Monthly Archives: June 2010

Onion Blight?

Am I the only one cutting into onions and finding cores that are rotting out?  Happened in St. Louis, happening here in town.  Odd.


It Was Bound to Happen

Tonight was like my personal kitchen Armageddon.  Really.

We’ve been out of town the last couple of days attending my high school reunion.  That means that pickings are slim in the pantry.  I figured that this would be a good time to try out the red lentils I bought a couple of weeks ago.  The green lentils have been a hit, I figured, so these might be a nice addition to our repertoire.

The recipe I chose was an Indian dal.  Having learned my lesson with the (almost non-existent) red pepper flakes with my galettes, I kept out any semblance of heat.  That kept the ingredient list pretty simple — butter, onions, garlic, tumeric, salt, red lentils, and water.  You finish it off with a little unsweetened coconut milk, some toasted mustard seeds and shallots, and there you go.  Dinner.

Not so much.  She-Who-Hums decided she wanted to cook something too.  I want to encourage cooking and eating with her, so I said yeah.  That was probably a mistake after a hectic day to start with, but it seemed simple — “fried” chicken.  In reality it was a baked, encrusted chicken breast.  I didn’t have to do much as I had her to most of it.  But its never that simple, because she had lots of questions.  Lots.  That’s not so good for the concentration.

That led to the first big problem.  I cooked the lentils until the became mush.  In my defense, I was following the recipe and had set my timer.  As it turns out, these things become liquid pretty fast and you’ve got to pay a lot of attention to them.  At that point, I had some rice cooking, was waiting for my sweet potato to cook and mash, and put She-Who-Hums food in the oven.  Everything was based on the timing of the lentils.  Well, I tasted lentils and they were terrible.  I couldn’t serve them, so in the trash they went and I started over.  I STARTED OVER!

I hurry up and get everything going again, vowing to check everything every minute or two.  Those lentils wouldn’t get me twice.  I take the sweet potatoes off the stove and mash them.  “Nice,” I thought, “things will be alright.”  Then I checked the basmatti rice.  It wasn’t burned, thank goodness but I had probably needed to turn the heat a few minutes earlier.  “Not a major disaster,” Mr. Brain prattled on.

TPE comes in and asks whats for dinner, and I tell her.  She notifies me that she hates sweet potatoes.  Now you’d think that I wouldn’t be surprised by this, given our last adventure with potatoes.  But I could’ve sworn that she told me she liked them recently.  Turns out, I fabricated that and it was all about She-Who-Hums.  Disaster number 2 or 3, depending on whether you’re counting the rice.  I am.

Anyway, I finally had a meal for everyone.  The dal looked beautiful, with a nice golden hue and a slightly sweet sauce.  I spooned it over the rice, put a plate down for TPE and myself.  She-Who-Hums sat down with her chicken (which turned out quite nice actually) and a plate that included jalapenos, pickles, olives, sweet potato, and rice with soy sauce (I know, right).  Finally, everything turned out great.

Then I looked at TPE.  Her expression said it all.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“There is a smoky taste,” she replied.

“Smoky?  Its just tumeric.”

It doesn’t really matter how the rest of the conversation went.  She decided to make herself a burrito.  To shorten the story a bit, her reaction to the burrito was very similar to the red pepper flakes.  That led to attempt number #3 to feed TPE:

I ate the final product (the dal and, incidentally, part of the burrito).  It was OK, but not outstanding.  So I put a little of She-Who-Hums left over jalapenos on it and…it was much, much better.  Talk about irony…the dinner I made for TPE wasn’t satisfying to me until she blew it off.

Anyway, after 4 disasters I decided to end the dinner in the only way that made sense.

Guest Recipe: A new twist on lasanga

Fontina, spinach and pesto courtesy of Epicurious.

Just Another Food Blog?

I’ll keep writing the blog as long as people are reading it.  There seem to be a reasonable number of hits every time I make a post, but comments have gone way down.  So, let me know if you’re still following along.  And let me know if you’d like to see something different.  More recipes? More links? More pictures?  Less me, more TPE?  Squirrels?  Clearly I’ll do anything for attention, so let me know.

Don’t Be Galled by Galettes!

After savoring the leftovers from my Father’s Day feast yesterday, I was looking forward to getting back in the kitchen today.  That’s especially the case because I’ll be spending some time out of the kitchen again for the next few days and I wanted to use up some of our ingredients that weren’t going to make it much longer.  I finished up work a bit on the early side and planned to make an elaborate dinner when I got home.

