End-of-summer pestilence

It seems to happen in late summer, yearly: an infestation of fruit flies. It’s just a fact of life. I usually just use my homemade traps and I’ve gotten rid of them in short order.

I was (as always) glad to know that I’m not alone with this end-of-summer event, but surprised to see a test on the effectiveness of homemade traps. Even though I’m pretty satisfied with my method, curious minds must investigate the possibility that someone has built a better (mouse) trap.

From Kitchn (one of my favorites) comes a test of various do-it-yourself traps. What surprised me was which one was more effective.

Frankly, I’ve been lazy and simply put out the cider vinegar mix in any small container even without the funnel or the lid with hold punched in the top and it still works, and add to that, for only once a year I don’t want lids with holes poked around the kitchen! In my simple open-container method (yes, lazy) the dish soap seems to really help advance the mass slaughter.

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One-pan cooking

It’s really no secret that I don’t like washing dishes–I know some people say that they do, but I simply don’t believe it (I can kind of understand liking ironing, but…). It’s not as wv5220xthough I’ve never mentioned “one-pot meals” here and it’s pretty obvious that I don’t feel a huge need for recipes, but sometimes some guidelines are nice.

In perusing the internet I see lots of recipes that can be done in one pot–or maybe a sheet pan. These are so easily adaptable for single-serving cooking, use things that come in “chunks”,  and that it’s possible to buy in appropriate quantities.  For winter cooking I’ve got no problems using the oven as it simply contributes to heating the house. I’ve bought a one-quarter (9 x 13 inch) sheet pan to prepare for winter meals.

Summer is another matter–no oven use for this person.  I don’t want to add any extra heat, but cooking on a single burner would be within my limits (maybe actually doing it on an induction unit, too.)  Today, I found an article in Bon Appetit Basically that provided some guidelines for building a one-skillet meal that seems very amenable to improvisation–in other words a how to approach.

I’d suggest you take a look at the full article, but in summary:

  1. Cook your protein first. For quick-cooking things like shrimp, etc be sure to undercook just a tad.
  2. Add aromatics of your choice.
  3. Deglaze with your choice of liquid.
  4. Add vegetables; quick-cooking ones are best but that leaves a lot of options.
  5. Add pre-cooked grains if you wish.
  6. Return to protein to the skillet, to reheat if necessary.
  7. Serve!

If you do this in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet the cleanup is going to be really simple. Even better, if the skillet can also go in the oven you’ve even more flexibility in finishing off you one-skillet meal. (Tonight, my skillet will contain some good onion sausage and kohlrabi leaves with a few aromatics–onions and garlic.)

A son gôut!

Supper for a chilly evening….

If it were not that my outdoor thermometer is reading 46ºF I’d be calling it a snow day–grey, chilly, misty, damp, dreary. It seems like a day for “oven food”. While the oven is on, the heat won’t be coming on as much. Food and warmth in one.

I’ve hit the time when cleaning out the refrigerator becomes a necessity–not that I had anything about to grow legs and crawl out, just things that should be used, and it’s also time to rotate stuff from the freezer, too. So a browse through the fridge, the freezer and from the counters is making a meal–a one-pot meal. I did have go to the grocery store because this kind of weather calls for potatoes–and I had only a baking potato in the house–and those just don’t do for braises. So, leaving the Romertopf to soak while I   went to do cat care for a friend and got some potatoes and then started to see what would b_shank_crop_20161204_153707happen for supper–it’s a no-recipe event this evening.

I scrabbled around in the freezer and came up with a very large beef shank (with marrow in the bone), the refrigerator gave up some under-cooked collard greens ( I attempted to cook them in the slow-cooker–not recommended if they are older greens). The counter yielded some cherry tomatoes that were getting wrinkly, and there were some sliced shiitake mushrooms loitering in the fridge.

