from the farmers market) is pan con tomate.  I am of the opinion that one should always have on hand at least two types of olive oil. The first type can be used for cooking but the second should be reserved exclusively for drizzling and dipping. I like to use Whole Foods 365 brand extra virgin olive oil for cooking. My current favorite for dipping and drizzling is Columela Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Pan con tomate is an excellent example of when to pull out the good stuff. The sweet tomatoes and fruity olive oil complement each other perfectly. Toast some rustic bread, lightly rub with a garlic clove, top with chopped, peeled, seeded tomatoes, sprinkle with salt and drizzle with your best olive oil. It's one of my favorite things to eat.

Once my snack break was over, I warmed a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauce pan and sauteed a few teaspoons of minced garlic until fragrant. I added the chopped tomatoes and simmered for about 25 minutes until reduced and thickened. Here's the end result:

Just a little over two ounces short of the 16 ounces I needed for my recipe. More money and considerably more time than opening a couple cans of tomato sauce, but with these early summer tomatoes, it was delicious enough to motivate me to make it again. Seriously, it was so good I could have eaten it with a spoon.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


I love food. My enthusiasm for eating informs many major decisions in my life. I choose where to live based on proximity to quality grocery shopping and restaurants. I've taken vacations based entirely on the local food. In fact, when I'm traveling I abandon my mostly vegetarian diet because I feel that eating the local cuisine is essential to experiencing the culture.

I consider how one eats to be a major quality of life indicator. However, until recently, I didn't actually cook food unless it was a holiday and I was helping my mom. I watched cooking shows and read cooking magazines but performed no actual cooking. In my single life, I existed primarily on prepared foods, take out and pizza.

When I quit my job to become a stay-at-home mom, the first thing that had to go was eating out at restaurants. Also, cooking our meals just seemed like the right thing to do if my new job was to take care of our family. It seemed like part of the job description.

In the past year I've learned to plan meals, create a grocery list and shop under a tight budget. I've become a grocery shopping ninja. I shop at several different grocery stores to get the best deal.

I'm learning how to cook and entertain my kids at the same time. Yesterday, while making pizza, I gave both girls a little hunk of dough and rolling pins while I rolled out the family's pizza. Mia did a fantastic job making her own pizza. Eevy had great fun using her rolling pin to pound the dough like a mallet. When I can't distract the kids,  I've learned to cook quickly by either putting a meal into the slow cooker before my husband heads in to work or throwing it together when he gets home.

I've found that I get a lot of satisfaction from cooking. I sometimes miss the sense of accomplishment I experienced when I worked out of the home. Turning out delicious food isn't quite the same as a win in court, but it comes close. I can't help but smile just thinking about Mia saying, "Mama, this tastes good!"

I also like having complete control over what my family eats. I know exactly how my girls' food was prepared and exactly what went into it.  I try to avoid BPA, pesticides, rBST, hfcs, artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated fats and other bad things I'm forgetting about at the moment. If make our pizza, I know that it doesn't have canned tomatoes or hfcs in the sauce or rBST in the cheese.

Not everything my family eats is homemade or from scratch - not that those terms have clear definitions anyway - but I do my best to cook for my family using the most basic ingredients as practical. For example, I'm not planning on milling my own flour anytime soon, but I would like to stop buying commercial bread except for the occasional artisan loaf. I like to say that if I can make it, why buy it?

I try to buy local when I can afford to do so. We love boggy creek farm and would shop there all the time if money wasn't an issue. We grow many of the vegetables that we eat thanks in large part to help from my father, Papa. Also, thanks to help from Papa, construction of our chicken coop is underway. Hopefully by mid-summer we will no longer buy commercial chicken eggs. I'd like to expand our growing efforts in the Fall to include some raised beds in our front yard for a cole crop. Fall and Winter are great seasons for gardening in Texas.

Here are some of my current food goals:

Grow more of our own food
Raise chickens for eggs
Bake our own bread
Learn to make our girls' much loved cheese crackers
Learn to decorate a layer cake (improve piping skills and learn to use fondant)
Learn to can my own tomatoes for BPA-free convenience in the winter
Buy a freezer for the back porch and make a bunch of casseroles for times when I'm tempted to order a delivery pizza
Improve food photography skills

I'll conclude with a recent baking effort - my second attempt at a layer cake. I made it for Mia's third birthday last month. She loves Hello Kitty. I used the white cake recipe from Baking Illustrated and Martha Stewart's recipe for swiss meringue buttercream. The edible decal was a huge pain in the butt. I won't use that again. My goal is to improve my decorating skills before they are old enough to care.