"No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize." - Julia Child

Friday, October 30, 2009

Top Chef, season 6, episode 9

Good grief, I go away on vacation and everything goes to hell! Well, not completely to hell, but I have been slacking on updating. In my defense my life was immensely busy when I got back to Boston from PA, and I have also been suffering from seriously congested sinuses that sapped me of my energy and will to do anything.  But a good stiff dose of Sudafed plus Afrin has helped my congestion and it's the start of the weekend, so I'm finally back in the blogging saddle.

First off, I'm behind on Top Chef! Blargh! I missed the episode that was on this Wednesday because I was out with some friends, but instead of the episode being available on the On Demand Bravo channel, it is nowhere to be found. And the episode doesn't appear to be re-running on Bravo anytime this weekend. WTF people? Isn't the point of On Demand that things appear after they air on TV so you can then watch them and get caught up? The latest episode isn't even available on Hulu or Fancast. OMG! I'm so annoyed! I won't even let myself go on the Bravo site because I don't want to ruin watching the next episode. (Which means there won't be a picture of Laurine on this post.)

So... RESTAURANT WARS! Quite possibly the best episode of Top Chef. I was excited for it last week. And when I saw Laurine, Kevin, Jennifer, and Mike on a team together, I thought, well this is going to be pretty good! I know the Voltaggio brothers are awesome, but Eli and Robin aren't necessarily the strongest, and so I really did think that the other team would do better. I was so sadly let down. The team just didn't do well. Some of their food was uninspiring (asparagus? REALLY?), and some of it just wasn't well prepared. Laurine just fell apart. She did a poor job running the front of the house. She didn't even bother to explain her team's dishes to the judges! FAIL.  And no dessert? DOUBLE FAIL.

Meanwhile, the other team had some rough spots (I understand why they named their restaurant REVOLT, after Robin, Eli, and Voltaggio brothers, but WHO wants to associate that word with food? NO ONE, that's who), but in the end, they did so well. Michael was a dick to Robin over the dessert she was preparing, but then it ended up being one of the best dishes served that night. So I thought they deserved the win for sure. And I really did think Laurine deserved to go home. She admitted in the episode that she wasn't excited about doing the front of the house, so why didn't she speak up and say she shouldn't do it? Mike Isabella, as much of a DB as he might be, would have been much better, because he can turn up the charm when he needs to. Laurine just did not do well as the one running the front of the house, and she took out pieces of lamb that were nearly raw. No good! And while she seems like a lovely person, she just wasn't a "wow" cheftestant to me.

The Quickfire challenge was pretty interesting, like playing whisper down the lane with food. I wonder if I'd be able to do something like that---might be sort of fun to do with friends! Trying to figure out what someone is thinking in terms of food. 

Now I have to wait and stalk On Demand and Bravo until they replay the next episode so I can write about that one, but in the meantime I'll try to keep everyone entertained. And tomorrow morning: Jose Andres's olive oil pancakes (WITH MAPLE CREAM) and bran muffins. Hurrah!


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Top Chef, season 6, episode 8

Oh, coming back from vacation is a hard and painful thing to do. Especially when you didn't have any cable over your vacation and you've only just caught up with your shows.

How delighted was I, lover of all things pork, to see that the latest episode of Top Chef featured a challenge at an event called PIGS AND PINOT. OMG! Pork! Wine! Perfection! Charlie Palmer might be my new food hero. (Don't worry Mark and Jose, I still hold you both closely to my little heart.) Can I just mention how MUCH I want to go to this event next year? (It's in March, time to get out the travel planner!)

I don't actually drink red wine, regrettably, because I get terrible headaches from it (as does my mother). I've had these terrible headaches anytime I've been given medicines with sulfates in them, and the sulfites in red wine are what does me in. It's a shame, because I'd really like to be able to enjoy red wine, but I just don't want to have to pay for it with a borderline migraine later. Alas!

I LOVE KEVIN. I love that he loves pork, I love that he has a pig tattoo, I love that he is so calm and level-headed, and I love that he is so thoughtful about everything he does. Oh, chubby nerd, I love you. (Don't worry, Jeremy, you're the only one for me at the end of the day!)

