Sunday, August 22, 2010

raw materials

There is an eternal paradox of being a food blogger, which is this: the perfect food blog would exist in a museum. Well, a sparsely-attended, naturally-lit museum.

Let me explain: to get a good picture of food, it involves isolating the food from a distracting background scene, getting it in good light from a variety of distances and angles, and devoting a good amount of time to the process. And my pictures aren’t even that mesmerizing after all that!

Plus here’s the thing: if you’re having fun hosting a delicious-food-filled-evening with your friends, you don’t feel like taking pictures. You feel like being hospitable; of interacting with the people around you; of taking nibbles of things with your fingers instead of “accounting” for every morsel of food on your plate.

Having a good night makes me a bag blogger.

So be it! There are good pictures of the raw materials :D

Some like it hot!


There should always be that many hot peppers on my counter.    

We like to mix it up when we have people over and for last night’s festivities decided on a south of the border theme (Mexican, ish, but we stretched it, as you’ll see). To do that, we got what we could at the farmer’s market (corn, tomatoes, parsley) but also hit up the Latin supermarket near my house. I have mixed feelings about that- I got to experience the flavors of another culture (including my new FAVORITE, chayote!) but I was less local than usual.

On the other hand, eating local may be a bust carbon-wise anyway. Oi oi oi. You can’t win!

Anyway, I’m not gonna sweat it. The meal was beautiful, healthful, and included a lot of vegetables. My counter was positively overrun with the produce bounty!


That cookbook up on the left is the Williams Sonoma Mexican Favorites cookbook, which is one of those cookbooks where the photographs are so beautiful they literally make you salivate.

I’ve had bookmarked for literally years (I just used “literally” twice in two paragraphs but I want to emphasize that I used it correctly both times- my mouth actually produces more saliva at the sight of those pictures and the bookmark actually has been in place for longer than 730 days, meaning “years” is acceptable) a recipe for dip that stars one of my favorite, hippie-licious, ingredients:


You are supposed to give them a toast in a dry skillet. They say do it on low heat for four minutes. Perhaps that is true if you have a peppy gas stove. If you have an electric stove that takes an unbelievable amount of cajoling to produce any heat whatsoever, it took more like fifteen minutes on medium/medium high.


Nom. Then you roughly puree it in a mortar and pestle (if you have it, which I definitely don’t) or a blender (what I did!)


Then you take tomatoes, jalapenos, and whole unpeeled cloves of garlic, and toast them in the same hot dry pan. This was difficult. Had you noticed that tomatoes are circular? Yes. They are. It meant holding them in place, in my case. It was awk.


But it (basically) worked and the tomatoes peeled (reasonably) easily.


All shmooshed up together, along with some onion and cilantro, and it was a right tasty dip.


To accompany, I did my usual oven-toasted tortilla chips (500 degrees for 8 minutes ish? I just watch them. I am loath to give times lest someone blame me for making something my way and ending up with burnt chips).


Displayed in an attractive basket- let the record state, thin wicker baskets are your friend. I got this one from a thrift shop that was literally giving it away a few weeks after Easter (cause who uses these baskets except at Easter? Well, I do, but no one else has hit on this trick yet, which means I get them for free)


Next: bread. I love bread. Bread should be at all events.

Even better than bread? Cornbread! This is from Discovery of a Continent, an African cookbook from he of Top Chefs Master fame, Marcus Samuelsson. Yes, I know I said I was going for Mexican, but cmon. It’s cornbread with jalapenos in it. There is some lovely cultural overlap happening here.

You use milk in your dough, and infuse it with corniness by not only mixing it with corn, but also bringing it up to a boil with the leftover cobs, letting it steep, and thus infusing it with corncob flavor.


Meanwhile you cook up green onion, jalapeno, and spices in hot butter.


I dutifully followed the cookbook’s directions, which meant cooking at alarmingly high heat for an alarmingly long time. It gets sort of unattractive.


The dough… I thought it was cool that it used yeast because yeasted cornbread seems sort of unusual, but man oh man the dough was a pain.

