Archive for March, 2010

No such thing as free chocolate

Can we all just admit I’m a little nutty/obsessive/controlling and move on?  I say this by way of preface the following announcement and explanation and in anticipation of eye rolling and shaking of heads.

I like to endlessly obsess carefully plan events that will not happen for quite some time.  If you ever had the misfortune to glimpse my Thanksgiving themed blog you probably recognized that.  This time, it’s Christmas.  Which, if you don’t have a calendar in front of you, is oh about nine months away.  Like, a really long time.  But J and I are celebrating by the joining of families in the picturesque North Georgia Mountains.  And I am hosting.  Hence my careful yet arguably premature planning (I may or may not have a legal pad filled with menu and food ideas already and I may or may not be slowly stocking up on Champagne one bottle at a time – super cheap at Costco).

A happy coincidence of my planning led me to discover Godiva Chocolate’s reward card program (don’t ask how, I don’t rightfully know). I also learned that a benefit of membership is a free piece of chocolate…every month.  How awesome is that?  The only catch is you have to actually go to their store or boutique.  And while I am loath to shop in person, it’s nice to know that on the very rare occasion I have the misfortune of finding myself at a mall* *shudder* I can lessen the pain by hitting Godiva for a free piece o’chocolate.

*I find my current mall hatred a pretty funny turn of events, considering how many mindless hours I spent just hanging out in malls during my yet-to-be-misguided youth.  Maybe I reached my lifetime mall quota or something. But seriously, I get anxious when just thinking about having to dart into a mall for some random errand.  Why I chose to live in an open-air mall I’ll never know.  Thank god for the internets and virtual commerce!

I’m not pregnant!

Not that anyone was accusing suggesting I was (sure, I’ve gained a few pounds here and there but nothing that awful.  I think).  But, given the torrent of pregnancy/pregnancy progession/birthing announcements lately (mostly delivered via facebook) I feel the need to put that out there.  It’s an epidemic lately, it seem so many freaking people are knocked up.  Is this just some life cycle shit?  But with the rash of announcements lately, (not that I’m not thrilled for everyone, I certainly am) I felt left out and wanted to make my own announcement, affirming my status as an empty womber (by choice!)

Also, here’s a recipe for spinach pesto, apropos of absolutely nothing (don’t read anything into the fact that spinach is high in folic acid.  In my quarterly trip to Costco, a dizzying experience in consumer excess if there ever was one, I purchased a overgrown container of spinach, given my husband’s affinity for green monster smoothies.  I used the pesto for pizza topping (I’m not a fan of red tomato sauce for homemade pies, NO IDEA why).

I’m not giving exact amounts because everything was to taste (and I didn’t measure anything).  I trust your intelligence to figure it out.

Spinach (3? 4? cups? something like that)

Basil leaves (3? 4?)

pine nuts (ok, this one I got – 4 ounce container. I also got these pine nuts FOR FREE from Publix because they rang up incorrectly – I seldom watch prices but since it rang up $2 higher than marked (life is generally too short to quibble over anything less than $5 but I made an exception, only because I had consciously noted the price for purposes of comparision)

Parm, lots (1/2 cup? 1 cup?  just keep throwing it in there)

Garlic, crushed (3-4-5 cloves? sure)

Squeeze of lemon juice

Whirl all that stuff in a food processor.  It’ll be vibrantly green and only a little disgusting looking.  Slowly pour in olive oil while the food processor is running til you get the consistency you want.  Taste.  I found the spinach made initially for weak flavored pesto so I kept tinkering.  I added some red pepper flakes and salt and pepper.  Still not quite there.  Since I was out of anchovy paste (which was my first inclination) I drizzled in just a tad of fish sauce (made from anchovies) which gave me that savory umami taste I was after.  Walnuts would work for pine nuts if you can’t finagle free ones.  I’m not sure what a good vegetarian sub would be for anchovy paste or fish sauce.  What vegetarian condiment provides that rich savory taste?   Soy sauce or vegetarian Worcestershire? (reg Worcestershire is made with, you guessed it, anchovies).

Anyway, you could certainly toss this over pasta, I guess, or use to to spread over pizza dough topped with mozzarella di buffalo (also a random Costco buy, not too bad, relatively tender texture and not too rubbery).

