Musings from a Seattle personal chef
Note to self: DO NOT sign up for another January marathon if you expect to have any time to celebrate the holidays.
I can’t freakin’ believe Christmas is just a week and a half away. I had such high hopes for this season — I’d prepare fabulous, homemade treats for all my clients, I’d send out Christmas cards at the beginning of the month, my house would be clean and decorated — but time has somehow managed to get away from me. Only one client will be receiving treats, and even then I’ve disappointed her (I prepared three dozen each of three types of cookies; one dozen of each for her, the other two for her daughter). However, despite the fact she’s on a diet and shouldn’t be eating such indulgences, the amount wasn’t enough.
So for now this blog will remain woefully ignored. I had actually started a post that consisted of various food “snippets,” — tidbits I’ve been collecting over the year that haven’t warranted a full post — but even posting those in a cohesive fashion has seemed daunting. For some reason I feel more compelled to write on my other blog, Eat Drink Run Woman, so if you’re really intrigued with my comings and goings, check that out.
In the mean time, I hope you enjoy my version of that holiday classic, Chex Mix. It’s an adaptation of Texas Trash from the El Paso Chile Company’s “Texas Border Cookbook.” (And yes, the photo above was taken LAST year, when I actually had time to make the stuff).
Puget Sound Trash
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup Chipotle Tabasco sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
2 cups Fritos
2 cups Crispix cereal (or Chex)
2 cups Bugles
2 cups Cheez-its or Goldfish
2 cups Corn Nuts
1 1/2 cups pretzel sticks (the tiny ones)
1 cup pepitas (toasted pumpkin seeds)
1 cup peanuts
Preheat oven to 250. Mix melted butter, Tabasco, Worcesteshire sauce, chili powder and oregano together until well blended. In a large bowl, toss Fritos, cereal, Cheez-its, corn Nuts, pretzels, pepitas and peanuts. Pour butter mixture over and stir to combine. Bake for about an hour, stirring every 10 minutes, until lightly browned.
Boy, does this bring back memories! This cookbook, published in 1932, was the very first cookbook I cooked from. Although it has all sorts of recipes (including one for Carrot Loaf), I stuck to the desserts. Here’s one that was obviously popular:
And although it’s not a recipe in the book, my sister found this stuck inside (it’s a recipe from my grandfather):
In case you can’t read it, here’s his recipe:
Chocolate Molasses Candy (written on April 27, 1931)
Use all molasses in jar. Add one full scoop of sugar, then about 3/4 of another. Mix 2 1/3 teaspoons of cream with sugar. Boil until it smells like something were wrong. Add all of the butter left over from dinner. Also shake the baking powder can at mixture. Beat 30 seconds and put in buttered pan.
(I think this is the mark of a true chef — who needs to be precise?!!!)
I would have been eight years old when I wrote this (fortunately I’ve become a better speller!)
Nothing beats a rich homemade stock. Come fall, I love knowing there are containers of beef and chicken stock stacked in my freezer ready to be made into a hearty soup.
With chicken stock, I typically use the Cook’s Illustrated technique for the pressure cooker, which produces roughly 10 cups of stock. I often end up with bits and pieces of meat and bones from my cook dates; I simply throw them into a freezer bag and when I have enough (6 pounds) I make the stock. It’s a relatively simple process.
But for some reason, when it comes to beef stock, I believe more is better. Although I use the CIA’s recipe for beef stock — which calls for 6 pounds of beef bones — I wait until I have enough to haul out the 24-quart stock pot. (Note to self: just because you HAVE a 24-quart stock-pot, it doesn’t mean you have to fill it).
Last year, when I placed my order for steaks from Alderspring Ranch, I added about 10 pounds of beef bones. They languished in my freezer for a year; I just didn’t make the time to do anything with them. Last month I placed another order for steak (I figured I should end MFaM in style), and added another 10 pounds of bones. Two weekends ago, I finally made the time for stock.
