Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Doldrums

I'm stuck in neutral. I want to get things done. I want to get posts written. I want to clean my house. I want to play soccer with the boys. I want to do a lot of things. I want to stop wanting. I have posts waiting for me to finish. They won't write themselves, will they? Suddenly my month's reserve of posts are used up.

I've been so preoccupied of late. With what? I'm not really sure. There has been a lot of thinking going on. Which is fine, but without action, I have nothing to show for it. I have a great idea for a historical novel, based on an ancestor's life, but all I do is carry my notebook around, hold the pencil, and watch the blank page gather dust. I've been thinking of ways to get this blog up and running at full momentum. I've been thinking of ways to declutter my life. We're planning a garage sale for next month. I've been thinking about tagging everything. But does anything actually have a price tag on it yet?

I've gotten onto Facebook. Big mistake. I'm spending so much time reconnecting with old friends, I'm not taking care of things for today. Don't get me wrong, I adore Facebook now. (I could do without all those little polls and games they have on there, though.) But, I've been dreaming so much about the past. I've been remembering things of late that I thought I had forgotten some 25 years ago. Like what brand of chocolate milk a friend's mom used to buy and serve on our sleepovers. Why would I remember that? Why should I? There's a lot a regret there, too. I see all the people I wish I would have stayed in touch with over the years, and didn't, and I see all the missed opportunities.

I've got to get my ass in gear. Stop thinking. Get moving. I've got to break out of these doldrums; create my own momentum - no one else is going to do it for me, that's for sure.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Tuna Pasta Salad

So, I thought I would through in one of my own recipes to show Ramsey what "Fast Food" is really about for the working woman/mom.

This is a pasta salad my mother used to make when I was a kid. I've started making it for my family. It's cheap, easy and very versatile.

Can of tuna, peas, celery, onion, bite-sized pasta of your choice. I usually use elbow macaroni, but anything else (except noodles) works just as well. My mother used to use canned peas, but I prefer freshly steamed fresh or frozen peas (a lot less salty and mushy).

Dice the celery and onion. The quantity really is dictated by your own taste.

Steam (or drain) the peas. I plunged mine in ice water so they wouldn't go mushy on me.

Cook your pasta to al dente or to taste.

Drain your tuna, break up the larger pieces with a fork. Combine it all in a large bowl and then
add your mayonnaise or Miracle Whip (whatever). Serve.

It's really great chilled. I recommend mixing in the mayo on a "per bowl" basis. If you put it in before you refrigerate it, then it dries out and you need to add more anyway. Also, some people in your family might like it drier or wetter than you do. This a great summertime dish because you can make it ahead, go to the beach, come back and serve yourself a bowl (when you're too hot to cook). It also makes a great "base" for other dishes. You could chop up some fresh tomatoes and put them in with a handful of fresh herbs, or some fresh green beans. It really begs to be "dressed" up and played with. Overall, it takes about 30 minutes to prepare. Boiling the water and cooking the pasta is by far the most time-consuming part of the entire recipe. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gordon Ramsay's Chilled Melon Soup with Crab Garnish (with a Guest Appearance)

Who would have thunk it? Crab and cantaloupe together? In a soup? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's true. I would have thought of fresh chilled cantaloupe as a dessert after a nice steamed crab dinner, but not together in the same bowl. Did it work? Let's find out...

The recipe called for about 5 oz. lump crab meat. Me? I prefer to steam my own crab. There is something rewarding (for me at least) in cracking the shells and prying out those tiny morsels of sweet meat. My husband thinks it's too much work for such little return. I think the work just prolongs the wonderful experience.

So, I let that chill. By the way, I did not include the steaming and cracking and prying times in my overall calculations since it was my own decision to stray from the recipe.

Cantaloupes, plain yogurt, salt and pepper, whole grain mustard, lump crab meat, lime juice, shallot.

Almost forgot the cilantro and mayonnaise.

Cut up the melon into cubes and puree in a blender with a few ice cubes, a pinch of salt and the plain yogurt. Well, my blender apparently wasn't strong enough. I had to take it out of the blender and whiz it in my food processor instead. Just something else to wash.

Place in your freezer to chill while preparing the crab garnish.

Mince the shallot and apple. Add the mustard and mayonnaise and cilantro. Mix with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Heap a generous portion of the crab garnish in the middle of a bowl and ladle the cantaloupe soup around it. Garnish with cilantro.

So, did it work for me? No. I didn't really like the combination. But, I'm just one person. My son Alex liked it even less. He did like swirling the crab through the soup and creating very pretty designs. Jon, on the other hand, had thirds. He couldn't get enough. My husband had seconds and claimed that the combination worked incredibly well.

The time requirement? Done in under 40 minutes. It probably would have taken less time, except for having to drag out my food processor. Also, as I was cutting up the melon, the twins probably came to me about 5 times each to ask for a piece. All that stopping and starting really adds up.

