June 24, 2009

spring dinner of grilled onions and romesco

My dad gave me a bunch of his spring onions from the garden, and I thought it would be nice to grill them as they do in Spain, and serve them with some romesco sauce... as they do in Spain.

They came out rather good, really, delicious even on their own without the sauce, picking up a nutty smoky aspect in just a few minutes on the flames. They only need to be on there, over a moderate heat, for long enough to soften and go brown in spots. I put mine so that the white parts were on the hot part where the steak was cooking, with the green parts trailing off to the colder part of the grill, which worked beautifully.

The romesco sauce was loosely based on this recipe but really turned out to be:

1 roasted red pepper
5 or 6 big grape tomatoes, raw
slice of wheat toast
1 large clove garlic (should have been more but I ran out)
big handful of slivered almonds
sprinkle of salt
hot paprika, smoked paprika, and some crushed red pepper flakes
glugs of olive oil and sherry vinegar to make it smooth and runny

Being lazy as you know, I just ran all that together in the food processor to make a sauce. Lovely!

And because it really is springtime, solstice notwithstanding, we also had peas and white turnips braised in butter. I cooked the turnip and older peas in salted butter and water, then threw in the younger peas once it was well cooled down with only a little residual heat. Delicious, though perhaps a little too delicate a companion for the romesco... but you cook what you got.

Posted by foodnerd at 08:38 PM | Comments (0)

June 22, 2009

phở gà

I've been reading Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes, which by the way you should run out and buy, and in it I learned that science has recently proven that a compound in chicken fat, specifically chicken fat, strengthens the human immune response. Your Jewish gramma wasn't just whistling Dixie. We knew this anecdotally, since tallasiandude responds really well to chicken soup when sick, but it was cool to see the science behind it.

Anyway, in an effort to fight off the illness we both can't shake, we have been eating a LOT of chicken soup in this house lately. Like 3 big batches in the last week and a half. And though I do adore the tallasiandude's recipe for chicken vegetable soup, there's apparently only so much I can eat at a go. So I decided I would make chicken pho for the next batch, and see if I could pull it off.

I googled (thanks to Andrea Nguyen's post for the correct Viet characters which I shamelessly copied and pasted, and to Steamy Kitchen's post for the recipe I followed), ran out for ginger and bean sprouts, and had at it while I was working today.

It came out OK, but it wasn't even CLOSE to flavorful enough. It smelled absolutely dreamy, but the taste wasn't anywhere near that heady, strong, savory luxury that I love in pho ga.

I could maybe put in more onion, but really I followed the recipe almost exactly. The only thing I can think of is that I didn't hack up the chicken with a cleaver, therefore depriving my broth of all the bone marrow. Steamy Kitchen makes a point of going on at some length about the marrow and what it adds to the broth. But to be completely honest, I am not the most coordinated girl and I am scared of cleavers. I get the willies watching the guys in the Chinese market hacking stuff up, and those guys know what they're doing.

Maybe I can get a really sharp cleaver, and hold down the object to be cloven with a long meat fork or something.

Because even though it was certainly edible and warming with lime and sriracha added to it, the pallidness of my phở gà just made me sad. Something has to be done, at least until someone opens up a Vietnamese restaurant within 5 miles of my house. Anyone? Anyone?

Posted by foodnerd at 09:04 PM | Comments (0)

June 15, 2009

believe the hype

This weekend we were at the All Balboa Weekend in Cleveland, which was wicked fun as usual. We did a lot of dancing, learned stuff, and made cool new friends, yay!

But the dark underside of all this sunny joy is the food one eats while at such an event. We brought some hardboiled eggs and some dried cherries and almonds, but that's about all we could manage on short notice and without checking luggage. We had no car, so we were limited to what we could walk to in between classes, which was basically a Walgreens and a constellation of chain restaurants. There were lecture-style classes during lunch, so there wasn't much option to go out for lunch if you were interested in the class topic.

