Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Non-Exhaustive List of Stuff I Want to Cook Before The New Girl Comes and it's All I Can Do to Just Stand Upright

I recently discovered Smitten Kitchen and have added it to my ever-expanding repetoire of food blogs that I read. Go there, right now, and browse through her recipes. They're amazing, really, and so are her photos.

I love to read about food and cooking. It's sort of like porn--there's a lot of descriptions and pictures of things that may or may not turn me on and serve as inspiration, but are probably not literally appropriate or good for me, and that I'll never even attempt to do.

That's not what I'm putting on this list. I'm putting things on this list that I am actually going to do. In a frighteningly short amount of time, my life is going to become increasingly more complicated and I won't have time or space or wherewithall to do a lot of them.

The first item on the list is Mark Bittman's No-Knead Bread. It has gotten quite a lot of exposure on the internet and lots of foodies have been making it with some great results. I love making bread, it makes me feel productive and frugal and also, I love bread. I've also made some disasterous bread, the latest of which should be idiot-proof but is no match for me: America's Test Kitchen's Rustic Country Bread. This bread bakes up big and flat and heavy every single time I make it. It's not inedible, but it's not what I have in mind, and no amount of fiddling that I do fixes it. So I have the no-knead bread beginning its long, slow rise this morning in my pantry in the hopes of making a basic yet delicious loaf of bread that's not leaden and dull, or full of fat like this one (to be fair, that last link is to some really incredibly delicious bread, but it's also far more complicated than I think a loaf of white sandwich bread should be to make yourself, and also requires things like a lot of whole milk and melted, cooled butter.)

If you'd like to make bread too, try the no-knead recipe with me. You need a big, heavy, cast-iron pot with a lid. I have one similar to this one. I bought it at Target, but it's no longer available. This seems to be the closest thing to it. If you don't own this pot, or a similar one to it, and you're balking at the price, let me just reassure you that you will use this pot a lot. Ours is rarely clean because we use it so often. You can also spend a whole lot more on a similar pot from Le Crueset or other expensive sources, if you really want to, but the differences are pretty minimal. If you want some other kind of bread to make, try this one instead. It's delicious, although it's a bird of a whole different color.

The next thing I want to make is Smitten Kitchen's 44-clove garlic soup. I know what you're thinking: Casa Nonhipster must have a vampire infestation. Really, though, one of the greatest things about garlic is that it has multiple personalities. It can be punchy and edgy or sweet and mellow, and in either incarnation, it speaks to me. Right now is the perfect time for comfort food like this soup. The weather's in the 50's; it's sorta like spring here, but not really. Spring is the perfect time for garlic. Well, really, anytime's a good time for garlic. Except, maybe, for a date. Or a job interview.

Want some more garlic-flavored inspiration? Start with Ree's garlic cheese bread. Incidentally, if you're not reading The Pioneer Woman Cooks, you're missing some of the best food writing on the internet, not to mention some of the most unrepentantly silly. Another reason to like her: she does a great job of illustrating her recipes, so you get to learn great, smart, basic techniques like the easiest way to chop an onion (seriously! So easy!) and see how things look in progress. Also, this is one of my favorite dishes ever. Do yourself a favor and buy yourself some really great extra virgin olive oil. I recommend Lucini, which is a brand that's available in a lot of grocery stores. There is a lot of terrible olive oil out there, and so a lot of people don't really understand what a life-changing experience the right olive oil can be. Don't cook with it--it degrades the oil and all that amazing flavor is wasted. Dip your bread in it, use it in salad dressings, drizzle it over hot pasta. Better yet, look for a specialty food store that holds tastings of olive oils.

If some other kind of soup sounds more to your liking, one of my favorite things ever is French onion soup. This is the little black dress of food, in my mind: simple, classic, timeless, always appropriate, elegant and flawless. America's Test Kitchen does this really well; this is their updated recipe via Cookography. I won't bother with a recipe beside this one; none I've ever seen is as good as this one, but I will say that when the onions are in the oven, I would stir them a little more often than the recipe recommends, maybe every half-hour or so. This time frame beats the pants off the hours and hours of standing over the stove, stirring pounds of sliced onions, in my mind.

