Friday, February 27, 2015

The Boy Is UP!

Well, no, he's not back into race cars yet, but he is UP!  

After months of pain and lying flat, he finally had an MRI that showed the problem (stenosis of the hole in the spine that the sciatic nerve passes through on its way down the left leg) and a magic shot (epidural delivering lidocaine and steroid medication to the affected area) that has taken away most of the pain! His shin still tingles a bit and occasionally twinges, but he has regained his ease of movement and is joyously walking and driving again!  The whole procedure was done outpatient, and it only took about 15 minutes. He thought they were still numbing the area when the doc said, "Okay, all finished!"

Upon inspection at home, he had a bandaid over the needle hole and a big "Yes!" written with a flourish on his back, but nothing more to show for it. He can't swim for three days but he can shower, so all is right with his world.

His stamina is not what it was, but starting next week we will work on that. We figure we'll do water walking at the local pool for a week or so, then he will resume his water aerobics twice weekly and I will start swimming laps again.

He had the magic shot last Tuesday but I've been almost superstitious about reporting success too early.  Happily, I can now let my breath out and shout out, "The Boy is UP!"

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Scamp-ish

Shrimp and lemon goes together like love and marriage. My latest culinary fun was "inventing" a dish that included both of those ingredients in a buttery sauce, without sending our cholesterol readings over the top. Shrimp is high in cholesterol - the bad boy of the seafood world - but it is soooo delicious! 

I'm also into quick, simple, and easy meals, as you clearly know if you are a regular reader, so I didn't want to spend much time. One of the big time savers, of course, is buying frozen peeled and deveined shrimp in the giant economy size bag so those steps are taken care of. And if you start the pasta water while you are cutting the broccoli into bite-size pieces, you have effectively cut your time in the kitchen in half.

All you do, once the ingredients are assembled and the pasta (I used fettuccine) is in the salted, boiling water, is to melt about a tablespoon of butter and one of olive oil in a wide pan, then sauté the broccoli florets and (still frozen) shrimp, tossing them around to cook evenly and to coat with the oils. A little pepper is nice, at this stage, but hold the salt as the shrimp will likely add all the salt you need. At the last minute, squeeze the juice of a whole lemon into the pan with the shrimp and broccoli, continuing to toss them around to coat.

The shrimp will thaw and some of that ice will be in the pan, but if it feels like there's not enough sauce, you can reserve about 1/4 cup of the pasta water to amplify the pan drippings. Be sparing, however, as you don't want to drown the flavors - just add a tablespoon at a time until you feel confident that the pasta will be covered.

Drain the pasta, pile it onto the plates, and ladle over the lovely, lemony broth. Top with shrimp and broccoli and enjoy your scamp-ish.

Monday, February 16, 2015

More Crab, Less Crabby

Shortly after I made the love bundles with the sole and the crab that made me so crabby, I found a can of the good crab 'way back in the cupboard and pounced upon it with glee. You see, I had been working up to this moment for quite some time. It's a long tale, so settle back. Here goes:

Just before Christmas, my DC brother and his lovely wife paid us a visit. One of the fun meals we had while they were here was cracked Dungeness crab. Dungeness is the West coast version of heaven, wonderful, big, sweet crabs - one crab per person makes a whole meal, with sourdough baguette, wine, and a salad, if you insist on having something green with your crab. We love to treat out-of-towners to a crab feed. We cover the table with newspapers, set out the crackers and the picks, place a roll of paper towels within reach, and let everyone have at it. Before you know it, they are up to their elbows in crab juice and blissfully occupied prying out each morsel.

On a pouring rainy day, we stopped at Kermit Lynch so my oenophile bro could choose us a bottle or two of wine to accompany the crab, at Acme Bakery next door to get a baguette to go with it, and at Tokyo Fish up the street to snag our crabs. While we were awaiting the cleaning of our crabs, the careful young man behind the counter asked me, "Do you want the crab butter?" Ignorant of what that was, I was ready to refuse it when I thought to ask, "What do people do with the crab butter?"

