Sunday, February 8, 2015

Don't Call it a Comeback...

Hello there.  Long time no write.  I've realized lately how much I miss posting here, so I'm going to try again and see how it goes...

One of the hardest things for me to face as my chronic pain has increased is how difficult it is for me to plan.  I freaking LOVE schedules and charts and lists and spreadsheets, but the best, most detailed meal-planning in the world is useless if all this perishable shit is sitting in my fridge and I'm in too much pain to cook with it.  I've had to make a lot of changes to pretty much all areas of my life, but changes in the kitchen have been the hardest to get used to. My new approach centers on being able to make recipes in several small flurries of activities - sometimes spread over days (or, with freezing, spread over weeks) rather than in a single long slog.  I always loved those kitchen-days of the long slog, but I can't handle the resulting pain anymore, so I'm learning to adapt.

One of the most important (and most mentally challenging) changes was to stop shunning all prepared foods.  When I first met Devin, I announced "There will NEVER be store-bought tater tots in my freezer!" I make tater tots from scratch!  From scratch is better! But... yeah.  Is it worth the time in the kitchen when store-bought tots are quite good and very cheap? Probably not, (I suppose)... 

When we first made Devin's Famous Dirty Rice, I was a little freaked out about using the box of Zatarain's Dirty Rice Mix.  "Can't we make it from scratch?" I kept asking...  That was over a year ago, during which time I've bookmarked several from-scratch recipes for Dirty Rice, and during which time we have never strayed from that Zatarain's mix.  We use lots of amazing meats from our local butcher, and the seasoning in the mix is so dang delicious that I can't be bothered to grind up a bunch of chicken livers to make it from scratch.  If it ain't broke, etc...  (And those are easy from-scratch insanely buttery biscuits on the side...) 

Similarly, we saw this crazy recipe on Serious Eats for a Pizzadilla.  I like to make everything from scratch, but we went ahead with store-bought pizza sauce and store-bought tortillas, which made the difference between having to wait until my pain levels let me spend time making sauce and tortillas versus being able to throw the dish together on a whim when we had a hankering.  The latter is definitely preferable.  (And, honestly... It's a freaking Pizzadilla... Why am I trying to make something so silly, simple, and genius into something complicated and from-scratch?)   
 

I've also always avoided slow cookers, but after making slow-cooked grits on a stovetop, stirring super-frequently for what seemed like an eternity, making perfect grits in a slow cooker strikes me as being pretty brilliant.

All of us who love food  also know about how fresh is "best," but fresh is not always an option.  Even when I lived in Boston, I ordered individually quick-frozen dry-packed scallops from a great purveyor, knowing that I may not have the pain reserves to drive 20 miles to the place that sometimes has "fresh" diver scallops on the day I want to cook with them.  I've taken that concept further now.  For time-consuming recipes like the Pepperoni Lasagna from Maximum Flavor, I made the pepperoni red sauce one day (then vacuum-sealed and froze), made the homemade ricotta to blend with basil on another day a couple weeks later (then vacuum-sealed and froze).  When the day came to make the lasagna itself, it was just a matter of layering pre-existing ingredients... and it was the best lasagna I've ever had in my life.

Being sous vide people definitely makes using the freezer easier, too.  I'll do a quick 20 minutes getting chicken breasts and thighs into assorted marinades, then I vacuum-seal and marinate overnight before throwing them on the grill the next day. From there the meat is broken down and vacuum-sealed into 2-serving packs to go into the freezer.  When we have a brilliant idea like making scallion waffles to go with our Korean-marinated chicken (instead of the usual scallion pancakes), the chicken is ready to just toss in a water bath and re-therm, so the only work is a quick batch of waffles and a bit of herb-chopping. 
 

Finally, I am trying to embrace the simple.  It's hard to argue with pan-roasted chicken thighs on a bed of roasted veg...  
 

And why have I always avoided ground beef as a protein to use in anything other than burgers? It marinates up amazingly and is a quick, easy topping for a bowl of rice or noodles (like I Am A Food Blog's Loco MocoMazemen, below)... 

