Food Study

January 22, 2017: Sunday in the Kitchen with Beverly and Ines

Paiche in Tomatoes with Kale, Arugula, and Beet Salad

Team effort for dinner. I made the Paiche, which is an Amazon fish that almost went extinct in the 1970s. They have since made a comeback. They are one of the largest freshwater fish in the world, growing up to 3 meters (that’s nearly 10 feet for us Americans). Ours were much smaller–a couple of 7 oz fillets. The only place we can find them is at Whole Foods. If you look at the article I’ve linked to here, it will tell that Whole Foods is trying to promote Paiche as an alternative to other freshwater white fish in the hopes of creating demand and, ultimately, spurring a Piache industry in South American.

I baked our fillets on cherry tomatoes and oregano, with some olive oil garlic, and fresh lime juice on top.

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Beverly made the kale and arugula with beets salad. Also thrown in were some sunflower seeds and blue cheese. It is a variation of a Michael Symon salad. It brought the flavor. On the side, we had some quinao. Looks good, doesn’t it?

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Snickerdoodles

Not much to say here other than I took the photographs, Beverly and Ines made the cookies, and of course we all began to eat them immediately.

Of course, anytime you’re cooking, a little music moves things along nicely.

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Another pleasant Sunday in our house.

January 21, 2017: Challah French Toast, Popsicles, and Pork Chops with Apples and Endives (What a great day)

Challah French Toast

We did brunch with a friend instead of marching with the other 150,000 folks in Chicago today. Our feelings and thoughts were no doubt well represented by many others just a few miles south of us. We all know the next four years will take a lot of marching, and a lot of day-in-and-day-out work at the local level to counter the carnage Trump and the Republicans plan to wreak on all of us but the wealthy. We got to keep our energy up, and that means we need to eat as well and break bread with friends when we can. So that’s what we did.

In our case, we broke Challah French toast this morning with Eva, our outspoken German-turned-American, big-hearted, socially active, and progressive friend. Beverly was at the helm, using Ina Garten’s recipe. I few words on Ina are in order for this day of marching:

I said this before, we have more of Ina’s cookbooks in the house than any other chef’s, and there is a reason for that. Yes, she has written more cookbooks, but she also has the most depth of all of the chefs who appeal to us. By depth, I mean that, although she cooks mainly French, there is no ingredient, occasion, or time of day that appears outside her range or interest or ability. Beyond that, she has a fascinating background. She worked in the White House of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. She was a budget analyst and wrote policy papers on nuclear energy. As a chef, she is self-taught. And, yes, there are times when I am looking through one of her cookbooks that I wish I were Jeffrey.

But I have Beverly, and she, too, is self-taught and multi-talented. Using the Challah bread Ines brought home from school, she made the best French toast I have ever tasted. We had sausage, boiled eggs, fresh fruit, salmon with red onion, tomato, cream cheese, and capers, and coffee. Eva brought some Prosecco. I’m glad I’m Chris.

And I look forward to the challenges of the next four years. When women rise up, I know whose side I want to be on.

Greek Yogurt and Cacao Popsicles

Ines wanted popsicles, so we made popsicles this afternoon: Greek yogurt, cacao powder, honey, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. The greek yogurt and cacao combo came from our friends Andrea and Peter. Of course, the tricky part is keeping her and Beverly’s fingers out of the bowl while we’re trying to make mix everything, and getting the mixture into the molds. The hard part is waiting for them to freeze.

Tangy Pork Chops with Apple and Endive

After a week of cooking simple, I tried a new recipe tonight: Marcus Samuelsson’s tangy pork chops with apples and endive. He does it on a grill, and it was probably warm enough today to go outside and fire up our grill, but I decided to do it on the stove. It’s hard to corral a child and run from the kitchen staging area (2nd Floor) to the downstairs and out the back to the grill, especially when the girl needing corralled is upstairs (3rd Floor) and you hear water running all the time.

One of the tangy components of this recipe is apple cider and Dijon mustard, which along with some honey and butter, are used to make an apple and chops glaze that is applied while cooking and a sauce that is dribbled on everything before serving. The apples are Granny Smith, which adds more tang, and of course, endives are tangy. So your palette better be open to tang from all angles.

The flavor of pork chops explodes when combined with something tangy. It’s a natural combination.