Even though it’s the weekend, it’s a working day for me so I’m doing lazy cooking. All of b-shank-covered_20161204_153715the above-mentioned items went into the soaked Romertopf–with bite-size Yukon gold potatoes added. I did my lazy herb seasoning (herbs de Provence), lots of garlic cloves, and then those cherry tomatoes that had wrinkles. Add a couple bay leaves, salt and water, and put it into a cold oven set for 350ºF–a kitchen happening. Had I soaked the larger Romertopf, I would have added some rutabaga and carrots too–but those looked as if they could linger for just a bit longer in the fridge. Now–to work!

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Today has been one of those frustrating days when I’ve had difficulty really concentrating–even though I didn’t have to attend to cooking supper. For all the true productivity I might as well have been in the kitchen cooking. Even without any attention, about three hours later, I’ve a really tasty meal–quite suitable for the weather tonight.

20161204_200628It may not be styled and truly photogenic, but the beef shank was very tender–but very beefy–it’s one of the things that is great about some of the less popular cuts of the cow.  The smoky, earthiness of the shiitake mushrooms, the mellow flavor of the roasted garlic made a great contrast to the bitterness of the collard greens (these took a lot of cooking to get them really tender). The healthy dose of bay and herbs de Provence really added a lot of flavor. I did finish my plate with a drizzle of herbs de Provence infused olive oil (Bull City Olive Oil). To accompany this casual meal I had a glass of 1999 Domaine Cros Minervois wine. Just the ticket to go with the very “beefy” beef and the collard greens!

 

A great supper for a rainy, damp, chilly evening. A successful kitchen happening without the vestige of a recipe in sight.

A son gôut!

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There’s an app for improvisation

Cooking for one? Frustrated with recipe adjustment? You want to improvise but not quite ready to just “wing it”?  You want a fritter batter (for one or two) but the recipe serves six?

Using something other than measuring cups and measuring spoons can give you a lot more freedom in the kitchen. How to Cook without a Book will help you get away from the frustration of looking at the recipe that serves six and wondering how to modify it for you (and the cat). If you know cooking techniques (e.g. sauté or braise) you are well on your way to using that recipe for inspiration and adapt it to your needs and taste. If you want a good start on learning techniques, I would recommend you check out Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty that includes not only the techniques but important ingredients as well: water, onions, acids, eggs, butter, and flour for a start.  Now to take improvisation to the next level of freedom from recipes: using ratios of ingredients.

Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking Cover ImageThe Ratio (link below) is devoted to explaining and working with ratios in the kitchen.  Topics in this book include batters (cake and bread), stocks, roux, sauces, and even sausages. Measuring by weight  (though not required) does simplify this process–and eliminate washing all those measuring cups and measuring spoons. Adjusting the amounts of main ingredients is straight forward, but this approach does mean that you will need to adjust seasoning by tasting–rather than simply mathematically.

There is an app that will put all this at your fingertips (links below). Let’s say your gardening neighbor has just gifted you a BIG bag of zucchini. You might think you can use some of them to make fritters as the main course for your supper. You can go the Google route–find a butt-load of recipes, most of which serve six, or you can use this app to check batters–and you’ll see a button for fritter batter. The “details” tab will give you more specific information: e.g. that each 4 ounces of flour and liquid will hold together two cups of garnish (your shredded zucchini) and that would make about eight nice, big fritters and some seasoning suggestions for both sweet and savory. This app is NOT free ($4.99 from Google Play via Ruhlman Enterprises); there are some issues with it–but I think it’s worth that small price.

The issues: The egg part of the ratio, since eggs come nicely packaged right from the hen. I learned the “ratio” approach from my grandmother she taught me to make a “pound” cake or “four parts” cake–since the egg was premeasured, we worked in egg weights and use an equal weight of each other ingredients–flour, sugar, and butter. This is easy if you use scales, but if not, then here are some ways to deal with the egg part of the ratio.