He explained that some people use it to dip their bread in when they eat the crabs. "Okay," I said, "Thanks, I'll take the the butter."  We tried it when we got home but, in our view, it will never replace sweet butter, so I popped it into the freezer, figuring I'd make something of it some day.

When I had just about two cups of kabocha squash soup left from another meal, all of a sudden I realized that I had all the makings of an interesting soup on hand!  I had that elusive can of Dungeness crabmeat!  I had the crab butter!  I could buy a bottle of clam juice! And I had my soup "base" in the sweet squash soup!

So, I put the squash soup, the crab butter (which was a little lumpy), and the clam juice in a blender and zizzed them together until smooth, then poured them into a soup pot. Added just a few dashes of Cholula hot sauce for spice. Warmed the soup base until it was steaming, then gently added the chunks of crab meat and warmed it the rest of the way. Topped with super garlic croutons from Semifreddi's bakery, it was as lovely a bowl of soup as I have ever eaten.

We even got to eat it outside, as the weather was balmy and My Beloved had improved enough by then to sit up for his meals. We basked in the sunshine and reveled in that killer soup, feeling far less crabby now that we had more crab.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Why Not?

When I was a college student the first time, at age 18, ramen wasn't nearly the thing it is now. When I was a college student the second time, at age 30-something, I was a wife and was cooking for a pretty discerning husband, so I missed ramen again. Now that I'm retired, I'm trying out all kinds of kooky things just for the heck of it.

And, recently, one of those was ramen. Now, I'm not talking about Top Ramen - I'm afraid I missed that boat altogether - but rather Annie Chun's ramen in a packet that I discovered in my supermarket while killing time waiting for the fresh bread guy to arrive and stock his shelves. 

I thought, "Why not?"

So, I bought two and brought them home to share with My Beloved on a blessedly rainy day. Is there a law that says you can only eat ramen when you're pulling a college all-nighter or on a rainy day?  No?  Well, in a perfect world, there would be.

It's a one-pot meal - first you warm the already-soft noodles in boiling water for just a minute, then drain those, rinse the pot, and add water to the packet of liquid flavor in the same pot. The packet suggested adding fresh veggies and any cooked protein, so I sliced some green onion diagonally and picked some leaves off the cilantro bunch and added them to the soup bowls with a slice or two of roasted chicken that I had in the fridge. When the squiggly noodles were added and the hot broth ladled over the whole shebang, we sat down to a very nice noodle soup.

We were both pleasantly surprised by the flavors - a very noticeable bite of ginger, the saltiness of the soy sauce, the fresh taste of cilantro and onion - they all were present and accounted for. In fact, My Beloved liked it so well that when I fly next month to a wedding shower in Michigan for my Fairy Goddaughter, I will leave the cupboard stocked with a few packets of ramen for him to enjoy while I'm gone.

Why not?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Love Bundles

I'm going to show you this meal because it was good despite one of the ingredients. It was a success despite the really crappy can of crabmeat I bought and brought home thinking it was good. "Wild caught crab" the can said. Possibly true, but it was in such tiny little shreds that it was hardly recognizable as crab. I should have stuck to my guns and refused to buy any but my usual excellent brand. Oh, well.

The good part was the dover sole that I laid over a big bed of Swiss chard on parchment paper, covered with crabmeat, topped with lemon zest, and dotted with butter. A little salt, a little pepper, then wrapped it all up into a tight little bundle and baked it in a 350 degree F oven for about 15 minutes.

The bundles kept the steam inside and all the flavors mingled under the parchment roof. No need for extra water or anything - there was enough water just clinging to the Swiss chard leaves after I washed them.

If that darn crab had been any good, I'd be singing the praises of this dish. As it is, I'll just advise you to get the best crab meat you can find, hopefully big chunks of Dungeness crab, and make up some love bundles of your own. They'd make an easy and seductive dinner for your Valentine, for example.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Football Fan

While My Beloved and I are not dedicated football fans - we normally only watch if the 49ers are doing really well - this year, we did get a kick out of watching the barnburner of a Super Bowl that the Seahawks and the Patriots put on for our entertainment. Deflate Gate notwithstanding, the game was really exciting,  The Coca-Cola ad was the best of the bunch, in my view, and the halftime show, while not aimed at our demographic, was certainly better than the tasteless spectacle that Beyonce put on last year.

