Friday, September 25, 2009
"What would you like to order, Hungry Dog?" my mother would ask.
"A baby burger," I'd reply, not missing a beat, "and a root beer float."
Remember those days? When you'd order a root beer float...as a beverage? Ah, the decadence of being a kid in the 70's, before the obesity epidemic and trans fat frenzy. We thought nothing, and neither did our parents, of consuming red meat and processed foods at each meal. We didn't think twice of saying, "I'll have a cheeseburger and a root beer float, and I'll take a sundae for dessert."
Those post-dance class floats--served in frosty mugs and made not with ice cream but vanilla soft serve--remain one of my happiest memories. While I haven't made it to an A&W in decades, I still love root beer and I do enjoy a good float, although now I like it with Henry Weinhard root beer and Haagen Daaz vanilla. And root beer floats are one of my favorite desserts to serve to guests. I have the perfect float glasses and special spoons that double as straws.
I've never played around with root beer much, though, baking-wise. So when I came across this recipe for root beer cake, I just about lost my mind. Immediately, I began wondering where I could buy a bundt pan on the way home from work. I mentally poured over the pantry. Did I have the right kind of cocoa? Dark brown sugar? Was there root beer in the house? I became obsessed. I even mentioned root beer cake in a facebook status.
Apparently, I'm not the only one who can get behind a root beer cake. Within moments of posting my status, several people made comments. The husband wanted to know when he could expect to see this cake. Desiree wanted the recipe. Cynthia reported that she currently had a root beer sitting on her desk and wanted to know what else she needed to turn it into a cake.
The cake was gaining momentum. It wanted me to make it. So I did.
The cake was simple to put together and didn't take long to bake. Once I'd removed the cake from the oven, I admired it in its attractive green bundt shell.
Oh yeah. The cake is sprinkled with sea salt. SEA SALT. Genius.
The cake was delicious and moist, more of a chocolate cake reminiscent of root beer than a straight-up root beer cake. But that's probably just as well. A cake that tastes like a can of soda might be a bit much. But a cake that has cocoa and dark chocolate and coarse sea salt, a grown up version of that favorite dessert you had as a kid, well that's just about perfect.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
But the day ended up being so busy that when it came time to make dinner, I didn't feel like fussing with all the root vegetables, which always require a bit of attention. I felt more interested in drinking a beer and watching "Mythbusters" with the husband than painstakingly peeling and chopping, and fretting over a new recipe. So I scrapped the original plan and instead pan-fried the fish with lemon and parsley, and served it alongside potatoes and steamed broccoli. A dinner straight out of my childhood.
The next night, I felt prepared to take on the vegetables, but I had no fish. Time to wing it, Hungry Dog style. I had the parsnips, which are homely on the outside but once peeled, reveal themselves to be a beautiful, snowy white. And I had a little butternut squash, the cutest thing you ever saw, about five inches tall and three inches wide at its, um, hips. Ridiculous. And I had some beets that had been waiting patiently in the vegetable bin for a few weeks. I began to envision a bright autumn risotto, with little squares of color running through the pale rice.
I peeled, diced, and roasted the veggies, and got started on the risotto. Usually I add white wine but all I could find was vermouth (where did that come from?) which did the trick. And I minced up some fresh rosemary to give it a woodsy flavor.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
I timed my cooking a little crazily, sandwiched between two things. The first is a radio program on KALW that I like to listen to on Sunday nights called "Minds Over Matter." It's a call-in trivia show for the ultra-nerdy, like me. Sometimes the husband will come in and listen to the show with me, sort of laughing at me for liking it, but also sort of liking it. "I'm not the one who called in with an answer once," I frequently remind him.
Anyway, I like to listen to the show while I cook. Because it's public radio, the hosts speak in soothing, dulcet tones I find relaxing; plus, I always learn a thing or two. "Minds Over Matter" starts at 7 and goes until 8, but "Entourage" starts at 7:30, so since that's been airing, I've only been hearing half my nerd show. Those of you who are not slaves to TV, my hat is off to you, but please excuse me while I enjoy my HBO.
The recipe was fabulous. You might think the butternut squash would make the sauce too sweet but it was surprisingly well balanced. I tried to think of something I could substitute for the prawns, as I'm under the impression that eating shrimp is very bad for the planet, but I couldn't think of a good substitution. So for the time being, shrimp it is (or "srimp," as we call it in our house, due to my mother-in-law's endearing pronunciation.)
Rushing, I managed to get the pasta done in the nick of time. I'll have to catch the rest of "Minds Over Matter" on a podcast; geek radio can't really compete with Vince and the Boys. Over sunshine-colored rigatoni and a brawny zinfandel, for half an hour we escaped the drizzling rain of San Francisco for the blue skies and deep tans of Los Angeles. Everyone can use a little escapism now and then, and if it's enhanced by a sweet, creamy pasta that tastes faintly of the ocean, so much the better.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
I've never made anything by Martha Stewart. But I've gotta hand it to the lady, not only can she pull off an orange jumpsuit and prison shackles, she can write a recipe. The muffins came out looking like this, with flecks of green running through them and crusty little tops, tasting of brown sugar and almond extract.
