Cook the Books Club~Like Water for Chocolate

31 03 2010

Not being terribly into soap operas, but really loving Mexican food, I stuck with this one.   It made for interesting reading on Sunday Spa Nights…even though I got very frustrated with the long-suffering characters.  It took me awhile to catch on that every time our protagonist was emotional while she was cooking the emotion was shared in the food she prepared for others…that got a little scary now and then.

I read through the recipes that were offered, and gave them consideration.  The closing recipe, poblanos stuffed and served with walnut sauce was the most intricate.  I found myself wondering just how do you remove the skin from a walnut?

As this was a quick read, I wondered and pondered throughout the month about what to cook.  In the end, there was a perfect opportunity to cook a meal for someone other than ourselves, and I spent a couple days in the kitchen working on the various meats that would go into the different items and that’s what I’m presenting for the group.

I had a piece of beef chuck I knew I wanted to cook down for shredded beef…and I had a pork butt I was going to cook for pulled pork.  The pulled pork cooks in a slow, slow oven over several hours…why not the beef as well?  I seared it on both sides and popped it into a cast iron cooker with a bit of onion, celery, carrot and water…just about 1/2 cup…enough to keep things moist.  While I was getting all of that ready, I remembered that I had a batch of little top sirloin steaks that needed to be cooked, so I put them in another casserole with a bit of adobo sauce and a chipotle pepper, cumin, carrot, celery and onion.  A slightly different flavor…one that could stand alone easier.  4 hours later, my house smelled phenomenal!!

On cooking day, I put together my sopa seca de fideo, refried beans, a sope filled with beans and shredded beef topped with shredded cheese, floutas and mini tacos.  It didn’t look like that much food until I sat down to eat it!  There’s a light dusting of parmesan cheese over the entire plate, and there’s shredded lettuce with tomato and avocado slices for a working garnish.  Hot pico de gallo was served at the table.  Oh my.  We each had to taste a bit of everything…and both of us decided the flautas and mini tacos will reheat!

Like Water for Chocolate was a fun read.  It wasn’t a book I’ll keep, in fact mine is already at it’s new home courtesy of Goodreads!  I’ve begun our next book, Eating for England.  Thanks for checking out my dish, and thank you to our organizers!!  You keep finding ’em, I’ll keep reading and cooking ’em!

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Have YOUR breasts been enhanced?

29 03 2010

Soapbox Alert!!

There I was…quietly minding my own business, putting the groceries away after a shopping trip.  I was setting up a package of boneless chicken breast halves for the freezer.  Once again…no whole body fryers.  All kinds of packages of pieces, but only one lone Organic whole body chicken haunting me.   Believe me when I say I know I have no one to thank for this but myself.  However it bothers me so much I want to share with all of you.

Without my knowledge, or my permission, MY BREASTS HAVE BEEN ENHANCED!! Not my personal, God given body breasts, but…my chicken breasts!!  Good grief!!  It’s not enough that they bio-engineer the poor creatures so they can’t even stand up as babies, but then they apparently have no flavor at the ripe ol’ age of what…8-12 weeks?  So…let’s enhance them with 15% “solution.”  The solution contains “Chicken broth”…whose?  Surely not mine.  Who made the broth?  I’m sorry.  The solution contains Chicken broth, salt, sodium (another word for salt) phosphate, flavoring (most of them contain…salt).  There’s got to be a LOT of salt in that 15% solution…because those chicken breasts come out enhanced with 380mg of sodium for every 4 oz. serving.  That’s rather a lot..considering chicken is usually accepted as a “bland” easily digested meat.  It was when Grandma was a girl…not necessarily now!

No…I’m not complaining about buying the product.  I find I buy less and less, and try to support local organic farmers more.  It was an odd day.  I was in the feed store and bless them, they had chicks and couldn’t tell me much beside, red and white.  That much I could see for myself.  I had found myself wondering if the fluffy yellow chicks were the Cornish Cross they’re using for meat these days, those youngsters weren’t standing up at all.  That left a bad taste in my mouth from then on.  I think I’ll buy from the area folks who are hatching chicks, and check with the ranch for chicken and lamb.  *Ü*





Cooking Italy~Spaghetti alla Carbonara

27 03 2010

Just as there are a number of interpretations of recipes for Spagetti alla Carbonara, there are just as many interpretations of the recipe’s origins. Marcella leans toward the origin of the dish being in Rome during the Second World War, when food resources were scarce.
American soldiers coming into the area requested cooked food (over canned rations) and brought with them bacon and powdered eggs.  From those humble beginnings, the Roman Italians creatively turned those ingredients into Spaghetti alla Carbonara!  And even if it didn’t really originate there, it’s certainly a wonderfully romantic history to hold onto!

Once I had pancetta in the house, the rest was a piece of cake…although next time, any good bacon will work, just not an overly smokey one, or not one with a really sweet cure either.   Every time I read the recipe, it sounded too easy to be true, and if it had been up to me,
we’d have had this dish several times in the past week.  I’m not so sure Bruce sees pasta as comfort food yet…  Maybe not. I waited though.  I knew I’d know when the time was just right, and I did.