Third on my list: Chicken-fried steak. Larry McMurtry, one of my mother's favorite authors, once said "Only a rank degenerate would drive 1,500 miles across Texas without eating a chicken-fried steak." I'm thinking that only a rank degenerate would go through this entire pregnancy without eating a chicken-fried steak, and I am just a regular degenerate, not the other kind. I have made chicken-fried steak before. It's not for the faint of heart. It's hard work, messy, with a lot of steps, and it's the kind of thing that makes you feel totally satisfied and yet bad about yourself afterwards. It's so easy to do badly, and yet when you put your back into it, it's almost equally easy to do well. We're not talking about rocket science here: it's a cheap cut of beef, tenderized with a meat pounder, dredged through seasoned breading, fried, and served with cream gravy and mashed potatoes. It is a thing of beauty, a very basic and yet totally irresistable thing of beauty.

I'm don't remember which recipe I've used in the past, or if I used one at all. This time around, I might try Homesick Texan's recipe. I really wish there was a recipe for chicken-fried steak on Pioneer Woman Cooks; this is cowboy food and who knows better how to feed a cowboy than a cowboy's wife? Sadly, there isn't one. America's Test Kitchen, which serves as the Holy Grail of food in my house, may have a recipe. I'm not going to get up and go look right now though, because I am currently sitting in one of the few comfortable positions that this pregnancy affords me. But before this baby comes, I will have homemade chicken fried steak, cream gravy, homemade mashed potatoes, and glazed carrots with brown sugar, pecans, and bacon. And a salad. Because, as I'm sure you can tell, I am all about the healthy eating.

If you feel like frying things, I am coming over to your house. Just kidding. No I'm not. Yes I am. But no I'm not. Anyway, if you feel like frying things, one of my very favorite food bloggers, Kim from The Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet recently made fried calamari. She also made these chicken fingers. I am also very partial to this firecracker fried chicken from Cook's Country, although it's really pretty complicated and messy. What's neither complicated nor messy: fried artichoke hearts, something I don't have a recipe for except for this: drain a can of artichoke hearts thoroughly. Season about a cup of all-purpose flour with a teaspoon of salt, a half-teaspoon of black pepper, and a little cayenne, and toss the artichoke hearts in the flour until well-coated. Heat a generous half-cup of vegetable oil in whatever pan you typically use for frying--I like a deep cast-iron skillet because it holds the heat well and you can fit a lot of food in it--over medium-high heat until the oil is shimmering. Carefully drop in about eight artichoke hearts, and use tongs to move them around until they are golden-brown on all sides. Remove from the oil and let drain on a plate lined with paper for a few minutes. Sprinkle with kosher salt and, if you like, finely grated parmesan cheese. These are pure wonderful. See if you can actually make it out of the kitchen with these, or if you just stand there at the counter and eat the whole batch yourself. Don't worry. I won't tell.

The next thing on my list is a potato galette. I'll probably use the recipe from Fine Cooking.com. I love how this is almost like a potato gratin, but more constructed, and almost like pommes Anna, but less fussy and with the added elements of shallots, rosemary, and cheese. I don't own a tart pan, because I don't bake a whole lot, but I do own a nice non-stick 9-inch cake pan that I'll probably employ for this use. When I was in college, my friend Ryan invited me to his home in Western New York for fall break one year, and his mother made this amazing dish that they referred to as "yummy potatoes," and indeed, they were incredibly yummy. This galette reminds me a little of that, only less rich and creamy and over-the-top.

If you've now got potatoes on the brain, let me steer you back to Ree's place (Ha!! Steer! Ree, who lives on a cattle ranch! Get it? Steer?!! Oh...forget it.) and these twice-baked potatoes. Also at Pioneer Woman Cooks: these roasted potatoes from her friend Kay.

Like the title says, this list in no way represents every single thing I want to cook between now and the end of June, when The New Girl will put in an expected appearance. But creating a new human being seems to have stoked my creative fires a little, and I'm wanting to stretch my culinary muscles a little, make and consume things that I don't get a lot of. Maybe this is how my nesting instinct is manifesting itself this time around. At any rate, I promise to update you on what I make, how it turns out, and in general, what happens around here. I may not have a lot of money, time, or patience, but I do have a lot of fun.

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