Tag Archives: Cook

Dough thoughts: a time to pause

I must have needed the time to think.

It was Christmas Eve, the final few moments before the family’s arrival and the previous few frenetic days of to-do lists, Christmas carols and relative quiet would explode in the bustle, noise and complicated wonderfulness of family. I looked around my kitchen and bowls of dough were everywhere. Literally, everywhere.

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I hadn’t thought about all this when I planned my Christmas menu. Now, as I looked around, I realized I’d spent hours working with dough. There were pizza doughs, and pasta doughs and doughnut doughs and bread doughs.

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Dough was rising and baking and evolving around me as I slipped away into kneading thoughts of my own. Dough is my Zen Garden. I went there without ever really knowing why, like a well-trained horse wandering back to the ranch house without the need of a pull on the reins.

I think somewhere in the back of my mind I realized that this would be my family’s first completely non-alcoholic holiday. I think it worried me, though I never connected with that until a couple of days of later. I’m sure this is why I gravitated to the dough.

Later the family arrived and we ate pizza and doughnuts and bread and all the treats I’d been busily making. We crammed into our little house and played games and likely annoyed each other but I felt … congruent. I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be. I felt OK, and I think those moments lost inside my head, my forearms flexing and straining, my grip twisting and smooshing the flexible life in my hands had a lot to do with it. Nobody seemed to care they were drinking sparkling water instead of Pinot Noir. What a gift.

My yoga teacher likes to say, “the body knows what it needs.” My doughworks were my body’s way of asking the overbearing mind to step aside and let it have it what it needed.

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Comfort food well named on cold, gloomy day

I don’t have many bad days of late. Even the not-so-great ones, like one I had recently, are pretty OK. It’s just the mindset I’ve taken on. Perspective shapes most everything. I have worked to shape my perspective toward gratitude. It works.

But that still doesn’t mean I don’t need a little boost now and again. I have an arsenal of things — little things — that can boost my mood or straighten out a flagging perspective. I have a positive thought army that I repeat to myself. I have my balancing things I wrote about earlier. I also have my comfort foods.

It’s important not to use food as a drug, to soothe or to binge and all that. But that doesn’t mean a good plate of robust warm food can’t still warm the soul on a cold, gloomy day. We’ve had quite the weather lately. Snow covers the landscape. Our driveway was blocked for two days by a rather unaware thorn of the flesh. Four degrees is cold, really cold. A walk in 12-degree weather isn’t quite so sunny even when the sun is shining.

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So I countered the climate with warmth of my own, the old Italian staple, chicken parmigiana. It may seem involved or elaborate, but its neither. For Italians it’s akin to chicken soup or meatloaf for middle Americana. Take out a couple of chicken breasts, whatever cheese you have handy (I like provolone), some leftover sauce from pizza night and whip up this truly comforting dinner that will surely help your perspective stay positive. You can’t help but smile when you eat it.

Don’t get intimidated by the three bowls. It looks messy but its a snap, no worse than cleaning up the morning cereal bowls. Put flour in one, whip an egg with some half n half or milk or cream in the other and bread crumbs in the last. Add garlic powder, parsley, chili powder and sage to the bread crumbs.

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Heat a little olive oil on the pan and set out a cooking dish next to it, with some sauce on the bottom of the pan.

Then take each breast and pound it a bit with the mallet. Dip it into the flour, then the egg, the bread crumbs, then right into the heating olive oil. Repeat three times (one for me, one for my bride, one for me for lunch the next day — strangely my wife doesn’t really eat leftovers. It’s one of those cold wars I’ll never fully understand but have come to accept). by the time you get all three in the pan, flip the first. It should have a nice golden brown crust. Flip the next two. Take the provolone and put it on top of the chicken. Wait a minute, then transfer each to the baking dish. Cover the chicken with more sauce. Now slice some fresh basil if you have it (which you really should always have). and sprinkle the basil over the chicken. Toss it into a 350 oven until the meat thermometer says they are the right temp (I usually pull at 160 and let stand for a few minutes to reach the desired temp of 165. Some argue for 180 with poultry, but I beg to differ. Don’t trust me though. Don’t get sick on my watch).

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Slice some bread to dip in olive oil, make up a salad (in my case I made a spinach and romaine salad) and youre done. I baked some sweet potato fries to go with my comfort food, but pasta of course, or anything you want really.

Little things make big changes in our perspectives. Perspective can make all the difference in how you live in each moment. So who says a little comfort food can’t change the world? For a moment, it changed mine.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Reply below. I’d like to start a list. Thanks!  Continue reading Comfort food well named on cold, gloomy day

The neurotic obsession with leftovers marches on

I can’t throw things out. I just … can’t …. do… it. We don’t have a garbage disposal, so I scrape my wife’s unfinished plate (mine’s always clean) into my mouth instead of the trash can. She sighs… and maybe winces. I’m not sure. I’m too busy eating.

