Monthly Archives: January 2012

New Orleans

I continue to lead the vegetarian until 6pm lifestyle, which paid real benefits last night. On the way down, I ate oranges, a vegetable sandwich, some pasta with butternut squash and kale. But once 6pm hit last night, I unleashed the beast. First, I stopped by Domilise Sandwich Shop and Bar  for a po-boy. I had never been there, but had heard good things, and was not disappointed. I got a small (SMALL) oyster po-boy dressed and a Barq’s Root Beer. The sandwich was fine, though I thought it odd to get a po-boy dressed with ketchup, but it was mixed with hot sauce which is an integral part of fried seafood. I and a fat, old New Orleans cop were the only customers in the restaurant. The cop was on the phone, trying to sell his boat and catching up with a friend in the hospital with an infection. I enjoyed sitting and listening to him arrange his visit, then explain to the old man who was tending the bar that he was going to take a sandwich to his friend at the hospital, and how they had grown up together nearby. It was clear that these two knew a lot of the same people and were longtime residents, if not natives.

After that, I stopped off at Whole Foods to scout their beer and king cake selection. I always try to pick up some Brooklyn Brewery beer while I’m in town because it’s not sold in Mississippi. They’ve got the winter beer and the lager, both of which are good I’m sure, but I’m going to go hunting tonight for the Brooklyn Brown, which is one of my favorite beers, period. I’ve got leads. It’s also the first of the month, which means that from a fiscal perspective, I’ll be able to make some “strategic investments,” as the Obama administration would say. A case of beer should carry me for the month of February.

Finally, I met up with my longtime friend and rising New Orleans political star, and after checking out the fruits of the ongoing renovations of his house, we decamped to Cooter Brown’s, which has a fantastic beer selection, a raw bar and typical bar food. We polished off wings, cheese fries and two dozen raw oysters over several beers.

So as you can see, it’s easy to be good all day if you know that once the evening hits you can do what you want, especially in one of the best food/eating cities in the world.

On tap for tonight: supper at Cochon, with possible trip to Butcher for provisions to bring home.

 

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Staples

This is not a post about Mitt Romney’s triumphant work at Bain Capital, and the resurrection of a moribund office supply chain.

I was inspired by that Ruhlman post I recently linked, where he solicited suggestions for staple meals. I thought I’d share some of ours.

My wife’s spinach and black bean enchiladas follow no particular recipe. She uses corn tortillas from the refrigerated case at the grocery. She uses canned beans, canned enchilada sauce, pre-shredded cheese and fresh spinach. Sometimes, she’ll throw in some frozen corn kernels and cilantro, but usually it’s just the canned goods, tortillas and spinach. It’s fast, easily made in bulk and when topped with some avocado, sour cream and chipotle salsa, it’s one of the best one plate meals that we eat. I love them because they’ve appeared on the table when I’ve had a tough day. They go also go great with a cold beer. As an aside, I should say that she once experimented with green enchilada sauce. I rejected this change and have indicated that should she do it again, there would be threats and recriminations.

Relatedly, we enjoy Mexican Pizzas, a fancy name for pita bread with refried beans and cheese on it. Again, add some salsa/avocado or sour cream and some yellow rice, and you’ve got a good supper.

I cooked at Chili’s for part of a year during college, and at one point rose to the level of salad/nacho cook. This meant I learned how to make quesadillas. They’re indispensable on those weekends when I’m at home alone with the boys, E is working and E’s parents are traveling or otherwise occupies. Cheese on a whole wheat tortilla folded in half makes H happy. I’ve gotten adventurous recently, creating a spicy sweet potato puree by mixing chipotle salsa with mashed sweet potatoes, then spreading that with cheese on the tortillas (I use two for adults), and heating the whole thing through in my cast iron skillet.

I experimented with eating vegan for consecutive Lents in 2004 and 2005. This was really an excuse to leave work during my planning period and go to the Whole Foods to shop for things that I’d read on the web were processed vegan foods. I still miss easy access to the Newman’s Own Salt and Black Pepper Pretzels and relatively inexpensive Larabars. I also acquired and have kept a couple of vegan cookbooks. Dragon Bowls from The Garden of Vegan: How it All Vegan Again are a favorite holdover. It’s simply steamed kale, carrots and green onions with fried tofu cubes over brown rice with a what’s called Sarah and Tanya’s You Must Make This Dressing.  It’s tough to fry tofu unless you commit to using more oil than most people are comfortable with, because it sticks and breaks apart. The dressing is really what makes the dish, with its odd juxtaposition of maple, mustard and dill flavors.

