Sunday, May 29, 2011

Casserole 911

It's always nice to make something nice with a few day's preparations, but there is a special sense of accomplishment when you come into a strange kitchen and make something tasty out of whatever you might find.

I had that experience when the pizza to be delivered to a friend's house turned out to be not so delivered. How to feed a lot of large, hungry men folk. The yeast was a bit out of date so I couldn't just make some pizza from flour and such. A feijoada or cassoulet is another sure fire crowdfeeder, but no dried beans or big hunks of beast. A couple of pounds chicken though. Many cans of diced tomatoes. Canned black beans. A giant tamale casserole? Perhaps.

I had an ace in the hole in that I bought a ridiculous amount of butter to replace and supplement what I use making brownies and/or other baked goods in this person's household. No need to be shy with that.

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a giant pan. Brown 3 lbs chicken meat, cubed, working in batches, until browned. Reserve browned meat. Add 3 onions, chopped, to fat in pan. Add 4 more tbsp butter. Fry, scraping, until softened. Add about 1-1.5 cup masa harina, or corn meal if you don't have masa, but if you have some corn chips make a cup or two of corn chip crumbs and use those instead (corn chip crumbles make fantastic tamale pie). Fry for a few minutes. Add 1 tbsp chicken bouillon, 1 tsp oregano, 2 tbsp chili powder, 1 tbsp garlic powder. Stir until that's all incorporated. Fry until aromatic, then add 2 cans canned diced tomatoes. Stir until a gravy like substance is formed.

Open two cans black beans.

Shred at least 2 cups cheddar cheese.

Get a 12" oval casserole, or larger, really, and put down a layer of half the tomato gravy, half the chicken, half the beans, half the cheese. Repeat once more. Put the assembled casserole in a 350 degree oven for about an hour. Remove and preferably let stand for 12-30 minutes. It should produce a nice, slice-able casserole.

Serves six hungry people.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Shanghai Vegetable

Another batter for the sub 200 supper is a minimal stir fry. This time we're introducing carbs but in the form of friendly bok choy.

12 oz fat free chicken tenderloins or pork tenderloins, sliced very thin against the grain.
.5 cup soy sauce
.5 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp red pepper flakes
1 head bok choy, slice green parts and keep separate, slice white parts into 2" pieces on the diagonal
4 quarts water and 4 tbsp salt
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
6 scallions, green parts only, sliced into 1" pieces

Combine first 4 ingredients in a zip lock bag, squish around to combine, and let marinate for 10-30 minutes. Room temperature is fine, there is so much salinity and pH in there bacteria don't want a piece of that action.

Bring 4 quarts of water with salt to a boil. Put white parts of cabbage in there, boil for 1m45s or until it is crisp-tender. Drain, refresh with cold water until completely cooled.

Drain the meat from the marinade, squeeze in colander to get excess off.

Heat a nonstick pan on medium high heat until water drops dance on surface when spilled there. If you are not watching calories quite so carefully swab 1 tsp oil around the pan before heating, and add meat when oil is shimmering.

Put meat in skillet and allow to brown, about 90 seconds, depending on how thin you sliced it. Stir it around a bit, deglaze if necessary. Remove browned meat to bowl.

Put ginger and garlic in pan, stir until aromatic, about 15s. Add cabbage greens and fry, stirring, until wilted. At this point or really any point during the stir fry process, if the pan scab is going from brown to black, add a splash of water to deglaze the pan, but remember to reduce the liquid again or you'll have soup. Try not to overcook the greens. For that reason perhaps it's better to deglaze after the meat is browned, I dunno.

Add the whites of the cabbage to the pan along with the reserved browned meat, stir until everything is warmed through. Serve, giving some rice to the carbophiles.

I've seen recipes that use the same technique but with crab, tofu, any number of meaty proteins really. I say go nuts, but cook the whites and the greens separate. In bok choy it really is like two vegetables in one.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Skinny Southwest Soup

Soup is great stuff for the calorie restricted. Here we see the same secret ingredients of unflavored gelatin, psyllium fiber, and egg whites that we saw in the slimgolemono, but with a different spice pack. The gelatin does a really good job of making the soup seem greasy, when there is nary a drop of oil in it.

The following recipe delivers a flavorful sub-200 calorie meal for 2 diet-tortured folks. It's about as satisfied as you'll ever be on less than 200 calories.

12 oz fat-free chicken tenderloins, cut into .75" dice.
Some nonstick cooking spray
2 cups water
2 tsp Tone's chicken base
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp liquid smoke
2 tbsp paprika
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp garlic powder, rehydrated in 2 tbsp water
3 tbsp lime juice
1 packet unflavored gelatin
3 tbsp egg whites
1 tbsp psyllium fiber, obtained by emptying 6 fiber capsules
handful cilantro, chopped

This recipe really needs some smoke flavor, which means browning the chicken is worthwhile. Working in batches, brown the chicken dice in nonstick cooking spray. You only really need to brown one side of the dice, but more flavor never hurts in this calorie range.

Once that's finished browning, add the rehydrated garlic to the pot, fry until fragrant, 15 seconds. Add the water, chicken base, chili powder, cumin, liquid smoke, paprika, and thyme. Cook until chicken is falling apart, 20 minutes on high pressure in the pressure cooker. 

While that's going on bloom the gelatin and fiber in 1/3 cup water.

When the chicken's done, whisk in the gelatin-fiber disk until dissolved. Take off the heat. Whisk in the egg whites- it's OK if they scramble a bit- then stir in the lime juice. Test for seasoning- it might need some salt, or more paprika if it is not quite red enough. Serve, sprinkle each serving with the chopped cilantro.

This recipe was crying for 1/3 cup of frozen sweet corn kernels thrown into it just before the last paragraph, but it would up the calorie count and blow the carb compliance right out the frickin' window. So, maybe keep that in mind if maybe you're not low-carbing.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Mediterranean cuisine has an egg yolk fetish I've never really understood. Maybe it's the fact they don't have lots of butter and cream, or maybe they don't have the right grains to thicken things. In any case, it's the home of the Provencal Bourride, a weird but nevertheless very tasty egg-thickened fish stew, served with a sauce made of more eggs- a spicy mayonnaise, usually. The Med is also home to avgolemono, an intense lemon and egg soup, usually made with chicken and rice.

The challenge is that I had to make a light lunch soup with no carbohydrates (no rice), maximal protein, and weighing in at less than 500 calories for a 4 cup portion for 2 (no egg yolks either). I scratched my head for cooking knowledge and a sort-of-avgolemono game out: the slimgolemono. I didn't think I could satisfy two adults on a meal totaling 450 calories, but it worked. The gelatin and fiber added a nice bit of body as well.

16 oz fat-free chicken tenderloins, cut into 3/4" pieces
1.5 cups water
2 tsp Tone's chicken base
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp unflavored gelatin
1 tbsp psyllium husk (empty 6 tabs fiber capsules)
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp egg whites

Put first 6 ingredients in pressure cooker, cook on high pressure for 20 minutes, until chicken falls apart. While that's going on, in a mixing cup mix gelatin, fiber, and 1/3 cup water, allow the gelatin to bloom. Unlid the vessel with the chicken and stir in the gelatin/fiber disk. Bring the mixture to a simmer. When the gelatin is dissolved, whisk in the egg whites, stir until soup is thickened. Add lemon juice and serve.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sandwich of the Big Shoulders

I wanted to make a Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich but had the same problem I had with risotto: I had not eaten it yet at an actual restaurant. So I made a sandwich that tasted the way I imagined an Italian beef to taste like. Hopefully it went as well as the risotto, but I won't know until I try an actual Italian beef for myself.

First problem was that I had no bread. Italian beef is a soggy mess, served in eight different ways (where each way means "drippy") and it needs serious bread. A recipe's worth of pizza bianca would work. Pizza bianca in its Roman incarnation is a concoction that is absolutely nothing like pizza. It's basically a really good crust with seasonings on top. It also happens to be super easy. Whisk 3 cups bread flour with 1 2/3 cups water- no chlorine water, it kills the yeast, use bottled water if you have to- and, eh, 1.5 tsp table salt. Mix until combined, let sit for 30 minutes. Sprinkle 1.5 tsp yeast, 2 tsp sugar on top, then mix for fifteen minutes, until it gets glossy and starts pulling away from the side of the bowl. Oil another big bowl, then plop the dough into the oiled bowl using an oiled silicon paddle. There's a theme here, oiled, and the theme is that this stuff is sticky. Oil the top of the dough, wrap bowl in saran wrap and let rise 2-2.5 hours, until it has doubled or tripled in volume. Using your oiled spatula again, sort of scroop the dough into an oiled, rimmed baking pan. Smoosh it out into the corners with your oiled spatula. It's very liquid dough, which makes it much more bubbly on baking, a good thing. Throw some rosemary and kosher salt on top, or whatever else you want, really. Let it rise again for about ten minutes until bubbly. Preheat the oven to 450. Bake for about 30 minutes in the middle of the oven until crispity crackly and golden brown.

