04. April 2016 · Comments Off on On Garlicking ALL THE THINGS! · Categories: Food, Ingredients, Quick Tips · Tags:

garlic-bulbs-325I blame Emeril. Between his pork fat and bammage, “20 or 30 cloves of garlic” became the battle cry of thousands of American cooks.

The latest food meme states “One clove of garlic is not enough for any recipe unless it’s a recipe for ‘how to cook one clove of garlic,’ and even in this case use two.”

Please stop. Just. Fecking. Stop.

Just because some is good, more is not always better. This is the same mentality that’s transformed IPA beer into undrinkable disconnected mugs of malt sweetness doused with liberal applications of distilled raw hop oil. Yes, sometimes you need just one goddamn clove of garlic.

There is this thing in food and drink called “subtlety” and it might be worth going back to look up the definition again, because so many people seem to have forgot it exists. In a delicate sauce, a little garlic can add complexity and depth. More than that, and congrats – it tastes of nothing but garlic.

Garlic, like its allium cousins onion, leek, and shallot is a versatile thing. Stinging and brash raw, sugar sweet when roasted or caramelized, aromatic when sauted, toasty and smoky when browned. It is also a loud talker – the guest who will take over the party if you let it.

So think – is this dish supposed to taste exclusively or primarily of garlic? If the answer is no, then maybe put the third through 20th cloves down. And seriously question the need for a second.

30. March 2016 · Comments Off on Risotto With Less Babysitting · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , ,

Risotto is, in essence, fancy rice porridge. Pretty much every culture that eats rice has a variation – congee, juk, canja. The Italians goose their version with richer ingredients – wine, stock, and cheese – as opposed to plain water or broth. Traditionally, to get its creamy consistency meant standing by a simmering pot adding stock a bit at a time and stirring constantly until it is absorbed. And to be sure, this produces a silky, creamy rice dish. But no one wants to do this on a weeknight for dinner.

So, taking some inspiration from the folks over at America’s Test Kitchen, I tried a modified method. And, it wasn’t bad. The rice texture was good, the overall consistency appropriately creamy. Perhaps a bit of graininess creeps in, but that could also have been my over-mixing the shredded chicken I added at the end or the roast squash that got stirred into the rice in largish chunks.

Here’s what you need:

2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups water
5 cups stock or broth (chicken usually, but shrimp or fish stock works very well if you’re adding seafood)
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced (or substitute finely minced yellow onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp minced fresh green herb, such as rosemary, thyme, or marjoram
3-4 large sprigs parsely, roughly chopped, plus some for garnish
½-¾ cup of grated hard Italian cheese (Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, Asiago, etc.)
Juice of ½ a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Small vegetables and/or protein to mix in (small cooked shrimp, sweet peas, sauteed mushrooms, steamed asparagus cut into ½” pieces, diced cooked chicken, etc.)

Combine stock/broth and water in a 2-½ to 3-qt. saucepan and bring to a simmer. Keep hot over low heat.

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, melt 2 tbsp. of the butter over medium heat until it foams, then sauteed shallot/onion and garlic until fragrant and just turning translucent – about a minute. Add dry rice to pot and stir to coat. Reduce heat to medium-low and, stirring frequently, toast the rice in the butter for about three minutes. The rice will start to smell nutty and the grains will become slightly translucent with a white core.

Add the wine, stirring constantly, until completely absorbed. Add 5 cups of the hot broth mixture and your green herbs, stir, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to maintain a bare simmer, cover, and set a timer for 20 minutes. While the rice is cooking, prepare your mix-in additions. During the cooking process, stir vigorously about every five minutes. Almost all of the liquid should be absorbed.

After 20 minutes, uncover and stir constantly while adding the cheese until it is fully incorporated. The creamy texture of the risotto should develop as you mix. If the rice seems too dry, ladle in another ½-¾ cup of hot broth (start with less, add more if needed) to keep a creamy, loose texture. Season with salt and pepper to taste, stir in the remaining 1 tbsp of butter, the lemon and the chopped parsley. Add your vegetables and/or proteins and mix through to warm.

Serve hot, garnished with a bit of parsley (or a rosemary sprig).

I used rosemary as my green herb, Asiago as my cheese, shredded chicken from making broth as the protein, and some roasted acorn squash. Feel free to experiment.

29. March 2016 · Comments Off on Linguine alle Cozze con Pomodoro · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , ,

A classic hearty pasta dish. Delicious when mussels are in season.

Prep time: about 20 minutes if starting with fresh tomatoes, 10 minutes if using canned
Cook time: about 15 minutes.