Quorn nuggets, macaroni and cheese (homemade, preferably, although I’m not above Velveeta Shells and Cheese), baked beans (for H & I) and steamed frozen veggies are also popular, especially later in the week, when the collective family energy is at its low point. We used to be big fans of Trader Joe’s fake chicken nuggets, but they don’t have that here, so we wait until Quorn is on sale at the grocery, then pounce. Quorn is a mycoprotein (that’s fungus among us) that tastes nothing like mushrooms. Our son has been eating them for at least 2 years without knowing that he wasn’t eating chicken. Someday he’s going to look back and think that his parents were a pair of goddamned hippies when he realizes all the fake meat products he’s been subjected to during his childhood.

Crepes for breakfast are a favorite. I like them because I can make the batter and then wait thirty minutes, as is suggested in The Joy of Cooking. On a Sunday morning that thirty minutes means I can get into the newspaper or listen to some NPR or goof off with the boys. I enjoy Nutella (or store brand Hazelnut spread) in them, but have also made the elusive and delicious “bacon crepe,” which was just a crepe with crispy bacon pieces dropped into the batter. They feel fancy, but really aren’t, and given the choice, H will ask for crepes rather thank biscuits, pancakes or waffles.

 

 

I get to go to New Orleans soon. I’ve already got dinner planned with a friend at Cochon, where I’ve never eaten, but which has been on my list of places to visit for the last couple of years. It ain’t easy going to eat at a place like that with picky eaters. I’m trying to sort out one other dinner, and think that I might go for a po-boy at Parkway or Mahony’s.  I get to stay at the Roosevelt, which will be fun, but not quite the same without my spouse, whom I took there in 2010 for her birthday.

I’ve been looking for a few places to get recipe ideas recently, and wanted to share:

Feed Your Family: I’m making his quinoa chili recipe this week.

Smitten Kitchen: I really like this one. I posted the pumpkin waffle recipe I made a couple of weeks back. It’s just a beautiful site.

Michael Ruhlman, who published the single most incredible resource on Charcuterie that I possess, had a great post recently about staple meals. He collected a ton of reader responses and shares some.

I’ve also been raiding the local library cook book sections in search of more ideas and inspiration. I feel the urge to make bacon soon.

 

CS’s

Before yesterday, I hadn’t been to CS’s since I was a kid. I think I ate there once when I was in high school, while my mother was an undergraduate across the street. I got the Inez Burger that day, and I got it yesterday, because really, when you go to CS’s, the rest of the menu isn’t anything particularly thrilling. Apparently, it’s good, but when you’re in a place known for a particular burger and you’ve only been there twice in your life, you get that particular burger.

The Inez Burger is named after Inez, who took care of us yesterday. There were six of us, three adults, one non-beef eating, two boys who eat sometimes and one infant who is just learning the pleasure of pureed vegetables and fruits. Two of us got the Inez, which is a burger with chili, jalapenos and nacho cheese. It comes with fries, and really begs you to get a beer (or two) to go with it. The abundance of liquid/semiliquid toppings on the burger makes the use of a fork and knife necessary, but mitigates the need to get cheese and chili on your fries. Strategic eaters will use those fries to scrape up every last morsel. I had two Tommyknocker Brown Ales, which did a wonderful job of offsetting the heat from the peppers and nacho cheese.

The restaurant itself is a shrine to Mississippi political and sports history. It reminded me a lot of the inside of the old Cherokee Drive In on North State Street, but with wall-to-wall old cans of beer instead of pennants for in and out of state teams. I was glad to see a couple of bumper stickers that reminded me of the halcyon days of MS Democratic politics: Mabus for Auditor, Wayne Dowdy for US Senate, Mike Moore for AG. I also got a kick out of the “Mothers Against Chuck Driving,” sticker right behind the register/bar. For those not in the know, former state Supreme Court Justice Chuck McRae was busted twice for driving drunk in Rankin County. The owner said that McRae gets a kick out of it too.

It’s a good spot. I’m not going to say that the food demands that all out of town visitors stop through to pay their respects, but it’s a comfortable place to get a burger and a beer and to take in the divy ambience.

 

Of Tex-Mex in Jackson

There are only so many ways that a Tex-Mex place can distinguish itself because people go to them knowing exactly what to expect.

1. Free chips and salsa as soon as you sit down. And the salsa is typically very pureed. One’s restaurant might distinguish itself by offering a particularly smoky or cilantro heavy salsa. This is rare. The texture is always the same. Both chips and salsa are all you care to eat.