Italian beef is supposed to be made out of either round or top sirloin if you're fancy. I had neither. Some chuck on hand that needs to get used, and which, if you couldn't guess by now, is one of my favorite all purpose beef cuts. Seriously. Meatballs? Throw it in the food processor with some bread, milk, parmesean, parsley and a little egg. Hamburger? Same as meatballs but without any of the frou-frou. Stir fry? Done. Curry? Hells yes, Thai or Vindaloo. Pot roast? Is that a question? You serious?

Anyway, 20 oz chuck. Cut into 1.5" cubes, brown cubes in pressure cooker, add 1 cup beef stock, 1 tsp rosemary, 1 tbsp oregano, 1 tsp thyme, 1 tsp rubbed sage, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, and 1 tbsp garlic powder. Stir to dissolve brown bits. Lid, cook on high pressure 55 minutes, or forever if you're oven braising (3 hours covered at 300 degrees). Remove meat to bowl, bring cooking liquid to a rapid boil, reduce cooking liquid by 3/4. Shred reserved meat, then add back to reduced cooking liquid. Thicken with slurry of 1 tsp cornstach to 2 tbsp water. That's the "sort of Chicago beef".

Slice your pizza bianca into planks, then cut each plank down the middle and put the meat slurry in between. Stuff some hot giardiniera in there and you have, if not a genuine Italian beef, something that is at least Chicago-beef-inspired. Hey, it's tasty.

You'll have plenty of pizza bianca leftover too.

Now excuse me, but I think I need to go on a diet.

Postscript: I might use the giardiniera for a diet, too, actually, it's pretty good for you. Recipe after the jump.

Post Postscript: Sometime I need to go to Tony's Italian Beef down in Sarasota and get the real thing. After a diet.

Bonus recipe: Hot Giardiniera
2 green bell peppers, diced
2 red bell peppers, diced
8 fresh jalapeno peppers, sliced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup fresh cauliflower florets
1/2 cup salt
water to cover
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 (5 ounce) jar pimento-stuffed green olives, chopped
1 cup white vinegar
1. Combine green and red peppers, jalapenos, celery, carrots, onion, and cauliflower, salt, and fill with enough cold water to cover. Wrap and chill 24 hours.
2. The next day, drain and rinse. Add rest of ingredients, chill 2 days before using.

Beef and Broccoli

I sort of suck at stir fries. "Suck" might be a bit strong. I also suck at cake baking, and by "suck" I mean I don't do it often enough to innovate. I have to sort of cling to whatever recipe I have because I don't know enough to do anything else, and I know if I deviate I'll break the thing.

The thing is I have great cake recipes and maybe not so great stir fry recipes. Well, that's not quite true either. I do have great stir fry recipes but from an enormous and very authentic Mandarin cookbook which needs ingredients like sow blood and moon pepper. Someday I will make something according to a recipe in this cookbook and it will be amazing, but it will require an independent trip to the oriental grocery and a lot of gesturing. So I have generally used Betty Crocker stir fry recipes, which were, well, they were OK, but without enough soy or ginger to really punch through the middle-America barrier. The Betty Crocker cookbook is amazingly consistent in how good its recipes are, but in the stir fry department it really wants to stay in its comfort zone, which happens to be right in the middle of a vat of mac and cheese at a church social in Arkansas.

So I got a request for stir fry. Complicating things is an impending move which requires me to make use of existing ingredients, and I had some beef chuck and some frozen broccoli I needed to get rid of. So I found a beef broccoli that worked really, really well. I didn't have flank so I sliced the chuck roast very fine and it went fantastically, the fattier cut making a much more beefy, velvety sauce. I also didn't have red bell peppers or scallions, and I subbed rehydrated garlic for fresh where needed, as well as some other things. Before you scoff, yes, garlic powder works fine, it just needs to be rehydrated in water before it is added to other ingredients.

.5 pound chuck, sliced into 1/8" slices or as thin as you can get it.
1.5 tablespoons soy sauce
1.5 teaspoons marsala
.5 tsp chicken base or bullion
1 tablespoon water
2.5 tablespoons oyster sauce
1.5 teaspoons sugar
.5 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
.5 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp garlic powder, rehydrated in 1 tbsp water
2 tsp minced ginger
Some oil
14 oz frozen broc florets
1 cup rice, 2 cups water, a bit of salt, a  bit of oil

1. Combine beef and soy sauce in medium bowl; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 10 minutes or up to 1 hour, stirring once. Meanwhile, whisk next 8 ingredients in measuring cup as sauce mixture. Combine garlic, ginger, and 1/2 teaspoon peanut oil in small bowl. Cook broccoli in microwave for 3 minutes or as directed on package. Start the rice on another burner.
2. Drain beef and discard liquid. Heat 2 teaspoons peanut oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until smoking. Add beef to skillet and break up clumps; cook, without stirring, for 1 minute, then stir and cook until beef is browned around edges, about 30 seconds. Transfer beef to medium bowl.
3. Add 2 teaspoons peanut oil to now-empty skillet; heat until just smoking. Add broccoli and cook 30 seconds or until browned, remove and place aside with beef ( I used the same bowl for that). Add a bit more oil, let it heat, then add garlic and ginger and cook, mashing mixture with spoon, until fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds. Return beef and broccoli to skillet and toss to combine. Whisk sauce to recombine, then add to skillet; cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened and evenly distributed, about 30 seconds. Take off the heat and serve over rice. If you have some scallions chop them and scatter over each serving.

Serves 2, but it scales pretty well so long as you don't try and do more than 1 lb of beef at a time. Remember to not crowd the pan when browning meat or you get steamed meat instead of browned meat.

Sunday, April 03, 2011


Wonderland Trail
Summerland to Nickel Creek

I crawled out of the tent into the coldest morning so far, somewhere around freezing, with the clouds filled back in, promising the thick mist Northwesterners call "rain". My ground pad isn't holding air anymore, which shouldn't surprise anyone, as I've had the thing since 2004. I put down some brush under the tent last night to help insulate my sleeping body. Bag gets rolled, incidentals go in the incidentals bag, eat my protein bar, then down tent and up onto the stepped climb to Fryingpan. The visibility declined, making the climb feel more episodic, as you could never quite see where the pass was, and every climb felt like the last. I passed though krummholtz meadow, ice lakes all around, and then up a glacier so large I couldn't see either side in the middle of it. In the middle of the glacier crossing I heard falling rock above me. If I dodged or moved quickly I would certainly slip down the glacier and crash into the rocks three hundred feet below. I heard the fall and stopped, looking around, putting all my faith in the low probabilities of a rock passing through the same space I currently occupied. It passed ten yards behind me.
I started to learn some basics on moving around on ice. Without crampons, it's vital to keep both poles on the ice while stepping. Don't pivot on your feet. Don't stay in one place too long or else the ice melts under your feet and spills you. Above all, speed doesn't win here. Crampons are a definite buy for the High Sierra.
After a final ice crossing I crested Fryingpan gap and began the steady drop into the cirque and the Indian Bar campsite. I was passed by a Northwestern Fitness Leprechaun, who mentioned that the conditions were "borderline". Good to know. "You'll be alright, though, guy like you, in your, what, mid-forties?". I smiled sadly at him. He laughed apologetically, and I paced him to Indian Bar. Goddamn fitness leprechauns. The guy was running down the mountain and was older than my dad was when he died.
Indian Bar is one of the prettiest spots on the trail, at least in those conditions, just below the cloud ceiling, so that the floor of the cirque could be seen for a few hundred feet before rearing into the clouds. It had a shelter, which allowed me to cook a hot lunch for myself and relax. The fitness leprechaun zoomed ahead to meet a friend at the Steve's Canyon road crossing. He was replaced with a squad of Microsoft guys trying to do the Wonderland in a four day weekend. They were hoofing twenty five mile days and suffering from a kaleidoscope of muscle and joint trauma. I handed out ibuprofen, moleskin, and duct tape, it being my turn to be the medic. They thanked me and set out for White River.
I wondered if I could do such a feat. I probably wouldn't unless I lived up here. Pulling a twenty on this sort of trail would involve shutting down a lot of sensory input. Mp3 player would be going, pounding trail. For a flatlander like me, though, the fact that I would probably never come this way again meant I needed to savor this. Every moment. Especially this Mountain House Lasagna.
I packed up and girded myself for the climb out of Indian Bar, which I had read was pretty strong. Strong it was, but afterwards came a very un-Wonderland section of ups and downs following an unnamed connecting ridge to Bald Rock, before the plunge down to what would be my final campsite on the trail at Nickel Creek. Goodbye to the high country..
The weather was definitely determined to clear. Several times folks said to me, "Florida! Wow, what are you doing out here? Enjoying our October?" My weather research had not been wrong then. This was weird weather for the mountain in early September. Several rangers were worried about the late spring combined with an early winter, and its effects on wildlife. I was worried I wouldn't get to see the mountain again.
I set my tent up at Nickel and went to the relatively bug-free drafty area by the creek. I ate much of the rest of my provisions, and thought, and ate some more. I tuned into the water noise and got to hear what sounded like a bluegrass concert. I was convinced there was a big party somewhere down river. But of course it was just the mountain talking. There must be a way in life to make sure as many moments like this happen as possible, but I don't know what it is.

