Thursday, September 29, 2011

You Don't Know What You Got (Until You Lose It)

I learn lessons over and over which may really mean I never learn my lesson. Another flaw in my vast imperfectness. I thought today that if I appreciate or like something I better enjoy it while it lasts. Not only that but cherish it, take care of it, and acknowledge it. How many times have you heard that but when the something goes away you really get it.
The summer went away and I feel like I barely even knew it was here. I didn't go out and enjoy it much like previous years. I didn't even swim this year. Not only am I the food monkey but I'm the freakin' Mexican mermaid ferschrissakes yet I barely dipped a toe in water.
I used to could be cute. By that I mean I'm not traditionally pretty or beautiful or anything but I had my days where if I worked at it, I could be cute. Not every time and certainly not for very long but it did happen. I don't feel cute anymore ever even when I put effort into it. I certainly don't wake up looking cute. I look like hell!

I had a window that I used to dream out of. It faced a building that had these big glass windows but no tenant which was great. I took a bunch of pics of this building and I really liked it. Why I don't know. Now a whole team of guys are working hard to brick it all up and even build another story so it even screws up my other view that I love even more of a cool building down the street.
Not only is my dream window and view gone but also my freedom to roam around inappropriately dressed with the shades open.

I actually did appreciate things I had and now that they're gone it doesn't make it much easier so what's the real lesson here? Probably that good shit stops happening if you're even lucky enough for it to have happened at all. So deal with it, suck it up and add it to the pile of other shit that sucks and stinks and is so hard in this god forsaken world. Don't get me wrong by the way, I'm a happy person just too damn observant for my own good.

I made a great grilled cheese with ham and tomatoes just like I used to eat with my friend H at our favorite diner near work where I used to have a great high paying position that I hated and where I occasionally looked cute.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Celebration Day

It's officially fall and its time to celebrate the sweater, the apple and the pear! I love the idea of sweaters. Something warm and comfortable to hug and protect you whilst you're braving the crisp outdoors and even inside. People look more distinguished in sweaters, pants and boots. Most people will have a favorite sweater all season that they'll throw on time and again. It becomes a part of them for months, like your little buddy.

Apples and pears are symbolic of fall too. Pies and cakes, breads, turning the oven on again, smelling the sweetness of baked goods. It all begins to happen during this changing of the seasons. Its all about the bounty and the harvest. Time for a celebration. You don't buy one apple or one pear. You buy a bag or at least 6.

I love the sweet delights but I also love these two with meat. The mixing of the sweet and savory is best of both worlds. Tonight I egg-dipped and Panko breaded some pork chops and fried them up. But first cooked some sliced apples, pears and onions with a bit of butter and just a sprinkling of brown sugar until a bit caramelized and browned in a hot skillet. I just laid those on top of the chops and served with couscous and buttered peas.

Tasted like Fall, felt like a warm sweater!

I Love You Just the Way You Are

I am embarrassed to say that I've never cooked butternut squash before. I always felt that it was one of those Martha Stewart vegetables that shlumps like me didn't get to try. But put it on sale at PathMark and I'm right there. As I was browsing recipes for it I realized I sort of resent that any vegetable with a slightly sweet taste to it usually gets drowned in butter and brown sugar. Even though it is a great combo, they don't need their natural flavor masked so much. But I'm one to put salt on fruit instead of sugar too. I found a recipe for spicy roasted squash with smoked Paprika and Balsamic vinegar. I added a bit of my Cajun Seasoning and the squash still caramelized a bit on the edges. Tasted spectacular! No need for sugar. Thanks Kalyn, whoever you are!

If You See Me Walkin' Down the Street...

You can't help but admire all the amazing architecture everywhere you go in this town. It should be treasured and honored. Sometimes you really see it and sometimes you just walk on by like Dionne Warwick says.
I love Dionne Warwick! She didn't get enough accolades if you ask me. She was amazing and there will never be another voice like hers. Ever. I used to wish she could be my aunt. I knew she could teach me an awful lot with that voice. She was beautiful too, that bone structure! Please.
I also had a fascination with cabbage in the last weeks. Napa, Green, Savoy, Bok Choy - I couldn't get enough. People don't boast about cabbage enough either. I took some braised Napa cabbage and paired it with pork meatballs that I steamed and then fried a bit. The meatballs included apple, red bell pepper, celery, onion, garlic mixed with some bread crumbs and egg. I served it over brown rice.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

