Jalapeño cheddar beer quickbread

I’ve been thinking for some time now that I should create an MDIC spinoff blog that focuses exclusively on food. But then I pinch myself and remember — oh wait! Last time I checked I didn’t have time for one blog, let alone two.

So, there you have it, my waning readership, you’ll just have to deal with posts about food interspersed with posts about… whatever it is that I write about when I’m not talking about food. At least I’ll throw in some pictures for good measure and easy scanning.

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Behold a random picture of the last tomato harvest of the 2010 season, inserted for easy scanning.

Got home from work today and figured, to hell with cooking, I’m going to defrost some sauce I made back when the tomato bed wasn’t a goopy tangle of dead vines. I’ll cook up some penne and toss it with parmesan and call it good. Lazy and easy and delicious.

Next thought: but maybe I should bake some bread to go with it?

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More scanning ease! Here we have lamb shanks and cornbread cooked over the fire pit in the backyard. Made this back in August or so.

Luckily, just as I’d had that ridiculous thought, Martin had been perusing through our free copy of This Week, a painful-to-read “newspaper” that the Oregonian delivers to our door on Monday evenings in hopes that we’ll be inspired by the dreadful advice columns to subscribe to the actual paper. (Somehow, we never are.) The one bonus of This Week – other than providing a free source of poop bags — is that it contains selections from FOODday, the Oregonian’s rather respectable food section.

When Martin overheard me musing to myself about bread and the stand mixer and where did I put the yeast?, he suggested that perhaps I instead try THIS recipe, noting that it would be a great use of the two small jalapeños left in the garden:

Jalapeño cheddar beer quickbread!

So I did. And it was quite delicious. And much easier/faster/reasonable than baking bread on whim after a long day of work.

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Really, the only good way to consume a PBR: bake with it.

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Cheesy crusty deliciousness.

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Soft, moist, spicy and cheesy. Most excellent!

Notes:

  • Didn’t have whole wheat flour (the ants ate it) so I substituted a cup + a TBSP of unbleached white.
  • The recipe says you can choose between a quarter cup of oatmeal or a quarter cup of cornmeal, which seems a little odd to me. I went with cornmeal — because if cinnamon’s not involved, I see no reason to bring oatmeal into the picture. I was out of yellow cornmeal, so I used blue cornmeal instead, which I have no idea why I have in my cupboard. But I do.
  • I added shredded cheddar to the top before sticking it in the oven, because I just love the way crusty baked cheddar looks.
  • Left in the pepper seeds for extra spiciness. The result is that some bites are spicier than others, but I kind of like that.
  • I might cut back on the beer just a smidge. Or choose a slightly more distinguished brand than PBR, which kind of reminds me of day-old backwash. Every so often, I can taste the PBR in this bread, and that’s not a good thing.
  • Other than that, it was perfect, and made an excellent accompaniment to the penne and marinara. Would be particularly delicious with my favorite bean chili recipe, which I’ll share one day when the mood strikes.

A tomato story

Last tomato season, I wrote a story.

A few weeks ago, as I was bushwhacking through my tomato jungle idly picking cherry tomatoes in my garden, I remembered it. And it occurred to me to submit it to my favorite food blog, Culinate.

So I did. And they published it!

That’s my exciting news: My first food-related essay to be published somewhere other than this ol’ website of mine.

In other exciting news: I AM GETTING A KITCHENAID STAND MIXER. I can barely contain myself. Unfortunately, there’s been a run on the pear color and I’ll have to wait a few weeks until it comes off of back order. (However: I was kind of on the fence about pear. Maybe I should switch to green apple? Life is full of such difficult decisions.)

Laura: 0. Laura’s brain: 17.

Me: I want to make a bolognese sauce with the ground yak I bought at the farmer’s market.

My brain: But you don’t have any pasta.

Me: So?

My brain: Go to the store and buy some — it’s only a few blocks away.

Me: No way! I’ll make pasta from scratch!

My brain: That will take forever, and it’s hard work.

Me: So?

My brain: Really hard work.

Me: I’m doing it.

My brain: Hmm, you know, that pasta you’re making is awfully thick.

Me: So?

My brain: Might want to make it thinner.

Me: No way! I’ve been rolling this dough out for an ETERNITY. I am SO done!

My brain: Well, just make sure you cook it long enough!

Me: What?! It’s been cooking FOREVER — like five whole minutes!

My brain: Not long enough. See that dry spot in the middle of your ridiculously thick noodle? That means it ain’t cooked.