For once, things went according to plan.  I was intent on using the remainder of our button mushrooms and baby portabella mushrooms.  In perusing my cookbooks, the one thing that caught my eye was a recipe for a galette.  I’ve never made a galette before and I’m not smart enough to avoid pastry crusts in the middle of the week, regardless of whether it means dinner will be a disaster.  So undaunted, I decided to jump into this dish with one small change — I’d add some white beans.  TPE hadn’t really had any protein (save for cheese) the past few days, I figured it was a good idea to add some in.

Much to my surprise, the galette is easy.  (TAKE THAT PASTRY CRUST!  HA!)  The dough is simple, easy to use, and very tasty.  It also has a lot of butter in it, so healthy it is not.  But we don’t eat them every night and you only live once, so I embraced the butter this evening.  The base of the dough is a cup of flour, two teaspoons of sugar, a pinch of salt, and 6 TB of butter cut in (yeah, I said 6 TB).  After you get the crumbled texture you’re looking for, you start sprinkling ice water until a ball forms.  Let it sit and you’re ready to go!

The crust is very flexible and you can put just about anything in it after you roll it out.  You can go savory, as I did this evening; you can go sweet, with poached fruit or even a fruit-cheese mixture.  And the beauty of a galette, according to a cookbook of mine, is that the rough edges add to the charm.   The filling tonight was onions cooked in olive oil with fresh rosemary, mushrooms, and some white beans.  There is a sauce that includes tomato paste, red pepper flakes (more on this in a second), broth, and Dijon mustard.  You could clearly add cheese and any sort of herbs as well.  (Note: The basic recipe comes from Deborah Madison’s cookbook.  The white beans were my idea…I know, real impressive to add beans, huh?)

I served mine with some fresh broccoli and cucumbers, for a meal that I’d say was pretty good.  The problem was that TPE apparently does not tolerate any heat in her food.  And when I say “any”, I mean it.  There couldn’t have been 1/4 TSP of red pepper flakes in the dish and it came into the cooking process very early on, so it was a real background flavor to the dish.  However, she alternatively accused me of making her face go numb and trying to poison her.  So the dish was a success, but the meal was not unfortunately.

What did TPE end up eating?  Lasagna of course.

But I won’t give up!  I’ll find something for the galettes that won’t make her gag.  I’m already pondering Madison’s suggestion of leeks and goat cheese.

Father’s Day Respite

One of the many wonders of Father’s Day is that I’m not expected to do anything.  That includes cooking, even though I keep telling them that I actually enjoy that.  However, my female family members really outdid themselves today.  I consider it one of my favorite days since She-Who-Hums graced us with her presence almost eight years ago.

  • A three course breakfast “cooked” by SWHs.  Scrambled eggs, followed by a toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and capped off by yogurt sprinkled with fresh blackberries.  She’s no Thomas Keller, but she loves doing this and its very sweet.  I ate every bite.
  • A lot of gifts, even though I told them not to give me any.  Included were a freezable mug that said “King of the Castle”, a World Cup T-shirt, and some nice coffee.
  • A short (2 hour) trip to the local beach.  Its really more a hill with a little bit of sand and lake water, but its what we have to work with.  We saw many of SWHs friends there, which means we saw some of our friends.  Always fun!
  • An hour of quiet time.
  • Lunch, also prepared by SWHs.  This was a special “double decker” ham sandwich (I’m not personally a whole vegetarian yet).  Again, every bite was eaten.
  • About three hours of games, including a very competitive game of UNO and a number of rounds of Boggle (a great game for younger kids by the way).
  • While SWHs got her shower, I read about 40 pages of Bob Shurm’s (self-serving) memoir of running Kerry and Gore’s failed presidential campaigns.
  • A dinner of spinach filled lasagna made by TPE, a lovely salad with greens, and a fresh berry mixture.
  • A movie with SWHs, while TPE took her shower and performed her endless post-shower ritual.  (Note: I can only do the ritual justice if you can watch the full-feature action I have to go with it.)  The move was The Fabulous Mr. Fox and it was fabulous!
  • A vanilla ice cream cake (neither of them eat chocolate, if you can believe that) followed by three rounds of Double Shutter, a counting game also good for kids.  Fun too.

In the midst of all that, I got no whining, very little crying, and over an hour of World Cup action.  There were no children’s shows and very few claims of “I’m bored.”

What a perfect day.

What did you for your Father’s today?  And if you’re interested, here is an article in today’s New York Times that suggests men are now feeling more stress than women in families.  Maybe, maybe not but it shows that many of us do care.

Coming Soon

Peach ice cream and tofu attempt #2.  Stay tuned.