That's the Way, Uh Huh Uh Huh I Like It

I dig browsing the dried goods aisle where they keep the beans, rices and grains. I know making a big pot of almost any bag of beans will be good but its hard to really want it. Hmmm, its not cold enough yet to just want a warm bowl of anything, so I tried the Yellow Split Peas. Figured it could be cool looking if nothing else. And it was! Also super luscious and velvety. I did homemade croutons for the top with Parmesan cheese. Kick it! I seasoned it with a ham bone and smoked turkey necks. I always add extra celery, carrots and onions because I like forward, brave flavors. I'm not a delicate cook, although I admire that too. Its not me though. I like a big burger with cheese and bacon but also pickle, tomato and onion. I like a good mayo ketchup blend on the bun but wouldn't kick you if you added mustard on the other side. I like a pizza with pepperoni and mushroom but give me sausage, onions and olives on that. I like an omelet with tomato and feta but hell while you're up, put me in some ham and diced bell peppers too. I don't want it all but certainly am a fan of the 'loaded' version of things. Like oatmeal cookies, I like raisins but also give me chocolate chips and nuts too - hey throw some toasted coconut in there. While you're at it give me a Seltzer but add some cranberry juice and squeeze in some fresh lime and a dash of orange juice. Yep, that's the way I like it.

Stroke Me, Stroke Me!

Clamoring to find a new way to use ground turkey I searched easy stroganoff recipes on the innernets. Almost every easy recipe contained cream of mushroom soup. I was feeling like I wanted to take it just one step above Paula Deen, so I made my own sauce. I didn't use any heavy cream and just a half cup of sour cream. The nutmeg and lemon juice put the flavors right on track.

Hey, this was good eats! The ground turkey will absorb flavors while keeping its own and tends to work well in place of other meats I've found.

I added white onions, tender leeks, mushrooms and green onions to the saucy turkey and served it over lightly buttered egg noodles with lots of parsley on top. P kept calling it Stroke Me Off. At least I think he was referring to the dish.

September Morn

We've turned the corner and are heading into fall. You can feel it in the air. If summer is the big party, the party is over. Which is fine with me because when the party is actually over, the next day can be just as fun. You get to lay in bed all day and eat and remember all the brilliant things you said last night. You can put on your pajamas, or clown clothes as I call them, and relax.
On days like this you want hearty food. I made a nice skillet frittata with harvest vegetables.
I cut most of the vegetables into small cubes, potatoes, broccoli, grape tomatoes, red bell pepper, green and yellow squash, red onion. Let those cook awhile in a hot skillet, then poured in my highly seasoned eggs. I let it cook a few more minutes until the bottom started to set and then I put in under the broiler for a couple of minutes and sprinkled on some dry salami to get all crusty for crunch on top. Good stuff!
I start fearing the winter around this time. How cold is it gonna get this year? How hard will it be to ride that damn bike? But fall is beautiful and should be celebrated. The leaves turning, the crisp air. Its the only time my hair actually behaves. I can wear my cowboy boots and cool jackets. Me and P met in the fall all brand new. September mornings still can make me feel that way.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth

I got a little $3 package of pork meat and I remembered one of the first real recipes I got excited about making was from my Fanny Farmer Cookbook. I read that book like the bible. I still have it. Unfortunately due to my misspent youth, my recall is shot to all hell and I don't retain information very well and I often have to relearn things over and over. The recipe was Chili Con Carne, Real Texas chili with cubed beef chuck. Very simple recipe but it helped me understand that I could actually make something fabulous by just learning a technique. The technique was searing and then braising. I wish they would have named it that actually because it would be a few more years before I knew that's what it was.
So anyway I figured I could do a great pork chili, same method, stovetop. Roll the cubed pork in seasoned flour. Sear it on all sides, then add onions and lots of garlic. At this point its good to add a nice big bottle of beer but I just had chicken stock. For the chili powder, I went with a cumin powder blend with some chili but more cumin, cilantro and coriander and a bit of smoked paprika. Cover in a heavy bottomed pot and simmer for 2 hours.
It felt great to just make this quickly as if it were just boiling water. I'd come a long way from running back and forth to my recipe book. Serve this with some nice warm flour torts and beans and rice if you want a hearty meal. Now, what was it you were saying?

But How Do You Thank Someone Who Has Taken You from Crayons to Perfume?