What you need:
1 1/2 lb. Roma tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded, and chopped (or two cans of whole tomatoes, drained and diced)
3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/3 cup fresh basil, cut in ribbons
1/2 cup dry white wine, unoaked
1/4 cup olive oil
2 lbs mussels in shell, scrubbed and de-bearded
1/2 lb. dried linguine
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Kosher salt or fine sea salt

What you do:

Sort and clean mussels, discarding any with cracked or broken shells, or dead specimens (shell will gape open and not stay closed when squeezed shut).

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add linguine and cook until al-dente, about 11 minutes.

While pasta cooks, add olive oil to a large covered skillet and place over medium-high heat. Add garlic and oregano and stir, until garlic is aromatic, but not colored. Add mussels and turn heat to high. Toss with oil and let cook 1-2 minutes, then add wine, tomatoes, and all the basil but about a tablespoon, cover, and cook for 3-4 minutes until mussels are just opened.

Remove mussels from pan to a bowl, discarding any that did not open. Continue to cook tomatoes over high heat for another 4-5 minutes, or until sauce is reduced by about half. Add lemon juice. Season with salt to taste.

Reserve a dozen mussels to the side, and remove all the rest from their shells. Drain pasta and return to pot, add sauce from pan and the shelled mussel meats and toss for 1-2 minutes over medium heat. Remove from heat and serve pasta surrounded by a half-dozen mussels in the shell and topped with a large pinch of the remaining basil.

Makes 2 hearty servings.

28. March 2016 · Comments Off on Chickpea and Kale Stew – Making the Best of a Bad Vegetable · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , ,

Kale-I really am down on curly kale. Compared to its flat-leaf sibling, the crinkly stuff is much more fibrous and difficult to make appealing. And to be honest, kale is overrated. The juicer crowd latched onto it as a super-food, and now you can’t get away from the stuff. Which makes no sense, given that many more appealing greens and veggies in the brassica family have similar nutritional profiles.

However, there are a precious few preparations that I actually like. One of my favorites is this dish stewed with greens and chickpeas. It started out as a variation on a Spanish espinacas con garbanzos with smoked paprika, bacon/ham lardons, and loads of onion. Where I landed was a vegetarian version that slants more toward Indian flavors. The only real drawback is the cooking time, but it’s something you can just put on to simmer and leave to its own devices while you do other stuff.

Vegetarian Kale and Chickpea Stew with Indian Spices

Prep time: About 10 minutes.
Cook time: 60 minutes.

What you need:

8 oz. curly kale, rinsed, extra stem removed, and coarsely chopped
2 15½ oz. cans of chickpeas (organic is nice), drained and rinsed
1 14½ oz. can of diced tomatoes with juice
32 oz. low-sodium vegetable broth
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp whole cumin seed
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp minced garlic
½ tsp kosher salt (plus extra for seasoning)
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice, or red wine vinegar
Fresh coriander (cilantro) or flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped (1-2 tbsp, to taste)

What you do:

In a large pot or dutch oven (5-6 quart), heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering on the surface. Add cumin seed, ground coriander, and turmeric. Bloom the spices in the oil until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Add garlic, saute for about a minute.

Add chopped kale and salt. Toss with hot oil and spices until bright green, about 2-3 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, and chickpeas, stir, increase heat and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook for a minimum of 45 minutes. Stir occasionally. Just before serving, stir in lemon juice or vinegar, cilantro or parsley, and season with salt to taste.

Optional: for some heat, add ½ tsp of red pepper flake or ¼ tsp of ground cayenne.

5leep.comxIf you’ve noticed that your phone is getting slower, getting hot, and sucking battery like a frat bro with an unlimited supply of Coors Lite, there may be a very non-obvious culprit. Your flash RAM card could be the problem.

Flash RAM has a finite life. Each location on the chip can only be written to so many times before it loses its ability to retain data. When that happens, the spot is supposed to be marked bad and not reused. However, experience has shown that this only happens on writes, and a write can be successful but not be reliably readable later. So, there may be bad blocks on your SD card that go unnoticed by the operating system until it attempts to write new data there.

The insidious side effect of this is that those read errors will cause many, many retries to access the marginal data block. The result is a series of what are called “wakelocks” that prevent the phone’s CPU from going into sleep mode. Particularly, the mmc0_detect, mmc1_detect, and mmc2_detect functions of the OS kernel will keep trying to access the card and keep your phone’s processor awake. More »

24. February 2016 · Comments Off on Scampi, Interrupted · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , ,

This is one of those meals that is not only tasty as hell, but you can bang it out in less than a half hour using two pans. I took some liberties with a straight-forward shrimp scampi dish to streamline it for a quick-n-dirty, need something for dinner now prep.

