Monday, October 29, 2012

Last Potato Standing

Evidently, potatoes are the hot food of natural disaster.  This is something I honestly did not know.  I'm pretty new to the stockpiling frenzy, having lived in a city for 8 years that generally did not play the "buy out the grocery store" game.  I don't know if it's the proximity to food (walking distance rather than driving), or what, but I never saw the shelves cleared.  The closest I ever got was during a massive blizzard I was picking up a few things while two guys in chef's whites cleared the potato bin.  Their restaurant had a delivery cancelled and they were buying on a major scale.

I suppose that should have been foreshadowing for the great potato shortage of '12 but I really just didn't expect it.  I was pretty blown away to find that our biggest grocery store was out of baking potatoes, boiling potatoes, sweet potatoes, fingerling potatoes... pretty much everything.  All that remained were a few very sad looking shrink wrapped bakers advertising that they wanted to be microwaved and two full bins of red creamers.

What do people have against red creamers?  Why were they the wallflowers of the potato party?  I have no idea.  What I do know is how to make them delicious.

Ina Garten's Parmesan Smashed Potatoes.  Ridiculously easy and tasty (also, sub greek yogurt or regular yogurt for the sour cream if you have none on hand). You will not be sorry, even if you did end up with pickings from the bottom of the potato bin.

Also, I may have been a bit traumatized and overpurchased the next time I saw potatoes (um, the following morning at a small family owned store).  I now have baking potatoes, boiling potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Any theories on why potatoes were such a big seller?  I'd like to think everyone's planning on doing them camping style in their fireplaces when the power goes out, but I somehow doubt that's the case.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Batten Down the Hatches

Storm's a-coming.  Or at least that's what every news outlet and government official in the area would have you believe.  I have been granted a four day weekend, which means that as long as I have power, I shall be only mildly inconvenienced but possibly very bored.

Pre-storm preparations in these parts have been somewhere around the intersection of laissez-faire and half-assed.  Mainly, I figured it would be totally okay to stop by the grocery store last night around 9:30.  My thinking:  I don't want to be there with the madding crowd.  The reality:  Arrival after the madding crowd means that there may not actually be any food remaining.

Evidently the only potatoes left in NJ (TM) were red creamers.  I bought them in self-defense, but also, I know how to make them and they are delicious.  Check in later for more advice on that front.  Bread was also in short supply so I did what I had to do.  Mixed up a few loaves of white bread.  Not too hard and very delicious.

What should you cook before you lose all power?

1. Make the focaccia.  With pepperoni and cheese it is a filling snack with protein, but you don't need to keep it in the fridge.  It's perfect for tiding people over.  It's also pretty versatile and can use pantry items, so be creative if need be.

2. Sugar cookies! If you are going to be housebound with older children, bake the cookies while you still have the chance.  Decorating them will occupy plenty of time.  Make them Halloweeny to perk up small people who worry that their holiday trick or treating will be ruined.  Whip your royal icing in advance unless you have arms of steel.  Whipping could be done without power, but you'd feel it in the morning.

3. Pumpkin cake/loaf/muffins - again, I recommend investing in refrigerator free snack items.  This versatile recipe can be a cake, a loaf or muffins depending on what you think will go over with your audience.

I also elected to hard boil some of my eggs.  I figure they'll last longer than raw eggs if I do lose power and they work for multiple meals - deviled, as egg salad (you'll have to use your mayo ASAP if the power goes), or sliced on salad.

On an entirely non-cooking note, did you think to...

1. Shower.  
2. Do Laundry.
3. Run the dishwasher.
4. If at some point we're without water, you'll be grateful you did.
5. Move a flashlight to your bedside table just in case you lose power over night and need to see.
6. Fill up some ziploc baggies with water and pop them in your freezer - your freezer will stay cold longer if it's full.  
7. Charge all of your devices - including iPods, Kindles, etc.  It's easy to remember your cell phone because you need it.  But what about all the things you'll want?

