# Wednesday, June 08, 2005

We’re throwing a huge bash for my friend Anne’s 40th birthday over 4th of July, and I got put in charge of organizing the food.  This is a new one for me, as I’ve never tried to come up with “snacks and finger food for 200 people” before.  I’ve done dinner for 50, but this is a bit different.  So now I’m trying to balance time/money/labor to figure out how much is too much.  The biggest challenge is figuring out what can be done ahead of time, how to store it if I do, and how to keep the cost down and still have it dazzle people.  Plus, as with the feast I did, it’ll be at an SCA event, so everything has to be done with camp kitchens. 

I’m going to focus on Arab snack/street food.  I think a lot of it can be done pretty cheaply.  I found a recipe for various spice/nut powders for dipping hard boiled eggs into which sounds both easy and cheap, so I think that one’s a go.  I think in the interest of cost/time/inclination we may end up with some Indian or Greek options thrown in, but hey, the Arabs were/are a pretty cosmopolitan bunch, right?

I’ll let you know how it works out.  If I think of it I’d like to get some pictures too.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005 12:24:33 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]

Scotsman.com has an article about the fact that Glaswegians (people from Glasgow, and no, it doesn’t make sense) probably ate a much healthier diet in 1405 than they do today.  I think that’s probably pretty much true universally.  I think most pre-industrial societies world-wide probably ate a much healthier diet than we do today, although we have access to way more/better resources.  Which is pretty sad if you stop to think about it.

If you look at pre-industrial, and particularly aboriginal diets, they almost always work out to being a pretty well-balanced diet.  People ate a much wider variety of things in most places than we do today, thanks to foraging, local variations and lack of monoculture.  There are some exceptions to this, such as some of the earliest “city” societies who were way too dependent on grain, but I think on the whole diets were better. 

Why?  We are programmed to crave things that are rare in nature.  Like salt, fat, and sugar.  In pre-industrial societies, those were rare commodities, and our bodies are designed to take advantage of them when they are available.  The problem is that now those things aren’t rare anymore, and we still crave them.  Plus they all happen to be cheap now, so food companies want us to fill up on cheap crap instead of eating real, less processed, but more expensive ingredients. 

The bottom line?  Take back your diet (and your health) and eat like a Viking!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005 12:13:20 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Thursday, May 26, 2005

Last night I wanted something with vegetables, so on reviewing what I had on hand I decided on some quick stir fries.  The first one started with a bag of “brocco-slaw” which you can pick up in most grocery stores.  It’s basically shredded broccoli stems, with some carrot and purple cabbage for color.  It makes a great stir fry, and it’s zero work.  I through some oil and garlic in the wok, fried the garlic briefly, chowing all the while.  (Chow is the technical wokking word for “tossing quickly so it doesn’t scorch”.)  Once the garlic had browned, I tossed in the bag of broccoli bits and chowed them until they softened up a bit.  I added some soy sauce, oyster sauce, and a little toasted sesame oil.  Once everything looked pretty much “cooked” I added a cubed block of firm tofu, and heated it through, then served (with rice). 

The second dish was one of my quickie favorites, spicy stir-fried cucumbers.  Peel a cuke or two, cut them in half length-wise, and remove the seeds with a spoon.  Then chop them into bite-sized pieces.  In the wok, heat up some oil, then throw in the cukes.  Add some soy sauce, your favorite chili paste (I use a Chinese garlic/bean/chili paste) and maybe a dash of sesame oil.  Chow until the cucumbers just start to soften a bit, maybe 3–4 minutes.  We don’t usually think of cucumbers being cooked, but it’s a very simple and very tasty way to use up some cucumbers you may have on hand.

 

Thursday, May 26, 2005 6:37:48 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Wednesday, May 25, 2005

It’s been ages since I’ve made pizza from scratch.  Like a really long time.  Back when my wife and I were first married (lo these 13 years ago) I used to make pizza all the time.  Like once a week.  And I’m not talking putting stuff on a pre-made crust, I’m talking from flour and yeast to the pizza stone in the oven.  But I remember it being a lot of work, and ever since I started seeking out low-glycemic foods, pizza pretty much fell out of rotation.

