Friday, August 31, 2012

Foodie Pen Pals: Revealed!

The last time I had a pen pal was in 6th grade. Her name was Sophie and she was frumpy-looking and British. But she wrote great letters.

I have some new pen pals this month. Neither is British or named Sophie, I don't know what either one looks like, and we send each other boxes of food instead of long letters.

We all signed up for Foodie Pen Pals, a program designed by fellow food blogger Lindsay at the Lean Green Bean. Participants get matched with two people each month: a pen pal to send a box to, and another to receive one from. We email back and forth, asking about each other's likes and dislikes, interests, and food preferences. We shop and bake, packing boxes for strangers that are filled with things we love, things we hope they might love, and things that say something about each of us in some small way.

My sender pen pal, Donna M, shipped me a box all the way from South Carolina. I told her I liked to eat healthily, but that I'd be the first to admit I loved sweets, especially chocolate. I also like to try foods from other cultures, something Donna was happy to help with. She sent me:

-TWO kinds of Godiva!
-chocolatey caramel-y granola bars
-chocolate-covered dried plums
-creme brulee mix
-steel-cut oats
-soba and udon noodles
-Asian snack mix

Donna included plenty of chocolate in my box. Obviously, it didn't take her long to figure me out! I'm pretty sure getting a box with chocolate in the mail is one of life's best moments. The package of steel-cut oats even has a recipe for chocolate chip cookies on it, which I will be making shortly.

Donna told me that her grandmother was Japanese, and she used to eat the rice cracker snack mix with her when her grandmother was alive. It was clear to me that the snack mix was important to Donna, and reminded her of someone special. I think this is also why she chose the two kinds of noodles, both of which I love too, and I was touched that she would include such personal information in her letter to me, tucked inside the box. 

My recipient pen pal, Jenna M, said she likes to eat healthily most of the time too, loves to try new energy bars, loves nuts of all kinds, and prefers sweet to salt. I was tempted to fill her box with about 39 kinds of chocolate, but kept reminding myself that a) it's about 1 zillion degrees out and chocolate will melt in the mail, and b) chocolate is what I love, not necessarily what she loves. So for Jenna I packed:
-coconut water
-a chocolate-covered greens energy bar
-a spice grinder from Trader Joe's that has coffee beans, sugar, and chocolate in it
-homemade granola
-homemade toasted almonds with rosemary and salt
-a little bag of Himalayan pink rock salt

The Himalayan rock salt was slightly outside of her parameters, but because it can be used in savory dishes as well as sweets such as caramel, I thought she might like to try it. Plus, it's just pretty. I sneaked little bits of chocolate in her products to try, but chocolate wasn't the dominant flavor in the box. Judging from Jenna's enthusiastic thank-you email, I think she liked her box! Visit her Facebook page to see her photos and comments about the experience.

I can't think of a better way to connect with strangers than through food, and while this program has the potential to get a bit pricey (most of us used flat rate Priority Mail boxes, which are around $12 to ship, plus there is the cost of the food items themselves), I will definitely participate again. There is something comforting about receiving food, and better still, someone else does the shopping.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Cupcake Craze, Part 1

Frosting isn't easy, you know.

Sometimes it's too thin and runs down the sides of the cupcake, leaving bald spots on the top.

Sometimes it's too sweet because the powdered sugar you used to thicken it is enough to choke a horse.

Sometimes it's grainy, or clumpy, or both, or is made with things like Crisco and really isn't food.

But this frosting is perfect. It's smooth, provided you coax it to the correct temperature, and perfectly sweet and chocolatey and has just five ingredients:

1. cream
2. powdered sugar
3. chocolate
4. butter
5. vanilla extract

For once, my cupcakes look like the ones in the picture in the cookbook. That never happens.

Of course, frosting is nothing without a good cupcake to rest upon. These vanilla cupcakes are also perfect, and versatile: they could support lemony frosting, or cream cheese, or vanilla, or mocha, or whatever else your little heart desires.

I've been resistant to all things cupcake because, well, everyone's doing it.  I hate doing what everyone else is doing. Plus, cupcakes really do need frosting. Otherwise they are just muffins that seem to be missing something. And I believe I have made my position on frosting quite clear. But I have to admit that the last two cupcake batches I've made have been awesome enough to make me a believer.

A believer in cupcakes.

If the frosting is too cold, it doesn't spread or shine as nicely.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Truffle Cream Frosting
adapted from Chocolate Obsession by Michael Recchiuti

makes 12 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
1 1/2 C AP flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt (kosher is best)
1 C (8 oz) creme fraiche, at room temperature (I substituted full-fat plain yogurt; DO NOT use low-fat or nonfat!)
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract (I also added seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean)
6 TBSP unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 C granulated sugar

For the frosting:
8 oz chocolate (65% dark)
2/3 C heavy whipping cream
2/3 C plus 2 TBSP confectioner's sugar
4 TBSP unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 TBSP vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 12 standard muffin cups with paper liners, or coat with cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Sift flour, baking powder and soda, and salt together into a medium bowl. Set aside.
3. Combine creme fraiche or yogurt, eggs, and vanilla extract and seeds (if using) in a medium bowl and whisk by hand until well-mixed.
4. Beat butter on medium speed until butter is creamy. Add granulated sugar and beat until fluffy and pale.
5. On low speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the wet ingredients in 2 additions.
6. Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each about two-thirds full. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cupcakes are puffed, slightly browned, slightly cracked on top, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Remove from muffin pan.
7. Place chocolate in a medium bowl. Put cream and confectioner's sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook for one minute at a simmer and remove from heat.
8. Pour hot cream mixture over chocolate and whisk by hand until chocolate melts. Whisk in butter, and then vanilla extract.
9. Cover bowl with plastic wrap so that the wrap touches the surface of the frosting, and refrigerate until mixture reaches 70 degrees. This will probably take 30-40 minutes, but start checking after 20.
10. When frosting is at 70 degrees, beat on high speed until it is lighter in color and less dense.
11. Frost cupcakes as desired.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Meatless Mondays: Sushi Night

You can put pretty much anything in a sushi roll.

Like tempura asparagus.

And orange segments.

And Mexican-style salsa.

No, seriously. The Texan and I have eaten all of these things and more in various rolls we've tried, and loved them all.  So we figured fishless sushi would feel like a kind of roll we just hadn't tried yet.