What are you cooking or doing to prepare for the storm?  Or are you a lucky bastard who's not on the East Coast?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hamburger Hybrid

When I went to high school in the early nineties, it was enormously on trend to be vegetarian.  Always one for half-measures, I did not join my friends in this, but went for the far more conservative "no red meat" stance.  Of course, when I went away to college, land of the inedible food, this was something of a liability.  For the first few months of school I subsisted entirely on a diet of hot buttered rice and apple jacks.  The food offerings of the few dining halls that served Freshman were as far from my mother's gourmet kitchen as you could possibly conceive.  At one point a group of boys in my dorm even got me a pizza from the outside because they were so concerned I might starve.  Slowly, slowly I began to introduce more foods:  chicken nuggets from the kosher kitchen downstairs, baked ziti from the mostly vegetarian cafe, salads from (urban legend has it) the longest salad bar in the state, and my dear dear friend the grilled cheese on white bread.  But midway through freshman year there was an exciting announcement! We were getting turkey burgers!  I cannot even begin to explain to you how revolutionary this was.  They were these little brown lumps on soft soft buns and you would have to wait to get a nice fresh one that a) didn't have time to get condensation on the plate, because you don't want a soggy bun and b) came with melted cheese. With that mouth-watering description I'm sure you'll have a hard time understanding why, during my sophomore year, I started eating red meat again.  As bleak as Freshman food options may have been, those available to the rest of the school were bountiful.  My friends and I favored a place that sold chicken wings (entirely too messy for any college girl to risk eating in public), grilled chicken sandwiches and beautiful, juicy burgers.  I remember staring at the menu full of pathos and longing when a friend said "Seriously, just GET one."  I was nothing if not a pushover, so I ordered a bacon cheese burger.  It quickly became a staple of my sophomore year diet.  These days I don't get much red meat anymore, but there's no reason for my turkey burgers to be sad specimens like the ones offered by my freshman dining hall.  Now they're juicy, flavorful and topped with bacon and cheddar.  I kept the nice soft roll though.  It is just a turkey burger after all.


1 lb ground turkey
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1/2 t salt
more than 1 t black pepper
2 t ketchup
2 T shredded onion
1 strip of (turkey) bacon per burger
cheddar cheese (or whatever you like!)

In a non-stick pan, melt a tablespoon of butter.  Cook the bacon until crispy.  I used medium-high heat and did 3 minutes on one side, and 1 minute on the other side.  Then set aside the bacon.  Ideally, I'd do the burgers in a cast iron pan, but mine was dirty, so I used the non-stick but I didn't wipe out the bacon grease.  Because the burgers are tastier that way.

So you need to mix up the burger mixture.  Turkey burgers require extra things in order to be tasty, so don't skip the add ins.  Add the Worcesterhire, the salt, the pepper (be generous, especially if you like pepper), the ketchup and the shredded onion.  You should shred the onion on a regular grater. A microplane results in just mush. Shredding is better than chopping because it adds flavor and moisture with no weird chunks in the burgers.  Gently mix the meat, don't handle too much.  Form into 4 patties. Heat the pan to medium high and cook for 4 minutes on the first side.  Flip the burgers and cook for 2 minutes on the second side.  Then top with the cheese and cover (I used a standard metal bowl - the steaming is perfect) so that the cheese melts.  Cook for 2 more minutes.  Serve on toasted buns.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mr. Postman

Last summer, after an artichoke boiling session, a kitchen tragedy occurred.  I noticed a small chip in the creamy enamel that coats the inside of my treasured Le Creuset.  At this point, I began wailing "Noooooooooo" and then whining pathetically to Ryan "But, I love my Le Creuset."  And then I did what any good procrastinator in denial does and I put it back into the cabinet.  Periodically I would gaze at it hoping it had miraculously mended, but sadly the chip remained.  Luckily I am occasionally seized with fits of productivity and deep in the grips of one such fit I did a little research.  Evidently, if you have a damaged Le Creuset product you can call them and get a Returned Merchandise Authorization number.  Then you take that number, write a pathetic but highly praising letter, pack that poor sad pot up in the leftover wrappings of your last William-Sonoma purchase (more info on that another time) and head to the post office.  You pay for your own shipping, but Le Creuset will either replace the product (if they think it's their fault) or give you a discount towards a new one (if it's your fault).  I figured either choice was better than keeping a pot that made my heart break anew each time I opened the cabinet.  I was eagerly anticipating my discount card (because if you know me, you know that 90% of problems occurring around me are my own fault) when I heard a knock at the door.  And there, on my doorstep was a little square box.  And in that little square box well...