It’s so bad that last week I launched a poll with my family. I asked if they’d eat a carton of cottage cheese that had an eight-day-old sell date. The results were mixed, but I knew before I started what would win in my mind:

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I crushed that cottage cheese.

So this time of year is especially challenging. My kitchen was absolutely full of rapidly declining shelf-life foods. My neurotic need to consume, not trash, this food heightened. Still, I live for this. I approached my fridge like a Sherpa attacks Everest. With confidence. Bigger the challenge, the better. And this year, was a big one. Consider:

We celebrated my birthday the day before Thanksgiving. My daughter’s new significant other launched himself into the heights of family favorites. He gave me what I immediately pushed into the top five of all-time best gifts:

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Ain’t it beautiful!

But it didn’t make my after-Thanksgiving mountain of leftovers any easier to scale. Because this wasn’t all he brought. Seven red crabs, two dungeness, this little salmon beauty and an even bigger, nastier more beautiful steelhead. I died and went to Atlantis.

So consider the leftover artiste` at work here… turkey smoked (with no idea what I’m doing), salmon filleted and smoked (my filet skills are worse than my smoking skills) all while making the massive Thanksgiving meal, and … crab, gutted and cleaned and all the carcasses made into stock, which is now happily in the freezer.

Not to mix my mountain-scaling metaphor here, but what the hell… this was my Picasso of hoof-to-head cooking … all with the single of goal of “thou shalt not waste.”

A first key move was buying a freezer off craigslist the day before Thanksgiving as a birthday present to me. One man’s trash and all that. Soon, the freezer was up and humming in preparation of my good buddy Dinner, set to be picked up next week. This key move set the stage for all that was to follow. Like my base camp at Everest (back to the old metaphor again…) or the canvas to my brush (using the Picasso one, for those keeping track at home).
Next, I stuffed that freezer full of fluff in true Poohian fashion. Nothing makes me happier than a stuffed freezer. It’s like yoga… “nowhere else to go, nothing else to do or undo…” just frozen in the perpetual present, not spoiling, not demanding attention, until I can use it properly. Zen.. karma… bliss…If it could be frozen, it froze. The turkey neck, wing tips, and a few parts I didn’t use in the stuffing went in, awaiting a chance when I want to make stock rather than have to.That was just step one. Here’s the litany of what followed:

– Turned the salmon into a decadent omelette. Turned the crab into Asian Won Tons. Turned the leftovers of both into the single best bowl of soup — crafted on the spot, flying without a net — that I have had in… well… since the last time I trekked down I-5 to nowhereville for Anderson’s Split Pea!

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-Turned the crab into stock, which went into the aforementioned chowda. Go Sox. (For the sports fans, wasn’t Johnny Damon enough… Ellsbury, a yankee… really? FML!)

-Turned the turkey into traditional sandwich, followed by warmed-up plate with warmed-up fixins (love the Green Stuffing!) followed by the first quiche I’ve ever made in my life (it only took nearly half a century to get over the whole real men don’t thing…) that my parents (noted quiche eaters) lauded. The quiche used the leftover pie crust, half the leftover fresh spinach, the leftover heavy cream, some of the leftover cranberry sauce (really liked this… painted it on the crust for a savory pop!) more of the leftover turkey and plenty of the leftover cheeses.

– Turned the leftover quiche into breakfast. Turned the leftover cucumbers and tomatoes and Romano cheeses and leftover salami into a couple of antipasto plates, which are a staple around here.

– Turned the leftover spinach and basil and ricotta into a vegetarian lasagna, which I then turned 2/3 of it into the freezer for future dinners, perhaps a side dish to Dinner someday soon.

– Turned more of the turkey and peppers and onions into a smokey Asian stir fry that turned into lunch the next day.

– Tonight I’m turning the leftover sausage into an Italian meatloaf and the leftover sweet potatoes into a risotto, served with kale chips from the frozen garden if they aren’t doomed by this ungodly cold snap (says the very cold native Californian).

– I still have a little more smoked salmon that along with leftover bacon and leftover pepperjack cheese will become an EFFin delightful grilled quesadilla for lunch today or tomorrow.

That leaves: spinach, peppers and basil, which will become a vegetarian something or other Thursday night… likely employing some of the leftover cranberry sauce. Cranberry bran muffins tomorrow will polish off the cranberries and use some of the extra cream cheese. The remnants of the turkey will snacked upon impulsively, dipped into pesto, until finished. No worries there.