So, that's what I've been working on while I've been away:  Small flurries of activity rather than full days in the kitchen.  Making components ahead when you can.  Learning not to fear the freezer or the slow cooker.  Embracing (some) prepared foods.  Remembering how amazing simple dishes can taste.  It all seems pretty obvious... but somehow it took me over a year to get my brain into the right place to accept it. 

I've realized that this kind of cooking is handy not just for people in pain, but for anyone with a busy life who doesn't have long stretches of time to spend in the kitchen. (I've always found the concept of a 30-Minute Meal kind of obnoxious, but I love the idea of spending 10 minutes in the kitchen prepping a skirt steak, throwing it in to sous vide for 48 hours, then spending 10 minutes finishing it off into an amazing "fancy" meal. That's more my style of "quick" cooking.) Most things I post will be some variation of the above, with a heavy dose of sous vide (which remains a time-pressed cook's best friend) and my smoker... plus whatever else finds its way into my recipe queue.  Hopefully it will be fun and delicious...  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Long-term Hiatus

This probably won't come as a shock, given how seldom I have been posting lately, but I'm "officially" going to take a hiatus from this blog for a somewhere between a few months and forever.  

I still get excited about cooking new foods, and I develop these grand plans... and then reality come crashing back in, reminding me that it's completely unrealistic to try to carry out those plans with my current pain levels (and with how much my time in the kitchen increases my pain).  And then, of course, I get frustrated with my limitations and this thing I love to do (cooking, experimenting in the kitchen) becomes more of a burden than a joy...

As I sign off for a while, here my all-time favorite post about the Pain Scale from Hyperbole and a Half...  If you have pain issues, you'll understand.  =)


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Big Box of Produce

Now that I'm not the sole member of my household, I decided to give the Big Box of Produce a try again.  I always love the inspiration these boxes provide - so much beautiful, local, farm-direct goodness - but even the "Bin for One" is more than I can go through on my own in 2 weeks... Turns out the "Bin for One" is the perfect size for two... The first delivery was full of fun veggies I hadn't cooked with in a long time:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Everyday Yumminess: Perfect Sous Vide Mayo

Hello, there.  It's been a while since I've posted here.  I've still been having fun in the kitchen, but things have changed such that I now have a partner-in-crime who distracts me from taking pictures and noting changes I make to recipes...  I've been more about enjoying the cooking than documenting the cooking, which anyone who loves cooking knows isn't a bad thing... Anyway, this is something I came across a few months back in Modernist Cuisine at Home that totally rocked my world: Modernist Mayo.  It's rich, decadent, bullet-proof (emulsion-wise), and actually easy...  Things start with 75g of egg yolks (5 or so...).
Those are vacuum-sealed and cooked sous vide for 35 minutes at 67°C.  (Reading the recipe now, I was apparently supposed to blend them first, but in 5 times making this I've never done that and it's always turned out perfectly, so...) The yolks get all smushified, anyway, when you vacuum seal them, and come out pretty well mixed anyway...
Meanwhile, you'll stir together some (45g) water and Dijon (25g) in a mixing container.  When the yolks are ready, you immersion-blend them to smoothness, then start drizzling in about 300g of neutral oil in (while running your immersion blender.
I made this little immersion-blending-lid after one too many experiences making traditional mayo, when it ended up sprayed halfway across my kitchen...  It turns out this lid is completely superfluous with Modernist Mayo, given the thick texture... When the oil has been emulsified, you can season to taste (I like a little lemon juice and salt), and you have on your hands a batch of perfect mayo...
(This also happens to be the perfect base for Fry Sauce and Sriracha Mayo... but we'll talk abou that later...)  Back soon with more yumminess...  

Friday, June 28, 2013

Everyday Yumminess: Carnitas Hash with Eggs

This is one of those meals where I started with a recipe... but then failed to follow any part of that recipe and still ended up with something super-yummy.  In the end, I suppose the recipe just stuck an idea in my head: "Carnitas Hash is probably delicious."  A few weeks later, when I had some carnitas vacuum-sealed in the freezer and found myself with extra Yukon Gold potatoes, it seemed like the best possible way to remedy those two situations...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Happy Birthday To Me!

