Monday, October 28, 2013

Bacon Fat -- tasty but bad for you

So save the fat when you cook bacon, because the stuff you cook in it will taste awesome.  Let it be said that bacon is not the healthiest of fats to consume.  But once in a while, use it for a special occasion.  It will knock your socks off!

My recommendation for collecting this precious stuff - cook your bacon in a baking pan lined with aluminum foil, with the edges folded up so the runny grease stays put.  Then, when the bacon is cooked, remove the strips with tongs to a folded wad of paper towels to blot off the excess fat.  Then simply pick up the foil and pour off the grease into a small cup, cover with cling wrap, and refrigerate.

What to do?  Cook eggs in it.  Or you can do what my mother did last night, and fried up Yukon Gold potatoes with rosemary.  Delish.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Smoky Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese and Bacon Sandwiches

On a cold day, sitting down to a steaming bowl of soup and a hot sandwich can be so satisfying.  And the classic soup-and-sandwich combo to beat them all is tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.

That's the stuff.

But canned tomato soup has so many additives… tons of sugar you can’t taste over the tomato, loads of salt you don’t need, and all kinds of preservatives.  The answer then is to make it at home.  There are many different ways to make homemade tomato soup, from roasting the tomatoes and pureeing them, canned smashed tomatoes, it goes on.  But I’ve found the easiest, fastest, yet nevertheless quite pleasing method is to use a can of straight up tomato paste.  There’s something beautiful about taking a ton of tomatoes, pureeing them and then boiling them into a concentrated paste that can be canned and kept on a shelf indefinitely, all while adding nothing extra.  That’s right, tomato paste is nothing but plain ol’ TOMATO.  And then not having to do it yourself; you can buy this stuff in any grocery store worth its salt.

I must admit this recipe did not pop out of my head like Athena did Zeus, but formed after reading three different recipes (the originating sites of which I cannot recall), and much fiddling with various spices and retasting.

Most of those recipes agreed that tomato paste is good, and that there should be milk, and maybe water, and baking soda to keep the milk from curdling.  I’m honestly not sure how anyone can taste slightly curdled milk beneath all that tomato, but maybe they’re supertasters or maybe they’re just boiling the soup too much.  Honestly, people.  You don’t boil tomato soup.  You heat it until it’s warm enough to consume, no more.

They also concurred there should definitely be a little sugar, and always a little salt, and you can add garlic powder and pepper if you like that thing, you wild crazy person you.  They kept mentioning that part.  I guess some people don’t go beyond salt and pepper.  How sad for them.

Well, I like milk.  But I am of the opinion that water can almost always be substituted for broth or something more flavorful when it comes to soup.  But we really don’t need broth or stock for plain old thick tomato soup.  Milk alone will do.  I found a one parts tomato paste to two parts milk is a winning combo and needs no further fiddling with beyond spices.  That’s where the fun starts – and the seasoning is what makes this soup recipe unique.

At first I went only with salt, sugar, garlic powder and black pepper.  But garlic goes hand in hand with onion powder in many savory things, just as I prefer to match black pepper with white.

I like pairing celery with tomato – from my Ma’s Bloody Marys probably, so I tried a dash of celery salt, which I liked, personally, but is not completely necessary for the soup.

But the seasonings that make this soup special are the cayenne, instant smoke, and smoked paprika.  To me a food should not just taste how it should – it should also taste how it looks.  Tomato soup to me should have a warm, red flavor.  In this case I think it should have a little fire to it – hence the cayenne and paprika.  And with fire comes smoke.  Somewhere in one of my gourmet magazines – either Bon Appetit or Gourmet Magazine or Food & Wine, I can’t remember, had a cold tomato soup that requuired no chilling.  It was very good stuff, and asked for smoked olive oil, which is difficult to get ahold of.  Barring that, it recommended using a teensy bit of instant smoke, and I’ve been experimenting with that strange substance ever since.  I suppose you could use normal paprika if you don’t want to buy the smoked stuff, but I like mine smoked for this dish.