Me: Liar! It’s fine.

My brain: Dumbass. You just spent two hours making pasta from scratch and you can’t wait another three or four minutes?

Me: Who needs you anyway?

My brain: Clearly not you.

Me: Fuck off.

My brain: Not to say I told you so, but whaddya know? This pasta is awfully chewy.

Me: Shut up.

My brain: I mean, this is one hell of a yak bolognese — fuck, damn near one of the best I’ve ever tried — and really, when have I ever tried yak bolognese? — but for crying out loud, I shouldn’t need to eat this pasta with a steak knife.

Me: Just chew harder, whiner.

My brain: Just sayin’.

Why I hate bagged lettuce

I must begin with a disclaimer: If you eat bagged lettuce, I don’t mean to offend you. It’s just that this is what I’ve been thinking about in the shower lately, and I need to get it out so I can move on with writing other (hopefully more important) things in my head. I hope you will understand. Thank you.

This is why I hate bagged lettuce:

1. Bagged lettuce has a texture problem. It’s either waxy or wilted or limp or browned, and rarely crunchy or perky. It doesn’t taste fresh and it makes a squeaking noise when you chew, like cheese curds.

2. Bagged lettuce comes in a plastic bag. Does kale come in a bag? No. Does broccoli come in a bag? No. Do carrots come in a bag? Sometimes, but they shouldn’t either. Hearty produce that ships easily does not require a bag. Bagged lettuce only needs one because it’s wimpy.

3. It’s triple-washed, but that doesn’t mean it’s clean. Like most industrial food, bagged lettuce is exposed to all sorts of contaminates, some of which are too disgusting to think about in the shower. (See also: Marion Nestle’s take on why you should wash your bagged lettuce.)

4. The whole point of bagged lettuce is that it is convenient, but I’ve never really understood that. You still need to wash it (see point number 3, above), and washing a head of lettuce has never been all that complicated or inconvenient to begin with.

5. It’s ridiculously expensive, and I’m not quite sure why it’s worth paying a premium on an inferior product. It’s the equivalent to buying a Macintosh in the mid-90s.

Anyway, that is all. Now I can carry on with showering and thinking about something else. Like broccoli, and how it’s not fair that you get charged by the pound even though no one ever eats the stems.

In defense of milk and eggs, part II

[NOTE: Part I is about why I believe that milk is good for you. Also, today I came across this great piece about why UHT pasteurization not only makes milk taste icky—which is why organic milk often have flavor additives—it may actually be bad for you. See also this post on how to buy healthy milk.]

This is why I love milk and eggs:

My pantry looks a lot like this list. I have jars and jars of food in there to practically last me months: at least three kinds of flour, two kinds of cornmeal, polenta, popcorn, rolled oats, quinoa, barley, two kinds of lentils, walnuts, pecans, pine nuts, peanuts, enough dried beans to feed all of Portland, cocoa powder, semisweet chocolate, honey, three types of sugar, wheat berries, jasmine rice, brown rice, arborio rice (no kitchen is complete without arborio rice!), bulgar, pasta of all shapes. Et cetera.

But no matter, if I’m out of milk and eggs, I feel like I have no food.

With eggs, in particular, the food in my pantry can be transformed. I can make almost anything (as long as I also have a source of fat, of course): cakes, quick breads, pancakes, cookies, sauces. Not to mention fried eggs, scrambled eggs, poached eggs, soft-boiled eggs, omelets, quiches and frittatas.

As far as I’m concerned, the egg is magical. It is a perfect chameleon: it’s an emulsifier, a thickener, a leavening agent, a whole protein. You can separate it into two parts, each with their own specific purpose in baking and cooking. With an egg, you can bread your fish, blend your salad dressing, bind your homemade veggie burger, rise your flourless chocolate cake.

(And look—there’s a reason most vegan baked goods pale in comparison to their lacto-ovo counterparts. It’s not the lack of dairy that makes the difference—it’s the missing eggs. I promise you that. You can substitute melted butter with canola oil in many recipes, but egg? Cornstarch-based egg replacer is just not the same. Though I do have a vegan blueberry muffin recipe that uses apple sauce and it is delicious.)

So eggs are practical and delicious and…
…they are also good for you, despite the cholesterol scare of a few years ago (remember egg white omelets? Yeah.). And it’s worth eating the whole thing—though the egg yolks contain all of the cholesterol in the egg, they also contain the vast majority of the nutrients, including fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids. A single egg also contains 6 grams of protein and only 5 grams of fat and 75 calories. That’s pretty freaking amazing.

