Profile

gentlyferal

I began cooking for my family once a week at the age of 13. I still remember my first menu: Potatoes Anna and steak. And my mother's critique: The potatoes were too elaborate for the simple steak - but the food was good.

  • Website
  • Location: Mendocino County, California
  • Favorite foods: greens, lasagne, olives, whole-grain bread, cashews and pecans, coffee ice cream, trout, mahi-mahi, salmon, lox, Synergy's "gingerberry" kombucha (more of a health tonic, but damn it's good), pot stickers, won tons, oyster beef
  • Last bite on earth: Since I'll never have to worry about high blood sugar again ... Chess pie with a side of Wyler's Peach Cider.

Cook the Book: Ravioli Nudi

I just now tried this and the dumplings DISINTEGRATED in about a minute. The water was NOT at a rolling boil -- I turned it down to a barely perceptible simmer. Fortunately, I only had three of them in there; the rest are baking in the oven now.

This happens EVERY TIME I try to make dumplings of this type. What am I doing wrong?

What to cook with Pie crust?

Spanakopita filling tastes good in other kinds of crust besides phyllo dough.

What's your culinary 'white whale'?

Layer cake. The flavor's good, but I can't get the tops of the layers flat, so they slide. Tapping the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles doesn't make any difference. Neither does pushing the batter to the edges so that it starts out lower in the middle - the middle is STILL domed.

Weekend Cook and Tell: Processor Power


ell.victor:

All those things that food processors can replace - whisk, pastry cutter, grater, mortar and pestle - are also smaller than a food processor and easier to clean.

And more time-consuming to use. And if you have any kind of RSI, as I do, a machine to exert brute force is a godsend. And we all have days when we just don't have the energy to cook, and sometimes a food processor will stretch your remaining energy just far enough.

In short, I'm with lemons:

When I bought it, I felt as though I had bought a fur coat.

Amen. I've owned a food processor for about half of my adult life. My first was a Cuisinart, and I think it was purchased after the firm had gone downhill for a while. I had to start replacing parts after about a year. I finally gave it up when we were homeless for a while. It did have an attachment specifically for whipping egg whites and cream, which worked OK. I now use my stick blender for those tasks.

A few years ago I bought a Kitchenaid, which has held up much better than the Cuisinart did. Its most frequent task is kneading bread dough, which I simply do with the chopping blade (I've never been impressed with dough blades; I don't see why their blades are so short.) Most any other dough goes in there, too.

Oh, and quarts of homemade salsa in tomato season, and fresh fruit (or cucumber!) sorbets in the summertime, hashbrowns any time of the year. "Mashed" potatoes, too - boil and grate 'em, then stir in cream and butter and all that. The chopping blade would just turn them to glue.

And another vote for hummus (almost typed "yummus" :)). A food processor makes it cheap enough to be a fridge staple. Wow, I could sure go for a hummus/cucumber sandwich on homemade bread right now :D

seriousb,

We have the "mini" processor bowl insert for our KitchenAid food processor, and I don't think we have EVER used it -- you have to clean the big bowl too, every time you use it!

I'm extremely sensitive to onion fumes, and yet I adore onions - so I use the mini-bowl for those times I need to chop one onion, and it's a godsend. The big bowl gets a quick rinse, the mini-bowl gets washed in the usual way.

The thing is, it occurred to me that the food processor blades are at least equally dangerous. You can't leave either out.

Absolutely right. I didn't have the cash for a big fancy blade caddy, so I keep my slicing and grating blades in a breadpan in a cupboard; they stand on edge quite politely. The chopping blade lives in the processor bowl or on the shelf. (For what it's worth, when I cut myself in the kitchen, it's always on a knife; I believe I've cut myself once on a food processor blade in the twenty-five or so years I've been working with them.)

The one attachment I halfway regret buying is a julienne blade; I think I've used it twice since I bought it.

Hit or Miss: Tonight's Dinner Was a Hit!

Well, I attempted a pastafazool kind of thing from How To Cook Everything Vegetarian. Had to sub red beans for white, kale for cabbage - probably a mistake. The textures didn't blend very well and the dish came out bland. I'll probably douse the leftover noodles and beans with cheese sauce and homemade salsa tonight.

