This is what one might call a teaser campaign. Please make do with this preview of an upcoming post while I do battle with yet another committee meeting. Any guesses as to what the post will be of? It's not much of a challenge, I know.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
I had it all planned out. I knew exactly the post I wanted write and how I would set it up. I was going to call it something completely corny, like “A Tale Of Two Chickens,” and would once again go into how I am a kitchen experimenter and like to compare two different preparations of the same thing (dork, I know). I was full of the drive and determination that can only come from a well-laid plan.
I cooked chicken breasts coated with breadcrumbs and parmesan, both in my favorite cast iron skillet and in the oven, to see which I prefer. So far so good. I then sat down to dinner with a piece of each preparation of chicken.
That's the oven-baked chicken on the right and skillet chicken on the left. Oven chicken won by a narrow margin.
This is when I got sidetracked. Problem was that the chicken was painfully unremarkable (and, therefore, un-bloggable) in both cases. My innocuous and unoriginal steamed sweet potato on the other hand, was quite noteworthy.
It wasn’t the potato itself that led to my derailment from the chicken plan – it was the salt I doused the potato with. An ardent supporter of Sunday Night Dinner, (and wonderful friend) Jonathan, had been kind enough to send me a jar of Himalayan Pink salt, for no reason at all (that I can remember). I had the jar stashed away in my spice jungle until a recent shopping binge led me to buy a salt grinder.
I coarsely ground some pink salt on my potato, topped it with some olive oil and black pepper and changed my blogging plans with one bite. Wow. I found that the pink salt isn’t really very salty – it is very mild, both in salt content and flavor, which allows it to be left in larger chunks. The coarse pink salt added crunch to the smooth (and super sweet - thanks Boston Organics!) potato along with a soft, un-intrusive salty taste. That’s the only way I can describe the taste of the salt – soft and smooth, just like it’s pink color.
The contrast between mineral-rich salt like this one and the common Morton’s salt is striking. The stuff in the cylindrical paper containers tastes bitter and acidic to me. Chemical, even. For delicate applications that can allow the salt to shine through, such as grinding salt on top of a salad or something simple like a potato, this stuff can’t be beat. It’s a condiment more than a spice. I could almost eat the crystals like hard candy. That’s probably not a good idea, right?
Just goes to show you, even the best-laid plans… Eh. “Tale of Two Chickens” was a lame title anyway.
P.S. As an update, I have already managed to break the salt grinder. I don't know how.
Friday, January 19, 2007
Like any 28 year-old on a Friday night, I just spent half an hour washing a leaning tower of dishes. My fingers have gone all pruney. Is that not a normal Friday night activity? Huh.
Regardless, I bought a new dish set! I am very, very excited about this. It was way past time for me to get grown-up dishes. Not only did I have to borrow dishes in order to host Thanksgiving this year (because I had none), but I am also starting to get tired of my pink hula girl bowl (and matching plastic glass)… although my Tony the Tiger bowl will never get old. I am now the happy, pruney-fingered owner of a simple, all white dish set with eight place settings.
Getting said dish set into my apartment was far more difficult than picking it out, unfortunately. The box that some geometry and jigsaw puzzle genius shoved the dish set into weighed a *ton*. It was a miracle of physics, really, how something relatively small could weigh so damn much. Did I mention that I live on the top floor? Without an elevator? With a car trunk, three doors, three locks, and three flights of stairs separating me from a well-earned collapse onto my floor? Well, now you know.
Now that my dishes and I are both clean and safely stowed, I can take stock of my kitchen (pun intended). I have the tools and toys necessary for 98% of all recipes I attempt, my pantry is stuffed to the gills with obscure and interesting food stuffs (four different types of salt and four different types of rice, to start), and I have two book shelves filled with cookbooks and food-related books. I am happy with the current state of affairs in my kitchen. It’s full of the meaningful, the functional, the unnecessary, and the fun.
The meaningful: my grandmother gave me this wooden mallet when I first started cooking in college. I am not entirely sure if it’s meant to be decorative or functional but I have been giving the benefit of the doubt for a while now. I am sure the porous wood is harboring the worst kind of chicken-borne bacteria, the head tends to fly off the handle like a small missile, and it doesn’t really weigh enough to flatten anything but it has sentimental value. So there.
The functional: one of my most favorite appliances of all time - electric tea kettle. I drink absurd amounts of tea. I have an entire kitchen drawer devoted to teas. That’s really all there is to say. Functional isn’t terribly entertaining.