It’s really important you only use a smidgen of instant smoke.  I can’t state this enough.  I received a gag gift several Christmases ago for my stocking – a measuring spoon set of miniscule proportions, the smallest being a drop, and that is what I use to measure out my instant smoke – a drop.  Instant smoke is powerful stuff – being the liquid that condenses from wood smoke, and it imparts a strong smoky flavor that can be overwhelming if used too liberally.  If you’re not a huge fan of smoke, only use a single drop of this liquid, or you might be unhappy with the result.

Now for the sandwiches.  Kolby Jack makes for the best cheese melts.  It melts nicely, and has a great flavor, not too sharp, not too mild.  Because we have a smoky note to our soup, I like to add a slight smokiness to the sandwiches as well to tie them together.  Perhaps smoked cheese would work, but everything is better with bacon, therefore we will use smoked thick-cut bacon in this recipe.

I think melted sandwiches are best done Panini-style, but not everyone has a Panini press, and even though I have one I tend to burn my sandwiches in it.  For me, the fork and spatula method works best for me.  As you cook the bread in the hot skillet, you use the fork and spatula to press the buttered bread onto the hot metal, thus making a do-it-yourself Panini without all the do-dads.

This recipe will make two servings.  That's one serving.

You will need:
6oz can of Tomato paste – pure, no extra ingredients
Low fat milk – two 6oz can’s worth
1 tsp Sugar
½ tsp salt
 ¼ tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp onion powder
¼ tsp black pepper
½ tsp white pepper
1-2 drops instant smoke to taste
Light shake of cayenne pepper to taste
Shake of smoked paprika
Light shake of celery salt
1.        Open the can of tomato paste and dump it into a saucepan.
2.       Fill the can with milk and empty into the saucepan twice to wash out the leftover tomato bits.  Stir with a whisk.
3.       Measure out the sugar, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and black and white pepper, dumping each into the saucepan and stir. 
4.       Gently tap the edge of the celery salt container to shake a little of it into the tomato mixture; you’re looking to add no more than 1/16th of a teaspoon, the same with the cayenne and smoked paprika.  Taste the mixture and add more cayenne if you’d like a little more heat.  Whisk.
5.       To make sure you don’t use more than a drop or two of instant smoke (which has a highly concentrated flavor), pour a little instant smoke into the smallest measuring spoon you have, then use a clean finger to add two drops to the saucepan.  This gives the soup its wonderfully deep, smoky flavor.
6.       Make the grilled-cheese-and-bacon sandwiches.
7.       While whisking, heat the soup until just before it starts bubbling, and take off heat to cool for two minutes.
8.       Serve in wide bowls you can dip a sandwich into.

Light crusty bread, 8 slices
8 slices of pre-cut Kolby-jack cheese
Six strips of thick-cut smoked bacon
Tub of margarine
Large flat spatula
1.       Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2.       Line a pan (not a sheet) thoroughly with foil.  Lay out the bacon on the pan so they’re barely touching each other.  Cook in the oven for 14 minutes or until the fat is sizzling and the strips are noticeably reduced and beginning to crisp up.
3.       Remove the bacon from the oven and let cool. 
4.       Lay a strip of parchment paper down on the counter/table.
5.       Take the loaf and arrange the slices in pairs for each sandwich you want to make.  I prefer to make two sandwiches per person.  I like to use concurrent slices for each sandwich, like so:

6.       Butter the outside of both slices – you should keep the sides that faced each other clean.  Arrange the slices butter side up on the parchment paper.
7.       Tear up the cheese into strips the width of your bread slices, making sure the bread is covered but the cheese does not hang past the crust.  You’ll want a slice per bread piece.
8.       Cut the bacon into inch-pieces.  Lay them out on the bread – about a strip and a half per sandwich.
9.       Assemble the sandwich; bread butter side down, a layer of cheese, a layer of bacon, then the other slice – cheese, bread butter side up.
Like this.

Or if you need a real picture...

10.   Heat a small skillet on the stove, one just large enough to accommodate a single sandwich.
11.   When the skillet is hot, place the sandwich on the skillet.  Press the sandwich onto the skillet firmly using the spatula, and press down the spatula with a fork for leverage.
12.   Cook both sides of the sandwich until golden with light brown graining, like the above picture.  Use the fork and spatula to turn the sandwich over without separating the components from each other.  Using pressure while cooking will make the melted cheese act as a glue to hold the whole sandwich together.
13.    When the sandwich is done, place it on a plate and make the next one.

