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Anecdotal story: When I was in high school, my best friend’s mom had a cross stitched pillow (or a wall hanging or something, but to the best of my hazy memory, it was a pillow) that read “I always cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.” She was the coolest mom, but even after I was old enough to drink wine myself, I never really got it until tonight, when I sat down with a fairly complicated (for me, not for normal humans) recipe and a glass of wine for fortitude.
This particular recipe, for eggplant involtini, involved a mandolin (not the instrument, though I guess it is an instrument, but the weird slicer thing, which I had to borrow from my boyfriend the gourmand, because really, who owns one of those?) AND it called for me to use my new blanching pot and make my own tomato sauce, which came out pretty nicely. The involtini was pretty good too, except that I put way too much salt on it in the step where you salt and then let drain—a process which I think is really neat, for entirely juvenile reasons— and that was a mistake.
Unfortunately I miscalculated as to the yield of the recipe (I’m an idiot, so what) and so I threw some asparagus into a pan to go with it, and Chris complimented my improvisational skills (sad, that pan frying some asparagus counts as impressive in Courtney-land). This meant that I had many different things going at once, and I was pretty pleased with my ability to pull everything out at the appropriate time. I was also pleased that I snuck another vegetarian meal by Chris with minimal complaining. Small victories, y’all, small victories.
[Edited to note that the juxtaposition of the Pink Floyd t-shirt and the Pink Floyd poster was entirely accidental in the “candid” that Chris snapped of me up there]
It’s been a while since I cooked anything, and Chris pointed that out yesterday, so tonight I made flank steak stuffed with spinach and feta. I left out the artichokes and capers the recipe called for and added onions instead, and it actually came out surprisingly well (especially given the last time I attempted meat wrapped things, when I didn’t season the chicken—the recipe didn’t tell me to!— and it came out dry and unsavory).
Anyway, I roasted some farmers market veggies on the side, and that was actually my favorite part of the meal. This entire meal was super easy and only took like 30 minutes to make, which I guess is the theme of the day, given that I decided to try my arch-nemesis, PIE, again. This time though, IT DIDN’T SUCK. The crust was a little crumbly, but otherwise, it was actually really good. So there, pie. I conquer you.
An attempt to stay caught up:
I made these things a couple of nights ago but have been too busy to post about it since then. The top picture is of stuffed eggplant (after I exploded it and started stuffing my face). I made a few changes to the recipe (namely leaving out the pine nuts because they’re prohibitively expensive and I don’t really care either way about them.) It was my second time making this recipe and it’s probably one of my favorite things I’ve ever cooked, since I worked out the kinks from the last time I tried it (giant grocery store eggplants do not equal farmers market organic ones, and so you have to adjust the amounts slightly or the eggplants sit too close together in the sauce and the rice doesn’t cook right).
Anyway, if I ever have a restaurant, stuffed eggplant will probably be on the menu, though I’d have to adjust the process to work in an oven instead of a pan, but I don’t feel like that’d change things too significantly… famous last words.
The second picture is strawberry dumplings from my book on canning, which were way too sweet for my taste, but seemed to sit well enough with Chris and Christina, and now I know how to make dumplings (though I might stick to something more savory next time).
then we made tacos. for days. days and days of taco leftovers.
The last picture is because I was tired of doing the dishes and also eating tacos, and Chris had done more than his share of dishwashing for the week: an array of cheese, bread, meats and wine from trader joe’s, which didn’t take much for Chris to make but which tasted awesome.
sometimes, it’s nice to only have to wash a couple of plates…
I haven’t cooked much in the past couple of days. I had a potluck on Easter, but I ended up sleeping too late to both clean the house and cook something interesting, so I fell back on my favorite potluck standby, cucumber salad, which doesn’t really warrant a blog post all it’s own (and I was too busy freaking out about not getting everything done to take any pictures). Then Chris cooked on Monday night and I ordered in on Tuesday. But yesterday! Yesterday was the first Wednesday of the Athens Farmers Market's season, and so I woke up excited. Vegetables! Fresh vegetables! hurray!
On my way downtown I stopped at Avid bookstore, and bought myself a couple of cookbooks—one is titled, simply, Vegetables , so I thought I was prepared (even though those cookbooks were heavy, and I was on foot. Poor planning.) I ended up picking up some squash, zucchini, a bunch of carrots and strawberries, and some bread from Luna, a local baking company. That was about all I could carry, so I dragged my goods back home.
Anyway, it was such a beautiful day yesterday, and I really wanted to eat my zucchini and celebrate almost-summer, but I was lacking motivation to hunt for a recipe after all my walking-with-heavy-things, so I called my neighbor Christina and suggested we collaborate for dinner—she could do something with zucchini and I’d trade her and make meatloaf (an old recipe of my mom’s that I can pretty much make in my sleep). She topped it with garlic and parmesan and it was delicious, once again proving that sometimes I just make things to complicated for myself, when really garlic, parmesan, and ten minutes in the oven does magic things to veggies.
So that’s all about that, really I just wanted to talk about the farmers market and delicious veggies. Things will probably be kind of quiet around here for the next week or so, since between vet visits for my sick dog and new cookbooks and blah blah blah I’m pretty low on the disposable income required to get creative, but I’ve got a couple of alright things that I might cook and write about. Maybe.
Courtney Cooks: Pie Edition (in which we fail somewhat spectacularly)
Yesterday was my day off and I decided to celebrate it by making a pie. Actually, the original (overambitious) plan was to make a pie, pickle beets, make a green tomato relish, and then cook a dinner complete with an entree and a couple of sides (something that baffles me HOW DO PEOPLE FINISH THE ENTREE BEFORE THE SIDES ARE COLD MULTITASKING WHAT) After much discussion, it was decided that I’d yield entree decision making to Chris and would make two sides to go with our meal. Grocery shopping commenced.
