Musing on food and cooking ...

Friday, January 26, 2007

Best Soup Ever
How Heather Got Seven Meals for Under $15

Last week, I got a hankering for boiled dinner. And the hankering did not go away all week so I knew, I just knew, I had to give in to it. Not that I struggle all that hard against cravings anyway, but still.

For all those who don't know, boiled dinner is a typical bit of peasant food. In the case of my family tradition, it is basically a chunk of somewhat salty ham, cabbage, carrots, and potatoes thrown into a pot, cover with water, and then boiled. The ham gets all soft and juicy and the broth is tasty, and when you eat it, you throw stuff on your plate, smoosh the taters, spoon on the broth, and maybe - maybe - put a pad of butter on the cabbage. Damn good stuff!

So, I went to go and gather the ingredients only to discover that all the available hams were huge - big enough to feed a family of 24 - way too big for little old me to make myself some boiled dinner. So after a nice discussion with the butcher, I decided to purchase some pork hocks - four fresh and two smoked - in palce of the ham ($4.13). I also got a head of Savoy cabbage ($1.93), two large carrots ($.63), a dozen small potatoes ($1.23), and three small ears of corn ($1.49). Total so far - $9.41.

I took everything home and chucked the hocks in my largest pot, chopped the cabbage and carrot into large pieces and chucked them in the pot, too. Then I added to corn cobs (trying adding corn on the cob to your soups... they add an incredible flavour). Then I scrubbed the potatoes (I got baby ones so they didn't need to be chunked). I added some salt (because I wasn't using ham) and proceeded to boiled it all until the potatoes were just soft. Then I ate.

Because there was so much in the pot, I knew it would be more than one meal. I kept everything in there, though, and every night reboiled it, further infusing the water with yummyness. I ahd boiled dinner for four nights. There were still a few little potatoes left, so I took those out and for breakfast mashed them up with onions and a beaten egg and fried them up as little potato pancakes. Then, I took the about two quarts of broth left, added some chopped onions, threw in about a cup of lentils and a half cup of barley and cooked it til the lentils and lentils were cooked. Hark! Two nights of the best soup ever!

I think the soup was so good because the flavour of the hocks had been concentrated and also because I used a special spice mix I had never tried before - something Australian that is called "garlic and onion" but also includes cloves, cumin, cinnamon, bell peppers and a bunch of other cool stuff. I got it at TJ Maxx, where I also find the coolest cooking mixes. It's great because they are cheap so if what you picks up sucks, no biggie. But it's bad because if you really like something, you may never find it again. I am currently facing that with my "grind your own" African BBQ spice mill. Which I adore tremendously but have never seen again since I found it. It also cannot be found on the internet and I can only make an educated guess as to what is really in it.

So anyway, the cost of the lentils and the onion and the barley and the egg was way under $5 bucks, so my grand total for seven very filling meals was under $15.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I Am Many Things - Ayup

You are The Moon

Hope, expectation, Bright promises.The Moon is a card of magic and mystery - when prominent you know that nothing is as it seems, particularly when it concerns relationships. All logic is thrown out the window. The Moon is all about visions and illusions, madness, genius and poetry. This is a card that has to do with sleep, and so with both dreams and nightmares. It is a scary card in that it warns that there might be hidden enemies, tricks and falsehoods. But it should also be remembered that this is a card of great creativity, of powerful magic, primal feelings and intuition. You may be going through a time of emotional and mental trial; if you have any past mental problems, you must be vigilant in taking your medication but avoid drugs or alcohol, as abuse of either will cause them irreparable damage. This time however, can also result in great creativity, psychic powers, visions and insight. You can and should trust your intuition.

You are a dragon.

You're smart and cunning, and enjoy taking risks. Your need for independence is an advantage, but sometimes it alienates you from others. As far as *good* and *evil*, you're pretty neutral--but you may have something of a wicked streak

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I Miss Sebastian's

I eat lunch pretty much every day in the cafeteria. It's easy and I often can either hang out with the faculty or listen in on their conversations. But, really, the food is bad. I think it is much worse than when I was a student here, ten years ago. Of course, it could just be that I have become a food snob. But I really think the food is pretty bad even if it is attractive to teens (burgers and fries every day! Dude!)