Even the American Heart Association has dialed back its stance on egg yolk, saying now that one egg a day is OK if you don’t follow it up with a bug hunk of steak. (They recommend people with normal levels of bad cholesterol stay below 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day; an egg has 213.).

Though I can hardly say that I limit myself to an egg a day.

And, frankly, I prefer my eggs with a side of bacon.

Now THAT is the perfect meal.

In defense of milk and eggs, part I

I’ve been thinking lately about milk and eggs: two food items that, in my opinion, are absolutely indispensable in the kitchen and in our diets and yet somehow have a bad rap.

[DISCLAIMER: I should start by saying that everyone is entitled to make his or her own food decisions and in NO WAY am I intending to pass judgement on those very sacred choices. There is absolutely nothing wrong with veganism, and certainly nothing wrong with simply not liking the taste of milk or eggs. I don’t mean to offend anyone’s food sensibilities.]

Anyway. Milk: It’s good for you. Here’s why:

  • It’s loaded with calcium, which not only strengthens bones but may also help you burn fat faster
  • It can help you build muscle
  • It may improve cholesterol levels

(Source. However, do keep in mind that nutrition studies are not always all they’re cracked up to be. For more information on why that is the case, read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. Also, it’s important to know that there are people on the other side of this debate.)

So, milk’s good, imho. But what about skim v. whole?

Well, if you’re on a low-fat diet, and you like to drink a shit-ton of milk, you’ll probably want to stick to skim (however, again, read In Defense of Food for a brilliant explanation as to why the low-fat diet may not actually be good for you). But whole milk sure does have some virtues going for it, not the least of which is the fact that it doesn’t taste like water. To quote Pollan (who, I can’t lie, is my absolute hero):

To make dairy products low fat, it’s not enough to remove fat. You then have to go to great lengths to preserve the body or creamy texture by working in all kinds of food additives. In the case of low-fat or skim milk, that usually means adding powdered milk. But powdered milk contains oxidized cholesterol, which scientists believe is much worse for your arteries than ordinary cholesterol, so food makers sometimes compensate by adding antioxidants, further complicating what had been a simply one-ingredient whole food. Also, removing the fat makes it harder for your body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins that are one of the reasons to drink milk in the first place. (In Defense of Food, 153-4)

So, despite what we’ve been led to believe, whole milk may actually be better for you than skim milk is. Not to mention that the less processed a food is, in my opinion, the better.

That leads us to cow milk v. soy milk.

There are many good reasons to question the safety of soy milk. For one (and this applies to rice milk as well), it contains a lot of additives that aren’t necessarily good for you. Sweeteners such as evaporated cane juice may (or may not, depending on who you ask) be better than high-fructose corn syrup, but the fact is that all added sweeteners are best consumed in moderation. Some brands also contain polyunsaturated oils such as safflower or soybean oils, which also have their questionable health effects.

What’s more, there are some studies that indicate that too much soy can be problematic for your health: it may increase the risk of breast cancer in women and affect brain functioning in men. It is the soy isoflavones that are in question; these are compounds that resemble estrogen, and the effect of these additives on our bodies’ ability to function properly is not entirely known.

Bottom line: we’ve been led to believe that soy milk is healthier than cow milk by the very corporations who most stand to benefit from the sale of highly-processed (and highly subsidized) soybeans.

Then there’s the distance thing, which is a tricky issue. In general, I believe, it all comes down to who you buy your food from. Soy milk is often sourced and processed in the midwest (from GMO soybeans). Most organic milk usually travels from afar and needs to be UHT-pasteurized in order to extend its shelf life long enough to make it to your refrigerator. Non-organic milk tends to be local, but is made from cows treated with rbGH and antibiotics.

In short? Not a whole lot of great options, unless you have access to buying direct from a small, local dairy farmer and have the means to do so. Those of us in the Portland area have the choice of New Seasons’ Pacific Village brand, which is milk produced by a cooperative of local, organic dairy farmers. You can also buy one of the local, non-organic brands. Or buy soy milk, or corporate organic milk. Whatever makes most sense for you.

[EDIT: a reader rightly pointed out that raw milk is also an option. Yes! If you have access to it, by all means! There can be some serious safety issues with consuming raw milk, so do your homework and make sure you’re comfortable with it. To locate where to buy it, go here.]

Or, make your own almond milk, but almonds are pretty spendy.

Me? I like to buy my organic whole milk from New Seasons and savor every damn delicious drop.