Weights of various grades of eggs for the USA and for other countries can be found in Wikipedia; additional volume information can be found on Get Cracking . Using this site you can find that a large egg (called for in most recipes) weighs 2.0 to 2.25 ounces (56.7 to 63.7 grams) and volume of 46 mL (3.25 tablespoons). Cup equivalents of eggs are found at The Incredible Edible Egg. Some recipes (custards and some sauces) will call for egg yolks only. To help on these calculations you need to know the weight of the yolk of a large egg is 17 grams or 0.60 ounces. Weights for other egg sizes can be found at  the {convert to} site. From this same  website you can convert that 1 yolk into cup measure: 0.07 cups, which is equal to 0.56 fluid ounces, or 1.12 tablespoons, or 3.37 teaspoons of egg yolk. (I doubt that you’ll be doing this kind of conversions–but it can be done.) Just to be complete,  the weight of egg white from large eggs is = 33 grams = 1.2 oz. The information for other sizes/grades of chicken eggs, as well as duck, quail, and turkey eggs, is also given.

Now suppose you want to make a small amount of custard (e.g. for quiche) you can use the calculator of this app to determine how much liquid you need. To do this by weight, enter 56.7 in the “eggs” and set units to grams. Now set the liquid units to grams as well–and the calculator will tell you to use 113 grams of liquid. (You’re saying you could have done that in your head–true, but now you click the “details” tab, and you’ll get a kind of “master” recipe with more instructions.)  Want Crème Anglaise using only egg yolks? Use the weight of the number of egg yolks, and the calculator will spit out the amount of cream and sugar you need, as well as the total weight. For two egg yolks, you would need 136 grams cream and 34 grams of sugar.

More on using ratios:

Happy improvisation with ratios! A son gôut!

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Black bean pasta

I’ve had a long work week, which  ended  in frustration  this evening in–I’m hungry, but the planned meals just don’t DO it. After staring in the fridge for a while, and going back to take a few of those silly online quizzes, I still hadn’t the foggiest idea what I wanted to eat. More peering into cabinets (sardines–nope, tuna–NOT).

While skulking through the pantry, I realized that what I’d most likely cook were I not trying to be really serious about weight loss would be pasta.  Obviously, that won’t do–at least not pasta, as we most commonly think of it.

On my grocery rounds day before yesterday, I noticed that there was a new section of pasta displayed with lots of signage designed to attract attention–it was gluten-free pasta. I’m not gluten intolerant so I usually don’t pay attention to that (and I get really irritated when I see fruits and vegetables touted as gluten free–but I won’t go there now). As I stood perusing the boxes, I had a faint memory of a friend telling me that her grandchildren liked black bean pasta, so I read the ingredients list–and it was only black beans. I found that rather amazing, since so many gluten free products have potato starch or other things that are off limits to me right now. I succumbed–I bought a package of black bean pasta.

I stashed the black bean pasta (pasta?) in the pantry and went straight to  the Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionary to look up pasta. I discovered that it was defined as “an alimentary paste in processed form”. While spaghetti was given in an example nothing was specified as to what the paste was made of.  Ok–it’s black bean pasta.

I spend a little time thinking about why I eat pasta. It’s because I like pasta. I like the different shapes, too. I like the flavor of pasta made from wheat, but there is a texture factor there as well. Maybe there is more than that–maybe there is something about twirling spaghetti or angel hair pasta around a fork to get it into my mouth–part of the process of eating that’s satisfying–more than just the flavor.

What I’d usually make is spaghetti aglio e olio–sorry, that just sounds better that plain olive oil and garlic–so I decided to give the black bean pasta a trial that way. I got out my favorite pasta-cooking gadget. For this to keep with the meal plan in some remote fashion, I needed to add some vegetables. Spinach!  I sautéd the and spinach in the olive oil and dumped it over my black bean pasta. (I know I had a bigger serving of carbohydrate than I should have, even though it was black bean pasta, but at least I had veggies with it.)

