Sunday, November 20, 2011

Documenting A Weekend (Or A Lack Thereof)

Alexandria's Opening Night 11/18/2011
My dear friend and co-star of Spatula Sarah says where you find a foodie, you find a camera in hand and guests at the dinner table rolling their eyes.  It's true. Almost any time I go out to eat, I take my camera. I never know when I will need to capture a meal in a photograph.

This weekend while I had my camera on me at all times, I only took the photograph you see here. And it doesn't even capture the deliciousness of the meal. If anything, it documents a food memory I always want to remember.

During the fall and early winter, often I find myself as a hunter's widow. At first I wasn't a big fan of that new role. But as the seasons have come and gone, I've learned to enjoy the time in our quiet house when I grade, cook, write, work on projects, and/or catch up on Jersey Shore. I've realized alone time really nurtures my interior life. But after 36 hours I really start to miss FD.

This weekend was not so quiet as most, though. It began with a family dinner at my house with my in-laws and my sister-in-law on Thursday night. Then us ladies departed around 10 p.m. to get seats for the midnight showing of the epic Twilight Saga's Breaking Dawn (which was fucking awesome, despite what any haters would say.) Friday afternoon after Big F and FD got back from the marsh, FD took off for the island, and Sarah came over to run through our Winter Wheat presentation entitled "Food Writing: Subgenre or Multigenre?" Then, joined by her hubs, we headed to Findlay for the opening of Alexandria's, where Michael from Revolver is the head chef. (The mole is the die for. An in-depth review is forthcoming.) We met up with G and E there and had a great time; the only thing missing for me was FD. Saturday morning Sarah and I gave our presentation, which went exceptionally well, and then Saturday night I had a date with my sis SEM at Revolver.

What's funny is I had imagined taking lots of pictures at family dinner, at Alexandria's, at Winter Wheat, and at Revolver. It was weekend full of a lot of my favorite people and my favorite food. But the lighting wasn't all that great at Alexandria's. And at Revolver, the opportunity never presented itself for SEM and I to "snap" some pics of us. To force a photographic moment is way worse than not taking any at all. The chicken meatballs that SEM ordered at Revolver were gorgeous; the perfectly cut pieces of toast with an even spread of cream cheese and herbs standing like small pyramids on SEM's dish are embedded in my mind. And seeing her in a pretty dress and feeling all girly in my Odd Molly dress was the perfect way to eat a meal celebrating her moving on in her life and going to LA.  I can't help to wonder, though, if sometimes the best meals are better honored as memories.

In an age where Facebook has made us all feel like celebrities with our need to post every last picture of our comings and goings, it was nice to have a weekend with some of my family and best friends that I can cherish as vivid memories, without photographs. And being surrounded my the ones I loved, especially after FD left for his trip, made my weekend feel a lot less lonely. Great friends truly are one of the best parts of life.

Though a part of me does wish I would have taken just a few more pics, at least for my journal...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Chew Got It Right with Marrow-naise

I'll admit it. I'm addicted to The Chew. It all comes down to my love for Michael Symon. I totally have a foodie crush on him. The man is no Rob Pattinson, but when he cooks, he is wayyyyy hotter than Rob, hands-down. And better yet: he's Cleveland-proud, like me.

Seriously, I'm truly fascinated by the idea of The Chew, a daytime talk show that revolves around all things food--from fitness to recipes to politics to family connections and much, much more. The show is a true testimony of food's cultural, social, environmental, political, psychological, and sociological power. It's a truly brilliant idea. And while I'm still getting used to Clinton's quirkiness, I gained a lot of respect for him the day he took a stand against the Kardashian divorce (See Nov. 1st's Tweet or episode of The Chew.) But I find Mario and Michael to be wonderfully engaging hosts, and I'd love to see more of Carla's authentic, yogi self and Daphne's learning to love meat and trying new foods. All the hosts offer something important to their audience. I could go on, but I don't have the time right now, my loves.

What I need to address in the few minutes I do have between grading and conferencing is this: Michael Symon's Marrow-naise, homemade mayo with garlic, lemon juice, capers, parsley, and beef bone marrow. When I saw Michael make it last Monday, I drooled and swore I would make it on Saturday night as part of a special meal for FD.

Bearing in mind  Ruhlman's Twenty and the several suggested ways to home-make mayo, I chose my immersion blender with the whisk attachment. Usually when I make mayo in my stand-mixer, it breaks. Not this time. This time it held together and made the most luscious mayo. And the roasted bone marrow only elevated its richness and accentuated our strip steaks. Not to brag, but I think I've mastered the perfect sear and bake for my steaks that surpasses almost all restaurants, so I was extremely pleased when FD sliced into this perfectly cooked medium-rare steak, spread with marrow-naise, and sighed that glad-to-be-home-with-my-baby sigh. With a side of roasted sweet potatoes with dried kale and herbs and smashed brussels sprouts, we enjoyed a delightful Saturday night dinner. 

