Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pork, Pears and Parsnips: The 3 P's combined anew

I never liked the word loin, but in this case I approve of the usage.
This is a delicious and easy way to prepare pork.

Sage-Brined Pork Chops with Brown Sugar Glaze: 
2 cups water
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
2 1-inch thick, center cut, boneless pork chops
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Olive oil

Heat one cup of the water to a simmer either on the stovetop or in the microwave. Add the salt and sage, and stir until the salt has dissolved. Mix in a second cup of cold water to cool the brine down and let stand until mixture is lukewarm.

Place the pork loins in a shallow dish and pour the brine solution over the top. The brine should completely cover the pork. If not, either transfer the pork to a smaller containter or flip the pork halfway through brining. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 3 hours. I let mine sit for at least three.

When ready to cook, place a cast-iron, stainless steel, or other oven safe skillet in the oven on the center rack. Heat the oven to 400 F. Remove the pork loins from the brine solution, pat dry and let them warm on the counter while the oven is heating. Discard the brine.

Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven and place it over medium high heat on the stove top. Rub the pork loins with vegetable oil and lay them in the center of the pan about an inch apart. Sear for about 3 minutes or until the underside of the pork chop is golden.

Flip the pork chops and spread a tablespoon of brown sugar over the surface of each chop. Immediately place the pan in the oven. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until the center of the chops are just barely pink and register 140 to 146 on a thermometer. If the brown sugar hasn't melted all the way, run the pan under the broiler for a few seconds.

Remove the pork chops from the pan and cover with aluminum foil while you plate the rest of your meal. Don't leave them in the pan or they will become tough. Spoon some of the pan juices over the pork chips just before serving.

(Recipe: by Emma Christensen.)

While your pork chops are brining, I highly suggest making the following side dish as an accompaniment. Plus, it is a great recipe for so many different things.

Gingered Pears and Parsnips:
2 Bosc pears, quartered
3 parsnips, sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp. butter
juice of 1 lemon
a few slices of ginger
1 bay leaf
a pinch of sugar and red pepper flakes

Combine everything, partially cover and boil until liquid evaporates and the pears brown, about 20 minutes. Stir in a splash of water.

I would check the parsnips frequently while making this; mine became a little mushier than I wanted. I do like a nice crunch to my parsnips. The leftover sauce is so yummy I saved it and poured it over the pork as well.

(Food Network Magazine)


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dreams of Retaliation in a Basement Kitchen

For those of you who don't know, Mookie's Food Odyssey was born, in part, out of a longing for a better kitchen. I don't have a traditional oven and I plug my stove range into the wall. I knew this, of course, when I chose to move in, and I was also aware I'd be living below my landlord. What I didn't know was that she and her daughter–and now a young male cousin–would be so loud. They yell in the morning. After school and work they bound up the stairs. They often forget to turn on the heat and when they do remember, the stale smell of their leftovers wafts through their vents into my apartment. This stinks most when I'm trying to go to sleep. 

This morning, I woke up to the usual noises and pondered how I might respond in the kitchen. How might they smell me?

Aha! Copied below is a recipe for Bob Blumer's dishwasher salmonAlso, check out Tom Scott's instructional video.

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 6-ounce pieces salmon fillet
¼ cup fresh lime juice
kosher salt and black pepper
1 lemon, cut into wedges
heavy-duty foil

(1) Grease the shiny side of two 12-inch squares of heavy-duty foil with the oil. Place 2 pieces of fish side by side on each square. Fold up the outer edges of the foil (to contain any liquid) and drizzle the fish with the lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.

(2) Fold the foil closed to form 2 airtight packets. (To test the seal, press down on a packet gently with your hand. If air escapes easily, rewrap.

(3) Place the packets in the top rack of the dishwasher. Run a normal cycle. Remove the 
fish from the foil and serve with the lemon wedges.

Serves four: Me, landlord, daughter, and nephew. Score!


Sadly, I can't make the recipe this morning because I have neither fish nor dishwasher. But, I do have a crock pot and one day soon I will slow-cook tilapia. And no, as much I'd like the landlord to find me formidable–like the Godfather–I won't leave a dead fish on her doorstep. 