We found a recipe for quinoa maki (the type of roll that is made with rice and filling and wrapped in seaweed, or nori) with avocado and Cajun portobello fillets in The Conscious Cook by Tal Ronnen*. The author argues that quinoa is more nutritious than white rice and has an interesting texture to boot, so is perfect for sushi. I was a little skeptical, so I made some sushi rice just in case, but the Texan and I both really liked the quinoa rolls.

Also just in case, I seared some extra-firm tofu in a bottled teriyaki marinade, because I was a little worried the portobellos would be gross. Which they weren't. At all. I marinated them in a mixture of white wine, Cajun seasoning, white wine vinegar, and some spices, and later seared them so they would dry out a bit and get crispy-ish. Perhaps they were selected for a veggie roll recipe because they tend to have that slightly slimy-chewy-raw texture the way raw fish does, but these were no fish substitute-- these were just good in their own right.

A friend sent me a sushi mat and some chopsticks from Japan when she lived there, so our rolling efforts were, you know, authentic and whatnot. 

The Texan's roll of choice: tri-color quinoa, portobello, tofu, avocado, and carrot.

Our rolls were a little messy. We admit it.
Sushi Night #2: Veggie rolls with avocado and spicy mayo

I made some miso soup with little cubes of tofu and sliced scallions, the way they do in some Japanese restaurants.  I used yellow miso, never having used any miso before, and figured I'd try the middle-of-the-road strength for my first time. (Miso comes in three colors: white, the least fermented and mildest, yellow, and red, the most fermented and most intense.) I would be game to try red miso next time, for a little extra flavor.

The recipe calls for a little mayonnaise to be mixed with a tiny bit of sambal oelek (Thai chili-garlic sauce) and then rolled up with the rest of the fillings. I completely forgot to make it, but we have had sushi at restaurants that have drizzled something similar over certain rolls, and we like it a lot. The next time we make sushi we will have to try it. Yes, there will be a next time. Even the Texan said so.

Fishless sushi is ridiculously inexpensive to make. Packs of nori can be gotten for under $2, and contain 10-12 sheets per pack. Each sheet yields 5 or 6 pieces, so one pack makes at least 50 pieces of sushi. Sushi rice is a little more expensive than regular white rice, but not astronomical, and regular rice with some binder ingredients could be used in a pinch. I used only one portobello last night, along with a carrot, an avocado, a few pea sprouts, and half a pack of tofu. That's it. You can use whatever combination of vegetables (or fruit, if you are feeling especially avant garde) you like, but you probably won't spend more than a few dollars on all the fillings. Go Team Vegetables!

* The title makes the book sound like the hokiest bunch of hippie crap on the planet, but it isn't. And it contains recipes for dairy substitutes that don't involve soy milk, so I am all over it. Dairy and I just don't get along.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Meatless Mondays

It's Monday, and the Texan and I are going meatless.


After reading this article in the latest issue of my UCLA Alumni magazine, I was inspired to go totally meatless a minimum of one day a week. There was only one problem: I knew I had to get the Texan to try it. Otherwise, each Monday I'd be nibbling on tofu and salad greens while he chowed down on a steak, my martyrdom to the planet spilling over onto the table between us. But how was I going to convince a guy to go meatless who owns a t-shirt from a barbecue joint in Texas that says, "Vegetarian: The Indian word for Terrible Hunter"?

I decided to take the direct approach. One evening when I knew we were going out to an area with a large bookstore, I told him I had a proposition for him that involved reading a short article. I figured this would help my cause because a) he is an avid reader, and b) he loves facts. When he finished, I planned to just come out and say that I wanted to do Meatless Mondays and I wanted him to do it with me, please. I sat him on the sofa, handed him the article, and had this conversation:

Me: (silently rehearsing elevator speech)
Texan, finishing article: "You know, we should probably eat less meat. We could do Meatless Mondays or something like that."

Me: (silently) Wait, what?
(out loud) "Yeah, that's what I was thinking. We can stop at the bookstore tonight and look at vegetarian cookbooks."

Texan: (silently) That's EXACTLY how I wanted to spend my evening: perusing tofu and bulgher wheat recipes.
(out loud):  "Great! Let's go!"

As luck would have it, we found not one but two cookbooks we both liked, one of which is appropriately titled The Meat-Free Monday Cookbook and offers three seasonally appropriate meals for each week of the year.

Over dinner that night, we had this conversation:

Texan: "You know, it's really just one day a week. We can totally do it."

Me: "Yeah, and we already eat vegetarian breakfasts, so it's just two more meals that day that have to be veg."

Texan: "But if we like it and find recipes we like, we could make it two nights a week. Or even three."

Me: (silently) What the $*@%? Who ARE you?
(out loud) "That'd be cool. I have to admit, though, I was surprised when you suggested doing Meatless Mondays."

Texan, waving hands evangelist-style: "As I read the article, I was worried you had, like, seen the light and wanted to go totally vegan or something. So that's why I suggested Meatless Mondays before you could say anything: I figured one day a week was better than seven."

Ah, there's my carnivore.


Tonight's meal? Homemade tamales, salad, and maybe some vegan chocolate cake for dessert.

Fall from Glory

First, there was this:

Then, there was this:

And when I wasn't sure it could get any better there were these:

For vanilla-sea salt caramels in dark chocolate

So I decided to go really big and enter the California State Fair, and instead of entering two items, I figured I'd go for broke and enter three. All of which, of course, I wanted to be as fresh as possible so I waited until the day before the drop-off to make them. And so there was this:

Yep, two second places and a third place. And the most ironic part is, the third place entry won Best Of Show at the previous fair; the espresso-hazelnut truffle that placed second here placed first not once but twice at previous fairs!

The competition wasn't really that much stiffer at the state fair. The system of judging was different, but not necessarily harder. The problem was me: making three totally different products in a single day and expecting all of them to be cosmetically perfect is just plain stupid. Candy is time-consuming to make and chocolate is finicky to work with-- it can't be rushed, no matter how big a fair I enter. And sometimes I get impatient, and then I make tiny mistakes that no one else but me and the judge would notice, and then I don't win.

I would love to be able to say that I never make the same mistake twice, but I can't. Usually I have to make it a few times before I finally learn my lesson.  This isn't the first time I've made cosmetic mistakes on my candy, but I'm hoping that three non-blue ribbons, framed on the wall, will help me make sure it's the last.