Our ingredients aren’t many…pancetta or bacon (I was only able to get pre-sliced pancetta, no other option this time), 2 eggs (courtesy of my lovely hens), parmesan and romano cheese, a bit of garlic, a 1/4 cup of white wine, some olive oil and black pepper.  Oh, and spaghetti. While the water is heating and the spaghetti cooking, all the rest comes together really well.

I used a fairly deep ceramic bowl to mix the pasta, and I heated it with warm water before I started. When the spaghetti was just about finished cooking, I mixed my eggs, added the cheeses, mixed again then added the pepper and parsley (note to self…must plant twice as much Italian parsley as we have now).  I added the hot, drained pasta all at once and tossed with a fork a few turns, then switched to my favorite tongs. I always rather expected this to have a scrambled egg kind of effect, having never seen it in a restaurant.  Italian isn’t prevalent here.  I was rather surprised that I didn’t see that at all. After all was well mixed, I added the re-warmed pancetta-wine mixture to the spaghetti and tossed that together as well.

Oh. Oh my.  This was seriously good.  And very easy on a working gal.  Protein, carbs, protein, dairy.  Yeah.  A swimmer’s dream meal, no doubt!  Anyone who burns serious calories, this is a winner for them.  This would also be a dandy post-party nosh! A little carb, a little protein, a little good sleep food, soak up the happy juice and lead you off to sleppy-by land! LOL! Not that I would know about such things…I’m taking the Fifth…wait, oh…never mind…*giggle*  All I can say is this… I was tuckered…worn out…weary from the week, and after feasting on this, I slept like a 6 month old baby…perfectly content and soundly, all through the night.  I love this concept!

Tasting Notes~
We both had a problem with the pancetta being too salty for our tastes.  That could be because we eat a less salty diet than most folks do, or it could be the brand of pancetta, or it could be that it was somewhat dried out being sliced that way.  For what it’s worth, a lot of food is salty to us. Our solution is to reduce the pancetta by half next time if we can’t get a bulk slice, or to try bacon.  Even then, we’ll reduce the quantity of meat.  Bruce would also like me to try adding sauteed mushrooms to the dish.  While not “authentic” I don’t see any problem…then is just becomes Spaghetti alla carbonara con funghi or something like that!  LOL!  I think I’d start by sauteeing them before the garlic, then stir them back in with the wine.  I’ll let you know how that works out!!  This is a keeper..especially with the aforementioned modifications!





Unsafe Food Alert!!

20 03 2010

Just about the time you thought we could eat safely again…  Hot off the presses kids…here’s a release acknowledging a huge recall of products which may be tainted with Salmonella, some from places we’d normally trust…like Trader Joe’s.  Bet they’re more than a little whizzed over there!  Read the article here:  http://www.wtopnews.com/?nid=25&sid=1916103 There’s a full list of products you can download.

If you’re cooking raw without packages, you’re pretty safe…but read just so you can help your friends out!





Cooking Italy~Chicken Roasted with Lemons

13 03 2010

Gosh, I can hardly believe it’s been a month since I posted last… I’ve cooked since then, really I have! LOL!  I just haven’t cooked along with any group since then.  It’s kind of a rugged time at work for me.  Cooking is my refuge, so even there I’m not putting too many restrictions on myself right now!

I’m sorry…there are no pictures to go with this…I was totally exhausted the night I chose to make this dish.  It was perfect for that evening, as it takes so little attention or preparation.  A little salt, a little pepper, rub, rub, rub it in to the cavity and the skin…roll a couple small lemons to make their juices free inside the skin, then pierce the lemon in several places to release the juices when the time is right…while the lemons are inside the chicken and it’s roasting happily; tuck the lemons in the cavity of the chicken, close the cavity with a couple of toothpicks and truss the bird to keep its shape.  What could be easier?  It was so easy, I slept through the entire cooking process, waking only long enough to turn the bird, and adjust the temp when required.  Thank goodness for LOUD timers!  It came out looking absolutely gorgeous…sayeth hubby… He took it from the oven and carved it for us.

Tasting Notes:
I have to admit, I didn’t find anything exciting about the taste of the chicken.  It was on the bland side.  I think I feel that way because I’m a die-hard brining fan.  I like to brine even my roasting hens for an hour or so before they go into the oven.  A quick outer salting did nothing for the skin except drive all the moisture out of it making it as tough as shoe leather…and that’s unfortunately where there was flavor…in the leather.

Soapbox:
Sadly, as we are perceived as “consumers” and our sustenance perceived as “product” we are being exposed to more and more industrialized creatures once known as ANIMALS.   The chicken you purchase at your average market with the familiar nationwide label on the package, was raised for 8-12 weeks from chick to slaughter.  That’s an incredible amount of time to reach that size, don’t you think?  If you aren’t aware, chickens don’t reach that size naturally.   It will take a naturally raised bird 7 to 9 months to reach that size.  And have you noticed that it’s almost impossible to find a 3-4 pound chicken any more??   Have you noticed how they all weigh in about 5  to 5-1/2 pounds?  That’s so they all fit through the machinery evenly when they’re processed…

Sorry.  This stuff really gets to me.  I just want to see nice, safe food out there at the market, and sadly…that’s not so much the case.  I don’t want the animals tortured, nor filled with hormones and antibiotics so that we’re affected such things secondarily without our knowledge.   You, gentle reader, have the option of not reading the Soapbox section…and I will continue to mark it as such…because I’m NOT going to stop!  LOL!