Monday, November 30, 2009

A very happy birthday

It's always a little bit sad when Thanksgiving is over. It's my favorite holiday, and I really look forward to it in the months leading up. But as with a birthday, wedding, or any other day you anticipate, its specialness does not make it last longer than any other day. In fact, it seems to go even faster.

One thing that always keeps me from dwelling on the 364 days standing between me and my next pumpkin chiffon pie is the fact that my birthday is right after Thanksgiving--November 30th. So, happy birthday to me!

I share this auspicious birth date with Winston Churchill, Mark Twain, and Billy Idol. And, in a funny twist of life, with my niece, who happened to be visiting from the East Coast this weekend.

To celebrate her ninth and my thirty-something, we decided to have a joint celebratory lunch at Yank Sing. Who doesn't want to spend their birthday eating dumplings?

I sat next to the other birthday girl, who has asked to be known in this blog as Mischievous Pug. Look how good she is with chopsticks!

And I sat across from Mischievous Pug's little sister, who I've decided to call Scrappy. Looks like Scrappy's plotting something.

We started off with Shanghai soup dumplings, delicate and porky.

Then on to steamed pork buns. A long time ago, I worked at Yank Sing, and I can tell you that no matter how many of these you eat, even if you are ridiculous and eat one every single day for two years straight, you do not get tired of them. You may find that you begin to resemble one, but you do not get weary of the soft and faintly sweet dough, and the perfectly salty-sweet BBQ pork filling.

And har gow, siu mai, spring rolls, vegetable dumplings, turnip cake, and many, many more. So many, in fact, that I forgot about taking pictures in my dumpling frenzy.

Later, we rolled back to our place for some birthday cake. The husband had ordered a beautiful vanilla tomboy cake, which we picked up from Miette, along with some tall skinny candles. We got nine for Mischievous Pug, with one to grow on. They looked so pretty all lit up!

The cake tasted delicious with coffee and vanilla ice cream. Oh, and see those little ballerinas? My mother dug those up from my childhood--little ballerina figures she used to always put on my cakes. Mischievous Pug and Scrappy placed them very carefully around the candles.

Amidst the cake, there were presents, Barbie clothes and a new watch for Mischievous Pug, a sparkly necklace for me from my sister, and popover pan from my mother. Expect to see the second chapter in the popover challenge very soon! And, so that you might appreciate the popovers through well-lit photographs taken from flattering angles, the husband gave me a long-coveted EGO light along with a little tripod.

Thank you to my family for a delightful birthday! I'm glad I got to spend it with the people I love most in the world.
Hungry Dog

Friday, November 27, 2009

Texas chili, by way of San Francisco

Last weekend, the husband got it in his head that he wanted to make some chili. But he didn't want to make it with ground beef; he wanted to do it with big chunks of steak. We'd both heard this referred to as "Texas-style," although now that I've looked at so many recipes for chili, I'm not sure that's true. In any case, on Sunday, when I set out for my afternoon with the girls, I told him he should find a good recipe and we could make it together when I got home.

He found a couple of different recipes that we sort of combined, but we stayed true to the real essence of chili, or any kind of stew, which is to make it the way you like it, and fiddle with it until you get it right. And wouldn't you know it, the husband and I like our chili just the same way.

We browned some top sirloin in a dutch oven, then set it aside, and cooked the usual aromatics--onion, garlic, and celery--along with chili powder, cumin, and marjoram. Added the beef back to the pot, along with a hefty glug of red wine, and scraped up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Then came the tomatoes, a little can of green chilies, kidney beans, worchestershire sauce, a dash of hot sauce, salt and pepper, and we were good to go. It came together in under an hour and it looked like this.

In a perfect world, I would have had some sour cream to swirl on top, but instead I just garnished my chili with grated cheddar cheese and cilantro. As you're well aware, cilantro is one of the great dividers of the world, along with religion, politics, and eggplant. We are split in this house: I like it, although I don't do much with it besides toss it on top of things like chili verde to add a fresh finish. The husband wants nothing to do with it. He also doesn't care much for sour cream or grated cheese or garnishes in general; I've noticed that he quietly pushes them aside and just digs in to what's underneath. I can't rid myself of the need to garnish things, particularly soups and stews, but I understand his skepticism of what they really add to the dish.