Especially next summer, when I enter the state fair again, and WIN.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Taco Night

The Texan loves fish tacos. Like, to the point where I wouldn't be surprised if he up and moved to Baja and grew his hair all long and stringy and started wearing board shorts every day.

The first time he suggested we eat them, I wasn't altogether sure I'd like them, much less love them. I admit now that I do love them, but there are three problems with them.

1. Our favorite kind involves fried fish.

2. Fish is loaded with lead.

3. Many popular varieties of fish are overfished, or come from poorly managed fish farms.

On a weekend when the Texan happened to be out of town, my neighbor made fish tacos that offered a compromise to Problem Number 1. She breaded the fish filets in panko-style breadcrumbs, and then baked them in the oven. The breadcrumbs created the textural appeal of fried fish without all the fat and cholesterol. She sliced them into strips to serve, along with cabbage slaw, avocado slices, and lime quarters to squirt on top.

I liked them so much that I made them the next day for my dad, substituting shrimp for the white fish and adding a black bean-corn mixture to the fixings, as well as a little bit of jarred salsa. He seemed to like them, and they were ready in a ridiculously short time.

For a quick dinner before a date at the ballpark this week, I decided to make the fish tacos for the guy who loves them the most. I used shrimp again (I bought the 16-20 size, which I think is a little too big; in the future I'll use the next-smaller size), sauteeing it quickly in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and a teensy bit of cayenne.

I couldn't remember exactly how my neighbor made the slaw, so I just sliced cabbage very thinly, added some cilantro, and then lemon juice, S & P, and an even teensier bit of cayenne. I think she added either yogurt or sour cream to hers, but I don't use dairy if I can avoid it.

I sauteed some green bell pepper with a bit of onion in some olive oil and S & P, sliced some avocado, and boiled an ear of corn, and put them in individual bowls to be used according to taste. I also had a ripe mango and some peaches just waiting to be used, so I diced those, added some cilantro, onion, lemon juice, S & P, and a teensy bit of cayenne to make a fruit salsa with a little kick.

The fruit salsa adds the perfect amount of moisture to the tacos, without becoming soggy and drippy.

He loved them. What surprised me the most was that he also loved the fruit salsa, because he is not the Number One Fan of either mango or peaches. Granted, I had just found his new favorite chip at Berkeley Bowl -- a blue corn-quinoa-chia-maca salt-free chip -- so he had reason to eat many of them, but he's perfectly happy eating the chips plain so he must have actually, like, liked it. 

The only way to deal with Problem Number 2 is to eat fish sparingly. This would put a definite cramp in the Texan's Baja style, but while we still live in northern California, this is Just The Way It Is.  And as for Problem Number 3, I screwed up this time around. Not only were the shrimp I bought too big, but they were wild-caught from Mexico, which, according to my Seafood Watch app, is not a well-managed source of seafood. Think tons, literally, of sea turtle and small fish bycatch. Had I bought the smaller ones, I would have purchased US farm-raised shrimp, which is one of the most sustainable options.   See what happens when I get all greedy?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Olive Oyl

My Italian ancestors would be mortified, I'm sure, to know that lately I've kept canola oil in my pantry instead of olive oil. Seriously, I haven't even owned a bottle of olive oil in over a year.

While canola oil is the better choice for baking, which is why I chose it, it doesn't give much flavor to salad dressings or anything that is sauteed. I figured this could be compensated for to a certain degree with seasonings, whereas the density that olive oil gives my baked goods can't. A brick, after all, is still a brick no matter how much sugar I add.

Enter the June 2012 issue of Vegetarian Times where, amidst a series of baking recipes calling specifically for olive oil, there just happened to be a cake recipe with berries, citrus, wine, and olive oil. I screamed silently at the editors of the magazine, "Gawwwwd, twist my arm, why don't you!" Then I ran to the store to buy a bottle.

Despite such terrible pain in my arm, I managed to come up with this:

I take back everything I ever said about baking with olive oil. This cake was light and fluffy, almost sponge-y but in a good way, and the flavor was not overly sweet or olive-y. The citrus zests and wine lent bits of flavor that were perfectly balanced, yet there was plenty of room for a berry compote or maybe a sorbet to accompany the cake.

The editors note that the "recipe calls for a sweet wine to flavor the cake, but you could also use white wine left over from last night's dinner." While several of my regular readers don't ever wonder what to do with last night's wine because there is never any wine left over, those who do might find their own arms twisted just enough to... well, you know.

Figs were tasty, but I suggest a juicier berry to serve with the cake.

Olive Oil-Wine Cake
from Vegetarian Times, June 2012

Serves 10

2/3 C olive oil
1 1/2 C AP flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 C sweet dessert wine, such as Moscato, Marsala, or Muscat
1/3 C orange juice
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 tsp grated lemon zest
4 eggs
1 C sugar
2 TBSP confectioners' sugar
1-2 pints fresh berries

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9" springform pan with cooking spray or olive oil. Line bottom of pan with a circle of parchment paper, cut to fit.
2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together olive oil, wine, orange juice, and zests.
3. Beat eggs and sugar in stand mixer or with electric mixer for 4 minutes, or until pale yellow and tripled in volume. Add half of dry ingredients, and mix on low speed until blended. Add half of liquid mixture, and mix to blend. Repeat with remaining dry and liquid mixtures.
4. Pour batter into prepared pan, and set on baking sheet. Bake 50 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes, and then remove sides of pan to cool completely. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve with berries (or compote).

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Blender Room

A few years ago, I was finishing my Master's program and had to complete an intensive practicum that summer. I was holed up in a room with five or six other candidates, where we provided intensive remediation to students with reading difficulties in the mornings and wrote, debriefed, wrote, attended meetings, and wrote some more in the afternoons. I was fortunate to be assigned to a room with like-minded women who agreed that food was the only way to get us through the demands of practicum. We took turns bringing lunch throughout those weeks, and for my final turn, I thought smoothies would be the perfect light lunch on a hot, humid Chicago summer day.

So I brought a blender.

The news went viral, the old-fashioned way. Maybe it was the whir of the machine, or that we were walking the halls of the building with glasses (like, actually made of glass) of smoothie, but within a few minutes ALL the other candidates heard that we had a blender in our room and were making smoothies. Our professors heard about it from the others. One or two candidates may have asked if they could have some. The smoothies were legendary. Practically.