Kneading was NOT HAPPENING. It was a STICKY MESS I ended up having to add a bunch of extra cornmeal and flour to make it manageable.


It looked okay in the loaf pan…


And quite lovely out of the oven…


But I ultimately found it a bit dry. However, my mom and several of the guests were kind of obsessed with it. So what do I know. I am just a perfectionist when it comes to my own cooking.

Next: a NEW VEGETABLE! Discovering a new vegetable that I have not cooked with before is so exciting. I am such a snob- I see people on the Internet being like, “I went wild and crazy and tried a SWEET POTATO instead of a regular potato!” and I’m like “Um, Sweet Potato was my childhood nickname”.

(Tangent: that is actually true. When I was like 2 or 3 I went crazy on the pureed sweet potatoes. My dad called me Sweet Potato, then just Potato, then Poodie, Shmoodie, and now, every once in awhile, the occasional “Shmood.” My dad is excessively odd.)

Anyway, though, I thought I had pretty much conquered the vegetables of the Americas. But then lo and behold, courtesy of this epically delicious Cooking Light recipe for stuffed poblano chiles, I was shopping for the ingredients of the aforementioned stuffing and I met my first chayote!

Look at this ridiculous thing.


What is this reminding you of? Some kind of mollusk? Or, quite honestly, a Georgia O’Keeffe painting IF YOU CATCH MY DRIFT?

Anyway, I cut it open and honestly had no idea what to expect.

As you can see, it basically looks like an apple (the texture of it, raw at least, is also not dissimilar).


Raw it tastes like sort of a milder green pepper.

I combined it with breadcrumbs, cilantro, green onion, fresh corn, and a few other things to make the chile filling.


Then we stuffed it in some hollowed out poblanos and baked them at 500 degrees til the poblanos got charred (it took a bit longer than the recipe said cause our poblanos were MASSIVE!)


And then the skins came off clean as a whistle (which led to a discussion- where does the phrase “clean as a whistle” come from? It makes no sense! You stick whistles in your dirty germ-filled mouth! Did someone once whistle at the exemplory cleanliness of something? In that case it should be “clean enough to make you whistle!”)

Guys, these poblanos are GOOD.


When you cook chayote, it gets all… awesome. Sort of sweet, sort of squash-y, sort of earthy… I am a big fan of chayote and am excited to have leftovers!

Plus the chiles are great (it was my first time with fresh poblanos); they get all smoky. And then the corn gives it sweetness, and… it’s hard to explain.

Make this recipe. Make… a lot of it.

Plus, there’s the accompanying tomato-chipotle sauce which is, not gonna lie, a bit of a kerfuffle to make what with roasting things and peeling things and cooking things down and sieving things.


But again, REALLY GOOD. Did I get a picture of the final product all put together? No. That is because I was too busy inhaling it.

Second fun unusual vegetable: jicama!


Another highly photogenic item from the William’s Sonoma cookbook!

So simple: salad of fresh cucumber, jicama, orange, and mango, sprinkled with chili powder and drizzled with limes. BEAUTIFUL!


For those who’ve never had jicama it is the most weird and awesome vegetable. Super crisp and refreshing- you know how some crispy things dry out your mouth? This is crispy and hydrating. It’s also a teensy bit sweet, but a teensy bit musty? Can’t even explain. It’s super good.

Also, I can never eat enough mango. Just… never.


We used this recipe for the steak rub and this recipe for the chimichurri. We used three steaks from Lebanese Butcher (my mom cannot remember the cut- thinnish and leanish, totalling about 42 ounces?- and multiplied the rub by 1.5. I meant to double the chimichurri recipe, but then I doubled it and printed it… and then I read it and was like “Double that!” so I ended up quadrupling it. Fortunately it is insanely delicious.


And it’s also fun to say chimichurri.

Also quite succulent was the steak, which got RAVE reviews and ended up way prettier but again, I was too busy snarfing it down so all I got was a somewhat uninspired picture of it straight off the grill:


And so we come to dessert.