2. Frozen margaritas, sometimes 2 for 1. When they’re 2 for 1, they’re often watered down.

3. A portion of the menu devoted to “combo meals,” all of which are some combination of flour tortillas, cheese and meat. The tortillas might be fried. The meat might be grilled. The cheese might be “cheese sauce,” but you can get a huge number of quickly prepared, salty, filling items out of those three ingredients. And you can extend them by serving them with rice and beans.

4. TVs tuned to sports, but muted so that you can hear the Spanish language (often Mexican) music.

5. People ordering fajitas. People love fajitas. They’re a spectacle. They smell delicious. And everybody in the restaurant knows you’re getting fajitas because they’re loud and big and the person carrying them moves fast. Again, same combination: meat, tortillas, cheese, add a couple of vegetables and there you go.

By far the most exciting thing for me to find on a Tex-Mex restaurant’s menu is a section exclusively devoted to tacos. I don’t mean the crunch fried shell and ground beef things that you used to eat with pineapple and english peas in the school cafeteria. I mean three corn tortilla wrapped, meat filled bundles of deliciousness covered with tin foil and accompanied by onions, cilantro, and lime wedges. You don’t find these often because (see 1-5 above), they’re not what people expect at a Tex-Mex restaurant. If you want tacos like this, you generally have to go to a taqueria or, if you’re lucky enough, you can go to a food truck.

Jackson’s best taquerias will be the subject of a later post.

You May Have Heard the News

When life gives you lemons, get an endorsement deal for lemonade!

It’s been circulating for a while. Paula Deen has announced that she has Type 2 Diabetes. And she’s done it just in time for her other announcement, which is that she’s the spokesperson for Victoza, a non-insulin diabetes medication. In marketing, I think they’d call this synergy. It’s not as though Ms. Deen has many scruples when it comes to her endorsement partners, anyway.

And the response is mixed, but the most attention is going to people saying that she’s kept this hidden and has kept promoting her buttery, mayonnaise laden recipes for everything, leading all of her followers down the primrose path to cardiovascular apocalypse. I don’t have a problem with the food that Ms. Deen pimps. In fact, I grew up eating it. In some circles, it’s highly regarded, even the subject of academic inquiry.

What’s toxic isn’t the food itself, which, when eaten as part of a diet that follows generally accepted recommendations for good nutrition, is a wonderful and delicious way to celebrate time with friends and to remind us of our own ancestors. What’s toxic is the mixture of commercial capitalism and this type of food. Convenience food is often over processed and nutritionally lacking. Southern convenience produced with major financial backing from major food producers and shoveled down with a loving dose of commercials pushing its convenience, is the culinary equivalent of a perfect storm. It’s the worst of all possible scenarios, and it has a network pushing it, along with shows like “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” where a fat guy with bleached hair eats the biggest, baddest item on the menu at restaurants all over the United States, and “Crave,” where the host takes viewers across the country for “the most perfect versions of the foods he craves — think pizza, pork, fried chicken and ice cream.” And, of course, in any half hour program, you’ll get at least 8 minutes of commercials for the convenience foods you so adore.

It’s another reason not to have a television. If anything in this country other than conservative talk radio represents the worst of who we are, it’s prime time mainstream television. It renders you immoble for 22 minutes of crap so that you can be sold other, more useless crap for the other 8 minutes.

Made it

Whew. Three consecutive days of solo, wall-to-wall caregiving for boys age five and under takes it out of you. Fortunately, we all ate. Two great successes from this weekend: a very simple leek and potato dish that went well with roasted broccoli, and an equally simple vegetarian shepherd’s pie. I tweeted a photo of the shepherd’s pie last night in all of its cheesy potato glory. It was fantastic.

Friday night’s pizzas were excellent. The large one was cheese, and was shared by the wife and oldest boy. The smaller one was my project. I cooked up some bacon, caramelized some onions, mixed Hoover Sauce and barbecue sauce, sauced the pie, topped it with the onions and bacon, added some mozzarella and, BLAM, really good pizza. The onions got better with the broiling and the whole thing was one sweet/smoky/spicy pile of cheesiness. 