You can probably see where this is leading, but I’ll cut to the chase.  My daughter has been suggesting (forcefully) that she really wants me to make pizza, so last night I dusted off the old peel and went to work.  It wasn’t as much work as I remembered, possibly thanks to the dough hook on my trusty KitchenAid, although it did make quite a mess. 

I decided on one half “just cheese” and half Hawaiian for the kids, and a whole wheat version with mushrooms, olives, red onion and sausage.  Overall, it went pretty well.  The dough came together easily, I found all the tools, etc.  I think the white flour dough was a little too soft, however, which combined with my lack of practice with the pizza peel to pretty much explode the first pie all over the inside of my oven.  There was much wringing of hands and recriminations (all on my part, my daughter was un-phased), but I managed to salvage most of it.  It was an awfully strange shape, but pretty edible according to reports.

The second one came off without a hitch, thanks to stiffer whole wheat dough and way more flour on the peel. 

It was easy enough that I just might have to try it again.  My son’s been demanding a taco pizza, so maybe that’ll be the next round.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 11:42:14 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Having had pretty decent success with bean-and-beef dishes, I decided to try it with a pork shoulder roast last weekend.  It came out pretty well, and couldn’t get much easier. 

I soaked about a cup of “cranberry” beans overnight in water to start with.  You could use whatever bean you have handy…I had cranberries.  Pinto or calypso, or Anasazi beans would also come out well.  I love heirloom bean varieties, and have tried a bunch.  I really like the ones with groovy names, like Rattlesnake, buckskin, etc.  You can find tons of them at Bob’s Red Mill in Portland.  But I digress.

Once the beans were soaked, I threw them in a Dutch oven with the pork shoulder roast (mine was about 3 pounds), a big can of Mexican-style hominy (posole) and a packet of “red enchilada sauce mix” I picked up at New Seasons.  Threw in enough water to cover, slapped the lid on and brought it up to a boil on the stove top. 

After it boiled, I moved it to a 350° oven for 3 hours.  At the end of the 3 hours, I threw in salt to taste, and about 1/3 cup of white wine vinegar to bring out the chiles in the enchilada sauce mix.  You could also use canned enchilada sauce, in which case I’d leave out the vinegar and some of the salt.  Back in the oven for another hour, and it was ready to serve.

I served each person a hunk off the roast, and some of the beans/posole from the pot.  You could also shred up the pork and mix it all together. 

Low effort, and both tasty and filling.  I’d like to try it with green sauce some time, either from scratch or just canned.  I think tonight the leftovers are going to find their way into burritos. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 11:54:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Friday, May 13, 2005

Big success last weekend.  I made a big batch of Persian Rice and Lentil pilaf.  You cook the rice and lentils, and separately back some lamb or chicken with onions and spices, then serve them together at the end.  It came out really well, and we had so much rice left over that I cooked up a second batch of meat a few days later. 

Persian pilafs are a lot of work, but well worth the effort.  You boil the rice with lots of water like you would pasta, about 6–10 minutes, then drain it, and pile it in a mound in a heavy pot with lots of butter.  Then you let it steam over low heat for about an hour.  The result should be very light and fluffy rice with a hard crust on the bottom that is the best part.  I’d never tried it with lentils before.  It made a nice contrast in color and texture. 

The meat was super easy.  Throw some stew lamb, shanks, whatever (or chicken parts) in an oven proof container with some salt, pepper, cinnamon, cumin, tumeric, and some onions and garlic and bake at 350 for 2 hours.  Simple goodness!

Friday, May 13, 2005 9:53:13 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [1]
# Thursday, April 28, 2005

I’ve tried this one twice now, and not only is it way easy, but it comes out really well, and makes for great leftovers.  If you don’t like pork, however, turn back now…

Start by sauteing some onions, garlic, celery, carrots and some herbs (I used dried basil this last time I think).  Once they are golden, throw in some Italian sausage and some country-style pork ribs.  When they are brown, add about a cup of wine (red or white) and cook it down to being almost dry.