But it hurt my heart to see Ash do what he did to that tenderloin. Oh, Ash. I adore pork tenderloin. ADORE IT. My mother makes a pork tenderloin every year for Christmas Eve dinner, and I have to say that what she does to it is nothing short of a celebration of the pork. It's so simple: she marinates it in mojo, a Cuban gravy (this warrants its own future entry, trust me), which is olive oil, garlic, lemon, and citrus. So simple, so easy. SO scrumptious. It marinates overnight and roasts in a special roaster bag for hours and hours. It is a heavenly, soft, melty party in your mouth. But Ash's cold little slices of tenderloin just didn't look yummy. Don't be chillin' that shit! Serve it warm! Serve it with some scrumptious, light sauce and some fantastic side dishes (black beans and rice!) and let the fiesta start.

I was sad to see Ash go because he's a nice gent, but I wasn't surprised. He just hasn't been doing well at all. He's been in the bottom a lot, he second-guesses himself, and he also seems to defer to other chefs as being more talented than him. It's one thing to admit that you are among strong and talented competition, but you need a level of self-confidence and "I'm all that" to be on this show. For as much as I hate Mike Isabella, he has the right attitude toward this show: I'm awesome and I'm going to win. You need to have this attitude if you're really going to go far and win. That said, I REALLY hope he doesn't win.

And the next episode: RESTAURANT WARS! Sorry, I'm using too many capitals in this entry, but I'm really excited. This is the best episode of Top Chef!

Also... Toby Young compared wine to armpits. Only Toby Young compares wine to armpits.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cake Wrecks

Is it just me, or is the New York Times drastically behind on the news?

Okay... I don't think it is just me. Because they just ran an article on the popularity of the website Cake Wrecks.

I LOVE this website. I can spend a hearty half-hour taking a break from work guffawing as silently as possible at the edible monstrosities on this site. It's completely fabulous. I was alerted to the existence of this site last summer by a temp at my office who also thought it was hilarious. And I think that at that point, a year and a half ago, the website was already gaining a lot of popularity on the web. If you have not yet had the sheer, insanely hilarious joy of visiting this site, go there now. Please!

And yet it was just a couple of days ago that the Times just ran an article on the website. Now I'm not the most hip and with-it person around, especially when it comes to the internet, but I do at least have a pinky finger in the pool of popular culture. Unlike some prestigious news media. Thanks, New York Behind-the-Times.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The (edible) joys of Pennsylvania

Ah, vacation. I admit that I love it, but has definitely been a little weird not to be cooking all the time. I feel almost... uneasy not having my Bittman bible. I was tempted to try to wedge it into my suitcase, but you try cramming a 1,000-plus page cookbook into an already overflowing suitcase. I did just make some oatmeal-esque muffins (using a 5-grain blend), so that felt good.

But I haven't been neglecting food entirely; I have been eating it with gusto because Philly is a good place for (bad-for-you) food. First off, cheesesteaks. Duh. Of course. It had been a while since I'd had a scrumptious, greasy, Whiz-covered classic, so my friend Kris graciously accompanied me on a chilly evening to Pat's on 9th and Passyunk (points if you can pronounce that correctly) and we chowed down on steaks. Oh heaven on a roll. The trick to eating a cheesesteak covered in Cheez Whiz is to eat fast: as the hot, melty cheese product cools, it starts to congeal, and it makes the gobs of Whiz-coated thin-sliced meat harder to chew. And let's face it: it's so delicious, how could you NOT cram it down your throat post-haste? I must note here that should you ever travel to Philadelphia, DO NOT eat a cheesesteak at Geno's, which is across the street from Pat's. Just don't. Their steaks suck AND the owner is a bigot who (rightly) got a lot of flak for posting a sign a couple of years ago that said: "This is America. When ordering, speak English." Because the fact that his restaurant is located in an immigrant neighborhood AND the fact that you don't really speak English when ordering a cheeseteak (asking for "Whiz wit" barely constitutes the queen's English) sort of escaped him. Ignorant bastard.

Another joy of being in Pennsylvania is Tastykakes. Oh Tastykakes, how I love thee. Let me count the ways. 1: Butterscotch Krimpets. 2: Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes. 3: Koffee Kake Cupcakes. 4: Well.... you get the idea. Peruse their website for a full list. But the real joy of Tastykakes on this visit, for me, is that among some of their limited-edition autumnal flavors (ginger spice cookie bars, spice cake Krimpets) I found the fabled PANCAKE KRIMPETS.

