Saturday, May 31, 2014

We're home -- need vegetables!

We've been away for three weeks (more later on our culinary adventures) and for the last couple of days of the trip all we could think of was coming home to our own kitchen and eating a lot of vegetables.  Not that vegetables were absent from our menus, but we were seduced by too many desserts, too much bacon, too many bar-food snacks.

When we inspected our crops we found that the arugula was tall and flowery, signs that it had bolted and become bitter with the onset of hot weather.  But it was lush with gorgeous dark green leaves that cried out to be eaten.  Perhaps too bitter for a salad, but OK to be cooked.

So here's our coming-home, vegetarian dinner: the arugula was tempered by the sweetness of pine nuts and the blandness of pasta, and tasted great.  I wish I had picked twice as much; I always forget how much greens shrivel when cooked.

And a big salad, of course, which comes with 95% of the dinners served at home.  It's good to be back.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Step one

I'm just too frugal for my own good sometimes.  (My children might say "cheap.")  When I think of all the hot water I've run down the sink in my lifetime after cooking pasta, it hurts.  But I've done two things to minimize the pain.  First, I've taken to cooking my pasta in the same pot as the sauce whenever possible.  But that doesn't work when you're making enough sauce for three or four meals, such as whenever I make a red sauce.

Second, for those times when you have to cook the pasta separately, I bought a pot system which has an inner pot with holes in it.  Boil up the water, add the pasta, cook, and then pull the top pot out to drain the pasta.

That leaves you with a nice pot of boiling water, already enriched with some starch from the pasta.  So in the minute or two while the pasta drains, grab a pound or two of dried beans, put them into the water and return it to the stove to simmer for an hour or two.  If you remember to turn off the heat then, you have time to let the pot cool enough to go into the fridge overnight, and a good start on bean soup for the next day.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Save money, get a knife

It's not news that you pay for your food to be processed by somebody else, but last week at the fruit market I was surprised to find out how steep the markup was.

plain old corn in its husk -- 99 cents for two ears

four ears of corn with the husks removed, wrapped in plastic -- $4.99 -- 52% markup

red peppers -- 3.49 a pound

peppers cut into bite-sized pieces -- 5.99 a pound -- 72% markup

peppers cut into rings -- 9.99 a pound -- 186% markup!!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Comfort food -- readers' choice

Earlier this week Mark Bittman, who writes and blogs about food, healthy eating and sustainable agriculture for the New York Times, had a column and then a post about comfort food.

Lots of people wrote in with comments about their own favorite comfort foods, and boy, did it run the gamut.  Lots of mashed potatoes, but lots of more exotic stuff like seafood gumbo, fish tacos, liverwurst, Chinese radish cakes, and kielbasa baked in a can of beer.

But my favorite of all the comments came from somebody in Los Angeles, who wrote:

After the big Northridge earthquake here, I hosted an earthquake survivors' comfort food dinner party for my friends whose homes had been damaged. I polled them on their favorite comfort foods and filled the table. We had toast, tea, chicken pot pies, tomato soup, pasta, meatballs, a lot of chocolate desserts, and jello. Also wine. The jello wound up being the perfect thing. We made it in a big bowl, unmolded it, and put Monopoly houses all over it. Instant earthquake! 

My earthquake survivor friends released their angst by smashing those little houses into the jello - "that house didn't make it!" "That one's red-lined!" "And no earthquake insurance!" True comfort.