Sunrise Cleaners

Wonderland Trail
Sunrise to Summerland

The landscape yesterday had been dazzling even in the gloom, white sheaths of ice on grey rock, piercing drafts of wind and water punching us walkers roaming the waste. I dropped from a high pass to a meadow, then climbed again to a gravel lot that marked the end of the Sunrise-Longmire road. Somewhere on that road was a food drop and perhaps some shelter; I had heard already that the snack bar was closed for the season, so I had gotten over the fact that there would be no trail hamburgers this trip out. I legged it down the road. The reputed vistas of the Sunrise area were hiding behind the more or less constant drizzling overcast, and I wasn't totally sure that I hadn't missed the Wilderness Information Center and my food drop. I had passed a loud generator sound, and I hoped that wasn't it. A pickup came up and I flagged it down.
"Afternoon. Is the WIC down this way or did I pass it?"
""Nope, just a mile or so down the way. You gettin' off?"
I smiled and shook my head, "I think it's going to be faster just walking back to Longmire."
This was a bit of a lie. If I couldn't dry my bag out at Sunrise I would be seriously thinking about getting out. The weather forecast had proven less than accurate, and the hypothermic adventure at Mystic had frightened me and left me a little nauseated. It would, however, be disheartening, and besides, what better place is there to be than freezing and soggy on Mt. Rainier?
Lots of places, it turned out. The rangers at the WIC let me dry and warm myself as long as I cared to. I feasted on some canned treats in my food drop, and met some outrageously funny prison guards out for a stroll.
"You sure you don't want to come down with us?"
I reaffirmed my commitment to walk out, and parked myself in the sheltered area outside the men's room to wait out the heavier rain. It would be my last temptation to get off the mountain, but it was a good temptation. I'm pretty sure I would have had a blast with those guys.
Another duo of hikers were bound and determined to camp out in the dry and heated men's room, which was tacitly approved by a WIC staffer. "No one ever checks in here at night". Wink. The pair were unloading their food drops on the diaper change table, which was sort of a decider for me. Sure, I might get a little soggier in my Shires Contrail, but I would have less of a chance of getting some horrifying parasite. At the Sunrise camp I chatted with a gregarious trekker who bore an uncanny resemblance to one of my favorite former co-workers, Keith Fulsom. I had my ego battered for a bit, not unpleasantly so, by the awesome fitness level and general woodsiness of Northwesterners. Not the first time or last time that happened either.
The journey from Sunrise to Summerland tantalized with its constant promise of a break in the weather. I got some good views down into the White River area, and gazed ahead at the Goat Island prominence. The trail descended through White River camp- two road crossings in two days!- and went around Goat Island on a gentle grade, then up Fryingpan Creek on what has become a sort of trademark Wonderland grade. Steep enough to make you go deep inside yourself, but not so rugged that you become frustrated.
Summerland had better cell reception than I get at home, incidentally. I took advantage of it to call the wife and relate the details of the trip so far. The summerland shelter was booked solid, but the folks there were happy and bundled in several dozen flocks' worth of down. I was reminded again that I might have some genetic factor for dealing with cold. "Did you bring anything besides rain gear?" Some, yeah, but the sleeping bag does the heavy insulation. With rain gear inside your bag, you can stay toasty indeed.
That night the clouds almost parted, showing a glacial climb ahead, full of ice crossings and high passes. I can't imagine what this place looks like then the weather's good.
The chipmunks have suddenly become insane. It's a hilarious task kicking them out of your tent while you're trying to roll up your sleeping bag while trying to avoid the thick web of condensation on the inside of the tent. They will steal food from your beard if you leave any there. Brass little bastards.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


An apology for the hiatus to the Philoculture blog.

The Rainier adventure will be completed from voice logs, and coverage of lovely recipes shall continue.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Something Hidden

Wonderland Trail
Mystic Lake Camp to Sunrise

Today is the first day that the sky has officially deviated from the weather forecast I bought my airline tickets for. They were cheap tickets, but with rain today the official vision for what the trip should have been is out the window. The official vision had me, in a mental image that is distinctly svelter than usual, struggling up a verdant slope to see, consciousness clobbering in its immensity, The Mountain. I would face down the Evil Me and beat him until his soul came out his urethra. I would have great overpourings of emotion and catharsis, etc, etc, etc.

That official version is of the same sort of offal that comes from the mouths of people that fantasize about war but have not spent more than thirty seconds with an actual veteran. It's gym offal. Tough guy crap. It's the same sort of offal I tell myself that makes me walk in a box for a few minutes a day before I truck myself off to another torture box where I can point at glowing boxes on a screen for money, moving less than two hundred feet in a ten hour stretch. Gym time has nothing to do with being here, on the mountain, no more so than ten seconds on a rifle range can tell you about 1943 Stalingrad.

On the mountain there is no existential animus. There is no lost maiden, or a skulking ruiner to thwart. There are the sweating trees, my heaving lungs. Marmots waddling across the heath. Stupid youtube songs about the Soviet Union and Tetris. Protein bars. My personal cloud of vaporized water, the molecules smashed into the air by the kinetic energy of my skin. Each and every one of these things is more beautiful, ipso facto, than the phenomenon of the mountain itself, which I have memorized from every possible angle. I hadn't actually seen it very often. It might not even be there. It might be more powerful yet if it were not.

Sometimes I hope I never seen my mountain*, and with that thought another lock turns in the door to happiness. The mountain is in my heart. It can not be claimed or bought or laid off or divorced. The only thing it can do in my heart is be loved, loved more each tomorrow than it is today.

*So long as it's not just a model made by the Washington Commerce Committee.
"Yah, what yah think would make people come to our godforsaken state, eh?"
"Why don't we build a model of a great honkin mountin, dochaknow. Make pretty videos of it like that hobbit guy did with New Zealand. Then people could come up from places like Florida where they don't have any great honkin mountins".
"To see the big honkin mountin, donchaknow"

I am reasonably sure Mt. Rainier is not just a fiberglass model.

Wet Down

Wonderland Trail
Ipsut Creek Camp to Mystic Lake

I stayed late at Ipsut Camp this morning, waiting to see if the rain that had increased over the night would let up for the day's climb. It was a solid four thousand to Mystic Camp, but more importantly, I'd be staying at that elevation, and Mystic Camp is surrounded on three sides with glaciers. I didn't want to be wet there. I met a nice couple at Ipsut who were also heading up to Mystic that day. Also, I was delaying because the bathroom at Ipsut was so gloriously warm and dry. I wish I could say it was the first time I considered sleeping in a bathroom. It wasn't the first time and it certainly wasn't the last. It was a nice bathroom. The rain steadily increased throughout the day.

Ipsut was simultaneously homey and spooky. Picnic tables, car parking areas, blank informational boards telling you about nothing at all. I heard trail crews working in the hillsides and realized that Rainier NP is a backpacker's park. The floods had nibbled away at the auto access, but the park service was in absolutely no great hurry to restore the car camp services. Contrast this with the reconstruction of the WT after those same floods. More than seventy percent of the WT was utterly destroyed. Looking at the glacial basins it's not hard to see why; it looks like a unidirectional Nagasaki. The WT, though, was ready for business in a couple of month's time. Not so Ipsut Camp.

This sounds bitter, but it's really not. I understand what the NPS is doing. Backpackers just don't cause the same sort of mass obnoxiousness as Bubba McLubbitz from Pabstown, with his feeding the wildlife and chucking empties at marmots. It's just that my grandparents raised my parents car camping, and my parents raised me car camping, until some weird combination of brain chemistry and circumstance led me to this. If I had spawn at the normal time in the human life cycle I probably would have reverted to car camping as well and given my pack to some college student. The car camp, though, is the gateway. It's how this starts, this, the greatest thing in the world. It's a window into the freedom every kid fawns at when his parents irritate him. If only I could get out of this car and into those hills! They'd never find me there! When you get older you realize what a double-edged statement that is. Without car campgrounds, though, the opportunity for that type of growth may never occur.