As with most Sunday mornings, I wasted several hours reading food & running blogs. I also monitored the New York Marathon — not only to see who won (Paula Radcliffe won the top female spot — 10 months after giving birth!), but also to see how my running blogger friends fared. By 11 a.m. I was ready to head to the store for my mire poix, but just then the phone rang. It was my sister, and since we had been trading voice mail messages for days, I answered. We chatted for more than 25 minutes, but as soon as I hung up I summoned my darling to get a move on; I was ready to go!
We started walking to our neighborhood store, but within minutes we were stopped by our neighbor and good friend. We spent at least 15 minutes catching up, but I finally cut things off, explaining I had a stock to prepare. Long story short: by the time time I got around to roasting those beef bones, it was almost 1 p.m.
As I hauled the bags of beef bones out of our freezer I also found the rib bones left over from last year’s Christmas roast, bringing the total amount to 22 pounds. Looks like I’ll be making a TRIPLE batch! It took two roasting pans to roast everything, and I also had to haul out another stock pot. But by 2:30 everything was simmering away nicely.
The CIA text calls for at least a five hour simmer, but given the quantity I knew it would take longer. Sure enough, it wasn’t until 9 p.m. before I was ready to call it quits. Problem was, I wasn’t finished yet. The stock still had to be strained and cooled.
Have you ever tried to strain a 24-quart stock pot stock in a home kitchen? I’m telling you, it ain’t pretty (or easy, or quick). I filled one side of the sink with cold water and threw in all the ice I had (we’ve yet to hook up our automatic ice maker; I had to make do with four ice cube trays). The ice was no match for the heat emanating from the pot, so I had to keep stirring the stock to cool it down.
I first removed all the large bones, placing them into a colander to rinse off (originally this would be for the “remoulage,” but since the stock was so thick I just threw it back into the pot). I then had to strain all the mire poix and other detritus. The first strainer was too fine, so my darling grabbed a coarser strainer from his beer-making kit. In all, it took a good hour and a half before the stock was ready for the fridge.
So, was it worth it? I can’t say for certain. Although it looked deep and rich and yummy, I have yet to try the stock. It certainly wasn’t cheaper or less time consuming. But at least I’ve learned a lesson: when it comes to beef stock, less is more!
Well folks — it’s official: we CAN’T go a month without eating meat. In fact, we can’t even continue with the “experiment” for a full month.
As I hinted in my last post, the going was getting tough. Whenever I deprive myself of something, that’s ALL I can think about. In addition, by foregoing meat I was making up for it in terrible ways: giving myself carte blanche when eating chips and salsa, fried food and cheese. Oh, and did I mention wine? Here I thought I might actually lose weight, but I’ve managed to gain a couple of pounds (although that may have to do with not being able to run for the past couple of weeks due to a hip issue).
We haven’t gone whole hog (just part of it!). I’ve been allowing myself fish on several occasions (I was getting tired of having an apple with peanut butter for lunch each day; the sushi at Whole Foods called out to me). Our Chinese take-out on Thursday included our favorite, salt & pepper prawns, and on Friday my darling and I had lunch with a friend at a Korean restaurant. I ordered the pork and mushroom soup, he ordered the bibimbap. Although neither contained a plethora of meat, it was still a transgression.
But what totally put me over the edge was the posole.
GOD! This is getting tough. It’s all I can do to keep from thinking about meat. Today was particularly excruciating as smells kept wafting toward us during our bike ride (including burgers from Kidd Valley. Mmmm… burgers!) I even dreamt I was gnawing on a big slab of steak. Perhaps my darling is right — maybe I AM the biggest carnivore on the planet! Fortunately we’re now into the single digits — only nine more days and we can indulge (assuming I don’t tear into the package that should be arriving at my doorstep on Wednesday).