The unnecessary and/or fun inhabitants of my kitchen will be covered in future installments of “my favorite things”. Now I have to go to sleep and dream about what it would be like to spend an entire day without going into lab, not even once.
Monday, January 15, 2007
Every once in a while, the drudgery and regular disillusionment that are adulthood step aside. Every once in a while you get a glimmer, a little sparkle of something so completely awesome and uplifting that for a while, all the angry noise subsides. I, ladies and gentlemen, am experiencing a glimmer. I am, at this very moment, glimmering.
Let me start at the beginning. First off, a confession. I have been leading a double life for the past month or so. I have been cheating on Sunday Night Dinner… with another blog. Gasp! Yes, I have another blog. It’s a science-y blog on a Nature Publishing Group website. I write mostly about lab life and lab dynamics, sometimes I throw in a post on an interesting paper that I happened to come across.
The editor of the website, the infinitely cool (and ridiculously well-spoken) Corie, asked me to write an article for the website, in addition to my blog. The article would be a monthly feature on a freelance basis, and the subject? Aaah yes, the subject. The article is to be a review of restaurants in the areas immediately surrounding major convention areas in Boston. Five restaurants per area, per month. Yes, you heard right. I am now an official, full-fledged restaurant critic and food writer, with all the inherent bragging rights, pride, and occasional food stains.
This may be the coolest thing that has ever happened to me. I am not exaggerating. Food writing is a dream and I am afraid to wake up. I plan on drinking, gulping, and chugging this glimmer for as long as I can.
I wasted no time in beginning my assignment. This did not involve me going out of my way or modifying my routine in any way, since I eat out at least three times a week as it is. Today, I went to the Linwood Grill for lunch. I have been there a number of times before, but never with the goal of writing it up. I took careful notes, multiple pictures, all while trying to hide what I was doing the best I could – reviewer bragging rights are to be exercised on friends only. There is no point in irritating the wait staff.
The food (barbeque) was good as always, but the best bit came at the end. The meal was large but so was the dessert menu. I kept staring at it. My friend jokingly asked if I would like a deep-fried Twinkie for dessert. Silly girl. I think she was seriously expecting me to say no. So, obviously, we ordered a deep-fried Twinkie.
So here’s the thing – I don’t think Twinkies are food. They are the cockroaches of the food world – they never go bad, you can’t kill them, and they all look the same. They are not made out of food. They don’t even taste like food. This turned out to be empty talk once I tasted a deep-fried Twinkie. It was warm and melty, almost custard-like. The fried shell was a bit salty and crunchy and, well, fried. It was a Twinkie transformed, a reverse metamorphosis from miserable cockroach to the sublime.
I had about a spoonful of fried Twinkie before my body reacted with a “what the hell are you doing to me??” I told it to shut up and had another bite. And then I had to admit defeat. That stuff is potent. I would recommend having an angioplasty scheduled prior to ordering a fried Twinkie. You will be sure to enjoy it all the way to the hospital.
More adventures in semi-professional food writing to come! I am holding on to my glimmer (and my breath).
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
It's time for another photoessay. It's been a while since the last one. The theme is equally depraved: addiction.
Now, for the soundtrack... I suggest something (anything, really) by Velvet Underground or Babyshambles. Those guys know addiction.
My deep dark secret, my addiction - bread. Any day, any time, any kind. Well, maybe not any kind.
All the bread above? That's the gateway drug of baked-good addiction -- the pot, if you will, to the heroin that is pastry:
I stay away from the hard stuff. Once in a while is ok, but I don't need any more bad habits. Bread is addictive enough.
How's this for trippy - the owner and namesake of the shop, Jorg Amsler, takes part in an annual chocolate fashion show in NY where he designs an outfit made of at least 30% chocolate to be walked down the runway. The focus of the shop is not bread - it's pastries. They are gorgeous and indulgent but not so architectural and complex as to be off-putting. The shop also makes wedding cakes to order - you can ask them to make pretty much anything. If you would like your wedding cake to look like a big tractor, they will be more than happy to oblige, and it will be gorgeous... for a tractor.
On a more serious note, I realized recently that I cannot go a day without eating bread. My meals don't feel complete without it. There are few things better in this world than tearing into a fresh loaf of bread, crusty and chewy on the outside, covered with a bit of flour, moist and fragrant on the inside. That has to be one of the top ten most fantastic sensations. The other sensations? Those are topics for other photoessays of depravity.