14.   Heat the tomato soup, serve and eat.  The sandwiches can be dipped into the soup.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Some sort of exercise regime...

Let me admit straight up.  I like rich food.  And I enjoy eating.  And I like sleeping in late.  And sitting reading for hours or even days at a time.

And these activities do not combine well for a healthy lifestyle.  For a long time I struggled keeping on any weight because my appetite was so low.  So it really didn't matter what I ate so long as I did eat at all.  I'm a small woman - topping out at five feet tall.  And naturally slight.  I have small hands, proportionately long limbs and a slim bone structure.

When I was in high school I was frequently mistaken for a semi-anorexic person.  When that happened I would laugh and say "Nope!  I know I'm thin.  I wish I weighed more!"  But I guess you could say I had some kind of bodily eating disorder, if you're not willing to blame it on my bipolar.

Eventually I was put on Geodon sometime around 2007-ish, and it worked wonders for me, and suddenly I was able to keep a little weight on.  Suddenly I got hips.  And breasts!  Nice breasts.  Suddenly the fabled 95-105 lb zone was possible.

But alas, as happens sometimes with people on anti-psychotics, I developed tardive dyskinesia in my lips.  That's involuntary muscle twitches that gradually get worse.  It looked like I was making strange faces out of the blue.  I guess I was lucky, because it was so noticeable.  Some people get it in their arms or legs and don't notice until its severe and permanent.

So off the Geodon I went, and I was put on Clozapine.  That's a story in itself for another day, but tl;dr, I had to stop school for a semester to adjust, and my metabolism is completely different now.

I ended up gaining twenty-five pounds.  I'd like to go back to 120 or 115lbs, that sounds feasible to me, but obviously purposefully losing weight is always harder than we'd like.

Exercising frequently was easy during the summer.  But now that I have school everyday, and so much homework, it's hard to get in a workout and watch what I eat so much.

For the food, I'm just trying to surround myself with only good options, and loading up on green vegetables and fruit.

As for exercise, I think I will do what I call "the Busy Day Workout."

When I'm sitting at home, I set my phone for thirty minutes, and every time it goes off, I get up, do 25 jumping jacks, and 10 crunches/sit ups.

We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Fried Chicken Breading

When pan or deep frying chicken, there is no better mix than equal parts low-sodium saltines and Wheat Thins run through a food processor until fine.

I like to dip the chicken in a mixture of two eggs whisked with a splash of milk and a tablespoon of corn starch.  Then simply fry the chicken until golden brown on both sides.

The Wheat Thins will give the breading a nutty depth, while the saltines provide all the seasoning you will need, no need to salt them afterwards.

Friday, October 11, 2013

All the family in the house

They are all here now.  We are 5/5, instead of 2/5 or 3/5.  Plus three cats.
I am happy right now.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

the ossobucco is coming...

My 25th birthday is approaching.  It will be upon me at 11:15pm tomorrow night.
And I have been promised Ossobucco, with braised root vegetables and saffron risotto.  How could a girl not feel loved when she receives such a meal?  It will be served on Saturday, because we are working people and like true food lovers, know the best meals take days of preparation.
Such reparations are already starting.

As you can see, Ma went to the local butchers and brought home veal bones and chicken backs and necks to roast with celery so she can make both beef and chicken stock from scratch.  The smell wafting out of the oven is heavenly!

Tomorrow I will go to the store and pick up the remaining ingredients for the weekend, including sweet cream ice cream and my birthday cake (chocolate I hope!), because I don't trust anyone else to pick the perfect cake.

Younger Sister and Even Younger Brother are coming home for my birthday weekend, so this will be quite an occasion.  I am the oldest child.  Sadly, homework stops for no birthday, so there will be no shopping excursion as Sis hopes.  Alas, I really don't need more makeup, I have all I need, and I prefer to splurge on food and sex toys rather than cosmetics and shoes.  To each their own, I suppose.

I have been banging out poems recently like no one's business.  Perhaps I shall post some...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

What's on the dinner plate? 10/4/2013

Last night I requested a dinner with lots of vegetables, and my parents turned out to be in a cooking mood.  The result was fantastic, and plans have been made to repeat the meal for a dinner party larger than us three.