Liverwurst: Love it or hate it?

Liverwurst on good sturdy whole-grain bread with a little onion sounds heavenly to me right now. It's been about two years since I had any at all, so it's about time. Every few years I just have to have it – then I tire of it, about the time I finish an 8-oz. package.

Selections are limited here in California, but even Farmer John's in the half-pound chub will do, when the fit is on me.

Weekend Cook and Tell: Edible Hand-Me-Downs

Nearly all my mother's recipes – as far as I know – were from magazines and cookbooks; but they tended to be Gourmet and higher-end cookbooks. But two family favorites I don't remember her ever cracking a book for were cowboy cake - a streusel-topped spice cake baked in a pie pan - and her canned-chicken curry. It was fragrant, and savory, and good enough for company dinners. Hot enough to melt the gold trim off the good china, or so a family friend once joked. I also treasure the memory of a chicken mole unlike any I have tasted since - some kind of homemade mole negro with lots of garlic in it, slathered all over a whole chicken and baked until it crusted and the chicken was ready to fall off the bone. She made fine enchiladas too, which was then unusual for a Franco-Irish-American woman from the Middle West. My Swedish-American stepfather also made a superb spaghetti sauce which was bright with garlic. To this day I can't duplicate it. Last time I tried to puzzle it out, he began, "Start with a flat of tomatoes..."

I did not collect any of Mama's recipes, because, as I say, she did generally cook out of books, but she did pass down beliefs about food and cooking which sustain me and my family to this day:

Good food is a right, not a privilege.

Fresh is best.

Never try a brand-new recipe on guests; make it for your family first.

Always follow directions exactly the first time; then you'll know what changes need to be made.

As a result, there's considerable overlap between "family" cooking and "company" cooking, because that's the way I grew up.

Hit or Miss: Tonight's Dinner Was a Miss

(I'm reading this the day after.) Last night we had an almost-vegetarian pot pie: cabbage and leeks, mostly, with fresh herbs, topped with Mark Bittman's savory tart crust.

With that went an improvised dish of okra, tomatoes, onion, garlic and more herbs, and a little too much cayenne. No water; the tomato juices were just enough liquid. Okra isn't slimy if you don't boil it to death; it's succulent and picks up savory flavors easily.

Tonight we'll finish that okra with some simple white beans with fresh herbs and shavings of a local Parmesan-like cheese.

All cooked in the solar oven for about 5 hours. I love my solar oven (www.solarovens.org).

Weekend Cook and Tell: What I learned in Home Ec

Ugh. I apologize for "white Caucasian" and "black African-American." In the preview, the [strike] tags worked the way they were supposed to.

Weekend Cook and Tell: What I learned in Home Ec

Ohdeargod, home ec class. Well, mine was circa 1968 or '9. Believe it or not, I was mistakenly assigned to a shop class on the basis of my first name, an uncommon feminine variant on a common masculine name. I thought it might be cool to learn to handle a soldering iron and all that stuff, but I took one look through the classroom door and knew I just couldn't face a crowd of middle-school boys. So I backed down.

Anyhow, home ec class was pretty bad. The cooking program took two sessions to produce a beverage made of powdered milk, sugar and some sort of flavoring (cocoa powder?) This was by way of getting up to speed, I suppose. By the end of the semester, we were more or less up to producing some kind of complete meal, and for dessert were allowed to choose between some kind of fruit pie (I think) and "potato pie." I chose the fruit, but when the "potato pie" turned out to be sweet potato pie, I was disgusted at the opportunity I had missed.

The sewing wasn't much better. We did far too much fiddling with bias tape. Other girls managed to produce creditable headscarves - a little triangle of fabric with bias-tape straps to tie under the chin - but mine was a thread-snarled horror. I simply could not figure out the thread tension – or how to get help.

About the child-care segment I remember nothing, except noticing a difference in dialect between my white Caucasian and black African-American classmates: the way they pronounced the letter "R" (not the sound /r/, but the way they said the name of the letter. Most of the African-American girls in the class were from the South, I suspect). So one day, during one of these dull and incoherent lectures on child care, I passed around a note: "Say the letter R." I confirmed my observations, momentarily bewildered the teacher, and got a scolding.