Instead, I'll share my home-cooked meal with her! Where I come from, even the most unreachable person can be reasoned with on a full stomach.

My question is: does my landlord even like tilapia?

More importantly, is she willing to don these ridiculous fish slippers when she stomps toward her own decked-out kitchen? 

I hope so. It'd sure make my morning.  


Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Stick it to the Man" Soy Chorizo Pasta

Soybeans - Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On Tuesday, 75-year-old Indiana soybean farmer Hugh Bowman brought a lawsuit before the Supreme Court, and lost to agribusiness giant Monsanto. His lawyers asserted that Monstanto's patent on Round Up Ready soybeans–engineered to survive the ubiquitous weed killer Round Up–had been exhausted, and that long-time customer Bowman hadn't infringed their patent when he went elsewhere for seed mixes for his late-season crop.

In a nearly unanimous decision, the Supreme Court disagreed with the farmer's defense team. Mr. Bowman will pay Monsanto more than $84,000 in fines.


It's as if everyone involved in this case was trying to hold onto something: a fruitful harvest, a patent (90% of U.S. soybeans are Round Up Ready), a lawyerly reputation. Such high stakes make me appreciate my no-cost blog, and of course encourage me to eat something I can share with you.

This week, I cooked with soy chorizo for the first time. I wanted to invite the Indiana soybean farmer to dinner–austere times are on his horizon–but rumors suggest he's throwing soybeans at the younger union members back home, asking them why an old geezer has to stick it to the man alone! (I'm JK).

Now, it's your turn to revolt. Get yourself to the kitchen. Stick It To The Man Pasta makes enough to serve several of your friends, colleagues and superiors at work. Be careful sharing the recipe with teenagers, though. Indignation is for family chefs and farmers, only.

"Stick it to the Man" Soy Chorizo Pasta
16 oz. fresh green beans
10 oz. soy chorizo
10 oz. penne pasta
18 oz. marinara sauce

-Simple Steps-
Green Beans
Cut in half or into thirds, removing stems
Bring 1/2 inch of water to a boil
Add green beans, a pinch of salt and two peeled garlic cloves
Steam for about 5 minutes
Set aside

Boil the pasta for 10 minutes or per instructions listed on box.

Combine soy chorizo and marinara sauce and cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes.

Mix everything together, and top it with your favorite cheese. Sour cream curbs the spiciness. It's like bolognese sauce with a twist.

Soy Chorizo and Green Bean Pasta

Okay, that looks great, but in what way have you 'stuck it to the man', you might ask?

It's true: you're not pulling the wool over any one person's eyes. But, if you've bought soy chorizo from Trader Joe's, you've got half of it left. It lasts for weeks and weeks. What's more, you're not bankrupt by keeping leftovers for yourself! You haven't made the landlord mad. In fact, it's by legal means only that you secretly hide your plastic bag of soy chorizo like the important discovery that it is. You're prepared for vegetarians. You're ready for a power outage after an earthquake. Ritz crackers are for your nemeses. You'll enjoy pasta instead.

Some advice: do not try to plant the soy chorizo in your backyard. It won't yield anything. And, who knows where the big seed brother lurks.


Monday, February 18, 2013

Keys to Food Safety

Given the continued discovery of horse meat in hamburgers in Britain, I felt compelled to get serious about food safety. And in my rapid-fire research, I discovered that about 75% of the new infectious diseases trace back to animal products. See the slideshow "10 Facts on Food Safety" compiled by the World Health Organization. (The link is in bold print; scroll down their web page).

By the WHO's estimates, foodborne and waterborne diarrhoeal diseases kill about 2.2 million people annually, 1.9 million of them children. Food trade and production is increasingly international which forces a constant and careful eye on food handling. The WHO's Zoonoses* and Food Safety department counts itself among the watchdogs.

See the organization's Five Keys to Food Safety. Some of the tips may seem second nature, but I for one didn't know soups should be served at around 70 degrees C/ 160 F or hotter.

