Friday, April 2, 2010

Sizzling Beef and Scallions with Black Bean Sauce (no page #)

Despite what this blog may reflect, I have been cooking. Why haven't I written about them? These wonderful tasty treasures? Well, I haven't been using recipes from the Joy of Cooking nor Jamie Oliver's tome; I have been using a few tried and true oldies peppered with a few new internet discoveries. The reason I'm writing something tonight is because, although the recipe is not from the Jamie Oliver book I bought, it is one of his recipes; with the premiere of his new show, Food Revolution, it seems like his stuff has pinged through the virtual world like bed bugs in a flop house. Everywhere!

...but, unlike bed bugs, good recipes are a good thing to find in your comfort zone...

Tonight I decided to try 'Sizzling Beef and Scallions with Black Bean Sauce' because it was the only thing which could be constructed with the bits and pieces my cupboards and fridge contained. It's true, I missed the fresh lime, cilantro, and egg, but lemon juice and dried cilantro worked in a few of the missing flavours.

Sliced beef, garlic, ginger, scallions...mix it all up in a bowl with sesame oil. The smell was to die for! Then add the cilantro...I used a pinch of dried flakes since the fresh stuff regularly eludes me up here. Not the worst thing that could happen. Unfortunately, the meat was bought for a slowcooker meal, so it wasn't the best cut for this sort of thing; it had also been in the freezer and got a bit burt.

Anyway, throw all this in the frying pan (or a wok if you have it) with a bunch of sesame oil. In the 'oh-so-clear' words of Jamie Oliver, "pour a couple of glugs of sesame oil in the pan and heat until it's very, very hot". How succinct is that? I don't know if my Nova Scotian glugs are the equivalent to an Englishman's glugs, but I tried.

After a bit of frying, add pepper, black bean sauce, lemon juice, soy sauce. And keep it moving, moving, moving, always moving.

Well, with the steam and smoke starting to rise, I needed to flip on the fan; I was nervous that the smoke alarm would start to go off (even though it's been hanging out of the ceiling since its last outburst). It seems that every time it goes off, I get a 4 lb terrified chihuahua frozen and pooping on the floor uncontrollably. I know it sounds weird, but that's the state Gryphon ends up in...poor thing.

Fortunately, the fan did its job tonight and I didn't have to pick up any blobs.

Rice, is the rice. Cook, fry, add soy sauce, et voila! I know this picture looks lethargic and without taste, but remember that it's supposed to be covered with some tasty stuff. This is just the carb filler.

Anyway...ta da!! It would definitely look a lot nicer with the fresh cilantro and lime wedge it's supposed to be served with, but it doesn't look too bad if you pile it on a colourful plate.

My issue with the whole thing was that there wasn't really any salt. Don't get me wrong...I'm not like the person who actually puts salt on her KFC (yes, I know someone who does this), but I like a bit more flavour. More flavour that the sharp tang of lime. The soy sauce added a bit, but I usually use the low sodium stuff (I find the regular just way too much). could be the juice; it was a bit old, and I think I might have put in a bit to much. Maybe my glugs, dabs, and pinches aren't quite right.

Overall? It was nice to be puttering around in the kitchen again and, with a ricemaker, it's a pretty simple dish to make. One that could even be completed on a weeknight. This is a big thing to say because my 'weeknight meal' generally consists of tea with instant pancakes of the 'just add water' variety. Not so bad. Next time I'll use less juice, more salt, and try my darndest to find some fresh cilantro.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Game on...

Fear not foodies...I really do plan on keeping this blog alive. There are so many neglected URLs out there; I refuse to let this become one of them.

I haven't gotten in up to my elbows yet, but I have definitely been working through the notes...there are so many tips in the Joy of Cooking! It is an absolutely fascinating encyclopedia of everything you could possibly want to know. Cook With Jamie, though very interesting, will certainly be more useful when I head south's not a northern standard.

So the cooking will start again. I'm finished with the falafel leftovers, have thawed the lemons, and am ready for the next round.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Falafel frustrations...(pg.188)

Wednesday, March 10th (afternoon)…

I got back from work today around noon and decided to change into my sweats, work from home and, eventually, start to move in on that falafel sandwich. I won’t bore you with the details of my job or wardrobe, though…a foodie blog doesn’t quite have space for that sort of thing.

Right now my chickpeas for the patties are simmering; actually, they have been for the past two and a half hours…and that’s after soaking for over twenty-four hours! Hint: although it’s definitely cheaper to buy a bag of raw/dried legumes, it’s worth it to simply buy cans. According to the Joy of Cooking, chickpeas are the worst. They take forever to prep! Soaking, simmering…I’m saving about $15 but wasting about 5 hours.

The recipe (pg. 188) calls for a tahini sauce to drizzle over the final product. Tahini? Sesame paste? It was a staple in my southern pantry but it certainly hasn’t found a place in my sealift room here in Pang. Instead, I decided to throw together some hummus. There is a recipe for that in the Joy of Cooking (pg. 74) but, again, tahini is required. A quick substitution my friend in Ottawa uses is olive oil and peanut butter. So there you go. It tastes ok, but what happened next was where I made my first mistake. I decided to throw in a tablespoon of sesame seeds to alter the flavor a bit; all I succeeded in doing was change the texture. Now it feels like the chickpeas haven’t been thoroughly pureed. Fortunately, garlic and lemon juice generally cures all ills. My peanut butter hummus is now waiting to be spread on a nice falafel patty.

Wednesday, March 10…much later…

What a labour intensive process!! OMG! The end product was tasty, but I had to make a few alterations to please my pallete completely. First off, NEVER try to prep your own chickpeas. After they simmered for four hours, I had to shuck each one. A huge pain-in-the-ass. Don’t do it. Cans. Do the cans.