So I had to leave my cozy bathroom sometime. Rain and wind. Four thousand feet. I broke one of my taboos and plugged in my mp3 player until it shorted out. It got me past four thousand feet. Carbon glacier is just barely visible in this mist and rain, an enormous gray-white back, like a nightmare Moby Dick. I climb past it. Is this mist or steam from my body. Steam, rain, both. Clearing Moraine Park I am beginning to not feel very well. I throw up a protein bar I ate at Carbon River bridge. Super Chocolate Chunk. I don't stop. It is only the mid forties, but the wet and the wind make this feel far worse than the eleven degrees I hiked through in the Carters that September four years ago. There are flowers up here that are like four foot wands with pom poms on the ends. The pom poms are wilted in the rain and the whole plant looks rather ridiculous, like a plant version of the marmot. Perhaps ridiculousness is a survival strategy up here.

I come to Mystic Camp. It's deserted. All the people who made reservations have cancelled them. I hang the food bag and throw up the tent in the rain. More of my stuff is wetter than I'd like. It's very bad. I try and get warm inside a damp down bag. It's lost all of its insulating power and is holding a range of joules somewhere between jack and squat. I give up trying to keep anything dry and put on the polypro on my wet skin, then rain gear, all socks, gloves, sleeping bag. Tent's turning into a sauna from my body. I went up too fast, it's three PM. I fall asleep for three hours and wake up roasty toasty. Burning. I make my way out of the tent and to my hanging food bag. Somehow I manage to eat a Super Chocolate Chunk. Not sure how I could do that after tossing one up earlier but that's the hunger for you. Then a bagel. Then a wedge of cheese, some nuts. Jerky. Did I eat another bagel? I don't know. Everything is delicious. I'm feeling pretty good. Actually I feel fantastic, like I just did shots of some exotic vodka made from nougat and angel tears. I go back to my sodden tent and wet bag and fall asleep again, rain knocking condensation off the inside of the tent onto my face. I stuff my head in the hood of the rain jacket and snore very loudly.

Late, late that night, after eight, the couple comes in. I talk to them in the morning. They are getting out at Sunrise, my next camp and last food cache. They're done with wet and cold. They invite me with them- they can get me as far as Steve's Canyon. I'd have to hitch from there, but I tentatively agree. The bag is wet. It's a down bag. A wet down bag is worse than nothing, at best it's uncomfortable, but it can be (and has been) a death sentence. I wasn't coming down from the heights until this thing was almost through, after Summerland, two nights away, and I was not going to spend another night above five thousand with a wet down bag.

The Nature of Man

Wonderland Trail
Golden Lakes to Ipsut Creek Camp

Ten miles around and down the South Mowich basin, then four thousand feet up to Mowich Lake and my first food cache, then down Ipsut Pass to the camp. Longest day yet, sixteen miles. When I imagined food caching on the WT, I have to admit I was coming at it from a somewhat spoiled Easterner's perspective. I imagined rosy-cheeked rangers inside heated offices, handing out the buckets we mailed so lovingly weeks before. "Here ye go, mi'lad", they'd say. "Be careful out there!". It turned out to be a bit of a search in the rain around a car campground. I found a side trail on the east side of the lake that led to a patrol cabin that looked like a bomb had gone off in it. In front was a plain metal box. Clumsy chilled fingers explored the edges of the box, lifting. Locked. A sign on the other side of the box. FOOD CACHE. Latches to deter bears. They're stuck and my arms are weak. Lever it with the pole, gently, don't break your trekking pole for god's sake. It clicked, I got my first food drop, and the rain broke. It was a happy time. The food shortage had finally ended. Would the rain?

I climbed around the lake and met my first daytrippers. Mowich has road access, which means it was also the first place I was tempted to get off the mountain. Some car campers offered a ride to Carbon River ranger station. Logistics more than anything else kept me from saying yes; getting from Carbon back to the car at Longmire would be a four hour drive even if I had a car, and I don't know how easy hitching is out here. Besides, "it's going to clear up tomorrow". I'd keep going. I wouldn't be taking the scenic route through Spray Park, though, because it's not going to be that scenic since it's above the five thousand foot cloud deck.

Ipsut Pass, just beyond Mowich Lake, was genuinely impressive. It's as if someone went to Tuck's Ravine on Mt. Washington NH and put trees all over it. The trail just drops down a grand and a half in a couple of miles, then another two thousand in another couple of miles. One older lady hiker I met earlier near Pyramid Creek scoffed at this section. "I don't know why they make that the route then spend all their time making Spray so pretty. If they want people to go through Spray they should just tell them to go through Spray". I'm of a different opinion, as this is the best view I've had in days, since it's entirely under the deck. Ipsut camp should be nice, also, as it's an old car camp abandoned after the 2006 floods. Should have a toilet with a roof. I am living the high life here, people.

The lesson for the day was, "stop fretting". I spend, and I'm pretty sure most people spend, too much of themselves worrying about how they feel about something, how they are supposed to feel, and whether they should feel anything. Feelings are rubbish. It's this doing that matters. Striving, moving. Don't fall! It's the heart of the world. So, I say to the internal worrywart. What about me? I hike. What about you?

Some Wilder Heaven

Wonderland Trail
South Puyallup Creek to Golden Lakes

Coming into South Puyallup yesterday was, for the eastern hiker, a Brobdingnagian experience. Everything was three times as large as its eastern counterpart. The mountain, three times as high. Glaciers. Gorges three thousand feet deep, as a rule, and not the exception (the only three thousand foot gorge I recall on the AT was Webster Cliffs in NH). I woke up in South Puyallup and packed up for Golden Lakes, anticipating more head-blowing-off wonder.

Clouds began rolling in by about ten, however, which set the tone for much of the rest of the trip. Not so much with the views. Quite a lot with the spooky menace. This was going to be a conditions endurance contest. I had an oldish down sleeping bag with no waterproofing, some crappy Dri-Ducks, and polypro long johns. Gloves, extra pair dry socks, sock liners, and hubris. The gaps I filled in with duct tape. Standard hiking wear is a capilene shirt, shorts that don't dry out nearly fast enough and a pair of underarmour to prevent "macho he-man inner thigh rash". In short, not enough clothes. I fell to relying on the old Appalachian Trail technique of not stopping. The problem on the WT is that you have to stop, unless you're a Seattlite Fitness Leprechaun, which I am not. When you stop, when you're wet and it's forty degrees out and windy you have half an hour before your hands start shaking too much to be usable. I didn't stop. By the time I got to my campsite I was not feeling hungry at all, which is good, because I underpacked this leg of the trip. I set up the tent as fast as I could and got out of wet things and into polypro longjohns and rain gear. Still cold.

Golden Lakes, though, rippled under clouds, the rain canted off into a wind-blown mist. A thoughtful young man told me about pathfinding across the Rockies in Idaho, and a trio of apparently immortal old ladies burst into a perfect harmony, some Nordic song of wandering and redemption. The young man said the ladies do six mile days for most of a month, just wandering the mountain. They sound like angels of a wilder heaven. I'm not feeling hungry but I'm not feeling terribly cold anymore either.


As a post-script, thank goodness for my Meathead Brand Protein Colossal bars. I would never eat them off trail because they're like five hundred calories apiece, but if you did the math I think the majority of my calories came from these things, and on cold days they were all I would eat. Sort of like Snickers bars for AT hikers in Maine. I also noticed that I didn't have the calf and thigh soreness I should have had after all those big climbs. Either the weight room time is helping or the increased protein intake. Beats the hell out of snickers anyway. At these temps you can barely bite into chocolate.

Only the kind hurts kill

Wonderland Trail
Longmire to South Puyallup Creek Campsite via Pyramid Creek

Yesterday was a baby day. Three point five miles from Longmire over Rampart Ridge to Pyramid Creek campsite, which incidentally lay closer to Pearl Creek than Pyramid. No sooner had I gotten my tent up at Pyramid than I was beset by insects. When the weather is fair on the Wonderland Trail, you have to contend with the insects. Otherwise you get the freezing rain. I took my food bag and hustled to Pearl Creek to spend a very relaxed afternoon.

When you listen to falling water for a long time it sounds like all kinds of things- a goth-industrial club, laughing girls, your dead father. There is this damn "History of the Soviet Union Told Through Tetris" song that would not leave my head. Then the techno again. There is a reason that these mountain streams always have demigods living in them, in the old tales. They talk to you, and the act of auditory perception can not shake it. If it weren't for science I would think there were spirits there too.

