Thursday, June 30, 2011

Gazpacho time

Every devoted eater has some dishes that are wonderful to have around.  They come in relatively large quantities, are healthful and delicious, and taste good even if you eat them several days in a row.  My list of such good stuff includes tabouli, bean soup, red spaghetti sauce with meat, and deviled eggs.  Yes, it takes a bit of work to make a batch, but then it's there for your dining pleasure, for as long as you can stand to not devour every last bit of it. 

And in the summer, my list has gazpacho.  I inherited this recipe 40 years ago from my friend Gail, and it has changed a bit over the decades, but only to get more delicious.  This isn't the classic preparation from Spain, which includes bread, and it's decidedly not classic in that it has no fresh tomatoes.  But it's a good concept.

I start with a 46-ounce can of tomato juice, although you could use V-8.  I pour it into the blender in three batches, each time incorporating some solid vegetable matter.  I don't blend long enough to liquefy the vegetables, but keep tiny chunks.

You know how I feel about exact quantities in cooking (what a drag) so instead I eyeball approximations. 

First, the main vegetable substance.  One big can of tomato juice seems to handle a couple of stalks of celery, somewhere between a half and a whole cucumber, and a cup or more of salad olives, the low-end preparation that has broken green olives and a lot of pimento chunks stuffed haphazardly into the jar.  You could put in some green pepper or zucchini too.

Next, the flavorings.  A tablespoon of olive oil, a handful of chives (or half a small onion), a bit of garlic, a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, a tablespoon of lemon juice.  I cut the chives with scissors into small bits, because if you throw them into the blender whole, they tend to wrap around the blades like string and might even cause the motor to stall.

Finally, a bit of extra liquid.  I add a half-cup or so of red wine, and sometimes a can of beef broth.

I don't own a pitcher large enough to hold this batch of soup, so I assemble three mason jars on the counter.  Each time I whiz up a blender full of stuff, I divide it equally among the three jars.  At this point each jar should theoretically hold equal quantities of all ingredients, but to make sure, I have fun for a couple of minutes stirring the jars and pouring from one into another to mix them even more thoroughly.  After a taste test, sometimes it needs a bit more lemon juice or Worcestershire.

I generally end up with between two and three quarts of gazpacho.  For dinner, I serve it in teacups, on saucers, with spoons.  But for breakfast and lunch I just pour some into a glass and drink it.

I am particularly enamored of gazpacho for breakfast.  As healthy as you could possibly be, with practically nothing there but vegetables.  ¡Ole!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Vegetable drawer failures

Here's what you don't like to see when you get your head of celery out of the bottom of the vegetable drawer.

But it was not the slightest bit slimy, smelled and tasted fine, and in fact was the deepest green I've ever seen on celery!  So I cut it up and put it in the soup, and it was excellent.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pricing paradox

So which of these two packages of practically identical cheese would you expect to be more expensive?

If you thought the fancy "cheese tray" of presliced cheddar would be the luxury item, you would be wrong.  The unit pricing tags reveal the truth:

Yes, even with the chunk o' cheese on card special, it cost more than the fancy sliced tray.  Since I've never seen this tray format before, and the package says "new" in big letters, I suspect that they're way underpricing to get us to try the presliced stuff and get hooked.  In a month or so it will bounce up to the significantly higher level that they have planned all along as its permanent price. 

The moral of this story, of course, is to read the fine print.  Which is easy for me on the eye-level shelves, but difficult if not impossible on the high and low ones, thanks to bifocals and rickety knees.  I've been known to pull the shelf tags off the shelves so I can read them, and I dare any store employee to give me a hard time over it.  (I always try to stick them back where they came from after reading.)  You can often find unexpected bargains just by staying alert.

I bought a couple of the fancy cheese trays, and they are really cute!  We will enjoy them while the lowball pricing lasts, and probably not ever again.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lunch in Central America

On our recent Panama Canal cruise we ate most of our meals aboard the ship, which was fully provisioned in San Diego, so we didn't get local food.  But occasionally our shore excursions would include a stop for lunch, and here are three of the best ones.

Lunch #1: Todos Santos, Mexico.  We were told that Todos Santos, a hot, dusty 2-hour drive north from Cabo San Lucas in Baja California, was an artist colony and a picturesque village.  It was actually a dump, at least the part we got to see.  The "art" was to be found in tacky souvenir shops.  But lunch was really lovely -- halibut and shrimp in a mild, pale green sauce, with pomegranate seeds on the side!

Lunch #2: Antigua, Guatemala.  We visited a coffee plantation that also caters to tourists, with a hotel, restaurant and fancy event spaces.  Our lunch had a steak and a chorizo sausage, plus tortilla, guacamole, rice and black beans.  I loved the beans, smooth and dry, and need to figure out the recipe!

Lunch #3: Quirigua, Guatemala.  (By now on the Caribbean side, not the Pacific.)  We visited a national park of Mayan ruins, with lots of ceremonial stones and sculptures as well as some remains of buildings.  On the way back, exhausted and hot, we stopped for lunch.  Almost everybody except me ordered chicken -- and were jealous when they saw my steak!  More of those black beans, guacamole and plantains, and the ubiquitous tortilla.

And then for dessert, fresh mango.  I never thought I liked mango when I had it at home, but this was superb, and as we all got up to get back on the bus I ate any mango slices left behind by my fellow travelers.  Maybe this was a different variety than we get in the U.S. grocery?  Or it was ten times fresher?  Or I've had an enlightenment?


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Your tax dollars at work

Found in the sweet potato bin in the produce section.  I feel good just reading it!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Redundant packaging

In my opinion, the plastic bread bag is one of the great inventions of the late 20th century.  Waterproof, sturdy enough to hold up to freezer conditions, big enough to stash all kinds of leftovers, the bread bag is perfect to wrap a pakage of hamburger before you stash it in the freezer, hold a damp towel full of salad greens, or protect any sort of dishful in the fridge. We hoard bread bags for lots of food storage tasks.

But if the bread bag serves many purposes, its highest and best use is probably to keep bread, the task for which it was designed.

That being the case, why do high-end bread manufacturers insist on double-wrapping the bread, with a cellophane pack inside the plastic bread bag?

I suspect it's to make you think you're special, that your bread is so delicate that it deserves twice as much packaging as plain old Wonder Bread, that you were RIGHT to spend almost $4 on a loaf! 

I beg to differ.  That inside cellophane is a pain in the neck, not to mention an unnecessary cost.  You need a sharp tool to get it open, and after you start using the bread, the cellophane just sits there impeding your progress toward retrieving a new slice.  And there's no good way to just pull the cellophane out and let the bread sit there in its perfect plastic bag. 

Take this marketing team back to the kitchen and bring out the other marketing team.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Complementary colors

How food looks has little to do with how it tastes, as you can testify if you've ever ordered a gorgeous dessert or purchased a beautiful tomato that turned out to taste like styrofoam.  But you also know that a good-tasting dish seems to be amplified if it also looks magnificent.  In my book, the most beautiful dishes are those with complementary colors.

At this time of year, my favorite colors are orange and blue, aka peaches and blueberries.  The Georgia peaches are great this week, perfuming the entire dining room from their fruit bowl.  We've usually been eating them out of hand, but even better is to make a big bowl of sliced peaches with their complementary berries, then fill it with milk.

If your peaches are really ripe, and if you can wait a while before you scarf it down, the milk may turn pinkish.  But that's only icing on the cake.  Why wait -- mangia!