It occurred to me as I was multi-tasking like a freak with pork chops sizzling in a stainless steel pan and endive and apples charring on a stove top grill pan, and me trying to glaze it all at the same time, that one of the most exciting challenges about cooking is that there are no second chances or do-overs, that is, unless you have multiple everything in stock, which we don’t. Of course, you can always try again later, but in the moment with everything coming together and everyone counting on eating soon, you got to get it right. Otherwise, you’re eating Cheerios for dinner. I like the challenge and the stress that arises in creating multiple dishes at one time, with multiple contents. And when all burners are going and the over is on, the kitchen gets hot, and I won’t even repeat the old adage, “If you can’t take the heat….” But it’s true. Throw in the need to transform a recipe for 5 down to 3, and you better know fractions. And I do.

January 18, 2017: Leftovers

It has been one of those weeks, and by that I mean a week where recipes were set aside and I went with what I know by heart. That means I made dinner as easy as possible: cheeseburgers, pancakes and sausage, chicken thighs and quinoa, and pizza. Tonight, I pulled out the frozen leftover Portuguese Kale Soup from December 31 and made a couple of quesadillas.

Yep, I know, it doesn’t look like it did on December 31, but it had a much richer, hardy taste because the kale disintegrated and became part of the broth. Maybe, for me, more significant was the memory of making it–that was fun, I thought.

I’d much rather eat a quick home-cooked meal or leftovers (even ones frozen for a few weeks) than eat fast foods or packaged foods. That goes for those times I botch the meal I am making, which does happen once and a while. I’ve even lost interest in eating out unless the restaurant is serving something I can’t or have never tried to make, or it’s restaurant week or Beverly and I are on a date.

Ines and I went to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum yesterday. For the first time, I stopped to read an exhibit that we pass every time we are there. The text might be a little hard to read, but if you click on each image it will enlarge.

Needless to say, everyone probably already knows that a home-cooked meal is better for you than fast food and processed meals. That’s a given, although people still eat way too much of the latter two. We know those meals are full of salt, fat, and calories, and usually include additives and, of course, are not fresh. The fact that they create more waste than home-cooked meals is not surprising either, considering the packaging that goes into ensuring these foods can be transported.

What might be surprising to people is the cost. There is the financial cost, set out in the images, that shows home-cooking to be more economical (assuming the food you buy doesn’t go to waste–a problem in and of itself). Maybe more important, however, but not illustrated in the images, is a different cost, one I associate with psychological and emotional well-being and with social cohesion.

First, psychological and emotional well-being: Granted, I understand that there are people who do not like to cook and I can appreciate that, but for me, and I think for many others and potentially for even many, many others given the opportunity, the process of cooking benefits and nourishes the soul. The feel of the food, the concentration and creativity of process, the revealing of flavors, and the experimentation that evolves over time are innately human drives that require a combination of manual skill, patience, attention to details, and intelligence. There is an immediacy to cooking that probably is unmatched by most other activities.

Second, social cohesion: Preparing food is by definition a form of nurturing (think the Italian, Jewish, Greek, Mexican, you name the nationality, mother or grandmother in the kitchen all day so she can enjoy watching her family eat–stereotypical, yes, but a quintessential image of the nurturing caregiver). I would not cook the way I cook, as limited as that is, for myself. I only began to cook regularly when Ines was born, and the more I did, the more I knew I wanted to do it because I wanted Ines to see me do it, to want to be part of it, and then to share in the experience. I think Beverly feels the same way, but she has always cooked (which can be traced back to a grandmother, mother, and father who know how to cook, each cooking different types of food). As long as I have known her, she has cooked wonderful dishes.

Similarly, beyond the social cohesion created through the desire to nurture and serve others and the goal of sharing what you are doing is the cohesion that comes from sitting down as a family and sharing what you have created. It is a time to talk about your day and to talk about food. In my experience this particular type of cohesion–family time, dinner time–is not the same when the food is taken out, delivered, or derived from a box. Food on the table that has been prepared by the hands of someone sitting at the table marks dinner as sacred.

So it has been a hectic week. Dinners have been homemade but quick. I hope to get back to something more grand this weekend. Time to crack open some recipe books of my cooking gods.

January 12, 2017: BST&A and Sweet Potato Fries

Nothing difficult tonight, after a couple of rough days.