The next day I set out for South Puyallup via Indian Henry's Hunting Ground, and the patrol shack that sat on the site. This was the second day of good weather I was to have on the trip, but I was preoccupied because I had inadvertently swapped my first food drop with my second. My first leg is a bit longer than the second, so I was going to be hungry.

This is not usually a problem on the first days of hiking trips, because I am so wiped that I can't bear the thought of food. It helps drop those first ten or twenty pounds right off. For whatever reason, though, the WT was making me hungry. Probably because it wasn't bestially hot like most places. Also, every day was like climbing Katahdin twice. That will put a fire in your belly.

So I lazily sliced pepperoni with my dollar knife from Wal-Mart. Wow, this knife sucks, I remember thinking as the knife rolled right over pepperoni and down three quarters of an inch into my thumb. Gosh darn it. For the love of Ueshiba I managed to inject myself with raw pepperoni on the second day and pump out a fair amount of the red stuff besides. The last time I saw that much of my insides on my outsides it was on an interstate and I wasn't very conscious because I just kissed a concrete sidewall at seventy miles per hour. Various bits of wilderness survival lore started swimming around in my brain and making me do almost sensible-seeming things. It's not spurting. You can use your water bag to generate a pretty high pressure stream, irrigate the wound, clean all the pizza topping out of there. Don't put peroxide or betadyne inside the wound, it denatures the tissue and necroses for sure. Dry it out, wrap it in gauze, duct tape the flesh flap down hard. Secure with more duct tape. Finish lunch and move on. Oh, and duct tape your heels back together, the skin's coming off. I feel like I should have spoken the previous paragraph in a gravelly SOCOM sort of voice, but this was a sandwich mishap, not another damned bear fight. The phrase "sandwich mishap" immediately robs any situation of whatever testosterone it might have once possessed.

The thumb was on my mind for the rest of the day because it was dripping a bit, but it was always gnawing on the back of my brain for the rest of the trip. When at night I changed the dressing I studiously sniffed the awful thing, checking for the maggoty odor that would send me off trail and into a walk-in clinic. I'm actually pretty amazed it's healing up as well as it did, given the fact that after the fourth it rained for a week, making it impossible to keep the wound dry. But I would be damned if I got put off the Wonderland Trail by my lunch. "Hey, what got you?" "Hypothermia" "'Bout you?" "Blizzard" "And?" "Pepperoni. A pepperoni bagel to you, mister!"

Crossing the cable bridge over Tahoma Creek (Pull y'all up! Ha ha, just kidding, it's pronounced pew-all-up) made my knees go wobbly for thirty minutes. It's a hundred foot span over a hundred and change foot drop, with a particularly uncivilized looking glacial creek thundering below. You can look at it through the bridge's floor, made of loose slats, as the bridge sways up and down, right and left in the freezing wind

(All winds on glacial creeks are freezing because the giant mountain chills the air until it is so cold it flows downhill like water, rushing through drainages like the Tahoma. See "katabatic wind".)

Your hands throb and some blood drips on slats, some falls between the slats down into the torrent below, and you reflect for a moment on whether or not the fall would hurt dramatically. Then marvel on how it is the kindest hurts in life that kill. The cruel ones flense you against the mountainside, against your loved ones, against the rock of the interstate. Like the spirits in the waters, they are speaking also, but what they are saying I am not sure I can accept.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Earth Made God

The attitude of Seattlites regarding the mountain is unmistakeable. He's feeling grump today,they might say. Look at him showing off. Or when the tip peeks out of the cloud they might say he is feeling shy. In all ways and forms Rainier is a demigod of sorts in this area and like all gods he has a very nice makiroll named after him. Rainier is earth made God. The MT. Rainier roll is delicious, though.

It becomes more and more apparent why this is so as you drive closer. At fifteen miles the mountain makes up much of the sky. I had to concentrate to stay on the road.

Today had been a very lazy day. Three and a half miles to pyramid creek from longmire. I am feeling fairly strong but I underpacked on food for this leg. Not much of a problem as I am carrying Aaron decent amount of food in my belly. Some of the bagels have molded which is another pinch in the larder.

The rangers also very nicely agreed to split up a twenty mile day from sunrise to nickel creek. Now it only sunrise to summerland then summerland to nickel. Hooray.

Well it is time to turn in. The new shires contrail tent is very cozy the sleeping mat is full and the bag is fluffy. The privy is without walls however meaning that precautionary calls of POTTY CHECK will echo throughout the night.

Thursday, September 02, 2010


Steve and Jen agreed to take me in and generally cart me around before and after my hike on the 93 mile Wonderland trail. I shall make them musaman tofu and other good things in exchange. They are also showing me Seattle. It's gorgeous. There's the Boeing plant with its possibilities and the air with its magical low humidity and salt tang. There is Rainier ominous and huge though it is seventy miles away. Tomorrow I go there and start walking at its feet. It is one giant huge thing. At this distance you could barely make out katahdin, but then again miss k is one third the size.

Jen reminded me that Seattle is wearing its party dress when visitors are about, however, just like Florida in January. It's not always like this but seems to like acting this way when out of towners drop by. This time of year it puts on its nice things and sidles up to you while putting rufies in your drink. Then when you wake up it's December and Seattle is in a paisley nightgown with a bent cigarette clamped between frosty seadamp lips. "HI THERE SAILOR" she growls cancerously, as you grip sheets in horror and wonder if you can remember what the sun looks like. So it's good to remember that every place can have its good sides and down sides.

The people here are pretty awesome though. I lost track of times when I thought I Steve would get run over as a pedestrian, but traffic stopped as if by magic, or even by traffic law. It is a strange sight for a visitor from the savage south. I feel like I should be carrying a super soaker loaded with sausage gravy so I could hose down vegans with it. HOW YA'LL DOIN'?

Probably won't get a chance to post again for at least a week, either from Sunrise or when I get back to Jen and Steve's, when the walk is done.


I actually met the real Ms Seattle while walking to get mexican food from a place near Saltwater Park. From across the road, a bulbous humanoid in a mumu intoned, "Do ya wanna DO IT?!". I laughed. She started belting out Broadway songs. Belted them out pretty well, actually. Think of a genetic melange of Steve Perry and Ethel Merman. As my host identified, "Ah. Not so much street walker as street crazy person". I wish Sarasota street crazies sang Broadway tunes. It would beat the current habit of swinging around lampposts with their winkies out.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Layered Ratatouille

My working recipe for ratatouille has always been the variant popularized by Julia Child, in which the vegetables are separately browned before being layered, lasagna style, into a casserole and briefly braised. A nice side effect of this method is that you a bit of a fond on the bottom of the pan, which you hoover up as you make the tomato sauce. It also makes a nicely slice-able end product.

I've made this dish often enough that I don't remember the exact recipe anymore, and was able to make it for Pacer (GA-ME 2006) and his sister Cari on a break from the Appalachian Trail in Washington, D.C. Wow, that was more than 4 years ago. Whoosh.

Anyway here we go.

2 medium sized eggplants, peeled, sliced into .5" rounds
3 good-size zucchini, ends removed, sliced into long strips.
4 or 6 nice yellow squash, sliced into rounds.
1 green bell pepper, seeded, halved
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded, halved
1 big yellow onion, peeled
8 roma tomatoes, stems cut out.
A handful basil
A handful parsley
6-12 cloves garlic, minced
Tbsp paprika
1 heaping tsp red pepper flakes
Some kosher salt
An awful lot of extra virgin olive oil
Medium sized casserole dish, 2.5 quarts, maybe a bit bigger.

Salt the eggplant rounds on both sides and lay out on a very thick layer of paper towels. Wait 30 minutes, then flip them, and wait another 30 minutes. They should be very limp, very meaty. Rinse any excess salt from the rounds and keep them handy. This is called purging the eggplant and it rids the berry of its nastier flavors. Try and pick boy eggplants and not girl eggplants. Boy eggplants have a round belly button, girls have an oval belly button. The boys have fewer seeds and are thus less bitter.

Get the sauce fixings ready while the hopefully boy eggplant is bring purged. I like to get the sauce components ready in the cuisinart because this is a time sucking recipe, and I don't want to give this recipe more time than it already demands. In your food processor, pulse the onion until very coarsely chopped, then add the bell peppers (seeded, please), pulse until they are coarsely chopped. Reserve in a separate bowl. Put the tomatoes in the food processor, whir until everything is smoothed out, reserve. Finally, whir the basil and the parsley until chopped, reserve.