But, as an added bonus, that wasn't all that I made that night.

The soup seemed like it wouldn't be substantial enough for dinner, so I also made Fried Green Tomatoes.

Large green tomatoes, onion salt (I had to use onion powder and increased amount of salt in recipe), sesame seeds, corn meal (recipe called for white corn meal, I used yellow), pepper, 1 egg, flour and milk. I also used bacon drippings for the frying, instead of vegetable oil.

The tomatoes were gorgeous. I picked them up from my local veggie stand just that morning.

Mix the dry ingredients. I ran out a little more than halfway through and had to eyeball another batch -- there was no way I was dirtying another set of measuring spoons and cups.

Combine the egg and milk. (Just like with the dry ingredients, I found that one egg wasn't enough. I ran out a little more than halfway through and had to whip up some more.)

Dip the tomato slices into the egg and milk mixture. Cover in the corn meal mixture and fry in hot oil.

Until golden brown.

Drain on paper towels and serve.

My thoughts? This was the first time I ever had fried green tomatoes and I was very surprised by how acidic they were. I thought they would be sweeter tasting. I began to wonder if I could do something. I was just "surfin' the net" and found that other people said the same thing. Some suggested that the strong "acidy bite" is more prevalent in certain types of tomatoes than in others. Others suggested adding some sugar to the cornmeal mixture. I was even wondering if putting the sugar into the milk and egg mixture would help, or if the tomato slices could be soaked in a sugar water solution prior to frying (or would that make it too mushy).

The kids didn't like the tomatoes. My husband didn't like them. I wasn't crazy about them, but I saw a lot of potential there. Interestingly, I put the leftovers in the fridge and grabbed a chilled one the next day and found that the acidity had greatly reduced.

After assembling the dinner and serving and cleaning up, I realized I had some crab garnish left over. It made for a great evening snack.

"Chilled Melon Soup with Crab Garnish ... Done."

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Monday, July 20, 2009

My Idea of Taking it Easy in the Kitchen

A husband who does dishes. Isn't he wonderful? He tries. Truly. And I appreciate everything he does for me.

Time is too precious to spend inside on a beautiful day. I'd much rather find events to make my children smile.

We absolutely love festivals, too. Throw away the paper plates, assuming the food even comes on a plate. If crumbs fall to the ground, eh, so what. The birds will get it.

Besides, when was the last time you made yourself a chocolate dipped cheesecake on a stick?

Succulent ribs, anyone? Mine never come out bone-sucking delicious like these did.
Cooking at home is great, but spending more time with the family is definitely better.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Gordon Ramsay's Menu -- Light and Healthy - Pan-Fried Hake with Tomato Relish -- Blueberries with Honey, Almonds and Yogurt

This menu was entitled "Light and Healthy" by Ramsay . And you know, it was. It was a very nice summer dish. I had a few glitches, however.

Does anyone know where to buy Hake? This was another dish where I needed to make a substitution. According to internet research, two suitable substitutions for hake are Boston Ling and Cod. I didn't have time to travel all around the city of Cleveland looking for reputable fish mongers, though I believe there are a few. Not to mention, I do have a budget. One that has been seriously put under stress by three vet visits in three months (one of them to an emergency room) for my cat, a fallen tree, my new gym membership, and the upcoming school-year tuition for the boys. [** sigh **]

So, I opted for the cod. Big mistake.

Can you see in the photograph of the book the beautiful fillet of fish? -- Keep that image in your mind when you get to the bottom of this post.

Cod, salt and pepper, olive oil, scallions, cilantro, thyme, white wine vinegar, and grape tomatoes (his recipe called for cherry tomatoes, but believe it or not -- the sucky Giant Eagle didn't have any and my tomato plant just isn't bearing fruit yet) .

This was actually very nice cod.

The tomatoes were tossed with the scallions, cilantro and thyme.

Then sauteed in a bit of olive oil and finished off with a splash of white wine vinegar

The fish. Hrumph. Place the oil in the pan and put the fish on top. Then heat the pan slowly. Gradually increase the heat. Well, I forgot to compare my fish to his. His was a nice thick slice. Mine were little skinny things. I didn't adjust my cook time. I was distracted by the boys playing in the backyard.

My fish overcooked and stuck to the pan.

I was very disappointed in my presentation to say the least.

Spoon the tomato relish on the plate and top with the fish. Or rather, scatter the fish all over the plate and serve.

My fish looked crappy, but it didn't affect the flavor one bit. It was light and refreshing. I didn't think I'd like the tomatoes (I'm not a big fan of cooked tomatoes), but it really went well together. I wish I had made more. Even my almost 4-year old twins liked it. They finished all of their fish and about half of the tomato relish. They just didn't like the skins on the tomatoes.

And then there was dessert.

Blueberries, honey, plain yogurt, toasted almonds.

Carefully toasted almonds. (I have a bad track record when it comes to toasting nuts. I always end up burning them - but not this time.)

