I like ginger a lot but I don’t use it frequently so when I decide to make an Asian dish I go out and buy a “hand” of it. And then I use a “finger” or two and stash the rest in the frig. Then two weeks later, when I want a little ginger, I go looking for it only to find a shriveled piece tucked away on one of the door shelves. But that all changed with I found Lee Kum Kee Minced Ginger (at the Thai market next to Joanne fabric on E. Valley Parkway) which comes in a jar just like the one on the left. Once you have this in your refrigerator, you’ll find yourself using ginger a lot more. You’ll make Asian-inspired dishes more often, add a little to a salad dressing or even make it a part of your gingerbread or fruit crisp. I used it yesterday to make some soup, using all the vegetables handing around in the frig drawer: some zucchini, half a white onion, the last two carrots and a couple of potatoes that were getting ready to spout–all grated on a large-hole box grater. Along with lots of s & p, garlic, curry powder and a couple tablespoons of this ginger, it was cooked with homemade chicken broth until tender, whirred with the immersion blender and cooled overnight. Yesterday, I seasoned again since cold soups always need more oomph than hot ones, adding more curry and ginger (cooking cuts the flavor of ginger so it’s always good to add more at the end for that fresher taste), more salt and half a cup of no-fat Greek yogurt. A very cool first course for a hot day.
Like most everybody, I love French fries and if I’m at a restaurant that makes good ones, I’ll certainly order them. But at home, I don’t have a deep fat fryer and wouldn’t really want to go through the effort of doing them in a pot. So our French fries are done in the oven using olive oil. It’s not hard, you just have to take your time. First, buy the longest Russet potatoes you can find, cut them into fries about the diameter of your little finger and let them soak in cold water for an hour. Take them out, dry them well and toss into a plastic bag with olive oil and shake until they’re all well coated. Then, spread them out on a baking sheet one by one so they’re not touching. When you get done, it should look something like the photo at the right. Yes, it does take time, but it is the only way to give each one the space it needs to get crispy golden. Put them in an oven that’s been preheated to 450 and let cook for 20 minutes. Take them out and turn each one over–yes it takes time–and then put back in oven for another 20 minutes. (We have convection, if you don’t it will take maybe 5 minutes a side longer.) When they come out, sprinkle with Kosher salt and then toss on paper towels for a moment and then serve hot and crunchy. I have ketchup on the side, but of course that is up to you. Hope you like them.
We roasted a great chicken Friday night and had the legs/thighs and half a breast left over. The breast made great chicken salad for Saturday lunch and then I was focused on one of my new favorite dishes for dinner, Chicken and White Beans. Started with half an onion and a carrot diced and sauteed in olive oil until brown then added two cloves garlic sliced, a T of fresh rosemary chopped and s & p. Once there was browning, I deglazed the pan with half a cup of white wine and then added a can of white beans and some homemade chicken stock. Final steps were putting the chicken pieces on top, getting it all good and hot and then broiling it all at once after I added handfuls of finely chopped bread and olive oil on top. It came out with crunchy crumbs, crispy chicken and wonderful flavor. Great dish and one I now crave on a regular basis.
Being a good part Irish, potatoes were a major part of my family’s dinner menu. And as far as I can remember the choices were red and white boiling potatoes for fried and potato salad, russets for baking and mashed. Those were the only potatoes when you went to the grocery. Well, now there are all sizes and shapes but the really common one is Yukon Gold. (Turns out its a Canadian and got licensed in 1980 and arrived in the US shortly thereafter.) As a kid, big baked russets were my favorite, split open and topped with lots of butter and sour cream. Now, I very rarely have baked potatoes and tonight, with a wonderful roast chicken, the choice was mashed potatoes. Five cloves of peeled garlic went into the well salted water along with the chunks of peeled potatoes. Once very tender they went through the food mill and then were hand whipped with a big wooden spoon along with butter and some heavy cream. The mill made them fluffy, the garlic made them earthy and the final results had a strong potato flavor with a velvety texture and golden color. So thanks Dr. Gary Johnston for creating the potato we all love, the buttery colored Yukon Gold.
I didn’t grow up drinking smoothies. I think the closest we ever came was a rich, strawberry shake, probably with no real strawberries in it but rather strawberry ice cream. And when I lived back East, well there’s a lot of winter. But now that it’s high summer in Escondido, I’m often looking for a light lunch that is also, heaven forbid, good for me. So I often pull out the old blender–it’s a 20-year-old Warring–and see what’s around to put into it. I am not looking for anything green, except maybe kiwi, because I only am willing to go so far with this healthy idea. I keep my mainstays in the freezer–frozen mango bits and berry mix from Trader Joe’s–and combine those with fruits I’ve sliced and stashed in the freezer when they become very ripe (that’s the frugal me and the stash includes bananas, figs and peaches.) First I whir up some TJ’s 0% fat Greek yogurt, a splash of vanilla and a half cup of water. Then I add the frozen fruits a little at a time so the blender doesn’t seize and blend it all until it makes no noise. It comes out slushy and sweet without any added sugar. It also gives me least two servings of fruit and it actually tastes good. Yeah healthy.