Once again I had to fend off the other hungry dog, who in this picture looks like a giant beast about to crush this poor helpless muffin.
Sorry about the poor quality of that shot. I've been feeling frustrated with my camera, or maybe it's my skills. I have trouble getting enough light in my shots which means half the time the flash goes off, washing everything out. I need to remedy this, because I'm finding it very frustrating to make things I want to share here, and then not ending up with usable photos. I think I need one of those photo/lighting sets, the ones that look like weird little dioramas. Or, a new camera. Or, someone to show me how to use my own camera. I have tried to decipher the ridiculous user's manual but it was only a step up from the quality of directions on how to assemble an IKEA desk. In other words, it did not get me very far.
So, hopefully I'll have some improved photos in the future. If anyone has any advice in the meantime with how to cope with challenging lighting, I'd love to hear it.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
The problem with these recipes is that I get a little tired of them. Sometimes I start to feel acutely like I need to make something brand new. When this happens, I enjoy nothing more than perusing cookbooks, food magazines, and blogs I like in search of something inspiring.
Something like a tomatillo.
While flipping through this groovy cookbook called Firehouse Food, a compilation of recipes from San Francisco's firefighters, I stumbled upon a recipe for chile verde. It had three desirable qualities going for it: 1) it required just 5 ingredients 2) it seemed to involve very little work and 3) it looked, as one of my fellow bloggers might say, wicked good.
First I had to get a couple of artsy shots of the tomatillos though. Incidentally, this was my first time using tomatillos. I have no idea what took me so long to discover these delightful little bundles, like hard green apples wrapped in crinkly cabbage leaves.
You start by toasting the tomatillos in a dry pan, then pureeing them. Brown the pork, add the tomatillo puree, along with some garlic, jalapenos, and salt, and you're all set. While the pork bubbled gently, I set about making Mexican rice, also from the cookbook. Another revelation! Simple, flavorful, and delicious.
All the dinner required was patience, which I mustered up with the distractions of the husband, dog, and a couple of frosty Sierra Nevadas. A few hours later we ate chile verde and Mexican rice, with warm corn tortillas to soak up the sauce.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Frankly, what I find most offensive of all is that the window was smashed not just with any bottle but with a San Pellegrino bottle. Perhaps it was one of the many BMW-drivers who also parks there, someone so repulsed by our car's weathered exterior they had to hurl their sparkling Italian water bottle through the glass. I won't lie to you: it's a 1990 Honda Civic with some serious battle scars. But hideous enough to merit an attack? Not even close.
Anyhow, the incident put me in a bad mood. I'm not a perfect person, but I try to be decent and considerate and not break other people's stuff. But I guess there are plenty of jerks out there looking to steal and vandalize things that belong to someone else just for the thrill of it. It's the kind of small event that can make me feel very down on the human race.
My tactic for occurrences like this it to try not to think about it. It's the old ostrich maneuver, which in plenty of cases is not a good thing (say, when it comes to your job, your relationships, your health) but in certain cases is very appropriate. When you cannot change something and could not have prevented it, you gotta keep on rolling.
Distracting yourself helps. So I decided to bake up some blondies. I love making blondies because they come together in a flash and create hardly any dishes. Plus I love that faintly burnt smell that you get when you blend melted butter and brown sugar.
These are from Mark Bittman. He says chocolate chips are optional, but who are we kidding? Of course, with a whole cup of chips in such a small batch, calling them blondies might be pushing it. But as you know from reading this blog, I'm no purist. I'm of the "do what you like" school of thought and this week, sweet, sticky, melty, chocolate blondies fit the bill.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
The other night I wanted to do something with the beets and carrots sitting idly in the crisper. I'm not sure if I've mentioned it, but I'm nuts for carrots. And I like beets pretty well too. I began to envision a little...dare I say medley? of these two Crayola-colored vegetables, smothered in butter.
I boiled the beets first--undercooked beets are the worst--then cooled and peeled them. Once the butter foamed and faded in my frying pan, I added the carrots, cooking them over medium heat. After awhile I added the beets. Feeling froggy, I decided to add a little brown sugar, thinking my southern husband might enjoy a little added sweetness. But to balance it, I finished the dish with a splash of red wine vinegar. No need to be cloying.
Once done, they looked like bright little gems, and they tasted of butter and sugar, with a slight tanginess.
"But Hungry Dog," you're wondering, "surely you served more than just vegetables for dinner!"
Why of course, dear reader, don't be silly. I pan-fried two red snapper fillets and squeezed fresh lemon juice over them as they came off the heat. I never can get fish like snapper browned properly without dusting it first in flour, which I didn't feel like doing this time, so the fish ended up a little pale. It tasted good, though, and looked pretty with the sweet and sour beets and carrots.
So, it was a strange combination that wouldn't fly with Tom Colicchio, but he's not invited over anyway. It seems the whole point of cooking for yourself and your loved ones is to have a good time, and to try and learn something now and then. Which I did indeed.