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Posts Tagged ‘tin chef’

Upgrade Pasta

I occasionally post here about my adventures in cooking — which are, on a 1-10 scale of impressiveness, probably aspiring to a 2, but hey, for me that’s an improvement. The most recent adventure involves what we have dubbed Upgrade Pasta.

Yesterday my sister and I were discussing possibilities for dinner, and she mentioned that in the days when she lived alone in a San Francisco apartment the size of half a shoebox, she would sometimes fry up some kielbasa and dump it over pasta with some spinach. And to my surprise, the thought “huh, that sounds fairly tasty” was followed immediately by “I wonder if I could upgrade it?”

The answer is that yes, I could. With some sauteed onions and some salt and some garlic and tossing the spinach in at the end to wilt it a bit. And what makes me proud enough to post about this is, I assembled the whole thing purely on the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the last few years about what order to do things in and for how long and at what heat. There’s nothing earth-shattering about the result . . . but having that knowledge and the confidence in it? That’s a landmark for me. I have other recipes that I’ve modified in various ways (and which have acquired interesting names along the way: our meal planning sometimes lists dishes like The Transitive Property of Marjoram or Forgotten Pasta or Lorem Ipsum Salad), but this is the first time there really hasn’t been a recipe, just an understanding of basic principles. And the result was not only edible, but moderately tasty.

So, go me?

I need noodle soup!

There is a sad lack of noodle soup in my cooking repertoire. What recipes do you guys recommend? The main requirement is that it be non-spicy, in the peppers/chili sense; other things are easy to leave out (cilantro) or substitute (eggplant for squash).

Forgotten fruits

Quince is one of those things I’d seen referenced in historical literature, but had never encountered in person. Although Wikipedia tells me it’s eaten fairly regularly in some parts of Europe, and there’s absolutely nothing preventing it being grown in the U.S., you’re not going to find it at your average supermarket here.

I suspect that’s in part because you mostly can’t snack on it raw, the way you can with apples and pears and oranges and bananas and all the other things commonly found in the produce section. You either have to cook it, or you have to wait for it to blet — that is, to go overripe and sort of (but not exactly) rotten. The same is true of medlars, another fruit we’ve largely forgotten. Also some varieties of persimmons; I suspect the one time I tried to eat ripe persimmon I may have been eating the wrong kind, as I found it unpleasantly astringent. But those I’m seeing around more these days — though still not at the supermarket. Persimmon trees aren’t uncommon in northern California, so not only the farmers’ market but possibly one’s neighbors may have their fruit on offer.

But if waiting for fruit to sort of but not exactly rot isn’t your idea of an appetizing approach, there’s always cooking. Which is why quince has come into my life: one stall at our farmers’ market sells it, and last year my husband (who makes jam) ventured to make quince paste. It’s very strong-tasting stuff — but if you pair it with manchego cheese (itself quite strong-tasting), a strange alchemy happens and you wind up with something amazing.

All well and good. But this year he wound up with a few extra quinces, not quite enough to make another batch of paste. So instead he decided to make quince-and-apple pie for Thanksgiving. It’s quite nice! Quinces are related to apples anyway, and they combine well. Which is good when your husband decides he’s got too much quince for one pie, but enough apple to fill it out and make two pies.

. . . during the Thanksgiving when your sister-in-law already has a store-bought apple pie and a small cherry pie, and is making a pumpkin pie. O_O Five pies (well, four and a half) for nine people. Um.

There are, of course, other things one can do with quince. Like poach them in sugar water with some spices. One might possibly suggest to one’s husband that this would have been more sensible than making a second quince-and-apple pie. One might not quite buy one’s husband’s argument that you really want larger chunks of quince for that, and he’d already sliced it all thin, so there was nothing to be done but make a second pie.

But hey. There’s always next year. And maybe I’ll find some medlars for him to poach instead.

Soup greens?

While my husband and I were in Ireland before Worldcon, I picked up The Irish Pocket Potato Recipe Book, which purports to contain “over 110 delicious dishes.” This is a bit of an exaggeration, as many of them are minor alterations on previous recipes, but that’s fine; it’s charmingly idiosyncratic in places rather than Extruded Corporate Product (even if that idiosyncracy means that sometimes it fails to tell you what temperature or how long or why, if it spends time introducing you to different types of potatoes, it then doesn’t specify which types work well in which recipes).

Last night I made a soup recipe out of it that I liked, but which felt as if it would benefit from an addition. It’s billed as a “Provencal potato soup,” with a vegetable stock as the base, then basil, saffron, onions, peeled tomatoes, and of course potatoes. It came out very tomato-y in a way that I want to balance with something else — maybe a green vegetable of some kind. Spinach is the obvious suggestion, but that would make this nearly identical to a tortellini florentine soup I already make, and I’d like it to be more different. My brain went immediately to bok choy for some reason; I’m not sure if that’s a good guess or not. Cabbage? Something else? Doesn’t have to be a leafy green, but we can’t do any form of squash, as my husband is allergic. And if subbing in X would go better with a swap for the basil and/or saffron and/or garlic, that’s fine; I don’t mind altering the herbs and spices.

Substitute for fennel bulb?

I’ve been given a nice-sounding recipe for pork tenderloin braised in white wine and elderflower liqueur with thyme, red onion, and fennel bulb. But I’m not a huge fan of that last item — what would the chefs among you recommend as a replacement? With or without altering other ingredients (e.g. a different herb, if something else would harmonize better).