Pancake Krimpets! OMG! These are a true joy. A traditional Krimpet consists of a sponge cake with a cream filling and a lovely butterscotch frosting. These are sponge cakes filled with butter cream and topped with maple syrup frosting. They taste like a pancake, in Krimpet form. Oh, the joy! My friend Brie had told me about these a while ago, saying she had seen them in stores a couple of years ago, and ever since she told me about them, I've been (disappointingly) on the look-out for them. I had nearly given up hope of ever getting to try these glorious mythical concoctions when alas! There they were in my local Giant supermarket. Hurrah! They have not disappointed. If you're in PA, make haste to a supermarket and get your paws on them before they disappear. Or order them from the Tastykake website. I plan to stock up on them for the trip back to Boston.

Krimpets... I think---no, I know---I love you!

On Saturday, I'm going to a local Indian buffet with Brie for lunch. This place is excellent so I'm sure I'll have lots to say after we eat there. And of course, there's Wawa, which apparently has pumpkin spice cappucino that I just gotta try.

Also, my parents DON'T have cable, so I have to wait until (gasp) Sunday (!!!) to catch up on Top Chef. So shhh! Don't breathe a word of what happens!! Vacation does have its downsides, I suppose.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Zucchini lemon cookies + kitchen sink pasta with zucchini and white wine cream sauce

Hurrah for zucchini! I'm going out of town tomorrow (heading to PA for a week of vacation and going to a friend's wedding), so I wanted to use up the second zucchini from the farmers' market before leaving.

I found this recipe for zucchini lemon cookies that looked really simple--plus I had some lemons at home so I figured, why not? These cookies were pretty easy to put together; the only time-consuming tasks were grating the lemon zest and zucchini, but my microplane and mandolin made easy work of those.

I'd suggest doing the same parchment paper trick when you go to bake these cookies, and putting them in a 375 degree oven won't be a problem. I baked mine for about 13-14 minutes and they came out really well: light brown on the bottom with pale, puffed centers. These cookies are scrumptious... really like soft little tea cakes. They stay very soft and moist, thanks to the zucchini. And speaking of which, they do mostly taste of lemon (there's a lot of zest in there!), but they have a little hint of the zucchini here and there. And they just look beautiful, with the bits of yellow and green speckling the pale rounded surfaces. Highly recommended! I took some to work and they were gobbled up. Everyone was pleasantly surprised by the flavor combo and the softness.

I used the other half of the zucchini with some pasta. We had leftover linguine from our grown-up hamburger helper, and while that cooked I steamed the zucchini (sliced into thin rounds). After the pasta cooked, I melted the bit of butter left over from the cookies and sauteed a clove of garlic with the zucchini. Then I added some dry white wine, a bit of heavy cream, and a grating of fresh parmesan cheese. I threw in a spoonful of flour to thicken the sauce, and added some salt.

Like whoa. For being a meal of leftovers ("kitchen sink" pasta, as Jeremy calls these dishes when we throw together a bunch of stuff with pasta), it was really quite delicious. Anything made with cream is always delicious. When white wine is added, even more so. I was pretty pleased that I found a way to use up a bunch of leftovers in a delicious, make-it-up-as-I-go kind of way.

So I'm off to PA tomorrow! I'm hoping to have lots of foodie adventures while I'm home, so I'll be sure to share as many as I can here. Bon voyage to myself!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Top Chef, season 6, episode 7

Okay, seriously? Seriously. WTF was Padma wearing last night?

I know, I know, I'm supposed to be discussing Top Chef and talking about the food and the cooking and not acting like this is an episode of Project Runway, but seriously. Indulge me for a minute and let me talk about this. Holy bicycling Christ, did she look horrendous. She was wearing this sort of billowy sleeveless green top, which was fine---but then her skintight pants were exactly the same color.

I ask you: WTF? How was this outfit okay? How did the producers of the show allow her to appear looking like this?

Although Padma has been having quite a few fashion fails lately; remember her dress at the Emmys? The one that looked like entrails were gushing out of one side of her torso?