Chris has been poking fun at me lately because since I decided to learn to cook, I’ve been picking mostly weird and difficult recipes to cook with, and the pie recipe was no exception. It was black bottom pie, from Screened Doors and Sweet Tea, which I was given as a gift a couple of years ago, and it called for the creation of a custard that you basically flavored two ways and layered. The crust was made from gingersnap cookies (processed in my new food processor, thanks to the support of my awesome grandma) and that was delicious, but I went horribly awry somewhere with the custard itself. My neighbor Christina (who was called in for consult—I really do have so many great cooks in my life) said that the recipe seemed to eliminate some necessary details re: custard making, and that, contrary to what the book said, I should be cooking the custard on medium-high heat instead of very low. This lack of detail seems to be the biggest problem I have with cooking—how am I supposed to learn if cookbooks expect me to already know? Alas, her help was too little, too late, and the texture was terrible.
Anyway, this entire failure took over two hours and by this point it was obvious that I wasn’t going to be getting any canning done, and I’d be lucky if I got an actual edible dinner on the table, so Chris swooped in and took over one of my sides, a roasted potato salad from, yet again, Hugh Acheson’s cookbook, which of course came out perfect, as did his (completely recipe-less) shrimp dish. This left me the other side, also from the Screened Doors and Sweet Tea book.
Another unfortunate thing about learning to cook is that I haven’t quite gotten the hang of what vegetables are in season at a given time, so when I picked a recipe for onions stuffed with fig, I was making the assumption that figs were kind of in season (My boss Irina’s had them from her yard for a couple of weeks! how was I to know?) but unfortunately, there was no fig to be found at Publix, Kroger, or Earthfare. Luckily, I had Chris with me, and he’s very good at improvising substitutes. He suggested pear, and I love pear right now, so I was all like, yeah! Great plan!
Not so great plan, actually though, because the pears I picked weren’t ripe enough, and, because the recipe only has you baking them for 10 or so minutes after you bake the onions, they were hard and gross and…. you know I just really can’t talk about it anymore, okay?
Basically, though, I struck out all around on this one, and I’m lucky that Chris can cook or I would’ve gone to bed hungry last night. In the end, though, it was worth it, because I really enjoyed spending some time goofing off with him in the kitchen, even if I’m not successfully making something edible, and I’m very fortunate to have a boyfriend who is so supportive of my failure-meals.
So here’s to conquering custard some day in the future. Maybe.
A few days ago, Christina observed that she’d enjoyed watching my cooking evolution. By that, I think she meant that she’d enjoyed watching me move from casseroles to soups, which are basically casseroles but more steps.
Anyway, I’ve developed a strange love for soups, which is completely out of season given our 70+ degree weather. I picked this recipe (Butternut soup with Pear, Cider, and Vanilla Bean) from Molly Wizenberg’s book A Homemade Life. I am looking forward to reading A Homemade Life in its entirety (it’s basically memoirs interspersed with recipes) because I enjoy Wizenberg’s candid writing style. However, I was pretty frustrated with the recipe, mostly because I typically expect “about ten to fifteen minutes at medium-low heat” to mean just that, instead of “about twenty-five minutes at medium-to-slightly-high-heat.”
Regardless, the recipe. I liked the idea of infusing cream with vanilla bean, which is something I’d not tried before (but easy, if you have good instructions, which, at this point, I unfortunately didn’t) and it came out pretty tasty, with a lightly layered flavor.
Sadly, I was kind of disappointed I couldn’t really taste the pear (I LOVE PEAR RIGHT NOW), but the vanilla was a nice touch. In general, I’m having a hard time separating my inability to cook from someone else’s issues with concise instruction, so I’m having a hard time truly evaluating this recipe, but, I will say, I really enjoyed cooking it.
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Y’all, I have a confession: I love vinegar. In fact, I love vinegar almost as much as I love slathering most of my meals in some kind of tasty sauce—which is why when I decided to try my hand at pickling, I knew a relish was the way to go.
After some browsing, I decided on making chow-chow, which is apparently a southern classic I’ve never even heard of. The recipe I used was from Hugh Acheson’s book, A New Turn In the South, and, as a side note, Mr. Acheson specifies that you should always spend some time making your chopped vegetables… chopped, instead of hacked up into bits. Though I don’t actually do much cooking in my life, I do spend a lot of time with a 10” chef’s knife in my hand (job hazard, I suppose) and I welcomed the opportunity to get some practice on my dicing skills (when you’re chopping up onions that are going to be thrown directly on the grill and cooked down for phillys and the like, it doesn’t really matter how nice they look.)
In summary, I need a food processor, because mincing all this crap was a major pain and took forever. I like the idea of making all the components for a meal instead of buying them (mayo, jam, relish, etc) but it’s definitely teaching me a lesson about patience.
I also had to do some guesswork on the canning end. The recipe specifies only “can according to the can manufacturer’s instructions,” which is kind of vague. Fortunately, I’m the kind of person who likes to do her research, so I happened to have Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving on hand, which had a similar recipe complete with the necessary processing time. (Vegetables=less acidic than fruit=longer processing time, is what I’m gathering.)
But the chow-chow! Delicious! I had enough for 3 pints, plus a little left over to put in the fridge, and I think it’s probably going to go on everything ever. Chow-Chow pancakes! Chow-Chow pasta! Chow-Chow Chicken! etc! (Though next time I may omit the cauliflower—Hugh’s recipe calls for it but the Ball’s book has blanched greenbeans instead [though that would mean yet another step], and I’ve never been a big fan of that particular texture cauliflower texture in, well, anything. From what I gather, you can basically make chow-chow with a myriad of vegetables. It seems to be a very forgiving relish in that respect.)
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