What I like best with chili is cornbread, but I'd used the last of my cornmeal on some blueberry corn muffins the day before. We considered cooking up some rice, but in the interest of time and hunger opted for some plain crackers crumbled over the top. It was the perfect, lazy dinner after a cool and rainy day, and provided us with lots of leftovers, that last of which we ate today for lunch.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lunch at Greens, and gingerbread redux

On Sunday, I spent a lovely afternoon with my mother and some family friends. Since it was just us girls, we did what girls like to do on occasion: we ate a fancy lunch and shopped for sparkly baubles.

The day was planned around a jewelry sale at Fort Mason, under the pretense of shopping for gifts for other people. When you go to Fort Mason, there is only one place to have lunch, and that is the legendary vegetarian restaurant Greens.

Located on the north shore of the City, Greens is a stunning restaurant, beautiful enough to win over the most devoted carnivore. It  has a quintessential Northern California feel, very open, with lots of light, a high ceiling with exposed wood beams, and incredible pieces of driftwood carved into tables and a huge, iconic sculpture in the front. One whole side of the restaurant is floor-to-ceiling windows, with a view of the harbor and the Golden Gate Bridge. On that day, we'd had a bit of rain in the morning, and though it had subsided, it was still overcast. The white boats against the gray sky looked like they belonged in a painting.

Greens serves brunch on the weekend, so between the four of us we ordered a mix of potato cakes, scrambled eggs, a portobello mushroom sandwich, and my farro spaghetti with currants, pistachios, and butternut squash. Not only was I the only one to get dinner food, I was the only one to order a glass of wine. But who drinks coffee with spaghetti?

To start, we ordered some gingerbread to share. It arrived as a thick slice with a dollop of cream cheese on the side, and we nibbled happily as we caught up on all kinds of news: engagements, kids, jobs, travel, and holiday plans. The tangy-sweet cream cheese was a perfect foil against the spicy gingerbread.

Much later, after jewelry shopping and returning home, I found myself thinking back on that gingerbread. The last time I made gingerbread was horrible; so horrible, in fact, that I was turned off gingerbread for quite awhile. But my love for gingerbread had been rekindled.

Although I am not a packrat, I do squirrel away recipes, and often will save them for months or years before using them. During this time, they are not forgotten, just awaiting their role in the spotlight. Last April, I saved a recipe from Food and Wine for Molasses-Gingerbread Cake with Mascarpone Cream. I decided to whip it up last night, but skip the orange confit and mascarpone cream. I'm sure these elements would elevate the cake to something more complex and elegant. But I like the simplicity of gingerbread, the basic, American, Laura Ingalls-ness of it. You don't need to dress it up for it to be delicious, homey, and satisfying.

I decided to bake the cake in my springform pan, because like my bundt pan, I always feel like using it. Whoever invented the springform, I love you, man! I like freeing the latch and popping off the sides. Yes, I'm simple.

The only thing about the recipe that was off was that it said to bake it for one hour and ten minutes. I had the good sense to check it after 50 minutes and it was perfectly done, moist and rich but not too dense. We enjoyed it with some Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream, which may come from a carton but beats homemade mascarpone cream in my book. The husband declared it the best gingerbread I had ever made.

This morning, I ate a wedge of it with a little cream cheese.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Hungry Dog

Friday, November 20, 2009

Chocolate chocolate chip cookie and salted caramel ice cream sandwiches

Do I even need to write any text for this post? Or can I just tell you that you need to make these cookies? Now. Whether or not you make an ice cream sandwich out of them (although why wouldn't you?) you need these cookies in your life.

They're originally from Ina Garten, although I found the recipe here. It must be a half batch, which works well for two people. Two people can, and did, eat 12 huge cookies all by ourselves over an embarrassingly short period of time.

In some of the photos the cookies look lighter than they did in real life. They were actually a dark, velvety brown.