L to R: pineapple-orange-banana, sweet potato, blueberry-banana, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, spinach-kale-banana.

I started making smoothies around the same time I rowed crew in high school, and would come home from practice even hungrier than the average teenager. Ever since, I've been drinking them as an easily-digestible energy boost before or after workouts, and for breakfast or lunch along with some toast. They're ridiculously easy to make, relatively cost-effective, and lend themselves to endless combinations. I even know some meat heads who will drink them. But only at the gym.

I make mine with non-dairy milk of some kind: soy, almond, hemp, rice, etc. I almost always use banana as the base for my smoothie, in part because the potassium goes well with workouts, and in part because it helps thicken the smoothie. I throw in whatever fruit I have: fresh or frozen, berries or citrus, tropical or North American.

Lately, though, I've wanted to try something a little different. A friend happened to be making a vibrant green smoothie as I was standing in her kitchen, and while the ingredient list didn't make it sound very appetizing, it turned out to taste pretty good. She put several handfuls of baby spinach in the blender, along with some frozen pineapple, protein powder, flax seed oil, and coconut water. It was definitely one of the prettiest smoothies I'd seen in a long time, so I made my own version, adding some kale after seeing a recipe for a greens smoothie on I took the advice of some of the commenters on that site who suggested using a 3:1 or 4:1 spinach:kale ratio. I threw in a banana, a little frozen pineapple, and soy milk and now have a new favorite smoothie. The spinach and kale flavors aren't masked, exactly, but they somehow blend really well with the sweet fruit flavors. There are two things to keep in mind if you make this smoothie:

1. My friend makes this smoothie at night and puts it in a Thermos-type container in the fridge. She grabs it on her way out the door, and it becomes her breakfast while she drives to work. This is a brilliant strategy to save time in the morning while still eating a healthy meal. However, the beautiful green smoothie becomes seriously un-beautiful by morning, and the first time I saw her drink it in the car, I asked, "What IS that?"

2. Green things can get stuck in your teeth.

A fellow food blogger has several videos on her site in which she demonstrates recipes, cooking show-style. In one (episode 8), she makes a sweet potato pie smoothie with leftover sweet potato and a few spices. While I could do without the mmmmmmmmmmms and ooooooooooohs, I loved the idea, so made my own. I didn't use her exact quantities, but added dashes of this, that, and the other. I love the taste of the smoothie, but I haven't mastered the texture yet. Or maybe it's the temperature that isn't right: both times I've made it, I've cooked the sweet potato for the purpose of the smoothie, and so it was either warm or room temperature. If it were cold, and the soy milk were cold, it would probably taste more like a smoothie and less like baby food.

Even the Texan likes smoothies. A few hours after his workout, he makes a smoothie to fuel him until dinner. He uses plain or vanilla yogurt as his base, adds frozen berries, juice, a berry-flavored greens powder, and sometimes chia seeds (which, unlike flax, don't need to be ground to obtain maximum benefit from). The powder, he says, takes some getting used to, but also packs a solid nutritional punch, so a little grit is worth it.


Not only did the news of the blender survive that day and become the talk of the hallway that week, it survived the summer. A few weeks into a fall semester class with a different professor, my friend Patti, who was one of my Blender Room mates, was discussing her practicum experience with the professor. As if little else mattered, she announced to the professor, "... and Mia brought a BLENDER!"

The professor's response? "So I heard."

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Clearance Rack

I know, I know-- covetousness is a sin. But I admit I've had my eye on something for a while now.

It's expensive. It's heavy. It's pretty. It's expensive.

Oh and also, it's expensive.

It's a Le Creuset Dutch oven. Or, as they call it, a French oven. It's essential for all those cuts of meat that get cooked for hours until they practically fall off the bone. It can be used on the stove top, the oven, or both for a single meal. Plus, it comes in a dizzying array of colors, nearly all of which I would be happy with, should one just happen to fall in my lap.

Actually, having a Le Creuset fall in my lap might break both my legs. But you know what I mean.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a store brand Dutch oven on sale for 40% off at Sur La Table.  As all mathematicians know, [Totally Ridiculous] x 0.40 = [Still Pretty Ridiculous], but the store brand's original price was Reasonable, not Ridiculous. It was available in only one color, but it happened to be a color I especially love: a deep, dark burgundy. So as not to be impulsive, I made a mental note of the item and kept walking.

I wondered, though, why is the SLT brand so much cheaper than Le Creuset? Its starting price was a mere forty percent of Le Creuset's for the same size, and the only visible differences were a shinier finish on the SLT and a stainless steel lid handle, not a composite handle. The SLT pot's weight was about equal to that of the Le Creuset, so I knew it was cast iron all the way through, not filled with aluminum or steel or some other muck.

China may have something to do with it. As I read the fine print, I noticed the SLT pot was made in China. Le Creuset pots, on the other hand, are still made in France (their bakeware is now made in China, just like everything else).  I would prefer to purchase things that are made just about anywhere but China. But I couldn't force myself to be quite stoic enough to shell out 60% more for the Le Creuset, especially when I returned to Sur La Table about ten days later.

A large sign outside the door of SLT called to me, "TAKE AN EXTRA 20% OFF ALL CLEARANCE PRICES!" Well, ok, if you insist.

The sale brought the price of the Dutch oven down to less than 50% of its original price, and to about twenty percent of the original Le Creuset price.

So far, my Dutch oven seems to perform well. The metal handle does get hot, so I must use a towel or pot holder each time I open the lid, but this is not a major disaster. I'll spare my readership a soap box speech on the downfalls of cheap consumer goods, though it plays in my head often, because for now the pot is a way to cook well, eat well, and be well.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Want Some Coffee With That?

Thumbing through John Ash's Cooking One on One, the Texan and I both said, "Oooooh!" when we turned to the page with a recipe for brisket braised in coffee.  Neither one of us knew exactly who John Ash was, but we figured he knew what he was talking about with that recipe, which combines two Really Good Things.

Wouldn't you know it that John Ash has had a restaurant and a radio show here in northern California for a few years. Or 30. He does the whole fresh/local/seasonal thing a la Alice Waters, only in Santa Rosa, and his dishes are created to match the wines being made in that region. He also does a few other things. Like teach at the culinary academy in the Napa Valley. Whatever.