Around this time – maybe even at the same time – my mother took over my domestic science education. On a Necchi sewing machine, she guided me through the process of making a culotte jumper, for which I chose an eye-popping brick-red corduroy with a paisley print. It fitted perfectly and I wore it till I outgrew it.

Oh, and she was teaching me to cook from her wall-o-cookbooks – dishes like Potatoes Anna, sauce hollandaise, pepper steak.

Food you thought you hated?

Hated hated HATED lime, until I realized that what I actually disliked was lime-flavored sweet dishes. Savory? Bring it!

Cilantro. A life-long and mighty hatred for this herb that tastes like dust bunnies. Until a couple of years ago, when I cooked a lovely Moroccan meatballs-in-yogurt sauce which called for most of a bunch of cilantro, because my husband insisted on buying some and I had to use it up, dammit!

Hot peppers - my heat receptors were just too sensitive. This is one of the few cases where old age is a blessing - a few less tastebuds and hot peppers are much more amusing now. Ahh, tomato season - when we can have a quart of salsa from home-grown tomatoes in the fridge at all times!

Egg yolk - I hated fried eggs as a child, and wouldn't eat the yolk of boiled eggs if it was plain. Deviled eggs, however, ... :) But at some point my palate just changed somehow.

My husband still hates green bell pepper - it's the bitterness - but I trained him to eat the other colors long ago. Because they're actually ripe, duh.

'The Most Revolting Dish Ever Devised'? Or Have You Seen Worse?

When I was in my teens, my mother did her level best to turn me into a foodie - and it worked, but not for about ten years.

I married young, and detoured into an intense and evangelistic health food phase. It didn't kill us, but we did eat some weird crap. None of it, however, was actually revolting. And I did learn some things about vitamins and minerals.

Then I devolved, until our meal rotation was based on things like "meatless lasagne" - which had no lasagne in it. You simply mixed elbow macaroni, canned minestrone, plenty of cheese, canned whole tomatoes, and the ingredients for a halfway decent low-rent spaghetti sauce. Then you baked it until it was hot and the cheese melted. It was stodgy, gloppy and bland rather than actively revolting.

I was in the middle of assembling my umpteenth batch one evening when I realized, "My mother would be ashamed to serve this. I know what real food tastes like. I need some cookbooks! The next week I subscribed to Sphere - like Gourmet, only less intimidating - and never looked back. So, yeah, I guess I'm grateful to that cheap, retro casserole for shaming me into cooking real food again.

Left over white bean puree

Bean patties. Trust me, they're good. You can google Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian at Google Books to get some ideas on technique. Involves eggs and breadcrumbs, if I remember right. Brown them slowly and they shouldn't fall apart.

What would "they" say about you?

Well, let's see. Something like they say to my face: "Mom, you're a genius." "Today's bento was delicious." "If I could cook one-quarter as well as you do, I'd be a very happy man [Daughter's boyfriend]." "Yes, that's the way [name of dish] is supposed to taste."

And yet my cooking is so much simpler than it was even a few years ago.

It BURNS! halp mees! (things to eat after the heat treatment)

Any grain dish or pasta or casserole - ziti, pilaf, lasagne, spagheti, ravioli, rice pudding sweet or savory, strata, fritatta - keep it soft and juicy and tepid.

Help me use my new spices

Well, I believe "all food aspires to a state of barbecue," so I've been putting smoked paprika into almost all my savory dishes lately. And we're mostly vegetarian. It's great in almost any bean dish or even a vegetable stir-fry with, say, a little oyster sauce.

I also like garam masala in spice cake and similar baked goods. Or in a carrot-raisin salad. I've been promising my family garam masala date bread for Christmas for about ten years now, but haven't gotten around to it yet.

I Eat Because It's Tradition

Pinotnana,


I make this awesome buttermilk cornbread. Only once a year. And then the rest of the buttermilk sits in ther fridge and eventually gets more sour and we throw it away.
Weird.
Yeah, especially since ranch dressing is mostly buttermilk, mayonnaise and garlic.

Leftover carmelized onions

Stir them into a pot of rice. Add a little cream if necessary. Would probably work with white beans, too.