Note that due to allergies and/or dislikes, mushrooms and squash are both out.

Goat cheese

The other day I was at the grocery store, and the cheese counter had samples out of something. Another customer was standing between me and the actual blocks of cheese the samples were taken from, so I had no idea what they were, but I went ahead and popped one in my mouth.

Train of thought: “Oh, wow, this is amazing, this is — UGH BLEAGH IT’S GOAT CHEESE GET IT OUT GET IT OUT GET IT OUT.”

I have no idea what’s going on chemically with goat cheese, but invariably I have this type of reaction, where for a second or two it’s lovely, and then I get hit by a freight train of something so unpleasantly pungent, it lingers with me for a good five minutes afterward. Much as with cilantro, I don’t think I could train myself into liking it if I tried for a year: when that taste kicks in, my brain utterly rejects the possibility that what I’m eating is food.

Those of you who like goat cheese — is that pungency a selling point for you? Or does it not even hit you in the same way? (Wikipedia describes goat’s cheese as “tart,” which is not remotely the taste I get off it.) I’m wondering if this is anything like the “supertaster” deal where some people can’t taste phenylthiocarbamide or propylthiouracil, while for others (I’m one) they are unspeakably bitter. I know my reaction to cheese in general is linked to the fact that I have a very strong sense of smell; your stinkier classes of cheese are Right Out for me because all I wind up tasting is the stink. But this wasn’t a strong-smelling cheese, and it still bowled me over with that unpleasant funk two seconds after I bit down. So I’m kind of curious what’s going on there, chemically speaking, and whether the experience is just qualitatively different for people who like the stuff.

Mains and sides

It’s the return of the Tin Chef!

As some of you know, I’ve finally started actually cooking, after thirty-some-odd-years of basically never doing it. I now have a nice array of recipes I like and can do, and enough confidence now that I’ll happily browse a magazine or cookbook and go “oooh, that sounds tasty, maybe I should try it,” as long as the recipe isn’t too daunting.

But almost everything I make is a single-dish meal, or if it isn’t, then we just throw some spinach on the plate as a salad. I’m still not much good at making a main dish and a side dish to go with it. Partly because that type of multitasking is still a little difficult for me — making sure things are ready around the same time, but don’t demand my attention at the same instant such that something winds up burning — but also just because . . . I have a hard time judging what things will go well together.

I know that to some extent the answers to this are a) it doesn’t matter that much and b) I can experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. But I’ve got a whole list of side dishes I’d like to try someday, and every time I look at them and go “I dunno, would that pair well with this main item?” I wind up going back to the single-dish things I’m comfortable with. So I put it to you, the cooks of my readership: how can I get better at this? I have two different “meat with balsamic + fruit sauce” main dishes I like — one chicken with balsamic vinegar and pomegranate juice, one pork chop with balsamic vinegar and dried cherries — and the fruitiness keeps making me second-guess whether a given side dish would make a good complement. And there are a lot of main dishes I haven’t even really taken a crack at yet. If I had some guiding principles for figuring out what combinations are good, I might experiment more.

This week in “Random Cooking Questions” . . .

I have a tasty recipe for linguine with a sauce of bacon, shallots, and sun-dried tomatoes in cream — but my sister dislikes creamy things. She suggested doing it as a butter sauce instead, and I’m debating the best way to approach that.

Current recipe: cook chunks of bacon for six minutes in olive oil over medium heat, add chopped shallots for 1 minute, add cream and bring to boil, turn off heat and add sun-dried tomatos and parmesan.

Butter variant: should I just cook the bacon in butter and otherwise proceed as before? Or brown the butter for a while before adding the bacon? Or something else? Does this subsitution even work? (It’ll obviously create a different texture overall, but that’s the goal: my sister isn’t lactose-intolerant, just anti-creamy texture.) I could just experiment, but in the interests of winding up with an edible meal at the end, I thought I’d see what the commentariat advises.

The Transitive Property of Marjoram

I’ve been cooking a lot more since moving into a house with a kitchen big enough to be pleasant to work in, but I’m still not much of a chef. This is, in part, because I don’t yet have a good handle on whether things I like separately will combine well — especially when it comes to herbs and spices. Their flavor profiles, and how they meld with the different foods they might be used to flavor, are still terra fairly incognita for me.

But the other day I tried out a new recipe for a side dish of onions and bell peppers with marjoram, and had some left over. When I went to put it in the fridge, I saw I also had some leftover kielbasa. And I know that one of the recipes I’ve made several times, a kielbasa stew, includes marjoram.

So, by the transitive property of marjoram: I can combine these things, right?

And lo, I have Invented a Dish. Fried the kielbasa for a couple of minutes, tossed the onions and bell peppers in to warm them up, dumped the result over rice, hey presto, it worked. In the future I can make this on purpose, as its own thing, rather than just as a way to use up leftovers (though it can be that, too). I’m still not knowledgeable enough to go tossing marjoram into things without precedent to guide me . . . but I can pay attention to which recipes use which flavorings, and start absorbing the underlying principles there.

Baby steps, yo.

Lemon substitute?

My husband is allergic to citrus — not badly so, not to the level of “get him to a hospital” or “break out an epi pen,” but he should try to avoid it when possible.

. . . there are a lot of recipes that call for small amounts of lemon juice.

Is there anything that would make a good substitute for this? Something mildly acidic, I presume — maybe some kind of vinegar? White wine strikes me as the most “neutral,” but then again, I know little enough about this that I may have just typed utter nonsense. Recommendations appreciated.