Wouldn't you also know it that the Texan and I have somewhat different definitions of brisket. His version involves a barbeque and slicing the beef. Mine involves simmering in a Dutch oven for hours on end, a tomato-y braising sauce, and meat that just falls apart when it's done. So imagine his surprise when I spend all day simmering the meat, he spends all day thinking about the barbecued flesh he's about to eat, and he sits down to a meal that has no slices in sight. Poor thing.

With The Texan's homemade bread and some sauteed vegetables with toasted pecans.

Whatever our differences, we agreed that a) the meat was ridiculously tender and flavorful; b) we couldn't really taste the coffee, but perhaps its job was simply to tenderize, not to flavor-ize;  c) there is more than one way to cook brisket. In fact, the Texan liked it enough to want it for dinner the following evening, as we were getting ready to go up to our local observatory for a meteor shower. There was just one small problem:

I'm the blue. He's the white.

His surprise was not due to my having eaten the brisket for another meal. His surprise was due to the cut of meat I used WEIGHING TWO POUNDS and there being so little left that it wouldn't satiate him for dinner. As in, "Where the %@*# did you put it? Your hollow leg? Or are you now thirty pounds heavier?"

He swears he would love me at any weight. To which my response is, "Really???"

Brisket Braised in Coffee
adapted from Cooking One on One by John Ash
serves 6-8
(I cut the recipe in half)

4 lbs beef brisket, trimmed of excess fat
4 TBSP olive oil
3 yellow onions (1 1/2 lbs total), sliced
1/4 C sliced garlic
2 TBSP powdered chiles, such as ancho or Chimayo (this is NOT the same as chili powder, which is a blend of several spices and flavorings)
2 tsp whole fennel seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
2/3 C packed brown sugar
2/3 C apple cider vinegar
4 C strong brewed coffee
1 C chicken, beef, or vegetable stock (or use canned broth)
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice
salt and pepper to taste

1. Season meat with salt and pepper. Heat 2 TBSP olive oil in a Dutch oven or other large pot. Brown brisket on both sides over high heat. Remove meat from pot, discard excess fat, and leave about a tablespoon in pot.*
2. Saute onions and garlic in fat over high heat until they just begin to color. Add powdered chile and saute another minute. Add fennel, cumin, sugar, vinegar, coffee, stock, and tomatoes, and bring to a simmer. Return brisket to pot, cover, and let simmer over a low flame for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until meat is very tender. 
3. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Allow brisket to sit (e.g. on an unheated back burner) for 15 minutes. Serve. 

*You can discard all meat fat and saute onions in olive oil if you prefer, but using the fat already in the pan yields more flavorful results.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Easter Eggs

My 6th grade science fair project, which won a blue ribbon thank you very much, involved dyeing bits of fabric with food. As in beets, cabbage, blueberries, onion skins, and coffee. I think my investigation was two-fold: which plants gave the strongest dyes, and how to set the dye so I didn't wind up with only vague stains on my fabric.

It turns out the same plants can also turn my Easter Eggs lovely colors. Beets and blueberries give the girliest colors, of course, but coffee gives a nice brown, and saffron turns the eggs a very spring-like pastel yellow.

Chickens can turn their eggs lovely colors, too. Not by will, of course. Or by eating beets. Different breeds produce eggs in different colors. Yep, that whole 'brown eggs are healthier than white eggs' thing is irrelevant. The two simply come from different chicken breeds.

Riverdog's arrangement (L) and mine.

 Several years ago, I stumbled across blue Araucana eggs at the Berkeley farmers' market. Actually, I stumbled across them in Martha Stewart-- she just so happens to keep like 20 different breeds of chicken at her eensy little estate. Er, estates-- and therefore recognized them at the market. But the vendor I bought them from was elderly and frail, so I had a feeling he wouldn't be there this year. I was right. Riverdog Farm, though, had these very pretty dozens for sale, so I looked through several cartons to find just the right mix. (They probably hate that, but for six dollars a dozen, I feel entitled to pick The Perfect Eggs.)

These are almost too pretty to dye. In fact, egg producers often raise Araucanas mainly for their novelty at Easter. But I think the combination of natural shell color and plant dye makes for some striking eggs in my Easter basket.

Last year's attempt

This year, I decided to pull a few dye tricks out of my 6th grade hat, since I wasn't thrilled with my results from last year. Red onion skins, which my local grocery store gave me for free, spinach, and turmeric were added to my blueberry-and-beet-and-coffee repertoire, with some unexpected results. For one, onion skins create a seemingly intense reddish-brown dye, but their impact on my eggs was not so intense. For another, spinach made an unimpressive dye. I was disappointed. For a third, dry blueberry dye that I put on a brown egg rubbed off when I rinsed the egg, leaving not a pale blue color but a pale brown color. As in, paler than the egg originally started, as if some of the natural brown color rubbed off, too. And fourthly, two years in a row beets have left my eggs speckled pink, not pink all over.

Blue and brown eggs, before and after a blueberry bath (and naked again)

 (Upper) Brown egg in coffee bath. (Lower) Coffee egg 2nd from left in back row.

Spinach dye (blah...)

Speckled beet egg

 (L, top to bottom) 1. Naked blueberry 2. Blueberry 3. Turmeric and blueberry 4. Spinach 5. Turmeric
(R, top to bottom) 1. Onion skin 2. Coffee 3. Beet 4. Onion skin 5. White egg boiled in beet bath

One of the things I love about these dyes is how not uniform and sometimes bizarre the results are. They look nothing like the food coloring-dyed eggs of my childhood, but don't quite look they way they did last year, either. I'm not sure that what I wound up with is prettier than what I started with, but either way, these eggs look lovely at the Easter table.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Super Fresh

Sunset magazine meets hip-hop culture. Apparently. An article in their April 2011 issue is called "Super Fresh."

As in, "Yo, man, that's fresh!" Which means cool, hip, totally awesome. Not, just picked from the garden.

At least, that's my interpretation.

While I doubt most hip-hop stars would eat Salmon Sesame Salad, and I can't think of any who would eat my version with tofu instead of salmon, I wanted to make the dish anyway. Wearing my old-skool Pumas, of course.