Print the slick flyer and slap it on the wall of your nearest industrial kitchen, and on your own refrigerator. Although alone we can't keep horse meat out of burgers in the E.U., strict adherence to food prep guidelines offers us at least some control in our own homes.

*Zoonoses–a new word for me–refers to infectious diseases that are naturally transmissible between vertebrate animals and humans.

Friday, February 15, 2013

How to Stomach the News in No Time

I've had Shakespeare on the brain.

Plot spoiler alert: In Titus Andronicus, which I just finished reading for school, there's a vengeful people-eating feast. As if thinking about a cycle of violence perpetuated through pie isn't shocking enough, this week I also listened to several hours of the NPR story about Christopher Dorner, the former Los Angeles police officer who was on a murderous path when he, himself, was killed. If I linger too long in my feelings of horror, the stories of school shootings and gang violence glob onto a meteorite that explodes over Russia. Then, passengers stranded after their ship catches fire become candles on my Mile High Pie which melts before I can find a spoon. 

If I'm an artist–pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree–how do I respond when the world news makes a mess of me? The version of Titus I just read doesn't contain a lot of stage directions: simply "Stab him [Bassianus]." No action, reaction, no looks of horror, no dying groans. The story of violence is powerful enough, I think, that readers don't need their hands held.

I'm a big fan of the Theater of the Absurd (i.e. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead), so my culinary response will be in this vein. We can all agree the world is screwed up at times. Here's a casserole in its honor. Seven ingredients correspond, however loosely, to U.S. food history, fun facts and social commentary. I have no ethical suggestions about the Seven Deadly Sins, just that you should avoid them.

-Fun Friday Frittata-

First, the ingredients:

Apples (Wrath)
Entire orchards ravaged, blamed for making us drunk. I mean, they did, but we bottled the cider in the first place.

Eggs (Greed) 
Food: Billions are stolen from mother hens every year. 
Fertility: Two million sperm applicants for a single willing egg. 

Whipped Cream (Sloth)
Can you name the last time you did anything productive on a day you ate this stuff from a can?

Purple Corn from Utah (Pride)
Imagine what the boastful Mormon farmer says of his eight acres of land: "I'm so happy my crop isn't gay!"

Whiskey (Lust)
What liquor may inspire in you...

Sockeye Salmon (Envy)
Cast your fishing line and tear apart a set of fish twins as the older, better looking one escapes upstream. (Wait, is there even twinning in fish? I'm no scientist).

For a touch of Gluttony, add Quinoa from the Andes.

You may want to mix lust and sloth (whiskey and whipped cream) together for dessert. Also, note that these ingredients can be combined in a casserole dish and baked the following day. 

So, what's your recipe, please? I'm busy sorting out my own.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Crock Pot King Cake Fail. Well, mostly

Nobody's ever told me not to make a crock pot king cake–or shown me how for that matter–so last night I tried my hand with a conventional Epicurious recipe. And I had no trouble with the kneading or braiding the three separate pieces of dough. It was when I was putting it all in the crock pot that I saw it would be a challenge to keep the desired hole-in-the center form. 

Still, I set it to slow-cooking (4 hrs. is the shortest cycle on my crock pot) and got ready for bed. In less than an hour, a hunch propelled me into the kitchen where, sure enough, the failure was already in process. The outside of the dough was getting crispy and the inside was still very moist.

Why, I wondered, had I mostly botched the job?
I think it's clear there was too much dough. I also think it makes sense to bake any crock pot bread in a loaf pan, and this was news to me until this morning. 

I remembered that one of the best things about my favorite king cake is that it forgives a lot once you slather it with icing and sprinkles. So, I scooped out the middle of what was in the crock pot and baked it in the oven. The result was amateur, but delicious, as you might imagine. 

I'd like to mention some advice a doctor gave me a few years ago. After I'd run several long distance races, a podiatrist looked at my x-rays and said to me, "I'm not going to tell you to never run again, but you know the consequences if you do."