I suppose I should fess up — I tasted some meatballs and flank steak during a client cook date last week. Technically tastes are allowed, but the reason for tasting is to adjust the seasoning. Once the meatballs were baked and the flank steak was grilled, there ain’t no adjusting. It wasn’t a huge taste — I merely scraped up a couple bits of meatball left on the baking sheet and sliced off the teensiest piece of flank steak — but the damage was done. I’ve only managed to go six days without eating meat (assuming you don’t count the beef broth for the Asian soup).
But once again I’ve added some clear winners to our vegetarian repertoire. As I was organizing my kitchen cupboards I found the box of whole wheat pasta flour I received at the personal chef conference this past summer. I’ve been meaning to come up with my own recipe for whole wheat pasta, but this was so easy: all I had to do was add water and send it through my pasta machine.
At first I thought about doing some sort of squash ravioli — either butternut or pumpkin. But I just couldn’t face making them without including the classic pairing of bacon, prosciutto or pancetta. As I was perusing Epicurious for ideas I saw a recipe for goat cheese and arugula ravioli. Viola! What a great way to use up the last bit of arugula in my crisper. Topped with a chunky sauce of baby grape tomatoes, spinach, Kalamata olives and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, they were light, yet filling (my recipe follows). The next night I used up the dough to make cheese-filled ravioli with a sauce of tomatoes, basil, garlic and pine nuts.
16 days down, 15 to go. So how are we doing?
If this were a bet, my darling would have lost big-time. However, from the start I viewed this as an experiment: CAN we go a month without eating meat? The answer is clear — NO!
I’ve already mentioned a few of our transgressions — the previously planned French dinner, my darling’s steak feast, my experience at the Thai restaurant — but there have been more. In fact, we haven’t even gone FIVE DAYS without eating meat! But I’m determined to see this through, especially since we have enjoyed some fabulous vegetarian meals (more on that in a moment).
My darling visited friends in Vancouver this past weekend, and I gave him my blessing to eat meat. From pork dumplings to bulgogi to a burger, he took it to the extreme. To torture myself I peppered him with questions about everything he ate; I figured if I couldn’t have it myself I could at least get some satisfaction from hearing about it.
But he wasn’t the only one to indulge. On Friday I picked up a bunch of salmon filets for a catering gig and when I found out they grossly under-charged me (almost $50!) the manager of the fish department rewarded my honesty with some house-smoked salmon (we both noshed on that). Last night, not wanting to head out in the rain to pick up some vegetarian broth for our soup, I just grabbed for the Asian beef broth in our pantry. While technically not meat, it certainly wasn’t vegetarian.
While I haven’t experienced any changes in my energy level, I’ve been craving fat, sweets and booze. During my darling’s meat-fueled orgy in Vancouver, my dinner consisted of cheese nachos, three small Halloween cupcakes and a bottle of Gewurztraminer. Pretty pathetic, huh? (Although to my credit I also ate a huge bowl of steamed broccoli).
If I thought cooking during my colonoscopy prep was tortuous, that was nothing compared to what I’m going through now. Monday’s menu had TWO dishes with bacon, along with chicken noodle soup (which sounded divine given the dreary, rainy day we had). Today’s menu included a chorizo and chicken paella, along with sausage manicotti. It took an incredible amount of resolve not to sample some.
Now for the highlights.
I know I owe you a recipe for baba ghanouj and taboulleh, but first I must come clean: meat has once again touched our lips (and our gullets).
You see, my darling and I both faced a conundrum this week. While we certainly have no problem keeping a vegetarian diet at home, what happens when we’re out and we have no other options? Sure, we could say we’re vegetarians and politely decline, but we’re NOT vegetarians. We’re not doing this for health reasons; in fact, we’re both probably the healthiest we’ve ever been. (Even when meat is part of our diet we eat relatively little beef, lamb or pork, favoring poultry and seafood instead). We’re certainly not doing this for political reasons. (I feel SOME vegetarians/vegans get too militant, which is a complete turnoff. In fact, I was just listening to a vegan in Chicago — a teacher who was fired due to preaching veganism too strongly in the classroom — who attributes school shootings to eating meat (I swear I’m not making this up). A bit extreme, don’t you think?).