Oh, and make sure whatever you do, serve with a nice glass of wine to cut the richness because, hey! I’m not pregnant!  Hooray!

How I finally managed not to set off my smoke alarm while searing (but the kitchen smelled like fish regardless)

My house, while a lot of things (devalued, for one, comes to mind) is actually fairly decently built, once we had the builders iron out a few wrinkles.  (Of course, as soon as I post this, our roof will probably cave in – please knock on wood for me now).  However, one thing that boggles my mind to this day is why my stove has a large stainless steel vent fan that leads to…nowhere.  That’s right, my exhaust fan sucks up smoke from the stove and circulates it around the ceiling of my kitchen and living room.  Which, as I’m sure you can guess, totally awesome.  I’m not a bad cook, I don’t burn things.  But searing at high temps sometimes leads to smoking.  Which sucks when there’s no decent ventilation and we have to open the windows in the middle of winter (although the cats seem to enjoy it, city cats that they are.  They do get lots of fresh air when we’re in North Georgia, however, least you think they’re being overly sheltered.  We kick them out onto the screen porch where they sniff the outdoor air and chase lizards, almost like they were real cats and not the pampered bratty butterballs they are.  But I digress).

So, you see, sometimes my cooking becomes a problem.  I’ve managed to alleviate it partially by cooking with clarified butter at high temps.  It definitely helps cut down on the smoking when cooking on the stovetop at high temps because clarified butter, minus the milk solids, has a higher smoking point than regular butter or olive oil (apparently, olive oil isn’t really meant for sautéing).  Last night while driving home from N. Georgia with the radio turned up really obnoxiously loud to drown out feline protests at being so tortured as enduring 1.5 hours in their crates, I was contemplated what I need at the store and what to do for dinner, since we were coming off a meatball and spaghetti fest (which was awesome) lovingly prepared by my husband.  We eat a lot of salads during the week (green salads, chopped salads, grain based salads, all sorts of salads) and I started by thinking about salmon, seared and finished off in the oven on a plate of spinach.  I was at the store and picked up some unethical asparagus (I’ve mentioned my weakness for non-local asparagus before but cut me some slack, it’s almost March!) that was on sale and plenty of spinach (I got J hooked on green monsters).

At home I found a fennel bulb that needed to be used, ¼ of a red bell pepper, a bit of red onion and a crate of Clementines patiently waiting to be useful.  I chopped the asparagus into pieces and blanched it quickly.  I sliced the fennel and sautéed it in clarified butter and then seared the salmon in the same pan.  I thinly sliced the red onion and bell pepper and section the Clementines (J kept snatching Clementine sections from my work area.  Whenever I buy a box of Clementines, he never eats them; I presumed he didn’t like them.  Turns out he doesn’t like peeling them and while my husband is not a lazy person, I found this odd.  It also reminded my of my long suffering mother, complaining no one ate the fruit she bought unless she peeled/chopped/prepared it).   Once the salmon had gotten a nice crust, I put the pan with the fennel and fish into a 450 degree oven to finish cooking (make sure to use an oven safe pan!).

I piled out plates with washed spinach (I always wash the “pre-washed” bagged spinach, I won’t go into detail why but you should too) and artfully arranged the Clementine slices, onion, blanched asparagus and bell pepper.  I sprinkled a few chopped fennel leaves on as well and then topped it with the roasted fennel bulb and salmon.  I made my standard vinaigrette based on David Lebovitz’s technique (I used 1 tablespoon vinegar to 3 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tsp. Dijion mustard – I like the Maille he mentioned in the article; probably a little more than a tsp of shallots (I just eyeball it) and plenty of sea salt and pepper.  I also juice a Clementine section into the dressing and added a touch of honey for balance).  Poured the dressing over the salad and et voila – salmon salad.  I know, I know, nothing special and certainly nothing that someone else couldn’t have (and already has) come up with but tasty nonetheless.  The bell pepper was unnecessary and probably threw the balance off a little bit but since I needed to use it up oh well.  But, all in all, it was one of my favorite salads recently (and we eat a LOT of salads) so I figured I’d throw it out there so you can make your own variations.