I left out the crispy wontons that were supposed to get sprinkled on top of the salad, but only because I was hungry and didn't feel like taking the time to make them.  They look pretty, though: puffy from frying and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

The salmon in the recipe gets boiled, basically, which probably works flavor-wise because the dressing is poured over it, and salmon has enough flavor to hold its own in the salad. But because I was using tofu, I knew it needed extra flavor before going in the salad. I had some Very Very Teriyaki marinade, and put that in the pan as I sauteed the tofu pieces. I thought this was the perfect flavor addition to the entire dish, and went well with the spicier Lemongrass-Chile Dressing. And yes, I realize teriyaki is Japanese and sambal badjak is Indonesian. But this hip-hop salad is already a total culture clash, so I figured it worked.

Apples, pears, or Asian pears would also work in the salad.

Salmon Or Tofu Sesame Salad
serves 6 as a main course
adapted from Sunset, April 2011

1 1/2 lb salmon filets OR 1 pack extra-firm tofu, drained and sliced into 2-inch pieces
teriyaki marinade (optional)
Kosher salt
3 oranges, sliced (I cut slices in half)
1 medium head napa cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 lb snow peas, trimmed and halved
8 green onions, sliced
1/4 C coarsely chopped cilantro
2 avocados, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

12 wonton wrappers
1 egg
2 TBSP sesame seeds
vegetable oil for frying

3 TBSP lime or lemon juice
2 TBSP packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp sambal badjak OR sriracha
2 TBSP minced lemongrass
1 TBSP finely grated fresh ginger
6 TBSP canola oil

1. If using salmon, cook it in a large pot of simmering salted water, covered, until just opaque, about 5 minutes. Lift out and let cool. 
If using tofu and marinade, heat 2 TBSP marinade in pan over medium heat. Cook 5 minutes per side, or until browned crust forms on either side. Set aside.
2. If making wontons, pour enough oil into large pot to come up a half-inch on sides. Heat to 360 degrees. Meanwhile, whisk egg with 1 TBSP water. Brush wontons with egg mixture on both sides and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Fry in small batches until golden and puffy. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt.
3. Make dressing: Whisk dressing ingredients together in small bowl. 
4. Assemble salad: combine cabbage, snow peas, oranges, green onions, and cilantro in a large bowl. Toss with 2/3 of dressing. Divide among plates. Arrange either salmon or tofu pieces and avocado on top of salad. Garnish with additional cilantro and dressing. Serve with wonton chips.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Jalapeños Make Everything Better

I've noticed a pattern in several recent conversations.

Me: "I want to create a new kind of candy for my Etsy shop. I'm thinking about--"
The Texan, interrupting: "What about chocolate-covered jalapeños?"


Me: "What do you think about flavored caramels? You know, like espresso or chocolate."
T:  "I'm thinking jalapeño-flavored caramels."

and then,

Me: "Would you please make a loaf of bread to have with dinner tonight?"
T: "Jalapeño bread all the way, baby!"

Knock yourself out.

But then we decided to make chili, and because we both love cornbread, we knew that Coyote Joe's Jalapeño Bacon Cornbread recipe was the flavor direction we wanted to head in. However, the two cups of buttermilk, two eggs, cup of cheddar, one-third cup of butter, and half-pound of bacon in the recipe wasn't the direction our arteries wanted to head in, so we used the recipe on the back of the box of cornmeal and added a single slice of applewood-smoked bacon and a jalapeño.

It was ridiculous. As in, really good. And perfect with a bowl of chili.

But then, as we made our second batch of cornbread to eat with the leftover chili, I noticed our conversations were heading in a new direction.

The Texan, wide-eyed: "Let's add the entire half-pound of bacon that Coyote Joe's recipe calls for!"
Me: "Let's not."
T: "Why?"
Me: "Because Coyote Joe had gastric bypass surgery in 2006."

Chocolate-covered jalapeños are starting to sound pretty good right now.

Jalapeño-Bacon Cornbread
adapted from On the Chile Trail and Albers
makes 12 servings

1 C yellow corn meal
1 C all-purpose flour
1/4 C granulated sugar
1 TBSP baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 C milk (I used 1/4 C milk + 3/4 C soy milk)
1/3 C vegetable oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1-2 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
1-2 jalapeños, diced and seeded

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat an 8" x 8" pan with cooking spray. 
2. Combine corn meal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. 
3. Combine milk, oil, and egg in small bowl. Mix well. 
4. Add milk mixture to flour mixture. Stir until just incorporated.
5. Add bacon and jalapeño. Stir until just combined. Do not overmix! Pour into prepared pan.
6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Note: This recipe can also be used to make muffins. Fill cups 2/3 full and bake for 15 minutes, using same test for doneness as above.

West Texas, California

A bunch of things happened at once:
-a fellow food blogger left me a comment that while she'd never tried ground buffalo, she could attest to the fact that buffalo steaks were delicious
-I found a book at the library about spicy food, with chapters called Cowboys, Cattlemen, Catholics, Cajuns, and Californians. You see where this is going
-the Texan came across buffalo steaks at Costco

My Irish Catholic mother used to make steaks in the broiler on a fairly regular basis. It wasn't always my favorite meal, though it was certainly one of hers. I can't remember ever making steaks on my own, much less making them for others, and to me steak and potatoes always seemed so, I dunno, expected. But when the steak stars aligned as they did, I felt compelled to see it through.

The Texan and I wanted to give the steaks a little flavor, so we tried West Texas Barbeque Rub from Coyote Joe's On the Chile Trail. With three kinds of pepper, sugar, salt, and cumin, we figured we couldn't go wrong. As it turned out, I liked it more than he did: I thought the heat from the cayenne was perfect on the meat, and was mellowed out just a little by the sugar and the mild peppers. And because I just might cook my own steak after this, I'm sure I'll find a way or three to use up the leftover rub.

Coyote Joe's recipe for Bourbon Sweet Potatoes was a no-brainer. As he puts it in the description above the recipe, "Heavy cream, butter, bourbon, and brown sugar... it's simply heaven." Well, yeah! The Texan said his mom always puts a little bourbon in her sweet potatoes. I'd never even thought of it, so clearly I've missed something all these years. Oblivion aside, I thought boozy sweet potatoes with our buffalo steaks would be just the right spin on the typical meal, so I didn't skimp at all on the cream. Or butter. Or brown sugar. Or bourbon. The texture, blitzed to perfection in my trusty Cuisinart food processor, was indeed heavenly. The sauteed pecans on top were just the right contrast to the smoothness. Plus, Texans love pecans.