A couple weeks ago I had a kick-ass group of friends over for my annual birthday dinner.  It's the first time I've been able to do it at my own place since moving back to Portland, and I don't think it's a stretch to say it was one of my most delicious birthday menus ever...
For the trio of plated appetizers, we had Shrimp Mosaic with Avocado-Melon Salsa, Super-Crispy Calamari, and Vodka-Spiked Grape Tomatoes...
The two dishes on the sides are old favorites, but the calamari was a new recipe.  The batter is made with vodka and soda water, and crisps up beautifully when it fries...  Next up was another old favorite, Creamy Asparagus Soup with Lemon Dumplings.
These little dumplings are filled with super-bright homemade lemon "jello," which melts when the dumplings cook and then explodes into the soup when you take a bite.  I wanted the guests to get to see what was hiding under their soup, so we poured the soup tableside...
The salad course came from Zak Pelaccio's "Eat With Your Hands" cookbook: a Crispy Pork Belly and Watermelon Salad.
I went ahead and compressed the watermelon, since I love the texture and it's so much prettier, but other than that this was just as written.  The pickled watermelon rind was beautifully spicy and was perfect with the crispy pork...  Mmm....  Because I'm addicted to scallops, I added a seafood course this year in the form of a Seared Diver Scallop with Ginger-Carrot Emulsion.
The sauce is from Thomas Keller's Peas and Carrots, but I passed it through a whipping siphon so that I could make it in advance.  The siphon re-emulsifies the sauce when you reheat it, and also adds a crazy-awesome texture...  The main course was a Horseradish-Crusted Rib-Eye with Red Wine Jus and Crispy Potato Ruffles...
And, finally, the meal finished up with Thomas Keller's take on Strawberry Shortcake...
This plated up way prettier the first time I made it (see below), but was delicious even when ugly...  
By the time we got home from some late-night post-dinner karaoke, I have to say this was one of my best birthdays ever... A super-fun evening with totally awesome company and fantastic food...  It will be hard to top it next year, but I'll see what I can do...

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Recipe Revisited: Seared Spring Salmon with Melted Leeks and Herbed Beurre Blanc

This is a recipe I've made (and loved) before, but I had to post again because it was even more mind-blowing this time with three small changes.  I don't like to make many alterations to Thomas Keller's recipes, because he's pretty much always right... but I feel like my leeks turned out better (and infinitely easier) by switching up the technique a little.  The recipe for this amazing dish is here, and I highly recommend trying it out next time you get your hands on some beautiful salmon...

Monday, March 4, 2013

Everyday Yumminess: Chicken Divan Casserole

My mom tells me that she sometimes made Chicken Divan Casserole for us when we were growing up. I am not about to call my mother a liar, but somehow the food memory didn't dig itself very far into my brain, so this isn't a dish I would have thought to seek out a recipe for and make... A couple weeks ago, though, a friend mentioned some pangs of nostalgia for the Chicken Divan his mom had made for him when he was young...and what kind of friend would I be if I didn't try to make a version of this classic for him? (I know the pictures of the finished dish are a little scrappy, but it's comfort food so I wasn't about to mess around with fancy plating...)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sous Vide Makes it Better: Two Curries

I haven't made a lot of "new" dishes lately, but something I do a lot of is re-making things I've made before, only switching the cooking method over to sous vide.  I tried this with two curries last week, and was incredibly happy (for different reasons) with both dishes...  The first dish was Beef Rendang with Roti Canai.

Everyday Yumminess: My Favorite Buttery Flatbread

As I mentioned when I made the Mission Street Food Buttery Flatbread, one of the reasons I was a little disappointed by that flatbread was my preexisting love of an easier version...  I first made these Roti Canai almost 5 years ago when I was still living in Australia.  (I have no idea where the original recipe came from anymore...) They're kind of fun to make, super-delicious, and super-buttery...