Take today, for example. I had to go to lunch later than normal and I got there and, after seeing the menu, I almost left. Except I was hungry and an overpriced sandwich at the little cafe was unattractive to me. Available to me - burgers and fries (dude!), a bacon cheesburger wrap, pork satay stirfry (overcooked pork in a gloppy sweet sauce on ramen noodles), meat paella (don't ask), some mushy cooked frozen veggies, and an overcooked chicken breast in a creamy bacon sauce. I selected the breast with the least amount of sauce on it and then made myself a salad at the extremely small and hard to access salad bar.

And that is when it hits me. I really miss Sebastian's.

Sebastian's is a mostly lunch place in downtown Boston with the world's greatest salad bar. First, you pick any one of three lettuce blends. Then you can add as many of about a gazillion add-ons that you want. Ok. maybe not a gazillion, but at least 30, including beans, nuts, tuna, roasted veggies, fruit, cheeses... I mean, just about anything and everything. Then, they mix it with your choice of dressing throw it in what seems to be a half gallon bowl and hand it to you with a slice of pita. Price? As long as you didn't get something totally weird as an add-on - about $7. This is a salad that took me almost an hour to eat. An hour of steady eating. An incredible salad that when you were done with it, you thought, "Dude! I just ate a SALAD!"

Dudes. I just really want to eat a SALAD!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

No Cooking Due to Lard!

Sadly, I will not be cooking at all this week due to a malfunctioning kitchen sink.

Over the last couple of months, I have been having a real problem with my kitchen sink backing up. Both sides fill with water and various gunk and take forever and a day to actually drain out. Very annoying, but I figured I had probably caused the problem by putting something down the sink that didn't belong there, a kind of blaming the victim mentality. So, I betook myself to the local hardware store and poured out my heart to the store helper (an 85-year-old man who was terribly no-nonsense), who said "Buy this foaming pipe snake and run it down there. If that don't work, call the plumber!" Which I, personally, thought was great advice and something I never would have expected to hear from someone who could have sold me any number of very expensive products over the course of the next month.

I bought the snake and took it home and threw it down the drain and waited an hour. Then, per directions, I ran hot water down the sinks - only to have it back up. Great, now my sinks were full of water and dangerous chemicals. I quick locked the cats in the bedroom so they wouldn't be tempted and waited for the sinks to clear and wiped them out good.

On Monday, I want to Fac Man and begged for help. When I got home last night, I went to the sink and ran the water and there was no backing up. So excited. So Excited! I did a little dance.

This morning, I got a call from Fac Man. Turns out my problem actually wasn't fixed. The fix is just temporary. Apparently, these old houses had special points on the drainage system where "lard traps" were placed. Because people used to cook with lard and then dump it down the sink. Which is stupid and must be a city folk problem, because everyone that I know in rural areas that cooks with lard and bacon grease knows that you should keep it in an old coffee can on the back of your stove, where you can reuse it to delicious end, such as making friend chicken or homemade donuts.

Anyway, outside of my apartment, one of the lard traps has apparently rotted and the drain pipe has collapsed. Which explains all the weird debris and bad smells coming out of my kitchen drain. Getting this fixed is actually going to be somewhat problematic. Ideally, it would involve digging large holes in the front yard and putting new pipes. Which is somewhat difficult to do in January, considering that the ground is frozen and what all. Not to mention the fact that I can just see the neighbors throwing a hissy fit about the ugliness of the digging, dragging out the process for months and holding up permits, in which case I might as well just move and say screw it to the whole drain problem. Instead, they are having someone come in and reroute the entire plumping system to a new drainage point somewhere already existing in my basement. So, there will be lots of fun and interesting happenings in my basement for the next week or so.

And in the meantime, I am likely to not cook and to eat off of paper plates. It's hard to do when you can't wash dishes well....

