Tuesday, January 27, 2009

We Want Food - Tuna and Potato Chips

What's that pie plate of mush above? Why it's my grandmother's potato chips and tuna -made of tuna, potato chips, mushrooms, and cream of mushroom soup. Culinary arts at the highest level. So guilt inducing that my mother only made it once in the course of my childhood.

Clearly, it sounds disgusting, unhealthy, and bizarre. But with a few updates - fine California grown cremini shrooms, line caught tuna, vegan organic mushroom soup and Lays Cracker Crisps instead of potato chips - it's actually a fine, well balanced dinner. Especially when served with Swiss chard and tomatoes.

In case you're feeling adventurous, or rather unadventurous in a mid-western 1950s way, here's the original recipe, pulled from a yellowed type written recipe from my grandmother's book:

Tuna and Potato Chips
1 can tuna 7 oz
1 can cream of mushroom soup
6 oz of potato chips
1/2 cup mushrooms

Mix all ingredients in a shallow baking pan - greased. Spread top with crumbs. Bake 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes.

I upped the tuna and mushrooms, decreased the chips, and voila -

The housewife presents the fruit of her toils...

The Bread Project - Parmesan Pull-Aparts

We had our buddy Scott and his lady friend over for dinner on Saturday, and although I didn't end up getting the key lime cheesecake made that I'd been planning on (settled on Pear Brown Betty), I did get some rolls made - Parmesan Pull-Aparts to be exact.

The recipe from Gourmet, promised that they would be brioche-like "rich and tender" with a "gorgeous brown crust" but without the labor-intensive madness of brioche. On the non-labor intensive front, Gourmet was right. Although they were work out for my hand-held mixer and my Cuisine-Art (oh Lord, I need a stand-up mixer), they only required two short rises and no kneading. They rolled up nicely and looked cute all squished up in the pan.

They smelledd heavenly coming out of the oven, and I think compared to many of my baked goods, they looked pretty pretty too.

And as promised, they pulled apart with aplomb. The taste though, was a little eh. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but nothing to write home about. In their defense, my timing was a little off, so they had cooled considerably by the time we ate, but even warmed in the oven the next day they were still a little bland. But, I have my mother's brioche tins, and I'm not afraid of hard work, so next time, I'll make the real thing...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Fast Food - Sultan Indian Buffet

In honor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, Daniel and I decided to express our love of a buffet - an Indian buffet to be exact.

Although there are many options about town, we'd heard good things about Sultan, and so after a morning of building up a big appetite working at Daniel's favorite coffee shop, we headed off.

The place was relatively empty, but the buffet bar was full of all the standards - tandori chicken, aloo gobi, various kinds of dal, etc. So we filled our plates with as many options as we could and went to work.

The verdict: didn't love either of the meat dishes we tried - tandori chicken was a little too chewy and the lamb a little too gristly, but the vegetarian stuff was quite nice - especially a lovely cabbage dish, whose name I can't remember. I also really liked the rice patty (that big white disk pictured above). Apprarently, they make an excellent okra masala, but that wasn't available the afternoon we were there. Oh well.

For dessert, I tried "Indian noodles with butter." They were just that - Indian noodles with (LOTS) of butter. One bite was sufficient, but it was a good bite.

Overall, Sultan was nothing thrilling, but when it comes to large amounts of pretty good Indian food, frankly, what's not to like...

With a little ingenuity...

Daniel and I have been doing a text-study group every other Sunday in the East Bay, and I've been using this as an excuse to make sure that I bake at least twice a month. Last week, though, I had almost nothing in the house and was worried I would show up for our first post-New Year's meeting empty handed. Slowly though, an idea emerged...

Armed with my old friend, the Baker's chocolate brownie recipe (with the addition of salt), left-over sea-salt caramel, from a blood orange tart I'd made the week prior, and some coconut, I had the makings of a delicious (really, if I do say so myself) Sunday afternoon treat.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Fast Food - Sunflower Vietnamese

In spite of the fact that I should feel refreshed after the Winter Break, I've been feeling even more burnt out than ever since returning from the East Coast. Getting myself back into the swing of work, work, work has been next to impossible. The solution? Procrastination station. So I took one night off this week, and Daniel and I hit the Radio Habana Social Club for drinks and then grabbed dinner at Sunflower Vietnamese.