In your biggest skillet, heat a couple of tablespoons of the extra virgin until shimmering on medium-high heat. Brown the eggplant, turning once. You might need to add more oil between batches, especially with the eggplant, because that stuff sucks up oil like nobody's business. If stuff starts turning black in the bottom of the pan drop the heat to medium. Reserve all those fine browned vegetables, eggplant in one bowl, squishes in another.

Now that you are done with the eggplant and squishes, add some more oil to the pan and throw in the onions and green peppers. Just a bit of salt to help them sweat, but be careful with the salt, as there's enough in the eggplant already. Cook on medium heat until everything is softened. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, cook about 30 seconds. Add the tomato mixture, stir to loosen all brown bits from the bottom of the pan. If it doesn't look red enough add paprika. Cook this mixture down on medium heat until it is almost dry, like thick oatmeal. Add the chopped basil and parsley, then remove from the heat.

Heat the oven to 300.

In the casserole, put down a third of the tomato mixture, then a third of the eggplant, a third of the squishes. Repeat until all ingredients are used up.

Put in the oven for anywhere between 30 minutes to 1 hour. Watch the casserole carefully to make sure it doesn't scorch on the sides or on the top. Pull from the oven, allow to cool to just warm, then slice into rectangles and serve.

This dish gets much, much better when it is stored for a few days in the fridge. It is also surprisingly good cold, and works well as a pasta topping or savory crepe filling. It's also low-carb, and makes a good subsitiute for potatoes when you are serving roast beast of some form.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Creamy Tomatoes

Sometime in early September I'm walking around Mt. Rainier in Washington State, on a thing called the Wonderland Trail. It's generally considered by the hiking public to be the most gorgeous long trail in the United States. Mile-for-mile, it also has the second-most cumulative altitude gain of any long trail in the United States, right behind Vermont's Long Trail. Walking around the big volcano and its lahores and moraines you clamber down- and consequently climbs out of- many many deep gorges. What this means in terms of a cooking and hiking blog is that a diet is coming. Time to clean out the fridge and the pantry of ingredients sure to add knee-destroying body weight. I'm looking at you, pasta and cream.

Even if you aren't cleaning out the pantry, this is some pretty good pasta. It's also surprisingly quick and can be whipped up on a weeknight after work.

3 tbsp butter
1 oz prosciutto (I used the lean parts of some slab bacon and it worked fine.)
1 small onion, minced
1 bay leaf
.5 tsp red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste (Incredibly I didn't have any tomato paste, but I used some tomato puree I'd reduced until dark)
2 oz sun dried tomatoes (I didn't have these, but normally I use the sun-dried tomatoes from Sam's, which are packed in olive oil).
.25 cup white wine
14 oz canned diced tomatoes, whirred in the food processor until smooth (Hunt's diced tomatoes are very good, Muir Glen is supposed to be good also)
1 pound penne
.5 cup heavy cream
.25 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped (I used the squeeze tube of basil, about 2 tbsp)
Fresh grated Parmesan (I used sheep milk Pecorino as we entertain a lot of lactose-intolerant folk)

Put a big pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta.

Melt your butter in a big saucepan on medium heat. Add the bacon, cook until it's gotten some color. Make sure the butter doesn't turn brown. If it does, turn down the heat. Add the onion, bay leaf, pepper flakes, pinch of salt, cook until onion is soft and a bit brown. Add garlic, cook until aromatic. Crank the heat up to medium-high, add the tomato paste and sun dried tomatoes. Cook, stirring, until darkened. Frying tomato paste like this is something you see a lot of in Creole cooking, it adds a certain long-cooked tomato flavor without the actual long cooking. Add the wine and cook until liquid is evaporated, scraping the bottom for any stubborn paste bits. Add the whirred tomatoes, but reserve, eh, .25 cup for later. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is quite thick. You know it's thick enough when you pull the spoon across the pan and you can see the pan.

While it's simmering cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and refresh in the colander with some cold water so it doesn't overcook.

Back to the sauce. It's thick now, right? Take out the bay leaf. Add the cream, the .25 cup reserved whirred tomatoes, a splash of white wine, and heat until the cream is warmed through. Try to not let it come to a boil. Add the basil, stir to combine, then add the pasta and toss to coat. Serve with the fresh grated cheese.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Grilled Salmon

Another recipe from "Superfood Friday" was grilled salmon. This was a hit even with folks that didn't like fish; "Wow I know it's salmon but it tastes like ham. How did you do that?".

Doesn't sound like much, I know, but it's a compliment from someone who generally doesn't roll with the pleasures of the sea.

Grilling fish can be problematic. The borderline OCD Cook's Illustrated recipe advises you to be able to spy your reflection in the grate before trying this. Packaged with advice to clean your coffee grinder for use especially as a spice mill, maybe right after you organize your pans by capacity . . for the day . . before you disappear in a Zoloft haze. Anyway, spit shining your grill isn't necessary, and you can even grill fish in a smoker as filthy as mine. The filthiness is necessary for delicious smoked pork, ask the nearest Southerner. You can grill your salmon in your filthy pork smoker. It's OK.

First and probably most important, you must use salmon filets with the skin on. These will be side cut filets, with the skin on one side and flesh on the other. This can be a problem in the winter, when wild salmon isn't generally available. Farmed salmon, the kind you get in the winter with no skin and lots of blobby fat, have no skin. They have to skin farmed salmon because their skin is a carnival of pathogens thanks to the industrial-grade antibiotics they have to swim around in. So if you have to use farmed salmon it's going to need a little savvy. More on that in a second.

Second, grilled fish needs a marinade but not too long and not too acid. Either will change the structure of the waterlogged proteins and make them more delicate, which you definitely do not want. I haven't wandered far from the soy sauce reserve on this one. Stick the filets in a gallon ziplock and submerge in teriyaki sauce for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Definitely don't take it over an hour. Don't have any teriyaki? Fine. Whisk together 1 cup soy sauce, 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar, 1 tbsp honey, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, and 1 tsp garlic powder, pour over fish, marinade as with teriyaki. That will work fine.

Start your fire as close to the grilling surface as you can get it. This is the third rule. Fish needs hot fire fast, to firm up the outside of the fish before the inside gets a chance to overcook. Spread the coals out, put the grates on, and heat the grate 5-10 minutes.

While that's going on, remove the salmon from the marinade, dry with paper towels, and lay flesh side down. Spray the skin side with nonstick cooking spray. If you are doing this with skinless filets, lay the salmon flat side down on some aluminum foil, and trim the foil around the edge of the filet so that it makes a fake skin. If you use this technique be warned that the fish will probably not be cooked all the way through. More on that in a second.

Using tongs, wipe down the grill with some paper towels soaked in canola or peanut oil. Any oil with a high smoke point will do.

Immediately slap the salmon down on the grill, skin side down. Put the thickest pieces in the middle of the file, and the smaller tail sections around the edges.

Grill 5 minutes, 7 minutes for the aluminum-clad salmon at the outside. Always error on the side of rare for seafood, because it cooks while sitting on the counter after you pull it off the grill. Overcooked fish, however, stays overcooked. I've served medium rare farmed salmon to a lot of people at a lot of events and haven't sickened/killed anyone yet. So go 7 minutes with the aluminum salmon if you're a fraidy cat.

At the end of that time, spray the flesh side with non-stick cooking spray. There will be some flame here. Try to not let the flame ride back into the can and explode. Shrapnel wounds can stifle even the best of dinner parties.

Using tongs and a spatula, flip the filets. If some of the skin sticks don't fret, just pull the filet off the stuck skin, pull the skin off the grill, and flip the now skinless filet. The skin's done its job, but don't throw it out. Keep that bad boy. It's quite good, like fishy grilled bacon, and is a favorite scooby snack of mine. If you're using foil and the filet comes away from the foil, well, you can toss the foil. It won't taste like anything, really, except maybe LSD. Not that I would know what LSD tastes like, mind you.

After flipping, grill for 2 more minutes, until the flesh side gets nice grill marks. Carefully remove with spatula and tongs and place on platter.

Serve with some other healthy things. Salad lettuce is either a crunchy bore or wilts after ninety seconds. For salads made from raw materials that last longer than a fool's whimsy, I like slicing up 2 cukes, 2 tomatoes, and half a red onion, tossing with .25 cup extra virgin, 2 tbsp vinegar, 1 tsp black pepper and 1 tsp kosher salt. Throw in some mint if you have it.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Szechuan Stroganoff

When I'm stepping out for a weekend evening, I get the urge to make up a nice meal for the wife. I was going to brew up either some "Simple Italian Meat Sauce" or some "Szechuan Noodles". I had more of the ingredients for Szechuan noodles, so that was what got made, and wow am I happy that was the case. This was some serious eats.