And, we had chili dogs for dinner.

Need I say more?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Winter Weary

Around this time of year, I have to admit that I get tired of the same old rotation of winter vegetables - broccoli, carrots, Swiss chard, and, infrequently, kale. I've tried most of the root vegetables and they are less than appealing, so these three are my standards, plus the kale when I really can't face another meal with the triumvirate.

So, this year, I decided to figure out what to do with cabbage. It's always plentiful, it's quietly pretty, and I don't know much about it, so it presents a nice little challenge. 

When my D.C. brother and his lovely wife were visiting before Christmas, we enjoyed a splendid lunch up in Yountville at Thomas Keller's bistro, Bouchon. All four of us had knockout lunches and, tucked under my perfectly rosy lamb slices was a dollop of braised savoy cabbage that I have been trying to replicate ever since.

That savoy was a revelation, proof that even the lowly cabbage can be made royal in the right hands. It was tender but not limp, sweet and a little buttery. It complemented the lamb perfectly but, honestly, I could have enjoyed just an entire dish of that perfectly cooked cabbage.

I haven't quite mastered it yet, but here's what I know so far:

1. Slice it very thinly and remove any thick, stemmy parts so it will cook evenly.
2. Cook it first quickly in butter, until the cabbage is ever so slightly browned on the edges.
3. Add a modicum of liquid (water, chicken broth, veggie broth - I have tried them all and so far, just the plain water is my favorite).
4. Cover the pan and let it steam until the green brightens a bit and the curlicues relax. If you've added too much liquid, leave it uncovered to evaporate the liquid down to a buttery sauce that coats the leaves.
5. Don't overcook it, or you will get that sour cabbage smell.

The nutty scent will perfume the whole house until your Beloved will hobble down the hall, following his nose, and will ask, "What is that wonderful smell?" Anything that gets My Beloved on his feet these days has my stamp of approval. 

(Thanks for asking - he is making progress and is in a great deal less pain, although he still spends most of the day in bed and his shin still burns/tingles at times. We are working on building up his stamina again after six weeks flat on his back).

If you are finding winter wearying, I can recommend the smooth jazz of braised cabbage. It's not a quick trip to Maui, but it helps.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Hero Worship

My Beloved loves auto racing, pretty much any kind, from drag racing (his first love) through Formula One (his next enthusiasm) to NASCAR (current fave). And, because he loves racing so much, he idolized P.L. Newman.

The rest of us know P.L. Newman by his stage name, Paul Newman. Yes, that Paul Newman. The gorgeous, blue-eyed screen god with the sulky, sexy mouth. Butch Cassidy, etc. My Beloved only got interested in Paul Newman when he strapped on a helmet and got into car racing as P.L. in an attempt to keep his movie fans at bay.

What this has to do with pizza is that I am instructed by My Beloved to purchase any and all Newman's Own products in honor of his hero. We eat popcorn and cookies from Newman's Own, and we've tried every other product they have ever brought out - at least once.

The latest issue of Sunset magazine featured a big ad for Newman's Own pizza - aha! something new! - so when I happened to see it the very next day in my market's freezer section, it was a no-brainer. Even when he's feeling well, My Beloved gets a little kick out of Newman products; when he's still flat on his back for many hours per day, it becomes a special treat.

It was a treat for this overworked cook, too. It couldn't have been easier to bake - not even a sheet pan was dirtied - and it was quick. It features a thin and crisp crust, our favorite, and there was plenty of pepperoni. I could have asked for a bit more cheese, as I'm one of those who likes the cheese to string generously from the slice when you pick it up, but what cheese there was was tasty.

Was it the best pizza ever?  Far from it!  But, it was good and flavorful and it put a smile on My Beloved's face. That's all I ask of frozen pizza. That, and a fun connection with his hero.