I have a feeling the only cook would have out-cooked me that night was Micheal Symon himself.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pizza & PJ's

 After a long week of teaching, grading 125 essays, conferencing with students, taking the Volvo to the shop, spending a couple of hundred dollars to fix the Volvo, and dealing with a bunch of other crap, FD and I really needed a pizza and pj night-in.

Clearly, Bleu agreed.

Before our gluten-free days, we used to make killer pizzas on a homemade dough. But, presently, I've been disappointed with almost every pizza baking kit I've come across, and I just don't feel like working with several GF flours that don't rise and never seem to work out. We've started to relying heavily on frozen GF doughs, especially O'Doughs.

This Friday night our pizza journey began when we realized we only had one O'Dough's crust left. I ran to Walt Churchill's in Perrysburg to pick up another box or two, but they were sold out.

I considered making a GF pizza crust from scratch, but quite honestly, I wasn't in the mood for cooking, let alone experimenting with a new recipe.

So we had a GF frozen pizza crust competition between O'Dough's and Udi's, which we found deep in the deep freezer.

Same ingredients. Two different crusts. Who would win?

Rather than following the Udi's baking instructions, we warmed up the crust for 5 minutes at 400. Then we put the toppings on and baked it for an additional eight minutes. Udi's crusts are easy to burn, so we watched it closely, especially because our oven is from hell. Literally, it runs 100 degrees hot. (Dear God, thank you for oven thermometers and please help our landlady find a new oven.)

The Udi's crust, while pipping hot, tasted like cardboard. But after letting it sit for a couple of minutes, it mellowed out and tasted like a crunchy cracker. And I am particularly proud of how beautiful the photograph the Udi's pizza turned out. (With my camera's user's manual, I'm teaching myself about photography and my camera.)

The O'Doughs turned out wonderful as always. But strangely, Dan and I like the Udi's better. Its thin, crunchy crust was really flavorful. Whereas the O'Doughs had that GF-baked-good-after-taste in comparison.

I know I should be homemaking crusts, but really I need a break. And pizza is supposed to be a break from cooking, at least in my opinion. Maybe one of these days I'll make GF pizza dough from scratch. Until then, Udi's and O'Doughs are treating us just fine.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oh, Yes, I Did Just Make Kale Dust

 Lately I've been obsessed with my homemade dried chili pepper dust (aka fairy dust).

But more so, I think I'm obsessed with food dehydrators. I don't own one, so I've been borrowing Sarah's to dry bunches of chili peppers, herbs, and whatever else I feel like.

A couple of days ago, I de-stemmed some Tuscan kale leaves, threw them on a tray, and turned on the dehydrator. Little did I know I just opened the gate to heaven.

Seriously, I just wanted to test oven-baked kale chips vs dehydrator ones. But I didn't get that far. When the kale chips were crisp enough, I packed them into my coffe grinder and made dust with them. It was as if The Goddess of Kale moved my hands; I didn't know what had happened until poured the dust into a recycled spice jar.

Kale dust smells like dried parsley on crack. The bitterness is alive but after a taste there's a sweet moment on the tail-end. Being the kale addict I am, I'm thinking that adding kale dust as a spice before roasting veggies, especially sweet potatoes, in the oven would be a good idea. Mixing it with olive oil and rubbing it on top and beneath a chicken's skin before roasting sounds fucking amazing. I could see it on scrambled eggs too.  Or in a cheese dip/spread. Maybe as a garnish for a soup or salad. I'm mean, for real, what couldn't you put kale dust on? Maybe yogurt.

With the remaining kale leaves, I sauteed them in butter and olive oil--a la Molly Wizenberg style--sprinkled them over a hot bed of mashed tators and threw some grilled sausages on top. My own little version of Bangers and Mash.

Trust me, I was tempted to sprinkle fairy and kale dust all over my Bangers and Mash, but I didn't. Only because I knew that this coming weekend I am having a full-on-cooking-Saturday when I plan to make a four course meal for FD that warms his bones after a day in the marsh.  The menu is forthcoming.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

Homemade Dried Chili Dust (aka Fairy Dust)

I know I just blogged about the fairy dust, but I can't help myself from doing it again.

Last night I blanched some brussel sprouts and then roasted them in rendered bacon fat, garlic, and fairy dust.

With braised beef brisket and mashed potatoes with roasted garlic, it was quite the Sunday feast.

What's funny is I don't usually mind rainy Mondays and work-weeks that involve teaching during the day and grading at night. But today I'm kind of bitter the weekend is over. I wanted more time to experiment with fairy dust. I have a pork tenderloin that should be rubbed in fairy dust and slowly roasted. I have a boring goulash recipe that would explode with flavor by adding some fairy dust. I want to concoct a dessert that brings together savory and sweet with some heat from fairy dust.