Ugh! Anyway, I'm going on a tangent and I should stick to talking about the food, but it's just too irresistably fun to bash someone for their freakish sense of style. Not to mention there is something about Padma that seems... not quite right. Maybe it's because she speaks in a monotone and always has exactly the same facial expression? Is she heavily medicated? Is she really an alien?

So! My love, chubby nerd Kevin, won the Quickfire challenge and took the money, which I thought was a smart decision and which I certainly would have done as well. Can he do no wrong? Apparently, no. The fact that he and Jennifer won the Elimination Challenge made me happy as well, because I think they are my two favorites.  At last I'm warming up to Jennifer. Yes, she's a rather brash individual, and a tough cookie, but maybe that harsh exterior of "don't fuck with me because I will cut you" is endearing rather than off-putting to me. I think the final clincher was when I saw her get teary-eyed saying goodbye to Ashley. Then I was like, oh, you have a heart, you feel emotion, I like you.

And speaking of Ashley, I thought her dish (made with Eli) just looked utterly repulsive. There was not one thing about that dish that I wanted to have anything to do with. Probably because beets repulse me. They are the one food I simply cannot get into; they just gross me out. The beet cream, combined with the over-salted gnocchi and the undercooked prawns.... well, it was just a mess. I didn't get how any of it was supposed to work together, even if it had been perfectly executed. How do prawns, gnocchi, and beets in any way, shape, or form suggest being put together in that way?

And I hate Mike. I hate him and he just needs to go home. Granted, Robin is super annoying and has logorrhea, but that's no reason to be a dick to her, because despite her faults, she is nice. He was totally mean to her during the team challenge, taking over even though he had no Asian cooking experience and she had tons, he wouldn't let her do any tasks except menial ones, and he was completely condescending when Tom came around to check in and he treated it as if it were all his challenge, not one he was sharing with a partner. DICK. He needs to go home, pronto. Let's hope that happens soon. As in next episode.

Ah well, Ashley, we bid you adieu. Interesting, Jeremy knows someone who knows someone who looks just like Ashley. But this person is a he, and apparently he has lately been getting approached all the time and asked if he has ever watched the show Top Chef. Awesome! I salute you, gender-neutral contestant!


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The bran muffin, reinvented

Is there anything un-sexier than bran? Perhaps the effects of eating a lot of it, but I digress! Bran is an oft-disparaged food yet it's important to our diets. We could all use more fiber, but let's face it: it can be really freaking difficult to fill oneself with all that roughagey goodness.

And is there any muffin more un-thrilling than the bran muffin? I thought this, placing them in my head low down in the muffin pecking order below chocolate, blueberry, and corn. That's until I discovered the bran muffin recipe in Nicole Rees's absolutely fantastic Baking Unplugged (my new bible of all things baked). The woman makes them with bran cereal soaked in buttermilk. Wait. Read that line again. Buttermilk. YES. EVERYTHING is made better with buttermilk!

These muffins are delicious. They are filling, and yet they stay moist and fluffy, thanks to the buttermilk, and they also have a slightly sweet taste to them that isn't cloying or desserty. This ain't your typical dark brown, super dense, saw-dusty, jaw-workout bran muffin!

I made a batch on Sunday and tossed each muffin in a zipper-top sandwich baggie, keeping a few out for quick mid-morning snacks at work, and stowing the rest in the freezer. To serve, just pop the frozen muffin in the microwave for 30 seconds to a minute. No need to thaw.

Hurrah! Don't delay; make these muffins today. Your digestive system will thank you.

Bran Cereal Muffins by Nicole Rees
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 cups All-Bran cereal
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp plus 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup raisins (optional; I didn't use them)
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Butter and flour a 12-cup muffin pan. (I use the spray that's available now that's specifically for baking, that already has flour in it. It's good stuff.) In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, oil, egg, and sugar until smooth. Stir in the cereal and soak for 15 minutes; cereal will swell and soften in the liquid.

2. In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until well combined. Stir in raisins if desired.

3. Gently fold the flour mixture into the wet cereal mixture until just combined. The batter will thicken almost immediately as the baking soda reacts with the buttermilk. Do not stir after this point to avoid deflating the batter.