So I am still… sickish.

I mean, I am having to pretend not to because I start my full time Americorps job… tomorrow. But Friday was kind of a lost day and Saturday (the day of this dinner) was sort of long and exhausting and phlegmy and so today (Sunday) I slept til 11:30 which is completely unheard of for me, the girl for whom typically making it almost to nine is an unaccustomed luxury.

Anyway. The point is, I just didn’t feel like dessert.

However, this is where the farmer’s market comes in! For months I’ve been ogling/taking way too many free samples of:


Margarita curd! Lemon curd’s sexy Latin cousin!

It’s made by a local company, its ingredient list is refreshingly short:


(Dear new camera: I love you!)

And it was totally delicious.

We wanted a nice vehicle for the lime curd (along with some beautiful fresh raspberries).

We hit up the adorable Mennonites, who sold us this, and then the adorable Mennonite girl in her bonnet told us it was one of her favorites:

edited angel food 2

Angel food cake!

I love angel food cake. The thing is, using all those whites immediately sends me into a panic of trying to figure out how to use up the egg yolks (cause ain’t no food going to waste in my house ever ever ever.) So it’s a nice thing to buy. I’m sure the Mennonites don’t waste anything either.

And again, a wonderful ingredient list.

edited angel food

And since it was made by Mennonites, you figure ingesting it will probably help you soak up some of their awesomeness and make you more hardworking. And stuff.

Wish me luck on my first day of Americorps! Eeesh!


From Here to There. In Purple. said...

i think your lighting and pic taking skillzzz are perfecto!

youre a creative genius in the kitchen, so envious... but you probably know that ;)

have a relaxing evening!

From Here to There. In Purple. said...

i think your lighting and pic taking skillzzz are perfecto!

youre a creative genius in the kitchen, so envious... but you probably know that ;)

have a relaxing evening!

Natalie @ cinnamonbums said...

i loved this post!! all the exploration with new vegetables (i love jicama! i think ive tried chayote once but it didn't make a huge impression on me. jicama is the perfect summer veggie though - so light and crisp and refreshing!) and i also love all your cooking... lookin like a master in the kitchen!

i totally feel ya on the pressure to take good photos. but i think we prob are most critical of our own photos!

also, mennonite angel food cake? yum! haha love it.

Sonia said...

I love this post!! All of the food looks so delicious. I am a food snob like that too! Being raised by a raw foodist/vegan dad who was VERY adventurous led me to try sooo many fruits and veggies from a young age. I love chayote too- I had an amazing soup made from it once! Ditto for jicama- it's sooo good- and I love it with hummus! and in slaws!

Anne @ Food Loving Polar Bear said...

Great post, I loved all the pictures :)

MelindaRD said...

Everything looks super awesome. I think I would have loved to try the cornbread, even if it was a little dry. You do such an amazing job cooking.

Tamara Marnell said...

A museum, my apartment is not. I consider it a successful shot if it's not ridiculously blurry and I managed to keep stray dish towels out of the frame. I'm super-proud of myself if I can get a tiny stream of sunlight to boot.

And I like my cornbread a little dry because then you can mop up cranberry sauce with it--although it isn't cranberry season right now. Boo.

fittingbackin said...

cooking machine! wow!!! Those peppers look amazing!

Kaz said...

You posted so many delicious things that I don't even know where to begin! It all looks so delicious!

I've never tried jicama, but I'll keep my eyes open for it at the store.

You are definitely a kitchen genius! Good luck with the Americorps!

sophia said...

HAve you tried WF angel cake? the BEST.

I agree though. It's sometimes such a hassle and hindrance to take pictures, esp when my friends come over, and I have to stop them from eating before I take "perfect" pictures.

katecooks said...

i wish i could whip up food like that, you make it look so easy!!

i love the nickname progression. we have a very similar thing in my family. for example, i call my sister Hannah by the name NINA. Hannah - Hannie - Haneens - Neener - Neens - Nina. Makes sense, no??