Inside, they were soft, melty, chewy, and chocolatey.

It turns out that it wasn't enough just to eat one or two cookies...I had to pull out the pint of salted caramel ice cream we brought home from our delicious dinner at Eos the night before and make two obscenely large ice cream sandwiches. There was just something about those cookies that ached to be part of something bigger, both figuratively and literally. I couldn't deny them their destiny.

 I have no business eating a dessert like this.

I couldn't finish mine, hard as that might seem to believe. The husband helped me out, after polishing off his own. Afterward (but only afterward), he conceded that it all might have been a bit much: the giant double chocolate cookies...the salty-sweet, super rich ice cream...

I pointed out that he had eaten an entire ice cream sandwich, plus about a third of mine. He waved me away absently, and I noticed that his eyes had a glossy film, like glazed donuts.

"All that sugar really is getting to you," I said, feeling a little bit responsible as he keeled over on the couch.

So, maybe you don't have to make humongous ice cream sandwiches. If you love your husband and do not wish for him to go into sugar shock, you could show some moderation and simply bake a batch of these rich, chocolatey cookies and enjoy them with a glass of milk or cup of coffee. Fine. Just be prepared to lose yourself a little to them.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Slow food

While Saturdays are often eaten up with errands, shopping, and occasionally brunch, Sundays are generally left wide open in our house. I like to go for a swim in the morning, but that's about it for the to-do list. It's a great day for leisurely cooking.

I'm not sure there's a more leisurely and pleasing thing to make than bolognese sauce, which requires little chopping and cooks at a slow, steady simmer for hours. All you must do is occasionally check the pot, add a bit of water to keep it from sticking, and give it a stir. With next to no effort, you've got yourself a satisfying Sunday night dinner. It's the perfect sauce to make on a lazy day, when you want the house to smell delicious but aren't in the mood for anything complicated.

When the sauce is finally done, it's reduced to a deep, flavorful ragu, the meat mellowed by milk and wine, and flecked with tomato, carrot, and celery. There is no better way to brace yourself for the work week than a big bowl of rigatoni with bolognese sauce and a glass of red wine.

This past Sunday, while my bolognese bubbled away, I reflected on the very thoughtful Kreativ Blogger Award I recently got from Croque-Camille, who writes about her amazing life as a pastry chef in France. Thank you, Camille! Once you're tagged, you're supposed to reveal seven random facts (not necessarily food-related) about yourself, then tag seven others.

About me:

1. I hate fruit and chocolate together.
2. When I wear sunglasses, I believe I am invisible.
3. I am currently reading The Great Gatsby.
4. I always order duck if it's on the menu.
5. I am obsessed with the television show "Friday Night Lights."
6. My favorite color is orange.
7. I was the only child in the world who did not like pizza.

Tag, you're it: Ben; Shaz; wasabi prime; foodhoe; Kate; The Gypsy Chef; and my friend Alis.

Bolognese Meat Sauce
adapted/abridged from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

Makes 2 heaping cups, for about 6 servings

1 T. vegetable oil
3 T. butter plus 1 T. for tossing the pasta
1/2 c. chopped onion
2/3 c. chopped celery
2/3 c. chopped carrot
3/4 lb. ground beef (not too lean; the more marbled, the sweeter the ragu)
1 c. whole milk
whole nutmeg
1 c. dry white wine
1 1/2 c. canned plum tomatoes, cut up, with juice
1-1 1/2 lbs. pasta (I used rigatoni)

salt and pepper
freshly grated parmesan

Choose a pot that retains heat, either earthenware or an enameled cast iron pan. Put oil, 3 T. butter, and onion in the pot and turn the heat on to medium. Cook and stir the onion until it has become translucent, then add the celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables to coat them well.

Add the ground beef, a large pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble the meat with a fork, stir well, and cook until the beef has lost its raw, red color.

Add the milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. Add a tiny grating--about 1/8 t.--of nutmeg.