BST&A is a knock-off of the BLT, only better. Forget the soggy lettuce part of the trio and add some crunch with fresh spinach and some smoothness with avocado. Throw in some whole wheat bread and tomato, and make sure your bacon is just starting to get a crisp to it (let the grease drain onto a paper towel, first). And, of course, the bread should be well toasted. After construction, cut diagonally with a sharp knife because a half of a BST&A is easier to pick up than a whole one. Also, it’s nice to look at one half as you eat the other, for some reason. Or maybe that’s just me.

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To go with the BST&A, I also made some sweet potato and white potato fries, baked in the oven with olive oil. I bought fresh deli dill pickles today, the whole ones that I could slice right before eating. I have no interest in soggy pickles.

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January 9, 2017: Oven-Baked Pork Chops and Beverly’s Kale-Spinach Salad

Another meat and heat night: salted and peppered bone-in, inch and half-thick pork chops seared on stove and baked in the over, all in a cast iron skillet, to 145 degrees. Simple—took 10 minutes. Came out with a light sear on the outside and a juicy oatmeal color with hints of pink on the inside. Can’t beat swine.

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I do love vegetables, although I could never be a vegetarian. I can’t imagine eating any type of meat without some vegetables, preferably sautéed or in a salad. And tonight, Beverly’s kale and spinach salad provided greater flavors and eating pleasure than the pork chops. The chops complemented the salad.

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The salad had just the right amount of sweet, tangy, crunch, and squishiness—kale, spinach, red onion, avocado, tomato, and sun flower seeds. Don’t ask me what was in the salad dressing. Beverly needs her own blog if she wants to reveal those secrets.

And, yep, there was rice.

January 8, 2017: Crunchy Yardbird Soup

A lazy Sunday–friends over for coffee this morning, and then relaxed and read all afternoon. Marcus Samuelsson’s yardbird soup fit right in, especially on a cold day. It’s easy and quick but hearty with enough kick to to make you feel like you really accomplished something in the kitchen. If you can cut up an onion and a carrot, you can make this soup.

What gives it its liveliness is the thigh meat (I always add an additional one), Tabasco sauce (4 tsp sounds like a lot, and it is. Don’t hold back), and paprika (I cheat a bit by adding a bit more than 1 tsp).

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One thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that I may never eat white chicken meat again, excluding a wing every once and a while. At least I won’t as long as I have a choice. The same goes for turkey.  I’ll live and die with the thigh, whether it’s in soup, on the grill, or cooking in its own fat.

A word about the word yardbird. It supposedly originated in the South among poor families who let their chickens have the run of the yard, the original domesticated free-range chicken. If I buy a whole bird (for this soup, I only bought thighs), I try to find one that weighs 4 pounds or less. I don’t want to eat a fat chicken. Anyway, I like the idea of chickens running free, probably because growing up, I had a neighbor who raised chickens for a large soup company.

Twice a year, huge semi-trailers would pull up to his 50-yard-long chicken coups, once to drop off thousands of chicks and once to pick them to take them to process (kill, chop, and make soup of). A number of us neighbor kids were enlisted to unload and load the trailer for a few bucks each. Unloading simply meant shoving baby chicks from a crate about four at a time into cages. Loading, however, meant reaching into the cages and grabbing four chickens by the legs and pulling them out of the cage feet first, and then doing the same thing with the other hand. We carried them outside and dropped them into crates that were loaded onto the truck.

Some of us more lucky neighbors got invited to come back and help clean the cages and chicken coups before the next extended brood were dropped off. Long live the free-range. Run free, yardbird, run free.

Anyway, accompanying the yardbird soup, I made quesadillas with Pepperjack cheese and jalepenos. Before serving, I added a bit of the leftover orzo from the night before, some cilantro and smashed tortilla chips. Sour cream is an option, but we didn’t have any. Not a bit of added salt anywhere.

January 7, 2017: New York Strip Steak

Steak. Beer…. and a little orzo with carrots and peas because a person can’t live off steak and beer alone, at least not my three-year old. Minus the beer, that is, for her.

Actually a nice salad would have been perfect, but we never made it to the grocery store today, so it was orzo with a cameo appearance, courtesy of Beverly.

I seared the salted and peppered steaks on the stove in a bit of butter in a stainless steel skillet (because my cast iron skillet wasn’t big enough), and then broiled them at 400 until an internal temperature of 130 was reached. That took about 6 minutes. I let them sit on the counter and continue to cook. The temperature went up to 136. Nice how that works.