Anyhoo, I’m just glad it was my darling who fell off the wagon first. (And boy, did he do it with flourish!).
Today’s regularly scheduled blog post has been canceled so we may bring you the following special presentation: Tastes of France.
That’s right — on the 6th day they ate meat.
Lest you think we so quickly lost our resolve, rest assured the experiment is still on. We merely took a “bye” to thank our cat/house sitters with a French-inspired dinner. Sure, we could have made it vegetarian, but we wanted to ensure they’d be willing to sit for us again if need be. (And there was NO WAY I was going to let them enjoy the treats without indulging myself).
We began with an interesting aperitif I made up. The weekend before I had poached some apples for a dessert, then reduced the poaching liquid down into a sauce, adding some Calvados. I had a bunch of the sauce left over, so I decided to make champagne cocktails. Because of the pectin from the apples the sauce turned to jelly in the fridge. I placed a dollop in the bottom of a champagne flute, then stirred in a bit of champagne to help it dissolve. Some of the jelly still remained, but the apple flavor infused into the champagne. They were quite tasty!
These two friends love my chicken liver mousse, and I just so happened to have some in my freezer. In June I had some black truffle pieces that needed to be used up, so I included them in the mousse. I made way more than I could eat at the time, so I decided to experiment with freezing it. I was pleased to find it tasted just as delicious as it did freshly made (not surprising considering the amount of butter that goes in). I spread the mousse on crostini slices and topped each with a halved cornichon to balance out the richness. We gobbled them up while sipping our cocktails.
Next up was the beef carpaccio. I’ve never made it before but became enamored with it in France. I quickly seared pieces of beef tenderloin to help develop the flavor, then wrapped them in plastic wrap and stuck them in the freezer for two hours so they’d be easier to slice. I sliced them about 1/4″ thick, then pounded them until they were paper thin. I placed the slices on the serving plates, wrapped the plates in plastic and put them in the fridge until serving time.
Mmmmmm… Fried egg rolls.
I couldn’t resist — I just HAD to try the egg rolls again deep fried. For the filling, I kept the shiitake mushrooms and extra firm tofu for some oomph, but added shredded carrot, Napa Cabbage and green onions to the mix. And instead of Lapsang Souchong I sprinkled in a bit of freshly ground Sichuan peppercorns. I made a simple dipping sauce my mixing plum sauce, shoyu and red pepper flakes (I would have used Sriracha, but we were out. Who the heck is stealing things out of my pantry?)
I hate to admit it, but I liked the deep fried rolls better. The fillings were both winners, but I liked how crispy the deep fried ones got. And the more I think about it, I’m not so sure they’re any more caloric than the baked ones. Fried properly, the egg roll wrappers should form a protective layer upon hitting the oil so it doesn’t seep into the filling (they certainly didn’t taste oil-soaked). If you had seen the baking sheet after the baked egg rolls came out, you wouldn’t consider them to be “healthy” (I was quite generous brushing the butter/sesame oil mixture on). But unless you have a deep fryer (and even if you do), cleanup can be quite messy.
I served the egg rolls with a simple green salad of Napa cabbage, romaine lettuce, sliced green onions and cucumber in a dressing of yellow miso, wasabi, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and canola oil. Very light and fresh.
So day 5 of MFaM is behind us, and I can’t say we’ve felt deprived. In fact, my darling said he has more energy than he’s had in quite some time (I’ve heard that can happen when switching to an all-vegetable diet). It’s been difficult for me to tell given my cold (which appears to have finally left me). However, I have noticed my hunger pangs seem more frequent and severe. But again, it could be because my cold sapped my energy, so I would just nosh on small nibbles (and then be ravenous a short time later).
Considering we’re runners, we have to make sure we eat enough protein during this experiment. There’s no way we’d do this if we had to give up eggs and cheese (so no, there won’t be any VFaM posts — Vegan for a Month). A gal can only go so far, you know?