I used white-fleshed sweet potatoes, but you can use whichever kind you like.

Of course, if you eat steak and potatoes for dinner, you have to eat a green vegetable with it. Which is a lesson I learned from my mother.

Broccoli, steamed with a little butter, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

West Texas Barbeque Rub
from On the Chile Trail

6 TBSP ancho or mild New Mexico chile powder
1 TBSP granulated sugar
3 TBSP brown sugar
3 TBSP kosher salt
2 TBSP  ground black pepper
1 TBSP cumin (I used about 1/2 tsp)
1 TBSP cayenne powder

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl or container. Rub (really RUB) spice mixture into meat on both sides, if applicable. If possible, let meat absorb spices for 8-12 hours in refrigerator before cooking. If not, let stand for 20-30 minutes before cooking. 

Bourbon Sweet Potatoes
serves 6
from On the Chile Trail

3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 C chopped pecans
1 tsp butter
3 TBSP soft butter
4 TBSP firmly packed brown sugar
4 TBSP heavy cream
3 TBSP bourbon
1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
salt to taste (I didn't use any)

1. Boil sweet potatoes for 30 minutes, or until tender.
2. As sweet potatoes are cooking, saute pecans in 1 teaspoon of butter for 2 minutes.
3. Drain sweet potatoes and place in food processor while still warm. Add 3 tablespoons of butter and remaining ingredients (and salt, if desired). Puree, adding more cream if needed to achieve soft, creamy consistency. 
4. Top with sauteed pecans.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Bananas, Coffee, and Chocolate

While I am fond of all three ingredients in the title of this post, I was not entirely sure they'd go together well in a muffin. But The Cheese Board: Collective Works cookbook says it's a great combination and that many patrons love these muffins, so I figured scores of Berkeleyans couldn't be wrong.

These are not healthy muffins by ANY stretch of the imagination, but could be modified to be somewhat less bad. The cup of sour cream added a really nice tang to the batter, which was still present after the muffins baked (I was afraid it would dissipate). Plain low-fat yogurt could be substituted, though, and still impart the same basic tang. An entire cup of chocolate chips just isn't necessary; I used a half cup and thought it was more than enough. I also reduced the sugar in the recipe by a tablespoon or two, which turned out just fine.

I was a bit disappointed that the coffee flavor seemed to get lost in the muffins, what with all the banana, sour cream, and chocolate, so it might be worth adding some espresso granules or instant espresso powder to the batter to increase the mocha flavor.

The recipe actually says to fill the muffin cups all the way to the top. When does THAT happen?!

I froze most of the baked muffins, since I can't possibly eat 12 of them in a few days, and have found that when I slice them in half and reheat them in the oven for several minutes, they hold up pretty well. Maybe that's because the stick of butter contains enough fat to prevent them from drying out. Like 47 times over.

The perfect muffins for letting a little kitty cat warm himself on a cold winter morning.

Banana Mocha Chocolate Chip Muffins
from The Cheese Board: Collective Works

makes 12 muffins

1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 C strong brewed coffee, cooled
1 C sour cream or plain yogurt
2 1/4 C AP flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 C sugar
1/2 C (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 - 1 C chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat muffin pan with cooking spray and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, combine egg, egg yolk, bananas, vanilla, coffee, and sour cream or yogurt. Whisk until blended.  Set aside.
3. Sift flour, baking soda, and baking powder together in bowl of stand mixer. Add salt and sugar to dry ingredients. 
4. Add butter and cut in on low speed for about 4 minutes, or until it is the size of small peas. Mix in chocolate chips. Make a well in the center and pour in wet ingredients. Gently mix just until combined. Do not overmix!
5. Scoop batter into prepared muffin pan, filling each well until batter just peeks over top of well. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until muffins are golden brown, firm, and springy.
6. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then unmold and cool completely on a wire rack.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

I Heart You


The Texan and I celebrated our first Valentine's Day together this year. And while, as one of my friends pointed out roughly 27 times on Facebook, one should not save all gestures of love and affection for February 14th, The Texan planned a lovely surprise for me, so I figured I would cook him something heart-y in return.

 Ages ago, I cut out a recipe for Rosemary Shrimp Scampi Skewers from Cooking Light magazine (February, year unknown). The blurb that accompanies it says, "Rosemary has a long history of being associated with the heart: It has been believed by many to be a love charm, by others to be a token of remembrance and fidelity, and by some to be a potent aphrodisiac." So figuratively, this recipe was perfect for V-Day.

Literally speaking, it was also perfect: The Texan and I had fallen into the highly indulgent but not so healthy habit of eating out a zillion times a week. We agreed that our hearts (not to mention our wallets) would be better off if we cooked at home more. Plus, shrimp are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Which is of course what everyone is thinking about on Valentine's Day.

Anyway, there just happens to be a rosemary bush in The Texan's backyard, so he snipped off a few sprigs a few minutes before we cooked the shrimp, which had been marinating in white wine, lemon juice, and a bit of olive oil with some spices. He threaded the shrimp onto the now-naked sprigs, which still smelled fantastic despite being totally bare, and because it's February and his girlfriend  would have spent the evening complaining about how cold she was, he fired up the stove top instead of the grill.

As the shrimp cooked in their marinade, I sauteed some asparagus spears in a bit of olive oil and a seasoning that had the words 'Texas', 'cowboy', and 'grill' on the bottle. I know! My eyebrows were raised, too! But it turned out well, and we ate every single piece. The Texan knows his way around a microwave, so he steamed up more veggies to round out the greenness on our plates, and dinner was on the table in under 30 minutes.

You couldn't give a rat's ass about omega-3s, marinades, or spice blends, though. What you are really wondering is, is rosemary actually an aphrodisiac?

I can't tell you that. My dad reads this blog.

Rosemary Shrimp Scampi Skewers
adapted from Cooking Light magazine

NOTE: I made at least double this quantity of marinade, both to cover all the shrimp and to have extra to use in the pan. 