The result? A pleasant surprise! It was remarkably satisfying (maybe just because I was hungry); the texture was good though not quite like pasta made from wheat flour. It’s not overwhelmingly “beany” either. It was so satisfying that I had to think that there is more to my liking pasta than just the flavor. Would I rather have had “real” pasta? Yes, but this was good. Black bean pasta is not going to replace the traditional stuff made of durham wheat flour. It certainly beat trying to fake it with spaghetti squash (though I like that too, but it’s definitely NOT pasta–it’s a vegetable so don’t tell me to use it instead of spaghetti).

The final call? I’ll cook  pasta made from black beans again until I can have the traditional kind that we usually think about. I don’t know why I had this resistance to this as pasta since I like soba and rice noodles. It’s a good stand in for this meal plan. After eating that I find that there is also pasta made of chickpeas (garbanzo beans).  I’m sure I’ll find some other uses for it as well, and I’ll explore other “alimentary pastes” to add to the soba and cellophane noodles as well. But I’ll still want that plate of “real” spaghetti aglio e olio!

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Always Hungry? Another improvisation

Pork is one of my favorite meats, and it is not on the list of approved protein sources, although I assume it is in the category of “game and other meats” so I’m improvising a Phase 1 meal with a pork chop this evening. After reading a recipe from The Kitchn for 20160322_163300“Sweet and Spicy Braised Cabbage” my mouth was set for pork. The sweet part is going to prevent me from having that to go with my pork chop this evening (save this one for Phase 2 or 3).

I thought about taking  the lazy way out for vegetables and carbohydrate–use some of the mixed greens and borlotti beans that I had with my tuna steak, with  an addition of a little extra seasoning for the second time around, but that just did not tingle my taste buds today. So, sautéed kale this evening. I have a large bag of kale that I’m first going to sauté  simply with olive oil and then add seasonings to what I’m going to have with the pork chop–leaving the “extra” for later use to season differently  for later use. (I do quite often to avoid wasting food because I’m a picky eater who doesn’t want the same thing over and over.)

Supper this evening was part of this pork chop cooked on my cast iron griddle as described for pork neck steak–smoking hot griddle, first two minutes on each side, then turned at minute intervals until it reached an internal temperature of 130 degrees to allow for continued cooking while resting. Kale sautéed with black-eyed peas, and a side of sautéed apple (not good enough to eat out of hand, but fine when cooked). The sautéed apple replaced dessert with this meal. The contrasts of the slight bitterness of the kale, the earthiness of the black-eyed peas, and the sweetness of the apple with the pork did make my taste buds sit up and take notice.

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Grocery shopping for one

Do you think about advertising while you’re grocery shopping?  Most likely not! I know that I don’t–but I try to do “perimeter” shopping, making a foray into the center of the store only for specific items–like drain cleaner, paper towels, or dish detergent.  Where I shop, the immediate thing from the entrance is produce (with a big display of locally grown goods), which leads to the meat and fish/seafood counters; a left turn there takes me past the dairy, and refrigerated juices; another left leads me to frozen goods. If I take a right turn at the butcher/fish/seafood counter, I find myself at a counter of prepared fruits and melons (usually in big quantities that are too much for one).  Next in line is the bakery and then the delicatessen.  Continuing through those, I end up at the Asian food bar,  the rotisserie chickens and other prepared meats, and the salad bar.  My usual trek through the grocery store most often involves only a quick dash to the dairy case, then meat and deli. I don’t see a lot of processed food on this circuit. I’d never really given much thought to whether or not my shopping was being manipulated by sales-motivated display methods.  The links below contain some information about store layout and methods used to induce us to buy “stuff”–things that we did not come into the store to purchase: impulse purchases.

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links of hot Italian sausageMeat purchases are pretty easy–thanks to chops, steaks, and a butcher/fish counter that will cut to order; packages of  chicken parts, rather than whole birds, and house-made sausages that I can buy one or two at a time. Careful consideration of the dish that I want to make can allow alternative cuts of meet: beef shank instead of large chuck roast for post roast.