Really, I just need to get out of my townhouse and find my own place. With a kitchen at least twice as big as I have now. Donations towards a downpayment would be appreciated and will be payed back in various delicious goodies and dinner parties.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Experimental Cookies On Deck

So, in the next month or so I will be working on experimental cookie 3B (cafe mocha, but with crushed chocolate covered espresso beans instead of chips), #4 (pumpkin butterscotch) and #5 (chocolate covered banana). I will post as the experimenting begins. #5 is going to be baked in the middle of February, when a potential love interest is coming to visit me. he has expressed a desire to be a cookie taster.

And speaking of tasters and testers, has anyone been trying any of the recipes here? What modifications did you make? Have you liked anything?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Food Jokes!

Mia madre sent me the following forwarded email yesterday. I normally hate forwards. They often harbor viruses and are so prevelant that they clog my in-box. BUT! She doesn;t do it very often and this one was actually somewhat funny...

How come when you mix water and flour together you get glue?..
And then you add eggs
And sugar... And you get cake? Where did the glue go ?

NEED AN ANSWER? You know darned well where it went!That's what makes the cake stick to your BUTT

The actual email had some funny little graphics, which don't cut and paste ......

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Experimental Cookie #3

Well, the alien flu has been causing me to malinger. I am still sick. Can you believe that crap? I don't feel awful but I don't feel 100% either. My poor house is looking a sight as a result, so today I am in cleaning mode. If you are a dust bunny, you will be terminated!

I did recently have enough energy to make Experimental Cookie #3 - cafe mocha chip. Sadly, test results showed it was more mocha and less cafe, so in its next incarnation, I am going to use crushed chocolate covered espresso beans instead of chips. Here is the recipe for #3!

2 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup Splenda
1 cup light brown sugar
1 T vanilla extract (or chocolate vanilla if you can get it)
2 large eggs
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup cappuchino chips
nuts, if you like them

Preheat oven to 375. Stif flour with baking soda and salt and set aside. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar and brown sugar until smooth and creamy. Add vanilla and eggs and mix until incorporated. Blend dry into wet slowly until you have a nice smooth batter, then mix in your chips. Drop by the tablespoon full unto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 9-11 minutes,

This recipes makes between 3-4 dozen cookies. The cookies are very moist and rich.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Fallen in Lurve!

Yes, folks, I have fallen in lurve..... I fell hard and fast. For Garden Fresh Market in Mundelein...

Now, you have all read about my search for the almost perfect grocery store (nothing is perfect, ayup). In this pursuit, I have been to a Garden Fresh in Northbrook. It was pretty good, it's primary feature being that 50% of it was kosher. But a coworker gave me a tip and told me to go to the Garden Fresh in Mundelein. So after over a week of feeling near death and not leaving the house, I finally worked up the strength to go.

I spent 2 hours there. It was heaven. I had died and gone to heaven.

It's fruit and veggie section was nearly as large as Russo's in Watertown - if the quality was not quite as good (well, of course not, Russo's is a wholesaler). It had huge sections of both Asian and Latino fruits and veggies. There were even items there that I had never seen before. It's deli section was about 3 times as large as any deli I have ever seen, and it sells about a dozen types of feta. It had a huge Greek yogurt section. Huge Russian and Polish sections. There were three - count them! - three types of headcheese, including a 1 pound tube o' headcheese redolent of onion and garlic (I bought it, yummy!). I even found items I was afeard I would never see again - Osem brand Israeli canned tomatoes and Swad brand Indian staples. There were more dulses than I could beat with a stick. More than 25 types of honey (I counted). Beef toungue. Chicken feet. Duck thighs. No rabbit though. And they did not have a huge fresh fish section, but maybe they don't get much call for that. What was there was fresh smelling and nice looking and they had large section of dried and smoked fish. And cheese! Not quite as much snooty imported stuff as you might find in a Whole Paycheck, but they had smoked butterkase and five types of French yoghurt cheese. I also got these excellent pumpkin and sunflower seed rolls that I am eating for breakfast. Checken drummies for 49 cents a pound. A frozen horchata snack bars. I could go on but, really, I am breathless and way too excited by this discovery.

But wait! There's more!

In February, the store is moving into the old Cub foods space.... which means it will be about 50% bigger than it is now.

I will have to make certain to leave the credit card at home the next time I visit....