1 TBSP dry white wine
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp olive oil
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 lb shrimp (I used 1 pound of the 26-30 size), peeled and deveined
6-inch rosemary sprigs (number you will need depends on number of shrimp used)

1. Combine first 6 ingredients in a resealable bag or non-reactive bowl. Add shrimp, turning to coat. Marinate in refrigerator for 30 minutes, turning occasionally.
2. Remove leaves from rosemary sprigs, leaving about an inch of leaves at one end. If grilling, rinse/dip sprigs in water to prevent fire.
3. Load 3-4 shrimp onto each rosemary sprig. Carefully load onto preheated grill or saute pan, using marinade if desired. Cook 2-3 minutes per side, or until shrimp is pink and cooked through. 
Do NOT use uncooked marinade on cooked shrimp!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Texas French Toast

Before we started dating, The Texan boasted to me that he knew how to make a mean batch of French toast. He warned that it had a gazillion calories a slice. I was unfazed. He promised to make it for me after the holidays.

On our first date, he asked conspiratorially, "Wanna know the secret ingredient in my French toast?" My mind raced as I considered the possibilities: An exotic spice? Syrup in the batter? A special type of bread?

He leaned in, grinned, and divulged, "Cap'n Crunch cereal!"


He'd come across the recipe, which was featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, online. It also features 2 cups of heavy cream, a stick of butter, and 6 eggs. Sounded like the perfect way to start the morning. That is, if it were our last morning on earth, since the French toast would probably send us into cardiac arrest.

As we planned the meal, we discussed ways to make it slightly less lethal. I suggested using milk instead of cream, but he wasn't sure whether he should gradually step down from cream to half-and-half, or just jump way down the fat ladder to whole milk. He chose the latter, but not because he thinks my ideas are so great. No, it was a perfect stranger's comment on the recipe, saying she'd used whole milk and it turned out fine, that convinced him it was safe to do. In all fairness, though, he did use my suggestion of cooking spray combined with a little butter to grease the pan in place of the stick of butter the recipe calls for.

Normally, the Texan uses Texas toast for this recipe. Which you totally could have guessed. But he has this bread machine that he thinks is pretty darn cool. And it is, I must admit. For the occasion, he made two loaves of beer bread: one loaf two days before The Breakfast Event, and the other, one day before. We cut both loaves into Texas-sized slices, and drowned and dredged them in all kinds of goodies. As we ate, we realized we preferred the day-old slices, as they seemed to have better absorption of the cream-I-mean-milk mixture, creating a tastier, softer French toast.

The Texan was in charge of the cooking, firing up not one but two pans for the event. And I do mean firing: a few minutes into the process, I noticed a slightly smoky smell in the kitchen. I fanned the back door a few times. The smoke increased. I opened a window. The smoke detector went off. His roommate and I opened many windows, and I checked the flames under the pans. They were Very High.

Because that's what men do.

There is already about a week's worth of sugar in the Cap'n Crunch coating, so maple syrup is not really necessary (nor advised). I put some frozen raspberries in a saucepan, along with a spoonful or two of raspberry jam, and cooked them to form a syrupy topping for the French toast. We put a few dollops of whipped cream next to the raspberry sauce, and one particular roommate may have created a smiley face or two on her breakfast even though she is no longer 8 years old. Clearly, she knew she might keel over from this meal, and wanted to make it memorable.

And it was.

Texas-Sized French Toast

6 eggs
5 TBSP sugar (you could cut some or all of this out)
2 C heavy cream (or whole milk)
1  tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 C (1 stick) butter
1 box Cap'n Crunch cereal
1 loaf thick toast 

1. Crush cereal in a resealable bag or baking dish, but do not turn the entire thing into dust. Spread cereal into baking dish or large plate.
2. Combine eggs, sugar, cream or milk, vanilla, and spices in a bowl large enough to fit a slice of toast.
3. Preheat pan(s) or griddle, using medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray and a thin pat of butter.
4. Meanwhile, soak pieces of toast in milk mixture, 30 seconds per side, making sure to moisten edges of bread. Dredge in crushed cereal.
5. Cook slices for 3 minutes per side, or until browned but not burned (sugar in cereal will burn if heat is too high). Keep in warm oven until ready to serve.
6. Top with raspberry sauce or fresh fruit and whipped cream, if desired.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Buffalo Soldiers

So there's this guy.

He's from Texas.

We're dating.

He lived in Mammoth for a season or two, and had to fend for himself while he was there. Poor thing. Anyway, he told me he used to make buffalo tacos when he lived there, and that he'd sing "Buffalo Tacos" to the tune of "Buffalo Soldiers" by Bob Marley. I think he even sang a verse for me to demonstrate. I didn't think much of any part of this story at the time, since it was a) less gory than the one about hunting and gutting his own venison; b) an affront to reggae lovers everywhere; c) probably just something Texans do.

One evening, we decided to cook dinner together at my house. You know, one of those couple-y things that people do together when they are still so enamored of each other that they can't get enough, so they plan the meal together, cook it together, eat it together, talk about how great it was together, and suddenly realize that 48 hours have gone by and they are still in each other's company.

He said, "Let's make buffalo tacos, like I used to make in Mammoth! I'll bring the meat."

Because that's what men do.

No, this wasn't the last remaining wild bison roaming the Great Plains.

I was a little wary of this whole idea. I'd seen bison burgers in the freezer case at the grocery store, as well as bison stew meat. But I'd never tried it, and wasn't sure how gamey it would taste. The Texan assured me buffalo meat was not very gamey, and would render off less fat than ground beef. Given that he has eaten deer shortly after killing it, I wasn't sure how closely aligned his version of gamey was to that of Normal People. But it turns out he was telling the truth.

Neither one of us had a real recipe for buffalo tacos. He usually used one of those seasoning packets, which he suggested and I must have made a face about, since he didn't bring one. I usually used a few spices in the meat, which I added as he stirred**, but it was missing something. A jar of salsa sat on the counter, and we both agreed it was worth a try. We added a few spoonfuls to the meat, which we thought tasted perfect.



He heated up the tortillas. He put cheese and more salsa on his. I put cilantro, radishes, lettuce, green onions, and more salsa on mine. We sat, googly-eyed, at the table together and ate.

We'll have to do it again some time.

**Despite me putting the real version of that song on the iPod, he sang his version almost the entire time he was cooking the buffalo. Guess which version was stuck in my head the next day.