I just need more time.

At least another round of chili peppers are drying on the bookshelf in my office. Being enveloped in the slightly intoxicating smell makes me feel a little better. And feeling my sinuses clear out and tears well up in my eyes from their drying reminds me that there's next weekend--something to look forward to all week long.

Fairy Dust (aka Homemade Dried Chili Flakes/Powder/Dust/)

1 food dehydrator
As many chili peppers you have on hand. The more, the bigger the batch.

Wearing gloves, cut the stems away from the peppers, slice the peppers in half, keep the seeds and membranes in tact. Place peppers seeds-side down on the trays. Dry for 48-72 hours, until pepper shrivel and are dried through. Grind peppers in a spice grinder or coffee bean grinder. Store in a small jar for up to 6 months; though it's doubtful the fairy dust will last that long.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Fairy Dust: An Addiction

For my ex-wife potatoes and fairy dust addictions, I blame Sarah Lenz, my fierce friend and fantastic co-star of Spatula.  

If I end up on Intervention, she better be there too. It would only be a "I go, if you go" situation. I'm not watching her grind up Fairy Dust while I use commercial grade Cayenne Pepper. That would cause me to relapse. For sure. 

Let me back up a bit.

A couple of weeks ago, Sarah told me over lunch that she was attempting to make her own dried chili peppers. As much as I love her, I half-heartedly dismiss these projects she pronounces. It's not malicious. It's just she always has a project and is super-motivated, like me, so I see the results only days after she first mentions said-project to me. Why on earth get all fired up about the idea when within a week I can ponder the results for a long while? 

Needless to say, a couple of days later, Sarah calls to report about the dried chili flakes.  

"After I ground the dried chilies in my spice (aka coffee) grinder, they came out like dust," she said. 

"Like powder," I responded, dreamily. 

I'm telling you I could be on Intervention. I'm thinking about how to get a cut of this stuff. How to divy it up. How to parcel it out. Without getting caught. 

Dried Chili Dust = Foodie Cocaine. 

What's weird is, I don't remember tasting it with Sarah. I remember her telling me about it. And then suddenly her dryer was in my house. Trays of halved peppers drying, with their seeds and membranes intact, widened our nostrils and awoke our lungs. Sarah warned me to dry the chilis in the basement; I kept them in the kitchen. After 2 days of drying, I put the shriveled peppers in a coffee bean grinder, like Sarah told me to, and ground them, in several different rounds, into fairy dust. I put the dust in an washed pimento jar. Then I feel as though I woke up and remembered my life, again.

The most mind-blowing result of fairy dust is forthcoming in a BG News article (click on the "YourNews" tab), but I have to admit that I put them in/on/over almost everything I eat. 

I've mixed the fairy dust with butter and put it on steak. 

I've swirled it into mayo and used it as a dip for my ex-wife potatoes. 

I've sprinkled chicken breasts with it before a good sear and bake. 

I've even added it to my olive oil before massaging it into a whole chicken's skin--above and just beneath its surface.

Tonight, FD added it to his venison chili, a fall dish I live for. 

Rich with umami, FD's chilis are always acidic in a good way, complex in mouthfeel (the beans always stay firm and he always finds a chip or Nut Thin to add crunch while serving it), and hot(!!!) with chilies. The fairy dust just took it to a whole new level. Though, I have to admit that I almost put a few sprinkles of fairy dust on top of bowl just before my first spoonful. 

I told you I have a problem. 

To take some of the heat (pun intended) off me, I think Sarah should post the recipe. But if you read between the lines here and are feeling the itch from some fairy dust, you could easily put together the recipe from my post alone. 

I'm not one to leave food junkies hanging. But be warned: THIS SHIT IS HIGHLY ADDICTIVE!

I seriously will never buy dried chili flakes or chili pepper for my pantry ever again when it's so easy to make my own. 

...See, wouldn't Jeff have a field day with me? 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ketchup, Part Deux

My First Meatloaf Sandwich
 As promised, I made myself a meatloaf sandwich for lunch the day after our Sunday meatloaf dinner.

It was the first meatloaf sandwich I have ever eaten in my enitre life, which really surprises me because I love meat, I love sandwiches, and I'm from the Midwest.

Needless to say, I enjoyed every last bite. So much so, I didn't even give Bleu his normal lunchtime crumb or two.

I toasted a white bun, added cold meatloaf and ketchup, sliced some mozz cheese thinly, and plopped some thick slices of an heirloom Green Zebra tomato on top. Served with some re-heated ex-wife potatoes with Mayo and Fairy Dust dip, and I had myself quite a delightful lunch.  Midwestern style.
Of course, I sneak kale in my meatloaf!