So far I have only had to throw out three stalks of celery that turned a sort of doughy color, two rolls that turned the color of the celery and half a bushel of Italian parsley. The leftover potatoes and root vegetables are looking like Benjamin Button… at the beginning of the movie sadly and may find their way into the trash instead of the oven. Overall, not bad.
Whew… I’m tired. But full. I gained four pounds. I’ll be out this afternoon in the frigid air on my bike to punish myself. I’m buying a 12 pound bag of organic brown rice from a gal off Craigslist who said she bought way way too many (don’t ask, she said… so I didn’t). So I’ll lug the rice in my backpack and pedal the frigid hills around here to burn the calories. Notice I had no worries about leftover desserts. I killed those, hence the four added pounds.

I love leftover stories. Drop me a line with your hoof to head adventures any time!

Pumpkin Empenada- It’s the hard that makes it great

This week’s exploration of all things pumpkin presented a terrific challenge in the test kitchen last night. The challenge of taking what is basically a dessert idea of pumpkin empenada (really it’s a pumpkin turnover) and making it into a main course that is savory, not sweet, seemed like a great idea…. right up until I started making it. but just thirty minutes in and I cringe to admit, I was intimidated. So much so that even as we sat down to eat, I had more than a half a bowl of filling that I wasn’t even sure if I would save. Throwing out anything pretty much causes my inner coding to crackle neurotically like an over-juiced overhead power line. I use the chicken gizzards and hearts in my meat sauce, turkey gizzards in my stuffing… I’m basically a permanent hock to jowl kind of guy (just ask my wife’s hocks and jowls… poor dear is a saint with what she puts up with!) in everything I do.

So to think I’d throw a massive bowl.. OUT… well, I’m simply ashamed to admit it. But my commitment to disclosure is not the same as the Obama administration, so I readily begin this post with this full omission: I began to doubt if I would even write about this strange project. Talk about breaking the very code of Effin Artist… sigh… my inner talk must be quieted: Repeat after me: “I am the acorn that becomes the oak…”

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Anyway, it begun chopping into the organically grown orange globe. I used Painted Hills beef and farmer’s market vegies, so this one was pretty local and small footprint and all that good stuff. But just one big slice with my knife and I suddenly realized why the grocery stores are largely out of pumpkin BEFORE thanksgiving. It’s EFFin hard to chop up and prepare a fresh pumpkin! But then I recalled the wise sage, Jimmy Dugan from A League of Their Own, (we know he’s wise: he told us. Remember this: “Avoid the clap…. HEY, that’s good advice!”) who said, “Of course it’s hard. If it was easy everybody would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great!” Still, that whole can opener thing seemed kind of appealing in this moment, but I powered through. The old “forcer” demon within in me, that I’ve worked so hard to banish through yoga, peace and love, reared up from the depths and proved effective.

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As the pumpkin steamed, I made the crust. I took a Bon Appetit recipe and cut the sugar in half. I added some cinnamon to bolster its flavor a bit. There’s only so much you can do with dough. As it did its thing in the fridge, I focused on the filling.

The filling started very promising. I put my own EFFin Artist meat rub on a small piece of flat iron steak. I grilled it up and chopped it fine, then put it in a bowl with cilantro and sun-dried tomatoes. This I seasoned with a bit garlic (always the garlic… always the garlic). It looked great, I was hungry and I thought, “screw the pumpkin.” But the spirit of Jimmy Dugan urged me on.

Soon I was mashing and pureeing and thrashing about with my pumpkins. I tossed in the meat and tomatoes, and started working the spices a bit, a little at a time: cinnamon, a small amount of brown sugar, cumin. I reached for the coriander and nabbed CURRY, which I noticed just a moment too late. When that signature smell rose, my spirit sunk in like a captive in Ursula’s Sea Garden in the The Little Mermaid. At this point I got weak-kneed. That damn curry would ruin me. I tasted.

“Son of a…” sigh. I added a little more brown sugar to mask it.

Now it was decision time. Leave the filling a little gritty, with chunks of stuff in it or make it a puree. I just couldn’t decide. I thought maybe the rustic chunky-ness would work, but eventually opted for a puree. A healthy splash of heavy cream and some serious wrist curls with the immersion blender chewed my creation into baby puke.

With a sagging spirit I rolled out eight dough balls and filled them with the puree. I brushed the tops with egg whites and put them in the oven. As they cooked I made simple vegetable medley, seasoned with plenty of chili powder and other spices. I broke out a jar of EFFin Artist salsa, thinking I’d need it to mask the damn curry or even make the empenada palatable.

Here’s the final result:

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So, after all that…

These were EFFIN AMAZING! I gotta tell you, I’ve never been so surprised. The complexities of flavors danced on the tongue. The vegetables were spicy and delicious. We could barely detect the curry. We didn’t even need our own salsa, which is a first. The four extras went into the fridge, the bowl of filling went into the freezer and I can’t wait to have lunch so I can have more (in fact, It’s long over due for lunch. I’m out. Gotta eat!)

If you are feeling adventuresome drop me a note and I’ll send you my recipe (I don’t really get into the whole recipe thing like food blogs, but what the heck. This one I’m proud of.) Just don’t use curry!