4. Get out your trusty ice cream scoop and dole the batter out into the muffin cups. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 2 to 3 minutes then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Bite into a warm muffin and revel in the goodness that is the bran muffin, reinvented.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Grown-up Hamburger Helper and zucchini fritters: perfect Sunday supper

Our Sunday night dinner was hearty and autumnal: zucchini fritters and a beef and pasta stove top casserole. Tasty and comforting.

We modified a recipe for the pasta casserole that I picked up at Shaw's; they have these displays of free recipe cards by the front door of the store. (The recipes are made in conjunction with America's Test Kitchen, so you know they have to be good.) It's sort of like a grown-up, homemade Hamburger Helper. We also had two decent-sized zucchini that I bought last week at the farmers' market, so we used one for the fritters, a recipe from my food bible. You just can't go wrong with Bitty.

Here's our slightly modified beef and spaghetti stove top casserole---the recipe said to use 12 oz ground beef and 4 oz sausage but we just used a pound of beef. We also omitted the step of covering the thing in cheese and broiling it but you can of course add this step in. We found it just fine without this step.

Beef and Spaghetti Casserole
  • 1 lb 90% lean ground beef
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • A sprinkle of red pepper flakes (use your discretion)
  • A sprinkle of dried oregano (again, as much as suits your fancy)
  • 1 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes (we used ones with basil already mixed in and thus used less fresh basil)
  • 8 oz of uncooked spaghetti or linguine (we used linguine), broken into 2-3 inch pieces
  • 2 cups water
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 6 tbsp finely chopped basil (we used several generous squirts of the fesh ground herbs that come in a tube; you'll find them in the produce section)
  • 1 cup of cheddar cheese
1. If you want to broil the cheese into a crust on top, get your broiler fired up. Give a large oven-safe nonstick skillet a few sprays with olive oil cooking spray and when hot, cook the beef over medium heat, breaking up the meat into little bits until no longer pink (about 5 minutes). Drain meat on paper towel-lined plate and pour off fat from pan. Return meat to skillet and add garlic, pepper flakes, and oregano, and cook until fragrant (about 1 minute).

2. Stir in tomatoes, spaghetti, water, and salt. Cover and cook, stirring often, until pasta begins to soften, about 7 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, covered, until pasta is al dente, about 7 minutes.

3. Stir in cream, basil, and (if you're broiling) 1/3 cup of cheese. If you're not broiling, just stir in all the cheese. If you're broiling, sprinkle on the remaining cheese and broil about 3 minutes. We just sprinkled with more cheese before serving.


Here's Bitty's recipe for zucchini fritters (he calls them pancakes, but they were really more like fritters). We also used the thin julienne attachment on our mandolin to get tiny zucchini shreds.
  • about 2 pounds of zucchini, or one medium to large zucchini, finely grated (place the grated zucchini in a colander, salt it, and let it sit 20 minutes to help it dry out)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup minced onion (we just used a half an onion)
  • 1/4 flour or bread crumbs (we used bread crumbs), plus more if needed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup freshly minced basil or parsley (optional, we didn't use it)
1.  Combine zucchini, egg, onion, bread crumbs, cheese, salt and pepper, and herbs (if using). Add more crumbs/flour if using to make the mixture hold its shape.

2. Form into balls, then flatten into patties, about the size of a small hamburger in diameter, but thinner. Place on a plate and refrigerate for about an hour, if you can, so they'll firm up. We formed 5 patties and by using extra bread crumbs they held their shape.

3. Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Dredge patties in more crumbs or flour and place in the hot oil. Fry on each side until golden brown and crisp on each side. Heed Julia's advice and don't crowd the pan! :) Drain on paper towel-lined plate and serve. OMG DELICIOUS. Seriously. Try these. They take a bit of time in terms of prep work (although a food processor or mandoline will make quick work of the grating), but they are definitely worth it.

**UPDATE** I just found a mandolin online that is inexpensive and has all the same features as mine, if any of y'all are seriously looking at getting one (I'm just going by the comments I've gotten thus far!). Check it out on Amazon

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gourmet magazine going out of print

Condé Nast is shutting down Gourmet magazine.

I have to say that I've always been far more fond of Bon Appetit than Gourmet (I don't subscribe to any food magazines, so I just know them from browsing at magazine stands), as I find Bon Appetit a little more approachable and visually easier on the eyes, but it is rather shocking that they are getting rid of Gourmet. It's been in publication since 1941 and that makes it feel a bit like an institution. And where will Ruth Reichl go? I'm glad they are keeping Bon Appetit though. The whole world isn't going to hell in a handbasket at least.