Prep time: about 10-15 minutes to peel shrimp and chop herbs.
Cook time: 10-12 minutes.

What you need:
8 oz. dry linguini
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined (thawed quick-frozen is acceptable)
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 ½ tbsp. olive oil
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
4 cloves of minced garlic (about 2 tsp. of pre-minced, but don’t use garlic powder)
⅓ cup chopped fresh basil or flat parsley (I prefer basil)
¼ cup lemon juice

If you have time, use fresh lemons. Juice two lemons to get your ¼ cup of juice, and grate the zest of half a lemon and set aside.
Coarse ground black pepper to taste
Flaked red pepper to taste

What you do:

Start your pasta – bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Cook linguine for about 10 minutes (depending on brand) until al-dente.

While pasta is cooking, in a large skillet add olive oil and melt butter over medium heat. When butter/oil mixture foams, add minced garlic and saute for one minute. Do not brown.

Add your shrimp and season with the kosher salt. Sautee over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until pink and just to the point of being no longer translucent. Keep the shrimp moving so they do not burn/overcook.

Add the lemon juice, parsley or basil, optional lemon zest, optional pepper(s), toss with the shrimp and heat through. Remove from heat.

By now, your pasta should be just about done. Drain and immediately add to the shrimp mixture in the skillet. Over low-medium heat, toss the pasta and shrimp together until well combined and the pasta is coated with the butter sauce. Serve into warmed pasta bowls and, if you’d like, grate/shave some hard Italian cheese (parmesan, asiago, romano, etc.) over top.

Darcy Pajamas

Cute picture, right?

This is Mr. Darcy. He’s a dachshund mix. Doxies are consistently within the top dozen or so popular breeds in the US. For good reason. I mean, the wiener jokes alone. Besides that, they’re cute, spunky dogs with a lot of attitude in a little package. When they’re not on the hunt they’re lap sluts, content to curl up next to you on the couch or in a puppy pile with their canine housemates.

Just be aware that if you’re looking to get a dachshund or doxie mix, that you have a good chance of needing to buy a used car at some point. And you should budget for that.

Let me explain.

You will hopefully have done your research on the breed before deciding to contact a breeder or to adopt a shelter or rescue dog. You have most likely seen buried in the list of positive attributes of your potential wiener-pal a warning about IVDD and spinal issues. Due to the genetics that give doxies their low-slung stance, which is a kind of dwarfism, there are risks that come along with it, and they are not insubstantial. Intravertebral Disk Disease is the calcification of the soft tissue between the spinal bones. It makes the intravertebral disks less flexible and weakens their ability to absorb load. And based on estimates across the veterinary community, your doxie has between a 1-in-4 and 1-in-3 chance of developing it.

Of those dogs that develop IVDD, a good percentage will require medical intervention at some point.

Darcy Recovery

This is Mr. Darcy after a surgical spinal disk decompression. A procedure that can’t be done at your neighborhood vet, but requires the services of a veterinary neurosurgeon. At age 5, Darcy ruptured a lumbar disk and became incapacitated. He underwent decompression surgery and recovered very well.

A month and a half later, it happened again.

Another surgery, another recovery, and because his rear legs had been affected both times and were under-used during recovery, a follow-up period of physical therapy. Today, two months out from his last surgery, he is doing very well.

Remember that car I was talking about? Total vet bills for the two incidents approached $16,000. Two neurosurgeries, an MRI, post-surgery medical boarding, and therapy. So know what you are potentially getting into before you commit to the well-being of this breed for the lifetime of your dog.

You have better odds in Russian Roulette than you do with IVDD and dachshunds. Think about that, and plan appropriately. You’d be crazy to drop a bullet into the random chamber of a revolver, point it at your own temple, and pull the trigger. But many will blithely adopt a wiener-dog thinking that the stories about paralysis, surgeries, and wheelchairs won’t apply to them – they do, and you’d better be prepared. Studies show that pet insurance is no better (and economically sometimes worse than) a rainy-day savings account. I’d recommend establishing a $10,000 buffer in that account if you want to be a dachshund owner. And if you never need it, great – go buy yourself something nice.