I'd say the same thing to anyone interested in making a crock pot king cake. It's doable, but be prepared for disaster.

If you want to keep it simple, try these mini baked king cakes or split the Epicurious recipe in half, plug in your slow cooker and watch it like it's your newborn child. I'm not sure how that's any more convenient than simply baking king cake in the oven, but it certainly builds character, something Catholics will need in the coming season of sacrifice.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Saturday Aristocrat Pancakes

As a child, I had the great fortune of having my grandfather whistle while he made breakfast for my sister and me. He often combined three or four different cereals with chopped apples, grapes, and whatever berries were around. In fact, his next door neighbor–a passionate amateur chef who railed at Emeril–was my first cooking inspiration. They've both passed away, and so if I find it too quiet on a leisurely morning when I'm at the stove, I tune into NPR. Today, I almost mistook the back-East accents of Tom and Ray Magliozzi for Big Easy Mardi Gras revelers.

This morning, while across the country my mother was draped in shiny beads, I whipped up a brand new recipe of pancakes with bananas, Bosc 'the aristocrat of pears,' strawberries and yogurt. No purple or green streamers but a mint garnish is in order next time.

Saturday Aristocrat Pancakes

Here's how it's done:

Saturday Aristocrat Pancakes
-1 c. of your favorite pancake mix
-3/4 c. milk (I use 2%)
-1 tablespoon oil (try olive oil)
-1 egg

topped with
-1 banana, sliced
-1/2 cup strawberries, quartered
-1/2 Bosc* pear, cut in small pieces
-1/8 c. low fat plain yogurt
-Maple syrup
-A sprinkle of granola

*I recommend a Bosc pear since it's denser and crisper than the Williams or D'Anjou. Also, I was nervous about substituting extra virgin olive oil, but it's much healthier than many of the alternatives, and I couldn't taste the difference. I'm making a permanent switch. 

1. Heat a lightly greased skillet over med-low heat or an electric griddle to 375 degrees.
2. Combine ingredients until smooth; do not over-mix. Let stand 1-2 minutes.
3. Pour 1/4 c. of batter for each pancake
4. Flip when pancakes bubble and bottoms are golden brown.

Since you're not cooking fruit inside the pancakes, the quantities are up to you. Nuts can also be added. Lemon curd or whipped cream can be used instead of yogurt, but the latter has more protein and less sugar. Have your favorite coffee nearby.

Carmen Sandiego Tip
I often wonder what other people are doing when they're up at the crack of jack.
Several summers ago, I visited Cadillac Mountain in Maine which, because of its height at around 1,530 feet is the first place light hits the continental U.S. October 7 through March 6. I didn't go to Jordan's Restaurant, but I will next time. It opens at 5 a.m.!

Lexi-Lingo Tip
There's some debate about the pronunciation of Mt. Desert Island on which Cadillac Mountain sits. Champlain called it the "Isle of the Desert Mountains" for its uninhabited, bare mountains. But I've also heard locals emphasize the second syllable "de-ZURT," as in sweets on a weekend morning.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Show Me Your King Cake Baby

The Adventures of King Cake Baby cracks me up!

I wish I'd taken this photo!
-Visit the Adventures of King Cake Baby on Tumblr-

Also, see Zazzle's Sumo Wrestler and King Cake Baby mousepad!

What's that, I heard? 

A 14-foot-tall king cake baby in the desert? 

The video is a bit lackluster but the story's fun: Baby Bon Temps Brulee at Burning Man. If I ever go to such trouble, I promise everyone will get to eat before the fire. Speaking of crazy, I'll attempt to make a crock-pot king cake this coming week. Stay tuned and cross your fingers.

Assuming the recipe pans out, I'll need to insert a king cake baby, but I don't think they're sold anywhere in the Bay Area. Last year, I used a fava bean. I hope to find some edible paint, and at least give my baby a smiley face. 

Want to celebrate Mardi Gras but don't live in New Orleans? Bay Area folks should put their orders in at Arizmendi

Though it sounds like their king cake is unconventional, with candied orange peel and pecans, I'll endorse it if it has the purple, green and gold.*

As the work week comes to a close, I wish you justice, faith and power* at the office but most importantly, in the kitchen.