Lemon Blueberry Bread + Mexican hot chocolate

What can I say? It was a weekend of indulgence!

Saturday we slept late and then I decided to make a breakfasty treat using some of the pint of blueberries I bought last week at the Harvard farmers' market. I found this recipe for lemon blueberry bread with lemon glaze and it was amazing! (The recipe, according to the blogger, is from a 1991 issue of Bon Appetit magazine. An oldie but a goodie.) I love the combination of lemon and blueberry---I generally tend to love anything with citrus flavors---so I was particularly happy to find a blueberry bread recipe with lemon in it.

Granted, my bread ended up being like lemon AND blueberry bread because all my blueberries sank to the bottom of the loaf. I think next time I'll perhaps reserve some of the berries and add them to my batter at the end, after pouring it into the pan. Doesn't really affect the deliciousness of the end product though. And don't skimp on doing the glaze. It MAKES this bread! The glaze cooks pretty quickly, at least it did for me, so I'd suggest waiting until right before you take the bread out of the oven to make this.

To complement our bread, I also made some Mexican-style hot chocolate, using a Taza chocolate disc. Taza is a local company in Somerville that makes stone-ground chocolate. It's good stuff---not the sweet, soft stuff a lot of people are used to, but intense, dark, gritty chocolate. I got one disc of the vanilla Taza chocolate (there are two thin discs inside the package).

To prepare it the Mexican way (for two), heat 2 cups of milk (I used 2%) over medium low heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Once the milk is warm, add about 3 ounces of coarsely chopped chocolate (1 of the Taza packages  of 2 thin discs equals 3 ounces). Whisk it into the milk for a few minutes until it's completely melted and the milk is frothy, and immediately divide the drink into 2 mugs and sip. OMG. It is SO indulgent and scrumptious! Creamy, rich, and intense. The perfect sipping chocolate.

We did some more cooking over the weekend (deceptively delicious bran muffins, homemade hummus, a spaghetti skillet casserole, and zucchini fritters), but I'll add those recipes in separate posts.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mama Pidal's picadillo

Picadillo! Not peccadillo mind you--pee-kah-DEE-yoh! It's a dish made with ground meat and vegetables and it was a Cubano kitchen staple for me growing up. In addition to Mama Pidal's lentil soup, this was one of the first things I ever cooked for myself. In fact, I can remember cooking these two recipes together on the first weekend I ever ventured into cooking non-pasta/stir-fry food for myself.

There are variations on picadillo, of course, but this is my mother's spin on it, and I have to say that it's delicious just as it is, and VERY easy to make, so I highly recommend it! The word "picadillo" comes from the Spanish word "picar," which means to finely chop. I remember that sometimes my mother would have leftover picadillo, not quite enough to make a filling dinner for the three of us, that she would mix with cooked white rice in a casserole dish and top with slices of cheese. Then she'd bake it so the cheese would melt. YUM. Best of leftovers! This is also good as a burrito or taco filling.

Last night while waiting for Jeremy to come home, I decided to throw together a pan of picadillor for dinner. Jeremy had bought the ingredients a few days earlier, because he is a love, and had somehow managed to find quite possibly the largest green bell pepper I've ever seen. I seriously need to get a digital camera to document things like this because the thing was the size of my head. After cutting it in half and removing the seeds, I started to dice up half of it. I swear I just kept chopping and chopping, and there was still more pepper to chop. I finally ended up putting half of the thing away in the fridge and out of my sight.

I also diced one sweet onion and then minced 3 small cloves of garlic. (You can use less, but I love garlic, so I use a little extra.) I poured some olive oil into a large fry pan (use one with a lid), enough to just coat the bottom of the pan, and turned the heat up to medium high, then added my veggies when it was nice and hot. You let those cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions start to get transparent and you're about to drool because your house smells so delicious. Then you add a pound of ground lean turkey or ground lean beef. I tend to always use turkey because it's less fatty, and Jeremy bought me the natural, non-antibiotic/growth hormone Wild Harvest brand from Shaw's, which actually just LOOKED like better quality poultry than other brands of ground turkey I've used in the past. (Kudos to you, Jeremy.) Use the leanest meat you can find to prevent your dish from getting greasy---our turkey was only 7% fat. Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper and use a wooden spoon to break it up into little chunks (this is the "picar" element of the dish), stirring to allow the meat to cook on all sides. This will take a few minutes.