January 6, 2017: Pizza Rabbit on Pizza Friday

Not everyone eats lasagne the day it’s made or the day after. Friday’s is usually our pizza day–Pizza Friday–and more and more we are making our own. Tonight, even with lasagne in the house, I had to make a pizza for Ines–and not just any pizza, but Pizza Bunny. Tonight’s presentation was of a running rabbit, with cinnamon jam ears (dessert built in).

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We’ve grown tired of over-priced, over-salted pizza. It is always hit or miss, and depending on the time we place our order, we might not see our pizza for over an hour.

I use Smitten Kitchen Deb Perelman’s dough recipe. It comes from her book, and is easy to make. The key is good pizza sauce and good cheese. Enough said.

January 6, 2017: Lasagne Bolognese Redux

Yep, like soup, lasagne is better the next week. Other than being hungry, there is no reason to eat lasagne or soup the day you make it. Make it–and take your time making it, letting is simmer and sit for hours–and then let it cool at room temperature and refrigerate. The next day you can think of it as the best take out you ever had.

Which reminds me: I have this great restaurant idea. It is a place that only serves day-old soup, all  homemade the day before. On special occasions maybe I put lasagne on the menu. Otherwise, it is only soup (maybe two or three each day), bread, grilled cheese sandwiches, scones, and salads (made fresh–some things shouldn’t sit overnight). For dessert, we have pie and more pie. I call the place Yesterday’s Soup.

January 5, 2017: Lasagne Bolognese

“Lasagne Bolognese, why not,” I thought. What can be bad about spending over four hours in the kitchen, a good two of them given over just stirring sauce and making Béckamel Sauce. After all, this is Chicago, and it’s cold outside. And besides, how often can I make something with chicken liver in it, and not have to worry about actually tasting chicken liver (except for chicken liver pâté–love that). Throw in some root vegetables, pork, veal, ground chuck, lasagne noodles, Parmigiano-Reggiano, mozzarella, and Béckamel, and I knew even chicken liver was going to be good.

And it was. In fact, it was the chicken liver that gave the lasagna its distinct taste—a hint of earthiness that complemented the cheeses and Béckamel.

The recipe was from Bourdain’s Appetites: A Cookbook. The lasagne was my second major effort since I got the book a week or so ago (Portuguese Kale Soup was the first). We tried the lasagne bolognese 20 minutes out of the oven, and it was delicious. However, I can’t wait until tomorrow. As Bourdain suggests, it will be better the next day, which begs the question, why try it on the first day? Well, because we were hungry after cooking for four hours and knowing the mess that awaited us.

January 1, 2017: Scrambled Eggs

New Year. Began it with scrambled eggs the Bourdain way (see December 31). Basic fare–eggs, ham, and cheddar champagne Summerdale cheese. Amazing how far a Christmas ham can go. And, of course, every breakfast for the past 5 years or so–or almost every breakfast–has included the usual whole wheat toast.

December 31, 2016: Portuguese Kale Soup

I ended 2016 by spending a good part of my day in the kitchen making Anthony Bourdain’s Portuguese kale soup, a recipe that he got from another chef. I guess that could be called the greatest compliment a chef could be given–to have someone else publish your recipe and still give you credit.

I could only find one of the two types of Portuguese sausages, so I substituted an Italian sausage for the second one. Everything else–kale, potatoes, ham bone, kidney beans–were true to form. I also took a hacksaw to the ham bone so that the morrow could dissolve into the soup while cooking. I ended up with a hardy soup for a cold and breezy December day.

Next time, I would do a bit more research on the sausages to see what each brings to the soup and if there are viable substitutes. Also, I’d clean the ham bone of excess ham. What was on the bone made the soup a bit saltier than I want. And, of course, my next big adventure will be making my own stock instead of relying on pre-packaged, organic as it is but still too salty.

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We didn’t eat until after 9 p.m. The soup sat on the stove for nearly seven hours, going from simmering to cooling and back to simmering again. When we finally ate, it was worth it. On New Year’s Day instead of pork and ‘krout we will have kale soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. The pork and ‘krout can wait until January 2.

Soup is always better the second day, which reminds me of a restaurant idea: a place that sells only soup and soup at least two days old. I’d call it “Yesterday’s Soup.”

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