I didn’t get around to the applesauce bread. Things were just too damned busy during the day. Saturday night, we all teamed up to make pumpkin waffles (instead of pumpkin pie). The temptation to decamp to the Awful Waffle  was very real, but in a fit of googling inspiration, I found a fairly easy pumpkin waffle recipe. And if you can do it better at home than they can over on the other side of the interstate, then you should. The waffles were well received, and the recipe linked above makes enough batter for leftovers. I just finished the last one this morning. They crisped up nicely in a 250 degree oven, and I should warn that they come off the waffle iron a bit soggy, so it’s really worth your while to throw them in the oven to dry out before you eat them.

Sunday night’s supper included the aforementioned guest, my father-in-law, who was flying solo all weekend himself while his spouse was out playing Bridge and shopping with her friends in outlet mall heaven, Foley, AL. I was a little apprehensive because I had planned a vegetarian supper for someone who will (and perhaps has) silently endure a supper he does not care for. Here’s what it amounted to:

Ingredients: Two or three organic baking potatoes, unpeeled sliced thin and boiled for 3-4 minutes in some salted water, 3 leeks (cleaned and sliced thin, 8 oz mushrooms chopped up, 2 cloves of minced garlic, your block of parmesan cheese and a couple of pinches of salt, pepper and dried rosemary.

How to make it: Saute the leeks and mushrooms in a tablespoon or two of olive oil until everything is soft, adding the seasonings as you go. Set aside. In a greased, small casserole dish, create alternating layers of potatoes then the leek mixture until you top it out with potatoes (3 layers is good), then grate a bunch of parmesan over the top, drizzle it with olive oil and throw it into a 375 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, until it looks tasty. I served it with broccoli roasted in sesame oil/salt/pepper, and we drank a pinot grigio that our guest brought. The leeks crisp up wonderfully and sweeten everything.

Last night, from the same cookbook which I can’t find a link to online—I think it’s one of those cookbooks you find in the bargain area at Barnes and Noble–I made a savory shepherd’s pie. Also very easy: essentially, mashed potatoes, cheese on top of tomatoes, tomato sauce, onions, carrots and corn which are sauteed. Bake the whole nine yards for 40 minutes and serve. Who can resist cheesy mashed potatoes? Not my son, who with a little coercion, did a fine job of eating up most of what was on his plate.

I’m off the hook tonight, but I’m sure I’ll have something to say before the end of the week!

 

On Tap This Weekend

Allow me to preface this by saying that I now plan meals two weeks in advance. I’m not quite the Grover Norquist of home cooking (I don’t have ten year plans for home cooking world domination), but I do know someone who plans her meals on a monthly basis. I started doing this during the recent part time paternity leave for two reasons. First, I was trying to make grocery shopping as easy as possible each week. Second, I have a finite amount of mental capacity and caring for two people under the age of five, one of whom can’t change his own clothes and is still learning to sleep, is quite sufficient. During leave, I was solely responsible for cooking at home. It only seems fair if one person is working full time, that the other should be responsible for seeing that everyone is well fed. Two weeks meant that I could only have to actively fret over one week of meals. We’re eating the first week on the list, which means I’ve done all the shopping, and I can play around with the second week while we’re eating the first. For instance, next Monday’s supper has changed three times: Paella, Soup, Leftovers. At this point, it’s a soup. So what follows has been largely decided well in advance of today’s post because the less I have to think about, the less I stress.

Pizza/Movie night tonight: flatbread pizzas (again! I’m thinking three), might cook up some bacon to toss on mine. I also like barbecue sauce more than plain tomato sauce, although Kroger’s Six Cheese Pasta Sauce has crack or something in it, because that shit just be callin’ me man. In the best of all possible worlds, I would be served a barbecue chicken and bacon pizza with extra onions on Friday nights. I acquired this taste in college, courtesy of good old Pizza and Taco Express of Annapolis, which ran the on-campus coffee shop, and employed me for four years. I’ve made a variation using duck, and with my own homemade crust, but, really, Papa John’s has this particular pizza on lock. Before children, Thursday night was my designated pizza night. It was just close enough to the weekend that I felt celebratory, but just far enough that I was too tired to cook. As an aside, I really miss living near a Trader Joe’s because they sell doughballs which are easily rolled out and sliced into breadsticks. And, I love breadsticks with my pizza, just like I love chips with my sandwich and nabs with my Coke. The only drawback of the flatbread pizza plan is that if I want breadsticks, I need to make yeasted dough, or I need to pay Papa John’s $4 for what costs them about a nickel to make.

Tonight’s movie: by a 2 to 1 vote, Star Wars: Episode 1. You can guess who the 2 yea votes were. The Lion King is first alternate, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the esteemed representative from Pre-School decided that he’d changed his mind today. This sets me up nicely for a weekend of persistent questions about pod racing, Jedi swordplay and the eventual fate of Anakin Skywalker. I really need baseball season to hurry up and get here so we can both obsess over something else.