Add the wine, let it simmer until it has evaporated, then add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients well. When the tomatoes  begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface. Cook, uncovered, for at least 3 hours (more is better), stirring from time to time. While the sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it begins to dry out and the fat separates from the meat. To keep it from sticking, continue the cooking, adding 1/2 c. water whenever necessary. At the end, however, no water at all must be left and the fat must separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.

Toss with cooked drained pasta, adding 1 T. of butter, and serve with parmesan on the side.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Baking and nothingness

Yesterday, while looking for a biscuit recipe in Mark Bittman's  How to Cook Everything, I noticed the last recipe in the quick bread section, so short it almost seemed an after-thought: popovers. For some reason, my brain (and stomach) latched on to the idea of fresh popovers, hot from the oven, pulled apart to reveal an airy, soft center that I could slather with butter and jam.

The recipe was a total cinch. I had the batter ready in minutes and stood around, tapping my foot while the oven heated up.

While they baked, I brought the husband up to to speed, since he had never tried popovers before. "My mother used to make them on weekends," I said. "They almost have a pancake-like batter and taste, but you bake them in muffin tins and they poof up, like little balloons."

My most recent experience with the popover has been at The Rotunda Room, a ridiculous restaurant on the top floor of Neiman Marcus in Union Square. For some reason I've ended up at The Rotunda Room at least three times that I can remember, usually with work friends. Since it is a public place, there are usually other civilians like me there, with our wash-and-wear hair and off-the-rack clothes, but for the most part, The Rotunda Room is frequented by well-coiffed ladies that lunch, wearing chic dresses and strappy heels, their Gucci bags weighing heavily on skinny wrists.

The Rotunda Room's defining and admittedly fabulous feature is that it's mostly windows, so you can look out over the city while you eat your $25 Cobb salad. The restaurant's signature starters that are brought out soon after you're seated are a tiny teacup of consomme and a giant, crusty popover served with strawberry butter. The popovers really are lovely, I'll give them that. They are a deep, burnished brown, with an airy, empty center. It might seem overkill to draw the comparison between the popovers and the Rotunda ladies eating them, but I'm not in the practice of being subtle.

The joke might be on me, though, because it turns out popovers are not easy to make, even if they are filled with nothing. As soon as I pulled mine from the oven, I knew I had failed. There was no popping, and definitely no popping over. In fact, they looked like squat little muffins.

Here's a close-up view.

And here's what they looked like inside. See what's missing? Nothing is missing. Instead of a beautiful hollow center, the popovers were full of a dense spongey filling.

The lack of a solid center is critical to the popover; its internal nothingness is what gives it its essence. I feel like I'm on the brink of making a philosophical connection here, something existentialist, but I can't quite bring it home. Feel free to jump in, any of you Sartre scholars.

"This isn't how they're supposed to look," I said to the husband, as I served him two little stumps on a plate. "They're supposed to be light and airy but instead they're..."

"Flopovers?" he offered helpfully.

Pretty much. I have no idea what I did wrong. It's possible my oven temperature is off, although I've never found that to be a problem with other recipes. If anyone has any ideas about where my misstep could have been, I'd love to hear them. The popover gauntlet has been thrown down, and one day soon I must rise again to the challenge.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A new fall favorite: cranberry persimmon muffins

Last weekend, while rummaging around in the freezer, I discovered some cranberries. While I can't be sure, it's possible these cranberries are from last fall. Is that terrible? I'm very inexperienced with freezing things. I do understand that freezing does not mean something is preserved forever. But how long is too long?

I gave them a not very discriminating once-over and determined them perfectly fine. I had two Fuyu persimmons to use and was interested in baking them into something for breakfast. My last experiment with persimmons was a tangy chutney, served alongside a simple pork roast. This time I thought it would be fun to do something sweet. Cranberry persimmon muffins seemed like just the ticket.

I have a few basic muffin recipes I use, and one is the Barefoot Contessa's cranberry harvest muffins. I make them with cranberries, blueberries, apples, anything I have on hand. I leave out the nuts and dried fruit because I don't like too much junk in muffins and like so many of the Contessa's recipes, I reduce the sugar. That lady has a raging sweet tooth!