We bought some Wonder Bread, Skippy Natural and Squeezable Smucker's Strawberry at the Walgreens, so we could have PB+J for breakfasts along with the eggs. The PB had palm oil and sugar added to it, and the J had hi fructose corn syrup in it, and the squish bread was basically just a puffy cushion to keep the sticky stuff off your fingers. Between all the extra sugar and the total lack of fiber, these PBJs tasted OK but made us feel kind of icky. We supplemented with milk, eggs and/or that trail mix, but it wasn't enough.

We ate hotel food, hot dogs and cold ham sandwiches for lunches, and one buffet breakfast of fruit, juice, pale "wheat" toast and bacon. Not much better, frankly, especially when one is dancing for hours on end burning calories like a maniac. The gala dinner buffet is just wretched, and I need to remember next year to email friends ahead of time and plan ahead to skip it and go out to the Thai place hidden away in the nearest strip mall instead.

Royal Red Robin Burger
And we ate at Red Robin, Gourmet Burgers and Spirits. I'd never been to one, so I wanted to try it out. Unfortunately it is one of those places encrusted with flair, desperately flailing to borrow character from advertisements and popular culture everywhere. Very nearly every worker in the building came over to ask us how everything was, and I am ashamed to say that the last guy got the full force of my Northeastern Bostonian reaction. My burger was pretty dry, despite chipotle mayo, onion strings, blue cheese and steak sauce, but tallasiandude's was actually pretty good, being a plainer style and having egg and bacon on top. The bottomless (!) fries made me sad, because they were the thick steak-fry style and soggy to boot. Why do people like this style of fry? They are NOT GOOD. NOT GOOD, I am telling you. Sigh.

And then in the airport, I needed to eat a full meal so as not to feel barfy on the airplane, which meant that against my better judgement I ate a chicken quesadilla and a buffalo wing. There was supposed to be beans and corn, but there were about 5 of each wedged in with the vast chunks of spongy industrial chicken. I was full enough to fly safely, but I felt so nasty the rest of the night. I couldn't even eat the delicious pea pod stems and dried scallop fried rice we bought on the way home from the airport.

The point of all this is to say that we both became highly aware of the way we felt physically after even a few meals of completely industrial, commonplace American food. My position on such things is primarily intellectual and hedonistic, generated from equal parts desire for maximum deliciousness and desire to have clean, healthy inputs. I am no food snob, I love me some Kraft dinner and flavor-crystal-encrusted potato chips. But usually I eat those things once and then revert right back to what I usually eat. This weekend there was no respite, just meal after meal of it, and it felt BAD.

It brought home the reality of the present food supply in America, and exactly why public health has gotten to the state it has. It wasn't just my intellect aware of this, it was my whole body telling me that it was displeased with the fuel it was getting.

I have plenty of access to unquestionably good food, some of it from my own back yard. I have a car and enough money. I travel. That's nice for me, and nice for the rest of the comfortable folks in Newton who love the farmer's markets and Whole Foods. I'm glad my access to organic foods, especially meats, is increasing, but the real trick is getting actual FOOD into the hands of people who for whatever reason are trapped in the mainstream supply chain.

I should be able to buy unadulterated peanut butter in the Walgreens. I should be able to get vegetables and unantibiotic-ed beef at Red Robin. And the chicken in my gala hotel dinner should not have the texture of cotton balls.

This morning in my inbox I found a few different links about just this sort of subject. There's a new movie out, Food, Inc., which hopefully will get a mainstream buzz like some of the global warming ones did a few years ago. Michael Pollan is making the rounds, and some legislation is being introduced focused on school lunches. And it's these school lunch issues that are the scariest to me. I knew that there was a bunch of junk being served in cafeterias, and I knew that kids prefer junk foods, but I didn't realize that the latter was at this point driving the former. I knew that kids didn't know how vegetables grow or where hamburgers come from, but I didn't realize they couldn't recognize lasagne as something good to eat.


Posted by foodnerd at 12:34 PM | Comments (1)