Tomorrow: I’m going to try to make this Applesauce Bread so that the boys and I have something to snack on.

Tomorrow night: Brinner. Probably cornmeal waffles, scrambled eggs, grits and fruit salad. One often wonders why there’s never a vegetable appropriate for Brinner. It’s unfortunate, because I sometimes get tired of fruit salad.

Sunday night: We’re having guests, so I’m ramping things up a little bit: A Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie and green salad. Possible pumpkin pie dessert, because we’re sitting on two cans of pumpkin leftover from the holiday season.

The problem then becomes, is it acceptable to eat pumpkin pie for breakfast Monday morning? Since it’s a holiday, I’m voting yes.

 

 

 

Tea vs. Coffee

Last week, I decided that I can’t continue drinking Maxwell House or Folger’s electively. Back in the fall, I opted out of my ongoing purchase of a $12/pound Starbucks in house mixed half caffeinated coffee because it was just getting too damn expensive. I could drink a pound of coffee in a little under two weeks, and that starts to get pricey. It’s not that it was taking food out of anybody’s mouth, just that that money could be better spent on other things, like saving for a trip to Europe. So I moved to Folger’s/Maxwell House, whichever one was on sale at the Kroger. I felt good. It was just under two pounds of coffee for anywhere between $10 and $12. And it tasted better than I expected. Or so I thought. I’ve finally decided that it just doesn’t taste that good. So I’ve moved to tea. Now, mind you, some friends used to joke that someday they’d open a coffee shop called “Tea Is For Wusses,” and I would gladly have invested. Throughout graduate school, I drank stout, maximally manly coffee in the morning in the largest mug in the house. I followed that with five or six Diet Cokes during the day. But I realized that I was staying up later than I wanted to, especially with the arrival of our first son in 2007. I needed to get to bed early because he was going to be up early, and that much caffeine was keeping me up til midnight when I couldn’t be guaranteed to get to sleep in until 8 or 9 anymore. Tea is weaker than coffee and I can go to bed when I want. Plus, the decaffeinated varieties of tea (i.e. green) are delicious and very good for you.

I drank a lot of tea in high school. It was an affectation then. I was obsessed with becoming a British citizen, and obviously the two went hand in hand. So, I’m not unfamiliar with the tea landscape. However, I do miss the tea and coffee place at Northpark Mall, where I used to go exploring for new types of teas to try, and where I bought my first cappuccino in 9th grade.

Incidentally, I subscribe to this idea of better living through chemistry, despite my reduction in caffeine consumption.

Veggie Burgers, FTW

Over the holiday, I made a switch from purchasing canned beans to dried. I like the fact that I’m better able to control the amount of beans I cook. They’re cheaper and I can find a greater variety of beans not in cans. There are alleged health benefits, namely lower sodium, as well. Also, I’ve read that dried beans are less likely to result in gas, and God knows everybody in my house can get on board with that. I’ve been playing with making my own veggie burgers using the base recipe from the Bittman vegan piece in the Times a couple of weeks back. Here are a few things worth noting.

First, Bittman says white beans are better than any other variety. I’ve only been working with black beans and can say that they look more “burgerish” than I can imagine white beans looking.

Second, you can really toss anything into these, and thus pass them off as being unproblematic for your child. This weekend, I made two batches. The first batch included beans, some leftover brown rice from our Madras lentil supper earlier in the week, and onion, oatmeal and some salt, pepper and chili powder. For the second batch, I got a little crazy, throwing in a few carrots with the onion, the oatmeal and curry powder. Once the cast iron skillet got hot, it was really about a half hour’s work to make both batches. I froze half, wrapped the other half in wax paper, put them in a tupperware container and have been taking them for lunch this week.

In terms of flavor, they’re nothing spectacular. I could jazz them up a bit more, I’m sure, but during the week at the office, I’m not looking for a gourmet lunch, just sustenance to see me through to the evening. Still, they have reminded me of the amazing veggie burger that I had at Cool Al’s, right around the corner from my house. They’ve got several on their menu, each with a different array of spices. And theirs are enormous, just like their meat patties are. That’s definitely a model for future burger experiments.

Unrelatedly, I’m flying solo on parenting this weekend, and I’m bound and determined to make sure that we eat well. Planning for weekend meals begins in 3, 2, 1…