First I peeled the diced the persimmons and tossed them with the cranberries. Don't they look like little jewels?
The recipe is pretty straightforward--sift the dry stuff, mix in the wet. The only funny thing about the recipe is that you mix in the sugar at the end. This leads to a crispy crust on the muffin, which I like; it's almost like the sugar doesn't get entirely absorbed into the muffin but instead creates a little sugary shell.

The method proved to be a slight problem with this batch; I'm not sure if it's because of the persimmons or because I overzealously filled the muffin tins, but somehow the muffins kind of overflowed and the sugar got melty. Thank goodness for non-stick pans!

Once I pried them from the tin, I made them pose for a portrait.

I think the orange and fuchsia are just stunning. Although it's hard to rival the beauty of summer fruits and vegetables, I'm starting to think that autumn produce gives the heirloom tomato a run for its money. I've been knocked out by the pears, apples, and persimmons I've been getting recently, alongside dark green kale, blood red beets, and golden butternut squash.

Once they cooled for about one minute (did I mention I'm not patient?), we pulled off the papers and split them open. 

The muffins were spicy from the ginger and cinnamon, while cranberries and persimmons provided little bursts of tart and sweet. With a strong cup of coffee and the Sunday Times, it was a perfect start to a brisk fall day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Where everyone gets their own sandwich

On Saturday, we had to get up early and take the other hungry dog to the vet. Luckily, it was just for something quick, so no one got upset. It did turn out, though, that she had dropped a little weight since she got sick a few weeks ago. The vet said it would be good if she gained a few pounds.

Anyone who has a labrador retriever knows that you spend most of your time trying to keep your dog from looking like a duffel bag on stilts. I'm quite convinced our sweet, hungry dog would eat until she popped if allowed. The fact that we could up her food intake was very exciting.

We informed Frances of the news in the car on the way to brunch. She beamed.

Since our vet is in the Mission, we decided to hit the Slow Club, which is just a hop and skip over in Potrero Hill.

There are restaurants where we go for birthdays and anniversaries, famous places with national reputations, like Delfina and Zuni. These are the restaurants we tell people visiting from other places that they must try.

Then there are the places where we take our friends from out of town. They double as both a place for dinner and a place for drinks, are casual, and require no reservations. If you have to wait, you simply nudge your way into the crowded little bar and order a round of cocktails to pass the time. These are places we go on Friday nights to shake off the week, or Saturday brunch to start the weekend, places we love not just for the food, but for the way they make us feel: welcome, comfortable, and reminded that we are locals. They are the restaurants I would miss the most if we moved away.

My list goes like this, although not in any particular order: Slow Club, The Front Porch, Emmy's Spaghetti Shack, Little Star, and Nopalito.

The dimly-lit Slow Club has a sleek, industrial feel, a full bar, great food, and friendly service. It's hip but not suffocatingly so, and the throngs of tattooed 20-somethings in skinny jeans are balanced by older couples enjoying a low-key dinner out, parents with small children, and people like us, youngish and kid-free, with a big gentle dog. Everyone goes to the Slow Club.

Slow Club's small, focused menu is devoted to seasonal ingredients and features the best burger in the city. It also boasts a semi-famous fried egg sandwich, which the husband orders without fail if we show up during daylight hours.

I managed to snap this photo before the husband assembled the sammie and dug in. This was my first attempt at photographing food at a restaurant and I got the distinct impression the husband was a little irritated. But it didn't stop me.

If it's possible to be obsessed with something you've never tried, that sums up how I feel about the fried egg sandwich. I don't care much for eggs, especially not fried eggs, but this sandwich looks insanely good to me. It's full of bright colors and served on grilled, crusty bread, with thick-cut bacon and a ripe tomato.

For brunch or lunch, I usually order a sandwich, this time turkey with avocado cream and bacon. The picture didn't turn out great, because it's tough to balance a camera, dog leash, and coffee cup, but I assure you it was quite delicious. And if you're wondering why I did not order the burger, it's because a burger at 10 a.m. would put me down for the count.