The recipe called for ground pork, but I used ground beef because I have some piles of it in the freezer than is flirting with freezer burn and needs to get used up in the next few weeks. The usage of beef gave the final dish a sort of oriental Hamburger Helper feel, a not unpleasant waxiness from the beef fat. My wife called it Szechuan Stroganoff, and I think that settled the description of the texture pretty well. I realize this is not selling the recipe at all, but make it before ye judge. It's really good.

8 oz ground pork- I used ground beef and I suspect any form of ground protein that can take browning would do fine here.
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp wine
2 tbsp oyster sauce
.25 cup "Asian Style Sesame Paste", well, I don't have that, but I do have tahini. I suspect smooth no sugar peanut butter would work well here also
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1.25 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 pound fresh chinese noodles, I used rice stick noodles that I keep around for pad thai, they worked great. Linguini would also work. If using dried noodles use about 12 oz rather than a pound.
3 scallions, didn't have these, used half an onion, sliced very fine
2 cups bean sprouts, substituted 1 red bell pepper, sliced very fine

Make up your noodles until they are al dente. I'm not giving any hard and fast rules for rice noodles because they are tricky bastards. Boil water, take off the heat, add rice noodles and wait about 10 minutes. They'll either be good or they won't, but that's about as accurate as I can get with those things. If you're using linguini your job is a lot easier in that department. Drain the noodles when they're done and shock with cold water to keep them from cooking in the colander.

Toss the ground meat with 1 tbsp soy, 1 tbsp wine, and a couple of turns black pepper. Set aside.

In another bowl, mix 2 tbsp soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame paste, vinegar, and a couple more turns of black pepper. Whisk until smoothed out, then mix in the broth. Set aside.

Heat oil in your biggest skillet on high heat until shimmering. Add ground meat mixture and cook until well browned. Stir in garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes, cook about 30 seconds. Stir in the broth/sesame mixture, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook until thickened, then pull off the heat and add sesame oil.

Stir in the noodles, onions, and bean sprouts-red bell pepper strips-crunchy veg strip of your choosing. Toss until everything is coated the meat more or less evenly distributed.

Serve and marvel at how Chinese people can be so skinny with food like this laying around. Must be why they never invade anyone. Who would invade another country when you can have another bowl of noodles? I might have one right now, actually. My overland tank army is dwindling as I speak.

Tempeh Chili

When I tried this stuff, I thought, "Good stuff, although not chili. More like a chili-inspired vegetable chowder". Still worthwhile stuff, and darn useful when feeding vegans.

28 oz good canned dice tomatoes- Hunts and Muir Glen are the best
1 tbsp oil
8 oz tempeh
1 tbsp cumin seed
2 carrots, peeled
1 onion
1 red bell pepper
9 cloves garlic
2 tbsp chili powder
1 chipotle, minced
3 cups water
15 oz can kidney beans
1 tsp dried oregano
1 cup frozen corn
1 zucchini, halved, seeded, sliced into .5" slices
Handful cilantro
1 tbsp lime juice

Whir the tomatoes in a food processor until smooth. Reserve.

Fry tempeh in oil until brown on medium high heat, remove and reserve.

Pulse the carrots, onion, bell pepper, garlic, chipotle, chili powder, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper in bowl of food processor until everything is coarsely chopped. Start with the carrots, then add everything else, otherwise you'll get some irregular large hunks of carrot.

Turn heat down to medium, fry cumin seeds in oil until they start jumping around. About a minute. Add some more oil. Add the vegetable and spice chop from the last paragraph. Fry until everything starts thinking about softening, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the processed tomatoes, water, beans, and oregano. Scrape any crusty bits on the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook 45 minutes until mixture is very thick and somewhat reduced.

Add the reserved tempeh, the frozen corn, and the zucchini, cook until the zukes are tender. Pull from the heat, stir in cilantro and lime juice.

Serve with avocado, corn bread, chopped onions. Or cheese if you are feeding normal vegetarians.

Roast Broccoli

This got made during a "Superfood Friday", where I replaced the comfort food with superfoods. It was one of the most popular dishes, and is also a handy trick to have when cooking brocc.

2-3 heads worth of broccoli florets, about 2 pounds.
3 tbsp oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

Preheat the oven to 450. Put the rack to the lowest position. Put two baking sheets inside the oven on the rack and let the sheets get rocket hot.

Split the larger florets along the stem so each floret gives you a flat side and a puffy side. The flat side maximizes pan contact, which promotes browning. This browning pulls out and accentuates the brocc's natural sugars, maing it taste even more vegetal than it already does, and produces a lot of new flavor besides. Don't bother doing this with the smaller florets, they'll just burn if you halve them.

Toss the halved florets with the oil, salt, and sugar. Let stand 10 minutes. Pull the hot baking sheets from the oven. Working quickly, place the cut florets flat side down on the hot sheets. Start by placing the largest pieces around the rim first, then as the pieces get smaller spiral inward, until you dump the little pile of tiny uncut florets in the center.

Put the sheet into the oven and bake 10-15 minutes, until the bottom of the largest pieces is dark brown.

Immediately scoop hot florets off baking sheet into serving bown. Sprinkle some chopped walnuts and 1 tsp lemon. The lemon and walnuts are optional, the stuff is really good straight up.

This method works well also with cauliflower.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chocolypse Now

Your mission is to obtain a 12 cup Bundt pan and fill it with a batter that will, upon baking, separate into a cakey outer layer and a fudgelike inner layer or tunnel. The resulting baked confection is known by the locals as a "tunnel of fudge cake". Bake the day before and correct its orientation after a night's refridgeration.

Bake? You bake the tunnel of fudge?

Bake. With extreme prejudice.


Grease a 12 cup bundt pan with shortening or butter and dust with cocoa powder. Crank the oven to 350.

Pour .5 cup boiling water into 2 oz bittersweet (60% cacao) chocolate chips, whir until combined. Allow to come to room temperature.

Put 2 cups walnuts in the work bowl of your largish food processor. Whir until coarsely chopped. Add 2 cups flour, .75 cup cocoa powder, 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 tsp salt, pulse until combined.

Beat 5 eggs with 1 tbsp vanilla extract.

In a large bowl, beat 1 cup sugar, .75 cup brown sugar, and 2.5 sticks (10 oz) softened butter until fluffy, approx. 2 minutes. On low speed, add the egg mixture and beat in until combined. Add the chocolate/water mixture, beat until incorporated. Beat in the flour mixture until just combined. Scoop the batter into the prepared bundt pan, smooth the top, and bake until the edges are beginning to pull away from the pan, 45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on rack 1.5 hours. The cake will develop a trench inside of it that will make it flatten when inverted. If you care about such things, fill the trench with more ground walnuts glued together with some chocolate chips melted in the microware.
Author's Edit: The New York Times recipe recommends flattening the trench after 30 minutes of cooling in the pan, then allowing it to cool 1 more hour before inverting the cake onto the serving tray and cooling it completely. Need to try that next time . . .
After the cake has cooled for 1.5 hours, put serving plate over bundt pan and invert. Tap the pan a few times to make it drop out. This cake does not have a lot of structure so be careful. Allow to cool completely once inverted, 2 hours or overnight in the fridge. Once cooled the cake is very stable.

To make the ganache frosting, cook .75 cup heavy cream, .25 cup light corn syrup, 8 oz 60% chips, and 1 tsp vanilla on medium heat until smooth, then cool until it reaches a frosting-like consistency. Or, if you are in a rush, wait 30 minutes and pour over cooled cake. It will be a big mess and there will be leftover ganache.

Serve. Try not to send anyone to the hospital. It's pretty strong voodoo. I'm still finding bits of chocolate on the countertop.

The horror . . the horror . .

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Tamale Time

The decision to make tamales last night turned into something of an adventure. I had the ingredients, I had a plan, but I did not have a recipe. The internet was out, leaving me with just a couple of guidelines:
>Tamale dough is basically biscuit dough made with masa, lard, and chicken broth instead of flour, shortening, and buttermilk. I had to use masa, shortening, and veggie broth for vegetarian guests
>Tamales are wrapped from the wide end of the husk to the narrow end, with the filling/dough at the wide end. One end is left open to allow the filling to expand, which it will as it is chemically leavened with baking powder.
>Tamales just need about 30 minutes in a pressure cooker
>Since I was feeding lactose-intolerant vegetarians and had one guest with an unknown spice tolerance, the filling was a simple strip of sheep milk manchego and a strip of poblano.

First soak your corn husks. You'll need, eh, about twenty. Depends on how big the husks are and how good you are at making these things. I suck at it, so I used quite a few. Stick the husks in boiling water and weigh them down so they sit in it for an hour or so.