You know, I'm a bit uncomfortable signing off with the standard laissez les bon temps rouler since it's a Cajun construction. The French might instead say 'que la fĂȘte commence or 'que la musique continue...' 

(More or less--let the party begin; let the music go on).

Or, they might simply say bonjour, since as I finish this post it's about 7 a.m. Paris time.

So, bonjour, France et bon nuit, California. 

Happy Mardi Gras block parties back home! 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A New Way To Love Chard

My cousin was working for a business mogul who dealt in broccoli–among other things­–when she tipped me off that the stems have more nutrients than the florets. And to think I’d snubbed my nose at whole-plant offerings at the school cafeteria! Though, in the end, my cousin’s broccoli boss turned out to be an oppressive jerk whose tip I've yet to validate, I did appreciate what he was driving at. When I became sophisticated enough, I took a break from broccoli for beet’s taller, brighter cousin: chard. I assumed it would be a bigger hassle and produce more waste than food, but I proved myself wrong.

Tips and facts

*There’s nothing Swiss about chard; I have no idea where that came from.
*To maintain freshness, wash soon after purchase.
*Store in refrigerator in a sealed plastic bag.
*You should wash and eat the entire plant. The stems are a bit like celery, with a twist. Note that the same cooking instructions apply to chard of any color.

Chard with Garlic and Olive Oil

  • Thoroughly wash the chard.
  • Pull or cut leaves from the stems.
  • Finely chop the stems. Don’t mince.
  • Saute the stems in olive oil and garlic, salt and pepper. They should be slightly tender, not mushy. Set aside.
  • To cook the leaves, boil them past wilting for 3 to 4 minutes. 
  • Drain thoroughly in strainer.
  • Puree the leaves, adding a pinch of salt.
  • Optional: add a splash of milk or cream. Surprisingly, almond milk works as well. And you can get away with a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg.
  • Sprinkle sauteed stems on top and eat.   

The beauty of this antioxidant-rich food is that it can be boiled, wilted, steamed, braised or microwaved. It goes well with sweet potatoes, with eggs, with rice and pasta, with baked fish, with cream or Parmesan cheese. It can be served as a side dish or hidden in your children’s lasagna. You can tell them it’s frozen spinach but they’ll catch on sooner or later.

Red chard! My lasagna recipe is coming soon.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Big Easy Food Voodoo For Superbowl Losers (and Winners)

Whether you're cheering for San Francisco or Baltimore, you'll be hungry after the game. The French Quarter will be mobbed. In fact, most of New Orleans will be inundated with out-of-towners. Don't take your pity party to the rooftop ledge. Don't just eat beignets! If you can catch the streetcar or hail a cab, here are a few dining options, in no particular oder.

8324 Oak St.
(504) 861-0886

La Crepe Nanou
1410 Robert St.
(504) 899-2670

Dante's Kitchen
736 Dante St.
(504) 861-3121

Le Bon Temps Rouler
(bar and sandwich shop)
4801 Magazine St. 

(504) 895-8117

3800 Canal St.
(504) 482-9179

Maple Street Cafe
7623 Maple St 
(504) 314-9003
823 Decatur St.

There's a reason I've given you a list of seven. If you wind up at Tujague's, you'll be at the second oldest restaurant in the city, and not far from the Voodoo Museum, which isn't open at night. (In the morning–sorry to say–they still won't feature quarterback voodoo dolls. You might try online). 

I hope you have some good (or better) luck at dinner. After all, what is the Big Easy–my hometown–but a city where you'll forget to care...where any day of the year you can eat your way back to happiness.

Call restaurant for availability.

Don't Be a Breakfast Fascist

There's so much conflicting advice about what we're supposed to eat, how much and when. If you've ever paid attention to the often-changing food pyramid, you know what I mean. And then, there's the confusion over whether snacks are good or bad. It is three square meals or five petite ones? Honestly, I dropped ten pounds when I was on a two-meal-a-day plan while traveling in Europe. I ate hearty lunches or dinners with a creme fraiche and berry dessert. Breakfast, which I ate religiously, was all about Meuslix and fruit.