After you've cooked the meat nearly all the way, add some other seasonings, like garlic and onion salt or some adobo powder. Then add about a quarter cup of ketchup. Turns out we were nearly out of ketchup last night and the amount in the bottle just didn't look like enough. Lucky for the Tridal household, I frugally save the little single-serve ketchup packets that come with our take-out let's-eat-unhealthy-crap meals so the four we had sitting in the fridge were enough to tide us over---I knew they'd come in handy one day. (As a side note: some people use diced tomatoes, but I find that this can make the dish watery, and sometimes the taste of cooked tomatoes just doesn't do it for me, so I just stick with ketchup. If it's good enough for Mama Pidal, it's good enough for me.) Stir the ketchup in thoroughly, then add a generous dash of Worcestershire sauce (one of my favorite things about Worcestershire sauce is hearing my Cuban mother try to pronounce "Worcestershire" and just ending up saying "Worchesshersher") and two tablespoons of capers. Or, if you're not into capers, add a couple of tablespoons of chopped olives. Or, if you're REALLY adventurous, add both.

After you've stirred everything into a glorious melange and tasted to adjust your seasonings, lower the heat to very low, put the cover on the pan and let everything cook and simmer together for at least 10 minutes, no more than 20. Make sure to stir every couple of minutes so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan or burns, and discard any water that accumulates on the inside of the pan lid to prevent your dish from getting soggy. It's so good! The dish I made last night was particularly good because the turkey was just so good. I really think it makes a significant difference when you use the highest-quality meat. Jeremy has been eating this dish since we moved in together and even he agreed that this was the best pan of it I'd cooked up. Huzzah!

I just love this dish. It's easy, it's relatively hassle-free, it's delicious and filling, and if you use turkey, it's pretty healthy. It's also so versatile: you can eat it as it is, you can use it as a filling for stuffed peppers, you can mix it with rice into a casserole, you can use it to fill tacos or burritos or empanadas or meat pies. Eating it takes me back home; it was one of my favorite dinners, I never got tired of it, and I didn't mind eating the leftovers. And it makes your house smell so good! I can't recommend it enough. If you do decide to try this one, let me know what you think and if you love it as much as I do!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

News that isn't really news

For some reason, there was NO Top Chef on last night. Boo! I guess we'll have to wait in suspense another week. Blargh. 

A few mornings ago, while sleepily having coffee and oatmeal in front of CNN and trying to wake up enough to get myself on the bus to work, I caught a factoid that interested me (and also didn't surprise me). CNN had taken some poll where they asked Americans how they were faring with the rotten economy. Over half of the respondents had said that the one luxury they didn't want to give up on was going out to eat.

Like I mentioned, I find this interesting and also not surprising, because I feel the same way. I haven't felt the economic meltdown quite so badly, and I'm still getting by, but I do feel the pressure to remain careful about my finances (though this has been ingrained in me since I was a tot by my frugal parents). I'm trying not to make frivolous purchases: I haven't bought loads of new clothes with the changing of the seasons, I've kept personal product purchases (a weakness of mine) at a minimum, and instead of buying books, I go to the library (well, except for cookbooks). But the one thing I haven't really cut back on is food, both in terms of groceries and restaurants.

What is it about eating out and eating well that is so hard for people to give up? Is it the luxury of having one's food prepared? Trying new things? Is it laziness? Or is it the social aspect? Something leads me to believe that this last one might have a lot to do with it. Eating is such a social experience. Getting together with others to share a meal is one of life's finest pleasures, at least that's how it seems to me. I'd gladly give up going to the movies, getting new books and clothes, and taking luxurious trips if it meant being able to have that many more meals out with friends. I'm sure that many more people are now cooking at home too, because of the economy, but I think the fact that people continue going out to eat regularly proves that it's too important of a social experience for us to give up on entirely. Perhaps it stems from the fact that eating is one activity all people must do and that almost all people enjoy, so it's the one thing that each of us has in common with all of our friends.