We also decided to order sides of toast and bacon for Frances. Although I'm no stranger to cooking for my dog, I've never actually ordered food for her at a restaurant. It seems like the kind of thing jerky people do in affluent cities. I guess I know what that makes me. But since we were under doctor's orders to beef her up, we decided to go for it. Plus, the day was crisp and beautiful and we were fueled up on lattes and french fries. It seemed unkind to deprive her of a little brunch of her own.

Frances seemed to know the bacon and toast belonged to her. Her eyes got shiny like marbles when the waiter brought them to the table.

"If he weren't already dead, my father would die knowing we ordered applewood smoked bacon and sourdough toast for a dog," I said to the husband.

He shrugged, tearing a bite-sized piece of bread off for Frances, who plucked it from his hand and chewed it delicately. "That's why you grow up and move away from your parents," he said, "so you can do things the way you like."

True enough. Part of becoming an adult, in addition to the drudgery of working and paying bills, is being able to make your own rules. I've always vastly preferred being an adult to being a child for the freedom that comes with the responsibility of being on your own. I guess our set of rules now includes occasionally taking the dog out for brunch and feeding her bacon on toast. This might seem ridiculous to many people, but in our little world all I hear is the satisfied crunch of everyone enjoying their own perfect sandwich.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The humble acorn squash

For some reason, I didn't eat much squash growing up.  But as an adult, I've really grown to love them. First of all, they come in many shapes, colors, and sizes, which makes them fun to shop for. Second, they can be very pretty, even uncooked, just sitting on your kitchen counter. Third, they're very good for you. And fourth, I like the way they taste, which is the real dealbreaker in the Hungry Dog's kitchen.

We got two acorn squash recently and I spent a week or two mulling over what to do with them. I'm not sure if it's good or bad for squash to sit around, but that's what often happens to squash at my house. If I can't see any outward signs of deterioration, I assume it's ok to for them to hang around for a bit. I wonder if they get bitter as they get older? That's probably something I could research on the Interweb. But you know, I'm sick of researching stuff that way. I think too much of my life is spent Googling things I only have a middling interest in.

Back to the squash. Aren't they pretty? I like the little orange spots on the right one.

Squash are fine roasted and relatively plain. But I liked the idea of jazzing them up, taking them from a pleasant but unexciting side dish to a satisfying and striking main course. So, I decided to stuff them.

The first step was cutting them open, pulling out the seeds, and roasting them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. They're pretty on the inside, too.

While the squash roasted, I considered the stuffing. I had a few things in the fridge that needed to be used up, including some San Marzano tomatoes, two Saags sausages, and some fresh herbs. I was inspired by my fellow blogger Bob, who seems fearless when it comes to forging ahead without recipes, only armed with what he's got on hand and what he's in the mood to eat. I love that. So here's to you, Bob.

I made some pseudo-Mexican rice, with tomatoes, onion, garlic and chicken broth. Once the rice was done, I mixed in the diced-up sausages, parmesan, and chopped parsley and chives. Then I tucked the stuffing into the baked squash and sprinkled a little extra cheese on top.

This is what they looked like as they were about to go into the oven. Not bad, poor lighting aside.

I baked them for about 15 minutes, just to warm up the stuffing and melt the cheese, then stuck them under the broiler for a few minutes for color and crispiness. And what do you know, stuffed acorn squash is pretty good! Although, it could have used a little sauce, a finishing touch to pull it all together.

Acorn squash would be delicious stuffed with any number of things: risotto, ratatouille, orzo, jambalaya. You could make the filling as simple or as complex as you like. Anything that provides deep flavor and heartiness would work well and elevate the humble, mild-mannered squash to main dish status.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A night out with Steamy Kitchen

Last night I had the good fortune to be invited along for a little foodie feeding frenzy.

Jaden Hair of the fabulous blog Steamy Kitchen, happened to be in town touring for her new cookbook. My sometime virtual friend and newfound real-life friend Ben, from Cooking with the Single Guy, decided to pull together a few local food bloggers to welcome Jaden to the Bay Area and was kind enough to include me and the husband in the festivities.