Isn't he cute?  So yellow and shiny and enameled!  I love it when the postman brings me presents.  He's already had one good run, making the white turkey chili for the freezer, but he's got a place of honor in my cabinet and of course, on my stove.  See? You can admire him in his natural habitat.  

Moral of the story:  Some companies actually do honor their Lifetime Warranty.  This will only make you love your beloved product more.  And your postman.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Staying Afloat

Almost every person I know in my current profession is seriously treading water right about now.  The ones with blogs are running up white flags of surrender with promises that they will return if you can just hang on a leeeetle bit longer.  Usually I start to feel more settled right now, but honestly micromanaging my life is the only thing that is getting me through with any of my sanity.  I wish I were kidding.  My planner currently tells me what I need to do, what temperature it is supposed to be and what I'm going to cook for dinner.  I cannot even get dressed in the morning without it as it also tells me what I will be wearing.  I left it in the wrong office last night and ended up missing a scheduled appointment this morning. It is my life preserver right now.

So how am I staying afloat at all?  In the cooking department at least, I have 3 current strategies:

1. PLAN - this is not an option for me at this point.  It is a requirement.  I must know what I'm making and where the ingredients are coming from or we are not going to eat.  Stealing a trick from my dear friend Stella Carolyn I look up the weather for the week and record it. Then I plan meals that make sense considering the weather, my schedule and of course, what we actually have in the pantry.

2. FREEZER - I am being freezer aggressive right now.  I cleaned the whole thing out a few weeks ago and have been carefully laying in supplies ever since.  But more important, I've been using up the supplies and replenishing them.  That's the way to really make the freezer work.  You have to actually take things out and eat them on night you don't want to cook.  And then you need to put things back.

So what's in my freezer and how did it get there?

I roasted a chicken for dinner one night. I served four people dinner from the chicken, but the leftovers went to:  
  • another meal of individual pot pies.  We ate two of the four and two are in the freezer.
  • On a Sunday morning I made and froze white turkey chili  in 2 batches, to make 2 meals.
  • I used the broth it cooked in to make a butternut squash soup which is a side dish portion in the freezer.
  • I made stock with the carcass, yielding 2 quarts for the freezer for future soups.
When I made cauliflower mac and cheese I doubled the pasta and held off on adding the cauliflower and "deviling" spices until the end.  I got two side dish portions for the freezer and a hearty dinner with leftovers for that night.

I made calzones on a Sunday and popped the two extra in the freezer for another day. 

The calzones bring me up to point three...
When you are tired, crabby, under a lot of stress, is not the right time to try something new.  It's the time to make a recipe you don't need to look up or one you know will come together quickly.  Simply the thought of tackling something new can send me grumbling to the couch because I just can't take another thing.  There's been plenty of breaded chicken in these parts.  I feel no shame.  It's home cooked and it's done  That's all I'm responsible for.  

But when I do try something new?  Like the calzones?  I'm really just relying on a formula.

I didn't find a recipe for calzones and execute it.  I thought to myself, hey, what can  I throw in that thing?  The fridge offered up some pepperoni and sausage, we grabbed some ricotta and provolone and mozzarella when we went to the store and I mixed up some dough (no shame in buying the dough.  None.  It was a weekend.  I had the time).  Calzones don't require though.  I looked up the recipes I have for calzones and just faked it from there.  Make the dough, cut it in four, rolled them each out into a circle.  I laid down a piece or two of provolone on each, topped it with pepperoni and some browned sausage.  I mixed up some ricotta with salt and pepper and smoothed that on top.  Added a bit of mozzarella to the top.  Folded it all up and popped it in the oven for 15 minutes.  Done.  Not doing anything new, just using a tried and true recipe + the stuff I had on hand to come up with something new. 

Other formula friendly, requiring less brain input ideas:
Quiche.  If you have a crust + custard recipe, the filling is infinitely flexible.
Pizza.  Buy the dough if it's a week night.  Top it with stuff.  Done.
Big Salad.  If you have veggies, you have dinner.  Stove and oven optional.
Soup.  Oh this is for advanced users, but honestly, onion + carrot + stock + other stuff = dinner.

If all else fails you have my permission to order take out.  Some days are like that. Even in Australia.


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