So…what about eggs? Eggs are by far the most amazing whole food I have ever encountered. But it turns out that I had too much to say about milk, so I’ll have to wax poetic about eggs in Part II.

On brownie cutters and cupcake couriers

I just received an email from a reader who noted the distinct absence of an update on this site. Sorry ’bout that. I have been: out of town at a frisbee tournament, up ’til all hours working on the neighborhood newsletter (which is now online-ish! Read it here), and dealing with a landlady who snoops around my house and asks me to do things like “clean the bathroom ceiling” and “oil the kitchen cabinets.” Plus, now that I am famous and all, you know, it’s hard to go anywhere without getting stopped by the paparazzi.

So, because it’s late, and because I’m lazy, and because I think I just undid the last four months of physical therapy by sloppily diving for a disc (and not catching it) and I need to go ice my shoulder, I am going to repost something I wrote over on my Culinate blog last night:

If I only had a steam-free milk frother…

My mother always says that a kitchen isn’t complete without a lettuce spinner and a food processor. When she visited me a few years ago, she was dumbfounded by my lack of both.

“I couldn’t function without mine!” she said. (And I don’t doubt it—it was a crisis of epic proportions when her microwave gave out.)

I don’t think I need to tell you what she gave me the following Christmas.

Now, I do love my lettuce spinner—almost as much as I love my Cuisinart—but I’m not sure I’d make the case that a kitchen isn’t complete without one. In fact, I think I got along quite fine before either item entered my world. Even now, without all of the appliances and accoutrements I wish I had—a crock pot, a stand mixer, a Le Creuset pan—I’d say my tiny little kitchen is pretty well stocked.

But, just like your self-esteem, your confidence in your kitchen is fragile. One little nudge and mine shattered.

Enter the cooking.com catalog that arrived, unsolicited, in my mailbox. After drooling through the All-Clad section, I discovered a trove of kitchen gadgets. It turns out that not only am I missing some basic gear, I also lack in “essentials” I didn’t even know existed.

Such as:

  • Non-stick paring knives
  • A cookie dough scoop (spoons are so passé)
  • A cupcake courier (this is a “must-have for the baker”—it safely transports up to 36 cupcakes without disturbing the frosting)
  • A salad-dressing mixer (I guess shaking your dressing in a jar is inefficient)
  • The “Garlic Zoom” (a little plastic ball on wheels that chops your garlic—like a garlic press, except straight out of the Jetsons’ kitchen)
  • “Poach Pods” (silicon egg poachers)
  • A lemon and lime squeezer AND a device to store sliced citrus (anyone who is anybody knows not to squeeze by hand, didn’t you know?)
  • A potato ricer
  • An apple peeler (apparently regular peelers aren’t good enough—this one even cores and slices your fruit)
  • A clip that holds stirring spoons to your pots (never lose a drip again!)
  • A vegetable sanitizer
  • A brownie cutter-upper (The blurb says: “Take the guesswork out of evenly slicing brownies.” Thank goodness someone has finally solved the inequitable distribution of brownies in this world.)

I read the catalog cover to cover, partly out of jealousy for the things I couldn’t afford or wouldn’t have room to store even if I wanted them, but mostly out of outrage over the fact that there’s actually a market for things like “ice orbs” (vertical ice cube trays that store ice while making it) and “muffin top pans” (inspired, I’m sure, by that episode of Seinfeld).

And yet, despite the ridiculous nature of about half of the products in the catalog, part of me couldn’t help but feel like my kitchen has a long way to go. Just like those clothing ads designed to make us feel inadequate about how we look (ergo forcing us to spend money on more outfits), this little kitchen-supply catalog was twisting a non-stick paring knife in my side. And then sprinkling salt from a battery-operated grinding mill on my wound.

LAURA, I KNOW THE TRUTH, it said. YOU DON’T EVEN OWN A REGULAR PARING KNIFE. IN FACT, YOU’RE NOT QUITE SURE WHY A PARING KNIFE IS NECESSARY.

AND I KNOW YOU DON’T HAVE A COOLING RACK.

I put the catalog down. You know what? My kitchen might be smaller than most people’s cars, but it gets the job done. True, I don’t own a fat separator or fancy stainless steel cookware. But then again, I don’t need a cinnamon mill to make good food.

As far as I’m concerned, all anyone really needs is a chef’s knife, a cutting board, a couple of pots and pans, a baking dish, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.

Sure, lettuce spinners and food processors are nice, but you’ll be complete without them.