This restaurant has two locations around the corner from each other. We hit the "fancier" of the two - a perfectly comfortable nondescript little place, the packed tables a testament to its loyal following. Daniel, who is usually strangely opposed to sharing, agreed to split an appetizer and two entrees. It turned out to be far, far too much food. We started with burrito-sized fresh veggie spring rolls, which were perfectly rolled in slippery rice paper, stuffed with lettuce, tofu, bean sprouts, mushrooms, and cabbage. They were a delicious combination of crunchy and chewy and would in the future be a satisfying meal for a person seeking a light meal. We were not such people.

We were people who also had a bowl of chicken pho - rich flavorful yellowish broth, with loads of rice noodles and perfectly poached chicken. With the addition of some bean sprouts, a squeeze of lemon, and a shot of Sriacha, it was an incredibly satiating, slurpable soup (I liked it so much that when I had a bad sinus headache Saturday night, I went by and got another bowl of it to go).
Our final dish of the evening was Vietnamese vermicelli with beef and crispy imperial rolls. It was such a dish that served as my introduction to Vietnamese cuisine at the place my family frequented when I was a kid, and it's the standard by which I judge Vietnamese restaurants to this day. Although I was pretty stuffed by the time I gave this a taste, I was not disappointed. The beef was tender and had the appropriate barbecue like tang. The noodles and cucumbers were cool and light, providing lovely contrast to the beef. With the accompanying sweet clear sauce it was a wholly unnecessary, but deeply delicious end to a much needed night of hooky playing.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sometimes You Have to go to the Dark Side - Barbeque Wars

Early on after moving to South Carolina, my family discovered the joys of mustard based barbecue - slow cooked pulled pork, swimming in delicious, tangy yellow sauce, piled onto a soft white bun. What could be better?

The great purveyor of this delicacy was Maurice's Barbecue, a local chain whose flagship was near the airport,a large drive in restaurant, complete with car hop service, called Piggy Park.
We loved Maurice's - bought the barbecue sauce to send to family members, laughed about its resemblance to baby poop (there's a famous story about my sister, a diaper, and a bottle of the stuff). But after living in SC for a while, we discovered that Maurice was a racist, Confederate-sympathizer, and like the rest of liberal Columbia, we began boycotting the place.

For a while, we went without our new beloved yellow barbecue, until we discovered the equally delicious, guilt-free Big T Bar B Que, run by a lovely African American family in a shopping center near the Wal-Mart. It is their sandwich pictured above. A sandwich that exceeds Maurice, not just because it's prepared with love not hate, but also because you can get it with a spicier sauce, if you like.

The one problem with Big T is that unlike Maurice's, they don't offer a pulled chicken version of the sandwich, leaving poor Daniel with no kosher options. So we have developed a system when we visit SC. We all go to Big T, walk in with our heads held high, an purchase barbecue pork sandwiches for my mom and me.

Then we skulk to Maurice's (disguised in a rental car if we have one) and as surreptitiously as possible hit the drive-through to purchase Daniel's truly guilty pleasure.

No pictures please, says my mother, ashamed to be in parking lot of Maurice's

At the end of the day, however, everyone is happy. We top our sandwiches with cole slaw, and sigh the whole meal through. They don't call it Carolina Gold for naught...

Monday, January 5, 2009

We Want Food - Spaghetti con le sarde

When I was a kid as my father and I waited for my poor, put-upon mother to bring the chow to the table, we would display our appreciation for her culinary devotion and care by banging our forks and knives on the table and chanting "We want food. We want food." (This was after I had outgrown my love of creating long silverware narratives, wrapping napkins around my forks and pretending that they were the girls to the masculine knives. I would never have subjected my utensil friends to such jostling, but once safely out of this stage, I happily banged away.)

But I digress. In honor of those childhood dinners, I am launching a new feature here on Food on the Frontal Lobe. A periodic examination of recipes I'm trying for my favorite meal of the day - dinner. (well let's be honest, it's a four way tie - breakfast, lunch, and brunch are pretty good too - oh and who doesn't love a late night snack...)

The first entry - Spaghetti con le sarde

I'd recently read a mouthwatering review of a restaurant in NY that specializes in this Sicillian pasta dish, and I wanted to try my hand at it. I couldn't find a recipe that seemed perfect, so I combined a few, focusing particularly on one from NYT magazine and one from Food and Wine. The end result was truly thrilling - I think one of the most complexly flavored, sophisticated dishes I've made in a long time. The textures and flavors were surprising and rich, and the sardines were in no way overpowering. Delicious.