Then add another cup of water, cover, and simmer about 1/2 hour.  Then add some tomatoes.  I used a big can of “crushed tomatoes” from Muir Glen.  I also threw in some pickled peppercorns.  The basically just cook in until the ribs fall apart.  Maybe 2 hours. 

Very tasty, low stress, and the leftovers are great.  I just took the leftovers, added some extra tomato sauce and served it over pasta.  Mmmmmm.  Porky goodness.

 

Thursday, April 28, 2005 8:52:07 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Wednesday, April 13, 2005

I just finished a truly fascinating book called “Why Some Like It Hot”, by Gary Paul Nabhan.  It’s all about the effects of our environment on our genes, and how that in turn influences how and what we can and should eat.  For example, the author describes how it was only in Northern Europe that being able to digest milk became a survival characteristic, so it’s only Northern Europeans (mostly) that can tolerate lactose into adulthood.  

He cites a number of similar examples, from Crete to Arizona to Hawaii, where the food and climate that were available shaped the genetic makeup of the people who lived there and have a profound effect on what foods are or are not healthy for those people to eat. 

The phenomenon, which Nabhan terms “food-gene-culture” interaction, is one that has interested me for quite some time.  This is the first material I’ve read that cites such wide ranging examples and really brings home how what is a “healthy” diet has much more to do with the individual than most people think. 

If you are interested in nutrition, or why we eat what we do, it’s a great read. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2005 12:32:31 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Monday, April 04, 2005

We had some friends over this weekend for Vikki’s birthday, and she made a big batch of rumaki for everyone on Sunday morning.  For those who haven’t had the experience, rumaki are basically chicken livers and water chestnuts wrapped in bacon.  There are numerous variations, including some with a soy based sauce on them, but we go for the purist version.

The number one biggest thing is to get good chicken livers.  It’s not easy these days, but check out your local organic or whole foods grocery, or if you have a kosher deli/grocery, that’d probably be a good source too.  I’ve made them with commercial livers from a big grocery store and they can be pretty gross.  Keep in mind that the liver is the part of the body that filters out all the stuff that’s not good for you, and big commercial chicken farms feed chickens lots of stuff that’s not good for them.  Suffice it to say that you can really taste the antibiotics. :-)  Anyway, get organic free range chicken livers if you can find them.  They have a much milder and more pleasant taste.

Cook the livers until they just stop wiggling.  You don’t want to over cook them!  To assemble, wrap up a water chestnut slice with a piece of liver about the same size in about half a strip of (uncooked) bacon and toothpick it together.  Put the finished rolls under the broiler until the bacon is crisp. 

We like to serve ours with hot Chinese-style mustard for dipping.  Well worth the effort.  For the liver-squeamish, we usually make some with green olives instead of the livers, which are also quite tasty, though maybe not quite so sublime.

Monday, April 04, 2005 10:07:07 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Quiche is one of those things that I pretty much tend to forget about.  Not something that springs to mind.  I don’t find myself answering the age old question “what should I make for dinner” with “why, quiche, of course”.  But in that last couple months I’ve made a few quiches and I’d forgotten both how easy and how tasty they are. 

Last night I ended up making two, since frozen pie crusts always come in two for reasons I’m unable to fathom.  Turned out it worked nicely.  One for dinner, and leftovers for breakfast. :-)

I fried up some chopped “cottage bacon” we got from New Seasons (sort of halfway between your average bacon and the “Canadian” variety), then added some chopped onion,  and sliced white mushrooms.  I got a pair of whole wheat frozen pie crusts, and into them went some broccoli florets (raw).  When the bacon, etc. was cooked, I dumped it in over the broccoli and added some shredded Tillamook cheddar.  I happened to have some eggs to use up (blown out of their shells for Russian Easter eggs) which is what prompted the quiche project to start with.  For each quiche I used 4 eggs, and added probably 1/4 – 1/3 cup of heavy cream.  That just got poured over the top of the vegetables, and away they went, into the oven at 375° for about 40 minutes. 

Much easier than I remembered.  I’ll have to start putting quiche into rotation more often.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005 8:00:02 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [0]