* In the interest of full disclosure, the last loaf of bread - the spiky one - was actually Iggy's from Whole Foods. It was fantastically good and I couldn't leave it out. The crust to flesh ratio on that loaf was awesome... Crust is the best part, after all.
**Warning: website contains highly graphic pastry material - not for the faint of heart.
Friday, January 05, 2007
You know those evenings when you just barely make it home from a long day (ok, month) and you're beyond tired and your whole body hurts and the mere thought of cooking sends a crushing wave of dread over you? Well, I know those evenings. Intimately.
Since I don't much fancy a painful death by starvation while waiting for a delivery man, I go to my stand-by, my dinner of champions: bread, cheese, olives and yep, booze (you can't see the beer in the picture). No cooking required.
I just had one of those evenings, in case that wasn't made clear enough. This time though, I lucked out - the very few things I have in my fridge turned out to be really good things - very aged (read: smelly) English cheddar, good bread, pickled asparagus, and some good whole grain mustard all piled on a plate. One wouldn't think that cheese and mustard go together and yet they do, marvelously.
Pickled asparagus isn't the most common of pantry items, but it should be. I first had it in a bloody Mary in Seattle and swore I would find myself a jar. The asparagus is slightly sweet and crunchy. Tastes a little like asparagus and a lot like pickle. It's a great substitute for cornichon on a cheese plate. I highly recommend it, if you can find it. I stumbled upon it in a posh grocery store in a strikingly un-posh neighborhood.
It took me about ten of these evenings before I figured out that there are a few things that I must have in my apartment at all times: bread, tons of cheese, olives, and...yes, every grad student's best friend in a bottle. Current favorite: Smithwick's.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
To continue on the theme, if goose is the neglected bird, then I think carrots are the neglected vegetable. Carrots are always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Carrots are in everything, at the core of everything. No stock is complete without carrots, no Thanksgiving turkey goes without a carrot up its bum (not in my house, anyway) and chicken soup is a pale version of itself without the carrots floating about. Yet, carrots are rarely the star ingredient… unless they are smothered in honey and resemble dessert. That’s just a shame, an oversight.
I happen to really like carrots, and not just in the background. I figured this out a couple of months ago when I was inundated with carrots by Boston Organics and had nothing left to do but… cook them. Yes, cook them. Just the carrots, all by themselves, as a side. Carrots and ginger are a classic combination, ginger and lemon get along well and I believe anything and everything benefits from a sprinkling of cayenne, and there you go! Ginger-lemon-spicy carrots (GLS-carrots, for short).
My last Boston Organics box had the most beautiful and weird-looking carrots I have seen. They were psychedelic, blemish-free, very thin-skinned, and looking very much like perfect marzipan versions of themselves. A bit of internet sleuthing led me to discover that they are rainbow carrots, bred for color. Incidentally, carrots were purple originally but were bred to be orange by the Dutch to resemble the House of Orange. I am highly suspicious of that last bit. Can’t always trust the internet, even if the source is the World Carrot Museum (World, mind you). Even carrots have a fan site.
Having never had rainbow carrots before, I had no idea what to expect. Are the purple ones purple all through? Does each color have its own flavor, like Skittles? The answers turned out to be no and, um, no. Bet you’re surprised about the last one. I was.
The purple carrots had a thin layer of purple just under the skin but they were orange at the core. The orange carrots were intensely orange and the albino carrots were just kinda white. The GLS formula was applied to the rainbow carrots with great success. The carrots were sweeter than any I have had. So sweet, in fact, that the lime juice and carrot juice made a thick syrup at the bottom of the pan. Sweet, sour, spicy GLS-carrots herald the bridesmaid’s moment to shine. In the shadows no longer, GLS-carrots (of the Skittle variety or not) hold their own.
I’d like to give a recipe here but I don’t really know what I did. Don’t you love it when people say that? The broad strokes of GLS-carrots are as follows:
Put inch-sized chunks of carrots in a pan with a little bit of water and a drizzle of olive oil. Grate fresh ginger over the top and add a dash of cayenne pepper. Steam with the lid on over medium heat until most of the water evaporates. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the carrots and add the zest of one whole lemon. Steam again until the liquid evaporates. The carrots should still be firm, not mushy.
How’s that for precise instructions? Sorry. I will pay attention next time I do this.