Friday, January 23, 2015

What Happens While You Are Thinking About Something Else

I'm not going to say I phoned this one in, but it is true that I was preoccupied when I conceived of the idea of some-kind-of-pasta-sauce-with-chicken to use up the last of the rotisserie chicken that My Beloved's daughter brought us last week. Because My Beloved isn't moving around much - a trip to the dining table and back to bed is a big adventure these days - he's not eating as much, so a chicken lasts us a long, long time. By the time we are nearing the end, I get a little anxious that it might spoil before we can finish it.

Now you know the mind set for this happy accident; worried about the boy and about that darn chicken.

I did all the usual things - sautéing slivered onion, sliced mushrooms, and minced garlic in EVOO, adding some herbs to that and cooking until fragrant, plopping in a big squeeze from a tube of tomato paste and two peeled, chunked tomatoes, pouring in a glug of red wine before simmering for 30 minutes or so, and adding chicken pieces from the roast toward the end to warm them up a bit  - but the real magic happened when I absentmindedly chopped coarsely some leaves of Swiss chard and added them at the very end of the simmering period, really more because I could hear my dear departed mother's voice saying, "Honey, you need something green with your dinner," than because I had a conscious thought, and because I had zero in the way of salad fixings in the fridge.

I have no idea, having never been to Italy, if Italian cooks would faint at the idea, or if they've been doing this since God was a child, but it was delicious. It gave an otherwise ho-hum pasta dish some razzle-dazzle and a faintly healthy vibe. We sprinkled a little ParmReg on top after plating, and it was zenzational, if I do say so myself.

The moral of the story is this: it's okay to be absent-minded about cooking - in some ways, it fosters creativity and happy accidents.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Nigella, Baby!

Is there anything better in the world than coffee ice cream?  I don't think so. You know that question people sometimes ask you: "If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one food, what would it be?"  Easy answer for me - it would always be coffee ice cream.

So, when I saw a recipe on Food 52.com for Nigella Lawson's Four Ingredient Coffee Ice Cream, well, I'm sure you can guess that trying it was a must.

The recipe claimed that the ice cream would be smooth and velvety, even without an ice cream machine, and that it could be made in a jiffy. It promised rich coffee flavor, too, another plus - most coffee ice creams could use an additional shot of java, in my view. I was on board in a big way for this recipe!

I was out of Kahlua and haven't had freeze-dried coffee in the house in decades and just the thought of sweetened condensed milk (not to mention the way it slithers out of the can) was nearly a turn-off but, hey - Nigella, baby!

At least the recipe called for real cream.

Literally all you do is dump the four ingredients into your mixing bowl (I used my KitchenAid mixer with the whisk attachment but if you don't have one, a regular handheld electric mixer or a whisk will do), whisk the stuff for only about 5 minutes on medium speed until the coffee granules melt and the whisk leaves pillowy marks in the mixture, pour the mixture into a pint container, and freeze for 6 hours or overnight. What could be easier?

Because the Kahlua has some alcohol in it, the ice cream doesn't freeze hard. It scoops easily and begins melting shortly after scooping. If you like firmer ice cream, you might consider tinkering with the amount of Kahlua but we liked it just fine the way it was, and it does firm up if you can freeze it overnight.

It was easily the creamiest, smoothest, most unctuous ice cream I've ever tasted and the coffee flavor was distinct enough even for me. "Decadent" is a good word for it. True to its promise, there was no crystalizing at all. My Beloved thought that adding something with a little texture or crunch would improve it, perhaps the chocolate cookie part of an Oreo for example, although he certainly enjoyed every drop of the scoop in his bowl.

This is dessert good enough to serve to company, good enough to share with friends, good enough, in fact, to make a batch any time you run out. 

I mean, hey - Nigella, baby!


Adapted slightly from Nigellissima (Clarkson Potter, 2013)
Makes 1 pint

1 1/4 cup (300 milliliters) heavy or double cream, well-chilled
2/3 cup (175 grams) sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons espresso liqueur
In a mixing bowl, add all four ingredients and whisk until the coffee granules dissolve into the mixture and turn the color of a strong latte. The whisk should leave little pillowy marks in the mixture, but you don't want to beat it too long for fear of making butter - about five minutes on the low speed of a mixer should be about enough.
Pour into an airtight pint container and freeze for at least six hours, or over night. Scoops easily and melts quickly.