Here's the recipe (the measurements are not precise, I went with the pinch system):

Pasta con le sarde
-1/2 C bread crumbs
-olive oil
-1/4 C grated parmesean (this is controversial; Italians don't like to mix cheese with fish pasta)
-1/2 C dry white wine
-a few handfuls of dried currants
-red pepper flakes
-one fennel bulb (finely chopped)
-fennel seeds
-2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
-1/2 large yellow onion (finely chopped)
-1 can diced tomatoes (some liquid drained)
-2 cans of skinless, boneless sardines (drained and pulled apart with a fork)
-1/4 C toasted pine nuts
-spaghetti (I used whole wheat because I'm a heathen)

1) soak the currants and hot pepper flakes in the white wine
2) heat some olive oil and add the bread crumbs, stir frequently for about five minutes until golden, place in a bowl and set aside; if using, add parmasean and mix in
3) in same pan, add more olive oil, and sautee fennel, seeds; after a few minutes add onions and garlic and salt and pepper to taste; sautee until fennel is a little golden and beginning to be tender (during this step, start boiling your water for pasta; for textural purposes, I would recommend al dente)
4) add tomatoes and allow some of the liquid to cook off
5) add a few spoonfuls of the wine and all of the soaked currents (I also added more pepper flakes at this point)
6) add the sardines and let stew for an additional four minutes or so; add more s&p
7) drain your pasta and put back in pot; gently fold in the sardine mixture and then add most of the bread crumb/cheese mixture and the pine nuts; combine
8) serve in bowls, top with remaining bread crumbs
9) think about what a gourmand you are

Sardine on Foodista

I love a buffet...

So I'm back from two weeks of "vacation," all ready to gear up for the next six month marathon. You would think that with two weeks off, there would have been lots of time for good blogging, but alas, no such luck. Fortunately, however, I did manage to make time in my busy schedule to do some good eating. So the next few entries will be some highlights...

The first one came early on in our trip back East. Daniel and I were totally zonked from our Red Eye to Charlotte by way of New York. Zonked and ravenous. My always intrepid mother thought that Rock Hill would be a good place to stop to recharge our batteries on our way down to Columbia, but she didn't have any thoughts on where exactly we should eat in this bustling metropolis. Serendipity was on our side, and we spotted Jackson's Cafeteria.

Now my dad and I spent a good bit of time when I was growing up frequenting a similar establishment called S&S Cafeteria. While all I remember of those visits is my love for green jello cut into cubes and served in glass goblets (sans whipped cream, if you please), these memories are fond, and I had a great feeling about Jackson's. They did not let me down...

Daniel scanning the options, searching for the rare non-traif item

Our table; as always a buffet breeds gluttony...

In a well-intended, but fool-hardy attempt to be health conscious, I went for the baked chicken, with sides of a green salad, pinto beans, and mustard greens. Oh, and of course the chicken came with stuffing, cranberry sauce, and a yeast roll. Even with the skin removed, the chicken was incredibly flavorful and moist, and combined with the cranberry sauce, it was really very, very good. The pinto beans and mustard greens (that rhymes) were the kind of veggies only available in the south. Impossibly good thanks to the addition of who knows how much pig fat. But in a region of the world that considers macaroni and cheese a vegetable, I think I was being virtuous...

My plate

Daniel ended up with a salmon croquette, hush puppies, spicy corn bread, a green salad, and creamed corn (the only veg without the aforementioned pig fat). Although he claimed to like the salmon croquette, he left a large portion of it on his plate, explaining that when it came to round fried things, he was saving himself for his plate of hush puppies. He seemed equally pleased with the corn and corn bread. To make sure that the meal was well-balanced, he also availed himself of my yeast roll; after all you need a little wheat to supplement all those corn products.

How many ways to prepare corn do you see here?

The thinking person's meatloaf...

My mother, ever the minimalist, stuck to this beautiful stuffed pepper, green beans, and a plate of pickled beets. This pepper was the winner of the afternoon, however. Ground beef, with sweet ketchupy tomato sauce and some kind of breading smashed into a big old green pepper. Yummy. All the joys of meatloaf but with aesthetic appeal to boot. I'm going to try my hand at one of these soon. Delish.

We left satiated and with the feeling that Jackson's had proved an auspicious start for our trip to the homeland...