Make a savory "upside-down cake" with a batch of biscuit dough.

Serve them as a side dish with your next roast or other slab-o-meat.

Buttermilk

My husband will also drink it straight; so do I, when I remember. Our commonest use for buttermilk is RANCH DRESSING. We always make our own, never buy it. Half buttermilk, half mayonnaise, a splash of cider vinegar, a little salt and plenty of minced garlic. Herbs to taste. Fresh basil is good, but I'm thinking a pinch of chipotle flakes next time.

Ebelskivers

A few years ago, one of those knockoff cookware companies was selling something called a "Pancake Puffs" pan with a set of cheap plastic accessories - but the pan itself was a good sturdy cast-iron aebleskiver pan. I waited till after Christmas that year and snapped one up for ten bux. Never regretted it. I generally make up a batch of cornbread batter, or this sweet potato pancake recipe - http://bit.ly/2mfb2n - for "skeevers," as we call them at our house. Mind you, I use 1 c. flour, 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda, and a little salt instead of the pancake mix.

Green pumpkin looking squash...?

Hubbards are good eating, too; sweet and dense. I was told, long ago, that the squash that goes into commercial "pumpkin pie filling" is actually Hubbard squash. I'm inclined to believe it, because the few times I've made pumpkin pie from actual pumpkin, it was bland and watery by comparison.

Green pumpkin looking squash...?

If it's a kabocha, it'll bake up a little dry. Braising is probably better. Kabocha are wonderful sweet squashes. There's one sitting in my kitchen at this moment, making Bambi eyes at me.

How do you control your food cravings?

Sometimes I indulge in very small quantities - which is a relatively new development for me. Two berries instead of a handful. Eaten attentively, they're just as effective.

Other times I promise to eat as much as I want "tomorrow," which might turn out to be "in two weeks," if I'm lucky.

Between that and lessmeatarianism, I've lost about 20 pounds in the past year, without trying very hard or even thinking about "dieting" very much.

Your Fast Food Urge.....just had mine...tasty.

Somehow I keep finding myself sitting down to a quesadilla (homemade). That and tomato sandwiches, á la Harriet M. Welsch.

Farm Produce and 1 week to eat it!

That fruit syrup/drizzle/thing would probably cook up pretty well in a crockpot, if it's too hot for the oven.

Let's see, stewed apples over or in bread pudding. Apple crisp. Applesauce (pretty good even without added sugar).

The rest can be cut into chunks, frozen on cookie sheets, and food-processed into a very simple sorbet with a little milk or cream and your favorite sweetener.

It even works with cucumbers (but no milk) and honey. It's another Mark Bittman trick.

Serious Efforts: Boring Bechamel

Tonight I made a bechamel for some American-style curry. It was hot enough, but somehow tasted like flour. Bland, stodgy and thick. Adding the shrimp helped, but I was disappointed.

I used 1 cup water, 1 cup milk, a clove of garlic, 4 tsp. flour, half a stick (4 oz) butter. Furthermore, I cooked the roux until it was golden in color. Why did it still taste like flour? I should be able to do this in my sleep.

[Serious Efforts guidelines »]

Serious Efforts: Mayonnaise Breaks Down After 2 or 3 Days

I've been making homemade mayonnaise for the past month or so now: whole egg, mustard, salt, other seasonings ad lib, vinegar, 1 2/3 cups peanut oil, apply Bamix.

It sets up beautifully in less than a minute, but after 2 to 3 days in the fridge, it "wilts" and gets runny. Still rich and flavorful—my husband is happy to pour it on fresh-cooked fish—but useless for sandwiches and bad for the kitchen cred.

What am I doing wrong?

[Serious Efforts guidelines »]

Emotional Eater

Are you an emotional eater? I don't really have a reason for this post, except for the fact that I'm in an awful mood, and thus have absolutely NO appetite. Do you over-induldge when you are upset/sad (ice cream, chocolate,... More

emergency cheese question

I'm making an orange pie tommorow, here is the recipe: ½ cup fresh squeeze orange juice 1 TBSP fresh lemon juice ¼ cup heavy whipping cream 1/3 cup Mascarpone cheese, room temperature 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk 1... More