If I would've known how good these brownies would come out, I'da got better pictures. Salted bacon caramel brownies. What?! Oh yeah, its all true. Thanks to Kate in Los Angeles, a recipe to die for.
I made them for a coworker's birthday, a nice girl. She turned 22 and yet she is my peer. It doesn't mean I'm a loser. That's a joke. I recall being 17 working as a dispensing optician for Sear's & Roebuck in Fort Wayne, Indiana. My peer at the time, Caroline, was older, like 61. She was cool, had big high white hair like a Gabor sister. She wore Polyester blend suit jackets and dress slacks with heels to work. Usually in a red, white and blue color scheme. Her skin was shiny and her mascara always ran just a little under the bottom lashes. I liked her a lot. She was always giving me advice. She brought cream cheese and green olive sandwiches to work for lunch. I had no idea. They were great. She liked me but you could tell, maybe she was a little bummed that she shared her position with a 17 year old head. She taught me a lot and some to do with my job. Mostly I liked studying 'normal' folks like her because I myself was raised by a pack of wolves. I was already a veteran worker. After being a front counter waitress slash donut maker across from Sears, I fancied a better life. These jobs were right next door to my high school. The one that I was supposed to be attending. I wanted to go to school but couldn't quite ever make it through the door. Sears was as close as I could manage. I imagined myself someday with my own apartment like Caroline, downtown and possibly with a job like this. She seemed happy. We were on commission, which was so cool. At the time, the super large lenses were in vogue as were the Elvis thick temples. Anything over-sized lended more money. Extra pairs, even more money and then the new flexible contact lenses, shade fades, blended bifocals! Boy, you could make a killing with all the extras to sell. I did really well. I liked fitting and choosing frames for women and even the men. I felt I could make them look their best.
My coworker friend A is good at what she does too. She figured the job out quickly and was never intimidated to jump right in. I guess I see something in her that reminds me of myself. I want to warn her and guide her. She always just laughs it off. I'll never forget Caroline at Sears. If nothing else, maybe A will remember that some old bird put bacon in brownies like I remember Caroline putting cream cheese and green olives together, oh and Saltine crackers and butter!

It's Alright if You Love Me, It's Alright if You Don't

Cooking while sick can be a challenge. You sort of put the ingredients in by rote system but it proves you really do need to add love and intent for great results. Its not just technique and ingredients.

For dinner I made a half-assed toasted sub with provolone, avocado, red onions and some fancy chicken sausage I found at the fifteen dollar store. The sausage was a little sweet but not in a good way. I tried to get a little fry on it to make it crisp on the edges but didn't quite get that right either.
But the great thing about eating is there is always a next time. Its survival, so you can have the most basic meal and as long as you are satiated, I guess all is good.

Breakfast that morning was a bit tastier but sort of an equal fail. A western wok scramble with ham, red bell pepper, onions,tomato and potato. Meh.

Being kinda sick while cooking is a big bummer. Its like not being able to play the guitar, your fingers not working during a live performance. You know its happening yet you need to finish and all the while you know its probably gonna suck and the reviews will be bad. And although P's always appreciative of my cooking, we both sort of acknowledged it was not my best work. Next!

Knowing Me, Knowing You

Another great brunch at the Smoke Joint! I got the beef brisket sandwich again. My reasoning being the chicken and pulled pork is great but I eat tons of those meats weekly but when do I get brisket? Decision made. Case closed. Plus the fat on brisket is truly one of life's greatest treasures. They will serve it as a snack in my heaven.

We went with the seasoned fries, Bed Stuy potato salad and baked beans again - all super good sides, no surprises there. J had some pepper-infused tequila bloody Maria that took everything for me not to grab and suck down for some sweet mental and emotional relief. But no, not drinking, not gonna do it. Thank you, I'll have the iced tea please. sigh.

I was weak that morning. I didn't want to miss brunch with J but P had me out on a bike ride that morning and I was under the weather. The hill in Prospect Park almost did me in, plus there was a cancer walk that in my opinion was poorly planned because it became an obstacle course of bikers, joggers, kids and cancer walkers. What should have been a nice day in the park turned into a cursing sweaty hateful resent-fest. If you're a biker, you resent the walkers and the joggers. They are in your way. It's simple. Get out of my way. If you were walking, you probably felt it was your day and the park should have been closed off to bikers and joggers. If you're jogging well sorry but to me, you're from another planet anyway, so you don't count. What normal human could take running up those hills?!

You Don't Have To Be a Star Baby (To Be in My Show)

Sometimes you can create amazing stuff with little effort. I had these bananas getting nice and ripe for my Monkey Bars, a great low cal recipe from Woman's Day. I've made these before and my dad even makes them at 87! I got my mom a subscription to WD, hoping she'd look at the pictures and turns out my dad reads it which is kind of cute.

You get just enough of your bake on to enjoy making these but it doesn't require all that concentration and skill, so you almost can't screw them up. Plus you use whole wheat flour and they're only 90 calories a bar. They taste impressive and super moist.

For the main meal, I had all that great leftover roasted butternut squash so I cubed some pork meat and braised it until tender then added frozen vegetables, corn, peas and carrots for a nice Fall type dish to scoop up with warm torts.

I seasoned the meat with my flavorful Cajun mix, and after browning I just added a splash of orange juice and some water to deglaze the pan and keep it nice and moist while braising.

I like when things take little effort and they don't suck. Life is hard enough, dinner should be easy.