Actually, there wasn't much to take pictures of. Mix the honey and yogurt together. Fold in blueberries and chill while you eat dinner. Put in serving bowls and top with the toasted almonds.

I should have had more blueberries in there, but while I was at work that day, my in-laws watched the kids and opened up my blueberry clamshell and let the boys snack, not knowing that those blueberries were for dinner. Oh, well. The dessert was really nice. The honey mixed into the plain yogurt was the perfect touch.

This dessert seemed like it could be the base of something more, though. The crunchy almonds were good, but a brown sugar and oat crumble would have been really good. Even a sprinkling of granola. Ramsay suggests this dessert could be a very good breakfast, as well. He's right. This dessert certainly caused our dinner to end on a high note.

From beginning to end? 35 minutes. Now, that's what I'm talking about.

"Pan-Fried Hake with Tomato Relish, and Blueberries with Honey, Almonds and Yogurt ... Done."

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Gordon Ramsay's Fusilli Salad with Merguez & Olives

Another recipe from the section entitled "Working Lunches." Frankly, I wasn't impressed.

Fusilli noodles, sundried tomatoes, olives (I used canned black olives -- my favorite because of their non-saltiness, and because of their ease of use -- Ramsay did not specify what kind of olives he recommended for this dish), olive oil, parsley, chives, basil, and sausage. Ramsay says to use Merguez sausages. Sorry, but Giant Eagle just doesn't carry anything like that. I did some internet research and found that Merguez sausages are "full bodied" and that chorizo would make a good substitution. Eh. I guess I should have looked harder for the Merguez; maybe I should have spent a Saturday down at the West Side Market and talked to people who know their sausages.

I noticed as I was browning the sausage that my chorizo didn't hold its shape like the picture of the Merguez, which resembled a smoked sausage, rather than a fresh meat sausage. Nonetheless, it did smell wonderful as it sizzled.

Add the chopped sundried tomatoes and sliced olives, saute.

Toss with the cooked fusilli, olive oil and fresh chopped herbs.

It looks great. It had great potential. Way too friggin' spicy. I've had chorizo from this provider before and it was wonderful. Spiced without being blazing hot. This was all heat. I could barely eat the dish. And everything the sausage touched became tainted by the spice. Even the noodles were nearly inedible. I made peanut butter and jelly for the boys to eat. I was only able to eat about half a serving - with a full glass of ice water, before I called it quits.

The dish, though, did meet the time requirements. From the beginning of the prep until it hit the table, it took 40 minutes. Not exactly a "quick" dish, but it was easy.

This dish reminded, me, except for the sausage part of it, of a dish that I make on a pretty regular basis.

hot cooked fettuccini, or pasta of choice
sundried tomatoes, soaked in hot water and chopped
large can of sliced black olives
crumbled feta cheese
olive oil
red pepper flakes
fresh chopped herbs (basil, chives, oregano, etc.)

Heat olive oil in pan. Saute garlic and red pepper flakes. Combine all ingredients in bowl and add hot oil. Mix and serve. It is wonderful hot or cold. It can be dressed up. When in a pinch, I sometimes just use a bottle of greek salad dressing for the sauce. Leftover chicken pieces can be tossed in, too. It's one of those recipes that let's you play. It can be different every time you make it.

So, Ramsay's recipe? Frankly, I think my version is better and more satisfying. If it wasn't for the spicy oil from the chorizo, I don't think the recipe would have had much flavor at all.

"Fusilli Salad with Merguez & Olives ... Done."

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Gordon Ramsay's Pastrami & Cream Cheese Bagel

Time to start with something really easy. How about a recipe for a sandwich?

Honestly, whenever I see recipes for sandwiches, I kind of cringe. Does it really take a chef who holds title to 16 Michelin Stars to tell me how to put a couple pieces of meat between two slices of slathered bread? Frankly, I think recipes like this are quite below Ramsay's standards, as well as below mine. (Not to sound too snooty.)

So, enough talking this recipe up, which Ramsay placed in the category "Working Lunches" ...

Poppyseed bagels, pastrami, cream cheese, whole grain mustard and some arugula. The recipe actually also called for some pickle slices, but I opted to leave those off.

The recipe instructs to mix the cream cheese and mustard together in a separate bowl. I, however, just slathered the cheese on the freshly toasted bagels, then spread the mustard on top of the cheese. I wouldn't have minded mixing it up and actually dirtying another bowl, but my three year olds were going to eat this too, and I didn't want it to be too mustardy for them.

Place the pastrami (about three slices each sandwich) on top along with the arugula. Smoosh together.

Good, yes. Ramsay quality. No.

Fast Food? Yes. 15 Minutes start to finish for four sandwiches. Frankly, I would have been ashamed of myself if it took me longer than that to smack it all together.

So, in the words of the man himself: "Pastrami & Cream Cheese Bagel ... Done."

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