However, as this Alternet article suggests, a morning meal might not be as necessary as your gym rat cousin has told you all these years. Suddenly, I feel relieved. I don't know whether I was bored with cereal and oatmeal or too lazy to make eggs, but it's rare that I eat a 'proper' breakfast when I don't go to a restaurant for it.

When I am hungry in the morning, I often find myself reaching for apples or other fruit. It's something I remember from the Skinny Bitches who, I might add, are militant vegans. They'd hate to know that I'm breaking most of their rules. Unlike the USDA, the Skinny Bitches' guidelines never change:

Don't eat bananas. Eat fruit by itself. Don't drink coffee. It's dehydrating. Don't drink cow's milk. And on and on...

I'm sure they'd have given me a "C" for yesterday's breakfast effort. I inhaled a peanut butter granola bar and didn't drink any water. But, I took my coffee black! If they think I can do any better on Saturday mornings before work, then they're smoking some sort of green tea infused deluding burrito with vegan cheese on top.

I love the Skinny Bitches–specifically their food politics–but the best I can changes from day to day. There's only so much breakfast boot camp I can endure before I finally buy a doughnut, and go for a hike.

Friday, February 1, 2013

What Every Child Should Say to You

Finally, after ten minutes of frustration, I thought I knew why E.C. was crying. For five-month-olds, so much discomfort, I think, has to do with food. For one thing, E.C. has major trapped gas. Tiny, ineffective teeth are pushing through his gums and he can't numb them with booze. That he also can't get milk from his babysitter–me–must be disconcerting. I see him reach for carrots and crackers now and again, and I push them away because he's not ready for them. He's all white-capped gums.

In these moments, when I think I'm on top of things, I'm filled with hope. But, it's all a big, fat lie. Unless something's terribly wrong–like an ear ache–it's clear I'm just guessing at the real source of his discomfort. The other day, after my epiphany about food and infants, E.C. started crying again so I got him onto my hip and we sashayed around the room. As he quieted down a bit, I stopped to look at a row of books on the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Nope, he wasn't having that. Keep moving, he seemed to say through his tears. 

In the kitchen, I rinsed some dishes and he smiled at the running water for about ten seconds. Nope, don't look at the lovely photographs on the refrigerator. Take me outside with the dogs at your feet. His sobs were slowly breaking my heart.

He does really well with walks, but his dad had already gone out with him, and he'd been tired enough for a nap. I was trying to take him that final mile. We'd go anywhere, I decided, as long as I didn't feel like a failure; as long as he and I could meet with some success. 

But, in terms of taking care of an infant, what does success even mean? And isn't the idea of trying to anticipate a baby's woes crazy-making? Wouldn't it be just as alarming if he never cried at all? As I walked out into the yard, I remembered that childcare is something akin to modern medicine. It's stochastic. A certain randomness is inherent and should be expected. It wasn't E.C. who was making me crazy at all. He wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary. I needed to know this on a deeper level, to build some endurance around it.

Taking care of E.C. makes me appreciate my own mother who raised my sister and me and never once expected us to give her instructions. (She did, I might add, sashay around the house, thereby giving me a tip for later).

At some point when E.C. and I were in the garage looking at his father's artwork, he fell asleep in my arms. I'm not ashamed to say it. I was close to tears. As I walked him to the rocking chair, I was flooded with empathy and gratitude: for the baby, for my mother, for his parents. For any adult who's ever not known what to do, for any child who's been tired out of his mind.

That day, among his father's wonderful prints, I also found the memorable words of a child. It was a get-well card penned in purple crayon on a large white piece of paper.

Dear Uncle  ______

rest for a little while
get up and get on the couch
get a snack and maybe
some coffee
and feel better.

from Dr. _____

And here we have a child who appreciates how hard adulthood can be. These words are good advice for anyone. I'll remember them next time I've got E.C. in my arms.

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