So I went into the frig and found a bag of small zucchini that got lost in the shuffle. Of course, I couldn’t just toss out a dollar or two of squash, I had to make something. When I checked all the zucchini quick bread recipes, I was amazed by the large amounts of oil they included–3/4 of a cup in the one I liked. So I decided to fool with the non-fat substitutes that are supposed to work. I had a leftover yam so I cooked that and put in it the food processor along with some very soft prunes, half a cup of fat-free Greek yogurt and 2 eggs, adding a quarter cup of olive oil for some fat along with 2 t. each of cinnamon, baking soda and vanilla, 1/2 c each of white and brown sugar plus a large pinch of salt for flavor. Three cups of shredded zucchini plus two carrots (first time I’ve used the shredding blade in my Cuisnart), 3 cups of flour, a cup each of raisins and walnuts all thoroughly mixed together. Put into muffins tins at 325 degrees for 20 minutes until done in the middle. Not sweet, not savory but damn good and healthy compared to the traditional but they are so ugly I won’t post a picture. I am not known for my baking and I used mini-muffin tins which give a much smaller cake…but they are good and moist.
As I’ve written, when it comes to food I’m frugal. So once a week, I like to look in the frig and make dinner from what’s in there. Last night there was leftover marinara sauce from our pizza, a pound of green beans from last week’s Farmers’ Market and whatever we chose to add. So tonight, dinner began with green beans sauteed with bacon, shallot, olive oil and balsamic vinegar as a first course. (Costco now carries Niman Ranch bacon in a two-pound box that’s split into three sealed packages so two are in the freezer, one in the frig.) It was followed by penne tossed with the marinara sauce along with some Romano and a bag of arugula that gave a nice bitter edge to the dish. We grated on Parmigiano at the table and it was all a very good meal.
Once you have all your ingredients ready and your oven/pizza stone hot, it’s time to put it together. The real “trick” to creating a great pizza and easily putting it on the pizza stone is to cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to cover your peel, cutting board or open-sided cookie sheet and smaller than the pizza stone. Put your stretched dough onto that and then add the ingredients with a light hand. First herbs, then a thin layer of tomato sauce, followed by sausage and mushrooms topped with mozzarella and finally pepperoni at the end. Then cut the parchment paper away right around the dough with a sharp knife or scissors so the paper doesn’t extend beyond the dough. Give the edge of the dough a drizzle of olive oil and then slide it onto the stone with the paper still under it…it will slide with no problem. Cook at 500 for 10-14 minutes, taking it out when it is nice and brown. Slide onto a large cutting board, pull out the parchment and let rest for a minute. Cut into slices and serve. Crunchy, gooey, chewy and meaty. My idea of a great pizza.
We cook Italian food three or four days a week. And at least once a week it is something using fresh dough. Sometimes it’s foccacia, sometimes pizza. Lucky for me, my husband makes red and white pizzas–including a luscious pepperoni, mushroom and sausage. (He made one last month for a group and one woman–a pretty critical eater–said it was the best pizza she had ever had.) Here’s how we prep for this pizza. Before you even start getting the ingredients together, if you want crispy crust, buy a pizza stone. Cheap is fine and don’t waste money on one with fancy handles. Just put it on the bottom shelf of your oven and leave it there–never take it out or wash it. #1 Whether you make your own dough or buy Trader Joe’s plain white pizza dough like we usually do–it’s in the case near the cheese and salami–bring it to room temperature ahead of time. #2 Slice and cook your mushrooms in olive oil until golden brown–that will get rid of the moisture that can make your pizza soggy. (The photo above, bathed in the light of sunset through the kitchen window, shows both the warmer dough and the mushrooms.) #3 Remove casing, crumble and cook your sausage. (We like Major Market’s Mild Italian.) #4 Don’t use fresh Mozzarella for this pizza; it puts out too much moisture and the flavor is too mild for this mix. (At some point we’ll talk the secrets to a great Pizza Margherita which is where the fresh shines.) Stick with the standard aged Mozzarella and grate coarsely. #5 Use a very simple tomato sauce. I prefer one that’s just tomatoes, a little garlic and olive oil, though TJ’s Marinara is fine too. (Herbs don’t play a major role in this pizza but if you have some fresh ones feel free to chop them for later.) #6 Get your oven blazing hot, we go to 500. Once everything is prepped, it’s time to make the pizza. And we’ll do that tomorrow.
It’s the latest movie from Woody Allen, coming on the heels of “Midnight in Paris” which I absolutely loved. (I continue to be frustrated that the theater in Escondido does not play his movies and they don’t seem to care.) I’ve been lucky enough to go to Rome a few times when we lived on the East Coast and and looked forward to seeing the city beautifully photographed and hoped for scenes full of wonderful food. Well, the city looked gorgeous and the movie was a lot of fun–I recommend it–but the food, it was only there as a prop. (I have the feeling Woody is a picky eater so that’s why scenes don’t revolve around food in a major way.) Look at the meal in this shot, all colorful salads and not a pasta dish in sight. In fact the only cooking was done by an American woman who didn’t know how to cook and just kept adding red wine to a shallow pan of tomato sauce and then abandoning that before it was even done. So I hope to make up for that tonight with a simple Italian menu. Haven’t quite figured out what that will be but will let you know all about it tomorrow. PS “Midnight in Paris” is now on DVD so if you haven’t seen it look for it in rental and enjoy the beauty of that city along with a great plot.