The meal itself consisted of miso-marinated flank steak, and sauteed diced vegetables - potato, onion, carrots, zucchini, mushrooms and grape tomatoes.

My contribution to dinner-making was whipping up the marinade (more of a paste, really) and setting the table.

I got the marinade for the steak from the Bon Appetit website, kept more or less intact except for the addition of a single packet of instant red miso soup powder.  The recipe calls for white miso paste, but red miso has a saltier, more intense flavor.  Once you've developed the taste for it, there's really no going back.

I've made this paste before for flank steak, which can be paired with a miso-marinaded salmon, if you enjoy surf and turf.  If you do choose to go that route, the miso in both marinades lends a wonderful, earthy umami hit that pairs the two proteins together.

Can't really say much for grilling tips - my father is the grill master and we don't mess with him and his method since he continues to produce food on par or surpassing that of a fine restaurant.
See his awesome grill marks?

The vegetables are pretty simple - saute in a wok with a little olive oil, some salt and pepper, and a single pat of frozen beef bouillon.  That has to be made ahead of time.

I'm always loathe to waste good beef, lamb or chicken bones, and homemade stock is so much more flavorful than store stock, and has no preservatives besides.  I take that stock and reduce it into a gelatinous, inky goop of goodness, spoon it into a mini muffin pan with each depression lined with cling wrap.  Then I freeze it, and use the excess film to wrap up the frozen disks.  I keep those in a bag in my freezer, and they are incredibly useful for adding a bit of flavor and richness to rice, soups, sauces, and in this case, sauteing as well.  If you don't want to go through all that or want to make the veg now, I suppose you could substitute two to three tablespoons of broth/stock.

Back to the vegetables, take the frozen bouillon and melt it on the hot pan.

You simply cook the vegetables until they're done, starting with the potatoes, onions and carrots since they require more cooking, then add the zucchini, mushrooms and tomatoes last.
Onions, potatoes and carrots first...
Then add tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchini.

Maybe sometime I'll make this again to finesse the actual timing of this recipe, but really all it takes is a watchful eye and tasting everything to ascertain doneness.  When the veg is cooked, sprinkle crumbed feta cheese on top and toss.

The heat of the vegetables will melt it and they will be coated with a creamy smeary layer of cheese.

My Dad, who loves his wine and buys it by the case because its cheaper that way, paired a lovely 2010 Arcturos Cabernet Franc from Michigan (Traverse City area) with our meal.

As for the dinner experience itself, the food was absolutely delicious, but the conversation and company kept us happily talking for hours.  It's truly amazing how food can facilitate social interaction.

COMING UP - In the works is my own recipe for a delightfully smoky tomato soup paired with grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches.

Friday, October 4, 2013

What's On the Dinner Plate? 10/3/2013

Tonight's a very vegetabley dinner.  I nuked some leftover green beans with the tiniest amount of olive oil and salt when I got home from school, then sat back with a tall glass of Crystal Lite's Mojito Mix - virgin of course.  It is a Thursday night, after all.

Later I made myself a large bowl of red miso soup - instant, sadly.  I have to go rather far out of my way to find good red miso paste.  If you develop the taste for it, miso soup is really very satisfying, since it hits both salty and umami notes.

Now I'm nomming on something my Mom whipped up in the toaster oven - Parmesan breadcrumb zucchini rounds.  She sliced a big fat zucchini up into quarter-inch thick slices, drizzled them with a little olive oil, then sprinkled with bread crumbs (a mix of low-sodium saltines and wheat thins run through the food processor until fine) and pre-grated parmesan cheese.  Then she arranged them on a parchment-paper lined tray and baked them until cooked all the way through.

They are a bit mushy, so I'm eating them with a fork.  But honestly, they are SO GOOD.

Now you see them...

Now they're in my stomach.

On another note, I recently acquired a We-Vibe Salsa for a steep steal on Amazon, as well as a Tantus Alumina Motion, prompted by the unwelcome news that both are going to be discontinued.  They're pretty awesome, and a review will be forthcoming when I'm better acquainted with them.  I would have sooner, but my menses interferred, and that's nuff said.