Potential Disaster…Bean Rice Patties

Its been a crazy couple of days here at VPE.  The family has been insanely busy and I haven’t had the time to cook that I normally do.  Because of our diet change for TPE, I don’t have the “go-to-dishes” for quick easy meals that I usually have and its put me off my game in the kitchen.

Tonight I was determined to put forth the time and effort to try something new.  Like I’ve said before, I can’t stand the same-old-same-old.  And we need to continue expanding TPE’s list of veggie friendly dishes.  Since she’s recently said that she likes black beans, I figured I’d keep working in that vein.  Looking at one of my new cookbooks, I saw an interesting recipe for a grilled black bean veggie dish that seemed interesting and easy enough.

The basic principal here is to create a patty that is reminiscent of meat (even served on buns if you follow the book’s advice).  You cook some red onion, garlic, and green onion to softness.  You then add black beans, coriander, cumin, oregano, orange zest, and red wine vinegar and cook until the beans become mushy.  After that cools, you mix in some brown rice (I used jasmine) and form it into patties that you can grill.

Simple enough.  Right?  Eh.

I followed the directions pretty assiduously and ended up with a product that was tasty, had the promised meat-like “feel”, but that could have been a real disaster.  It was dry.  Very dry.  And the patties didn’t hold up very well when put on the grill pan (it would’ve been a significant disaster on the grill, no doubt).  I contemplated adding some egg and/or oil (i.e., fat) before making my patties and I regret that I didn’t.

You know, I love the idea of this kind of dish.  You feel like it has main dish quality, something that’s trouble me in the past.  It has a nice flavor profile, so it defies the stereotypes of much vegetarian food.  And it also seems like something you could put in the freezer, for a quick meal.  But it just didn’t work for me.  Did they really try this out before they published it?  It tasted OK, sure, but it just didn’t hold up on most of the other dimensions.  I’m glad it didn’t end up a disaster, but it had that potential.  And with a newly minted vegetarian in the house, I always feel as though the quest stands on the edge of a knife.  (Yeah, I totally plagiarized that last part.  I’m still scared from the bean patty incident.)

Back in Action…What’s for Dinner?

So we’ve obviously been traveling, which is why I haven’t been posting. And some day I’m sure I’ll be inspired to write about the challenges that TPE’s new diet creates when we travel, particularly to see family. But today is not that day. Instead, its more about how to cook when you just got back into town and you don’t have any food in your house.

Of course this isn’t a problem if you’re not a vegetarian, or not concerned about the food you put in your body.  But we’re really trying to focus on those things as much as possible for TPE.  (I should note that The Kid is easy…find package, unwrap, throw on miscellaneous vegetables, and move hand before it gets eaten.)  And because she’s picky, I really hesitate to give her just anything.  Any bad experience is likely to have future consequences.

As I sat down to figure out what to make for dinner, I settled on something that wouldn’t be too taxing on our depleted pantry – risotto.   It satisfies a lot of the things I need for TPE and its pretty easy.  Plus, I figured I had the necessary ingredients – rice, stock, some vegetables, cheese.  Problem solved.

Not so much.  Although we did have enough vegetables (in this case scallions, shallots, spinach and fresh oregano), we did not have the rice I wanted.  Aborrio rice, as I’m sure many of you know, makes a much better risotto than just about all of its counterparts.  But we were out (how did that happen?) and we didn’t have any suitable substitutes.  I couldn’t use brown rice because it takes too long; basmati is out of the question because it has its own distinct flavor; and, we didn’t even really have good old (not really) minute-rice.

This kind of moment can be pivotal.  In the rush to get dinner done, I didn’t make sure that I had all the ingredients before I started some of them.  I know I should, but I just knew I had the rice.  And you have to be careful, because everything won’t always work as a substitute.  Fortunately, TPE’s new diet has introduced new ingredients in the household and there was one that would work just fine in this kind of application – Israeli couscous. The finished product wasn’t quite as good as a regular risotto, but you know what…the dinner went just fine and I achieved my goals.  Everyone was sated, TPE seemed to enjoy her food, and I didn’t have to run out to the store in the middle of dinner.

What’s your favorite substitution that not everyone makes?

Don’t Forget About Me!

In addition to being the tag line of a good 80s song, this is what I’m thinking this morning as have to let you know that I won’t be posting much the next couple of days. The reason is simple enough…I’m not going to be cooking. Since this is a blog about cooking for my wife, I won’t have anything to write. If I do run across some good food, I’ll take a picture and write something. But we’ll see…

In the meantime, let me know what you’re cooking! I’ll need ideas when our routine turns back to normal. And over Father Day weekend, we’ll have the added challenge of feeding the Carnivores (i.e., my in-laws) and TPE all at the same time. That should be interesting.