As for the spices…I added cayenne pepper and used Italian seasoning instead of just parsley. My problem with the whole process (other than the fact that my blender is, actually, crap) was the final frying step. The recipe says to put about half an inch of oil in a frying pan and heat. Now, the falafel I have seen in the past usually hold their shape…tiny little patties. These ones ended up squishing in the hot oil. I’m not really sure what to add to make them hold. Ideas?

Anyway, since there’s no pita available in Pang, I rolled everything up in a spinach tortilla, topped it with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, cheese, creamy cucumber dressing, and the aforementioned hummus.
The verdict? A pain in the ass! They tasted very good with the added spices (cayenne pepper etc.), but I don't really know if it would be worth the time to make again; you can get some pretty good frozen ones. Well, I suppose that's only true in the south...they're not readily available up here near the Arctic Circle. If you already have all the spices, they're not that expensive, but don't expect to just throw them together!

Hmm...on further consideration, perhaps these would be ok. I get the feeling that the batter-type stuff would freeze well; you could make a big batch and only thaw and fry what you needed.

Yup, perhaps they'd be worth it if you doubled the batch and fried them only when you need a quick meal. However, it's definitely a weekend project. With all the fixings, this makes a pretty good - and filling - meal.

Congrats to you guys at the Joy of Cooking for starting to include some more 'international-type' food. It's nice to know that a book that's been around for 75 years is still keeping up with the times.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Avocadoes and thyme...

I had planned on starting off this project with the falafel sandwiches…a little trip to the Middle East to warm up. The recipe, in essence, isn’t that difficult but I only have dried chickpeas. I put the required amount in water last night to rehydrate the hard little kernels, but they weren’t quite ready by the time I wanted to start today. Guess what’s on the menu tomorrow!

Tonight, though, I was restless…I wanted to make something damn-it! To rectify the situation, I decided to play around with a few things.

I think a lot about cooking is trying to use ingredients effectively. I’ve wasted so much money throwing out everything from chicken to chives to cheese. When I lived in Ottawa I had briefly toyed with the idea of preserving and canning, but I was just too scared of poisoning myself or someone else. Up near the Arctic Circle you definitely don’t get that opportunity to buy cheap fruit and veggies to store away; instead I’m going to focus on the nuances of freezing.

Freezing you say? Can’t you just throw it in the freezer? According to the Joy of Cooking, you can’t. In fact, pg. 910-926 of my edition is completely devoted to the art. For a single person or someone with a busy work schedule (definition of ‘me’ in my very own personal dictionary), freezing is awesome. Ingredients. Full meals. Everything ready to go on a moment’s notice. “Cook for a day; eat for a week” and all that jazz. Throw nothing out…there is a use for every scrap. The challenge is to find the page in this cookbook to help you figure it out what that use is!

Anyway, as with all things, you have to start small. Take the egg, for example. Before you can maneuver a meringue (pg. 740) you have to know how to boil an egg (pg. 194). Did you know that you can freeze eggs (pg. 923)? I didn’t. There’s actually a full section in here on how to choose the right freezer the next time you head down to your local Maytag dealer.

Avocadoes. I usually buy one or two of these when they’re available but often find that they get all nasty before I get to use them. Of course the easy answer is to stop buying them, but I get so excited when I see them here at the local Northern. I had one in my fridge ripening into a rotten existence if given a few more days. With falafel on the menu, I knew it’d be spoiled by the time I got around to it. According to the Joy of Cooking (pg. 919), all you need to do to put that guacamole on hold for a few weeks is to peel, pit, mash, and then sprinkle with a bit of lemon juice. Put it in a freezer bag, flatten to squeeze out the air, and you’re good to go.

Next on the list? I had some fresh herbs, but they were getting old. Rosemary and thyme, though, makes them easy to freeze. I decided to do a little something extra with my thyme and made some ‘herb salt’ (pg. 1009)…I basically slowly roasted pounded thyme with salt (30:70) in an oven that had been quickly heated and turned off. I can’t wait to try it on something!

Well, yes, this has been a rather boring post…freezing avocado and making herb salt. It will help me with my more complex creations in the future though. Stay tuned for the falafel!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Just Another Cookbook Hack

I wonder how many foodie blogs crashed into the world of web journals after the publication of Julie Powell's Julie and Julia taken from her awesome blog: The Julie/Julia Project. Cooking through an entire book in one year? A regular person trying out some of the most intimidating culinary treasures. Or perhaps they're not that complex...truth be told: I've never actually flipped through a copy. I have, however, flipped through my very own Joy of Cooking. Seminal work for sure.

Anyway, after downloading the audiobook from iTunes and listening to it as I created variations of age-old recipes, the idea of creating this blog began to take root. At the risk of being very unoriginal, I'm going to start this is, after all, an adventure for me.

In the north, many of the ingredients found in just about every cookbook are either impossible to get or attainable only with some pretty deep pockets. Since I don't possess the latter and the former is beyond my control, this blog is going to be a bit different. There will probably be more substitutions in my experiments as well as a modified instructions to deal with the altitude and weather. How would I whip my meringues without taking that into account?
Now for the rules:

1. All recipes will be taken from either The Joy of Cooking (75th Anniversary Edition) OR Cook With Jaime: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook (Jamie Oliver, the Naked Chef).

2. Since there is no way I can get through one of these books in a year, I will stick to preparing at least 3 meals per week and reporting back on the fun and failures.

Simple, right? Ha! Probably not. An adventure nonetheless. So here goes nothin'...