The real difficulties come in produce where things are sold bunched, bagged, or otherwise in quantities that don’t fit single-serving cooking. Some produce just grows in too large a quantity–heads of cauliflower, heads of cabbage or lettuce, a whole stalk of Brussels sprouts…waste just waiting to happen unless we make a serious effort to prevent it.

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One of the difficulties of cooking for one (or even two) is the produce that goes bad while waiting quietly in the refrigerator for you to do something with it.  I love peppers–and I like variety, but I simply cannot use a whole red and orange or yellow bell pepper before they begin to get a little mushy around the edges, no matter how carefully I store them.  So do I do without them?  Even  some ready-to-use packages that are available in the produce department are still more than I want. Buying more than I can use is like throwing money away–and it gets worse if you consider the amount of food waste by consumers after purchase, let alone the waste between harvest and the appearance in the supermarket.

My supermarket likely has something that will help with this dilemma:  a salad bar.

green on the salad barIf you’ve always thought of it as a place to make a salad with all sorts of veggies and trimmings, and pour salad dressing on it, top it with some croutons, and take it back to the office to eat  you need to look at the salad bar from a different perspective. Take a closer look at what’s available there to purchase by the pound–thinking about what you need for a meal, rather than making a salad.

As much as I love salads, packaged greens often go bad before I use all of them. My other objection to big prepared baby spinach on the salad bar (Harris Teeter)packages of greens is the lack of variety–I simply don’t want spinach as my greens for a whole week.  If your market has a salad bar, you can get single-servings of mesclun, spinach, and other greens from the salad bar. I can also get some that loose greens in the produce department–I’ll purchase that either place, depending on what my schedule is and how salad-crazy I am at the time. Since the salad bar usually has several kinds of greens out, I can have mixed salad greens without buying lots of each kind.

salad bar-broccoli-cauliflower IMG_6051I like cauliflower and broccoli too, but again a head of cauliflower is a bit much, so even at $3.99 a pound it is less wasteful and probably cheaper in the long run for me to buy what I need for a single meal from the salad bar–and I avoid having to do the prep myself–added benefit.

My most frequent purchase from the salad bar is bell pepper strips, for salads, and sometimes for seasonings.  If I need a lot, for example making the dandelion greens and sausages or  chicken with sweet peppers, I will either buy whole peppers, or use frozen ones since they are to be cooked.  The salad bar that I frequent usually has a variety of colors, so I can have that without red, yellow, orange, and green going bad in the fridge. (I prepared bell peppers on the salad bar (Harris Teeter)have to admit, somewhat shamefacedly, that I’m one of the people who will stand there and pick out the red, orange, and yellow and leave the green ones behind.)

I don’t buy tomatoes off the salad bar–I think that the refrigeration changes the texture of them, so I usually get grape/cherry tomatoes from the produce section. They seem to be one thing that I use easily before they get funky.

Onions and whole carrots keep well julienned carrots on the salad barenough that I buy those in the produce department most of the time and keep them in the fridge; but if I want  julienned carrots to make a quick serving for a meal or for a salad–I may just take the lazy way out and use the salad bar rather than the packaged ones in the produce department. That’s my idea of convenience food.

I don’t often by cucumbers from the salad bar since I prefer the English ones–and the salad bar usually features the American slicers so they are not worth the per pound price. Other things that may be purchased from the salad bar include sliced mushrooms, julienned radishes, or fresh mozzarella when you want just enough for one serving.

Another frustration of buying produce for one is fruit. As much as I like cantaloupe, honeydew, berries and other fruit, getting variety leads me to use the fruit side of the salad bar often. I can usually find assorted berries, mangoes, pineapple, and melons there.

Most of the items on the salad bar really aren’t that heavy–and considering that you have avoided the waste of unused produce, it seems to be a reasonable price.  Even some of the heavier items like melons, broccoli and cauliflower, are a bargain for me since it allows me to have variety in my meals and minimizes waste.

Not everything I want is on the salad bar, so the solo cook has to deal with more produce than you’re going to use quickly. What are the options?