17. December 2015 · Comments Off on Make Oatmeal Worth Eating · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , ,

Nothing is better on a cold winter’s morning than hot cereal, also referred to as porridge. Unfortunately, many of us were raised on stuff in wax paper packets to which one added boiling water and stirred. The result was a mushy, salty-sweet bowl of artificially-flavored goo. But you can do better! The investment, however, is time.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

1 cup steel-cut (AKA pinhead) oats
3 cups boiling water
1 tbsp unsalted butter
½ tsp kosher salt
¾ cup whole milk
2 tbsp plain yogurt

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When butter foams, add oats and mix to coat. Reduce heat to medium-low and allow oats to toast for 2-3 minutes – they will begin to smell “nutty”.

Add hot water and salt, and stir. Mixture should boil almost instantly. Reduce heat to a slow simmer and cover. Cook oats for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Whisk together milk and yogurt and stir into thickened oats. Return to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes more.

Spoon up into bowls and top with one or more of the following:

Maple sugar
Brown sugar
Toasted seeds or nuts
Dried fruit
Fruit preserves

PS: As long as you’re able to buy oats from a reputable supplier that certifies against cross-contamination, oatmeal is a GF food.

16. December 2015 · Comments Off on How to Warm Your Wiener · Categories: Cooking, Food, Quick Tips · Tags: , , ,

hotdog1How you heat your hots dogs should be determined by what kind they are.

Most franks you buy at the grocery store are casing-free, and all are pre-cooked. Casing-less wieners are well suited to high-speed production lines. The sausages are actually formed and cooked in a plastic casing which is stripped off after cooling and before packing. The result is a dog with a soft exterior and an easy “bite” with little to no resistance. These are better off grilled or griddled. High heat cooking crisps up the outside a touch for some textural interest.

Now, your boutique dog with a natural casing (often lamb intestine) is a different beast. For one, they’re in a tube that you eat, which has a bit of “snap” or “crunch” when you bite into your wiener. Second, deli and boutique dogs tend to be seasoned a bit more assertively than their bland supermarket cousins. High heat does these guys few favors. Before the inside is hot, the intense temps have dried out and toughened the casing which most people find unpleasant. So, the best way to handle a natural-casing frank is to simmer it in water. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, drop in your dogs, then lower the heat to maintain a steady but not vigorous simmer. Heat for 5 minutes and then serve.

Optionally, with casing-on franks you can griddle them for a minute or two to give some color once they’ve come out of the water. But don’t get too crazy – overcook them and you’ll lose the right texture and dry out your dog.

As for serving – straight up white bun, and yellow or spicy mustard. Pickle if you want it, or maybe sauerkraut. Avoid sugary ketchup – you want tomatoes, dice some up and put ’em on top. A little diced raw onion’s OK, too.

08. December 2015 · Comments Off on On Gormenghast and Giving Up · Categories: Books · Tags: , ,

The Illustrated Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn PeakeThere comes a time when you have to admit that something is just not to your taste.

Gormenghast is hailed as a masterpiece of fantastic fiction, a classic of the genre. I’ve tried for years to get through one single book of the trilogy, having decided that I needed to read it in light of its many accolades. I have the distinct feeling that those who like these novels are the same folks who read Dickens for pleasure. The density of prose is similar, since Charlie got paid by the word. But even Dickens felt compelled to craft an actual plot.

Imagine if you will that you have sat down to a 12-course dinner. That an entire evening’s feasting and entertainment is about to be set before you. Then you slowly realize that every single course is a) the same thing, and b) an entire gallon of gravy in which a single bit of meat is suspended and that must be consumed in full before moving on. That’s what reading Peake feels like. The structure of each chapter is invariable. A vast proscenium is erected with velvet curtains, baroque curlicues and gilding in which a single character is vignetted, with such supporting cast as necessary to react to their lone plot point. At which time the set is torn down and reconstructed anew for the next tiny tidbit of story.

As an author, he is one hell of an illustrator.

Gioachino Rossini once said of Richard Wagner, “Wagner has lovely moments but awful quarters of an hour.” Such is the world of Gormenghast. For every delicious morsel of text, one must digest several pounds of dense, florid descriptive prose that paints a gorgeous mental picture but advances a plot, conflict, or character not one little bit. Peake had never met a multi-syllabic adjective he didn’t like. The words flood every page with descriptions of mannerisms, locations, and expressions. Entire chapters are spent to enable the delivery of a handful of lines of dialog. It’s like watching a film where every line uttered is preceded by a five minute sweeping establishing shot and followed by ten minutes of reactions from the cast. The tedious pace is ultimately what ended my affair with this book.

This tome is going to have to go to someone else for whom plot and character development is secondary to the ecstasy of wordplay. There may be a gem of a story hidden somewhere in the shambles of Gormenghast Castle, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend months lost in its labyrinthine corridors and warren holes trying to find it.