We met at Otoro, which may just be my new favorite sushi joint in San Francisco, where we ordered a slew of goodies, from seaweed salad to monkfish liver. Along with Ben and Jaden, we were joined by Stephanie from Wasabimon and Sean from Hedonia. Rather than recounting the entire evening, check out Ben's great post, complete with awesome action shots of Jaden serving noodles, as well as a group photo in which the husband towers like a giant over the rest of us dwarfs. Really, he's only 6'2" but in the picture he looks about 8 feet tall.

Thanks again to Ben for organizing a lovely evening out. It's so fun to meet new people who share a common interest. And how often do you meet strangers and 30 minutes later find yourself willingly sharing a bowl of communal ramen, particularly in the age of pig flu? Not often, I say. It was a great night.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The case for fried rice

This morning I woke up and discovered I was stranded without breakfast.

Usually I have some bread for toast, or something I've baked, or in a pinch I'll eat a yogurt, which I dislike but will eat under the assumption that it is good for me. Breakfast is definitely my least favorite meal. I'm not much for eggs, waffles, pancakes, French toast, oatmeal, or other typical breakfast items. Yet somehow those cartoons I watched as a kid about how breakfast was the most important meal of the day have really stuck with me. I try to eat something every morning to get my feeble Hungry Dog brain moving before heading to work.

I was about to resign myself to an apple when I remembered I'd made fried rice the night before.

Before you judge, let's break it down, shall we?

You've got your rice, which is a carb. Same as toast, right?

You've got protein: bacon and a little egg. 

And, you have lots of vegetables. I add whatever I've got on hand to my fried rice, which in this case was a veritable cornucopia: Napa cabbage, carrots, celery, red pepper, peas.

All the major vitamins and nutrients are covered. So when you really get down to it, homemade fried rice is probably healthier than what a lot of people eat for breakfast.

"But Hungry Dog," you're thinking, "fried rice is full of oil and salt. Not very healthy for someone on the sad side of 30."

Yeah, so? Oil and salt make the world go round. Let's live a little, people.

And you can't tell me this doesn't look good.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pear crostata with cardamom

May I confess something to you?

I'm not much of a pear person. But it took me a long time to realize it.

I had a friend in high school who claimed early on that she thought pears were a disappointing fruit. Unlike a good apple, she said, when they're crisp they're absolutely inedible and likely to give you a stomach ache. But within a very brief period they become soft, bruised, and mushy. If you don't happen to be home and staring at your basket of pears during this critical window, which I am convinced lasts about 10 minutes, forget it.

So, after many years of eating pears as a child, as an adult I finally figured out I don't care for them all that much. I do appreciate the beauty of pears, though, particularly these stunning starkrimson ones we got in the produce box recently. Don't they look heavenly?

Since I don't care for them raw, I figured baking them into a sweet pastry was the way to go.

A few years ago I discovered this recipe which is simple and foolproof. The crust turns out perfectly buttery and flaky, and because it's free form, you don't have to worry about having the pastry skills of a kindergartener. This is great news for those of us who handle dough like monkeys. Really, when I make pie and tart crusts, I'm more like an angry monkey, because I get so frustrated with it sticking and ripping that I often find myself abusing the dough quite terribly. I think pastry brings out the temper in me.

Anyhow, I've made many different fillings for this crostata and swapped out various spices to enhance the chosen fruit. This time, I chose cardamom to go with the pears.

Have we discussed cardamom, and how I love, love, love it? I discovered it in high school when my family and I went to Sweden and Finland to find some long lost relatives. In addition to finding a few distant cousins, we also discovered sweet, spicy, gingery cardamom, which seemed to perfume most of the baked goods we ate while traveling, from coffee cakes to simple rolls to berry pies. Ever since then, I've had a deep love of cardamom, but I find it doesn't go with everything.

It does go with pears, though.

I'd like to find some savory uses for cardamom, but in the meantime, a pear crostata works just fine. And like many other fruit pies or tarts, if you serve it with vanilla ice cream it's a wonderful dessert worthy of guests, but with coffee makes a delicate, sweet, and slightly decadent breakfast just for one.