Make up the masa. In a bowl mix 2 cups masa flour, 2 heaping tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt. Mix in .25 cup shortening into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Use your fingertips if you can. Slowly add 1 cup veggie broth, stirring, until mixture is sort of like mashed potatoes.

Lay out a corn husk. Put down 2 tablespoons of masa dough at the wide end of the husk, sort of to one side. Lay down the cheese strip and the poblano strip into the filling, then sort of roll the masa around the filling with the husk. Fold one of the long sides over the dough/filling, then roll it up the long way. Tie off the bundle with string. There is probably a much better howto video out there somewhere, accessible to folks with better internet.

Repeat this process until you run out of something. I ran out of masa dough first, which is fine, leftover manchego and poblano will certainly not go to waste.

Put down the steamer tray in the pressure cooker and fill the sucker up with tamales, open end facing up. Pour water down the side, avoiding the tamales, until the water level is right up to the bottom of the basket but not touching the tamales. Cover and steam on high pressure for 30 minutes or until the husk can be pulled away from the dough without a huge mess. These tamales are a little gooier than a meat tamale because of the cheese filling.

It's a testament to how forgiving this dish is that you can make it without having made it before, without even having a decent recipe, and still have it come out pretty damn good. As it is, I can't wait to do them again with pork filling and a proper recipe.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Steak au Poivre

Steak au poivre is rocket fast and very good with some supplements from the farmer's market. With the right choice of side dishes it's also low carb, since it's basically just pepper steak in cream. Not exactly low fat, but for God's sakes, don't try and make filet healthy. I've sort of subverted the classical poivre by adding a second saute item (mushrooms) after the steak before the deglazing. Mushrooms have lots of liquid and won't let the fond burn, so stop freaking out, frenchie. You can leave out the mushrooms if you want and just flame the fond from sauteing the filet. You might want to do that anyway if you hate mushrooms.

2 6-8 oz filet mignon, 1.5" thick
1 cup heavy cream
2 big shots cognac
Lots of black peppercorns
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp oil
12 oz Haricotes vertes- I'm not sure if I'm spelling this properly, but they're very very skinny green beans. They're really good.
Some more butter
.5 lemon
3 tbsp chopped parsley
12 oz mushrooms. White button are fine here. Rinse them off in the colander.
Good baguette

Salt the filet on both sides with large-grained kosher salt. Let it come to room temperature. Just let it sit for an hour, it's OK. Crush the peppercorns using a mortar and pestle or a frying pan and a brick. You don't want powdered pepper. Just sort of crack them. Press the cracked peppercorns into both sides of each filet. The juices drawn out by the salting should provide enough moisture and protein to stick the peppercorns on.
Put a giant pot with a gallon of water on high heat. Add a quarter cup kosher salt.
Crank the heat to medium high and put the oil and butter in the saucepan. Let the butter melt. When it starts to smell a bit nutty, maybe the foam starts turning a little brown, put the steaks in. Four minutes later, flip using tongs. Four more minutes on the other side. Take the steaks out and put on a dish. Tent loosely with foil. I hope you've got a decent hood system. If not, you can loosely cover the pan while cooking, it cuts down the smoke some.
Put the mushrooms in the pan, put the heat to medium. Cover the pan if things are looking a little too burnt in there; the liquor given off by the mushrooms will prevent burning if they're allowed to condense in there. Cook the mushrooms until tender. Try and time it so the pan is dry when the mushrooms are done. No mushroom water should remain. Remove the mushrooms to the steak plate. Put the pan back on the fire, crank it back up to medium high.
Take a shot of cognac. Take another shot and put it in the pan. Ignite the cognac with a fire device of some kind and swirl the pan until flames subside. Put in your heavy cream, stir until liquid is reduced a bit and very thick. Taste and correct seasoning.
The giant pot should be boiling merrily by this point. Dump in the haricotes and boil for 3 minutes. These little guys cook lightning quick, so be careful. Drain into colander, put back in pot with parsley, 1 tbsp butter, and the juice from the .5 lemon. Toss delicately.
Put the steaks in the sauce, turn to coat.
Plate steaks surrounded with green beans and mushrooms. Serve with baguette and the cooking pan with remaining sauce, for scoopin' and dippin'

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Eggplant and Meatballs

Leftover ground beef in the freezer had been calling out to be used for some time and the wife was thinking meatballs. What to go with said meatballs? Spaghetti or fettuccine would have been nice but ill-advised. Pasta is not a good thing to eat for the last meal of the day unless a late night run or deadlift fest is part of your bedtime ritual. Why not eggplant noodles? Purged and thinly sliced, the eggplant would provide a viable low-carb pasta substitute. To put the two together I glopped in some tomato sauce I had made a few days before.

Peel 2 medium size male eggplants and slice very thin, about .25 inch. Male eggplants have tiny round navels, females have the big oval ones. Males have less seeds and are less bitter. Use them. Liberally dose both sides of eggplant with kosher salt, put slices on a healthy bed of paper towels. Allow to purge for one hour or until the eggplant slices are all floopsy. Wash off the salt, then squeeze the moisture from the slices. You can use your hands. Just pretend it's one of those stress-relief balls. You can squeeze a couple of slices at a time. Finely slice the squeezed and purged eggplant into long ribbons like fettuccine noodles. Set aside.

Tomato sauce:
Whir a half a green pepper, a medium onion, and 4 oz of mushrooms in the food processor until coarsely chopped. Heat some olive oil in a big pan on medium heat until shimmering, then cook the chopped veggies in the oil until the onion is translucent and the mushrooms have given up much of their moisture. Add 2 tbsp tomato paste and fry the paste until it takes on some color. Add 4 cloves garlic, minced, fry for 30 seconds. Add 1 tsp red pepper flakes. Cut out the stems from 4 good vine ripe tomatoes, throw in food processor, and whir until roughly chopped. Throw in pan, heat until bubbling, then cut heat to low, cover vessel and cook for 30 minutes. Swirl in .25 cup chopped basil at the end of cooking. If it's too tart, which it probably is, adjust with Splenda or sugar.

Clean out the food processor, and stick in 3 slices sandwich bread, 4 tbsp plain yogurt, 2 tbsp milk, a handful parsley, 4 cloves garlic, 1 oz Pecorino, and 1 egg yolk. Pulse until this is a homogenous mixture. Thow in some more red pepper flake if your are so inclined. Add 1 lb ground beef (meatloaf mix would be better) and 2 ounces of cooked crumbled bacon (you can substitute finely diced ham, diced prosciutto would be perfect). Pulse until combined. Form 12 balls from this mass and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Or not. Chilling them just makes them easier to handle in the pan. My mistake was to chop the cheese instead of grate it, leading to bits of melted cheese stuck to the bottom of the pan. Make sure the cheese is ground into bits to keep this from happening. As it turned out the crusty melty cheese didn't burn enough to ruin the dish. Lucky.

Final Countdown:
Your sauce should be well and truly cooked, so spoon it out to a bowl and set aside. Clean out the saucepan with paper towels until virtually no tomato sauce remains. Medium heat, another tbsp olive oil in the pan until it is shimmering. Add the meatballs and fry until they are brown on more than one surface, 3 minutes on one side and 3 minutes on another works for me. Work carefully, especially if you didn't chill the meatballs beforehand. Remove the meatballs to a plate and reserve. Add the eggplant to the oil and accumulated drippings and fry until the eggplant has absorbed a good deal of the oil. Add the sauce to the eggplant, stir to incorporate. Put the meatballs around the periphery of the eggplant. You want the eggplant to cook, and the meatballs just want to simmer, so make sure the eggplant gets the lion's share of the heat. Dial the heat down to low, cover the vessel, and simmer, eh, about 30 minutes. Maybe less, maybe more. It's done when the eggplant is just a bit gushy and not too firm to the bite. Serve in big bowls. It gets better after a day in the fridge.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Great Balls of Fry

Last week had a double header of dinner parties: a Fried Ball themed potluck and an afternoon tea. The afternoon tea I can get to in a later post, but the fried ball onslaught is well documented. I agreed to make two dishes: falafel (already covered back in June 10, 2009 in Fallin, Fallin, Falafelin In Love) and arancini, which are basically deep fried stuffed risotto balls. In Rome arancini are called suppli, or suppli al telefono when stuffed with mozzarella because when you pull one apart you get a cord of cheese connecting the two bits. Then you have to have an imaginary conversation with one end before you shove the whole thing in your mouth.

The day before, make up some risotto. I think I blogged risotto before but hey, it's easy, we can do it again. In your food processor, pulse 4 oz crimini mushrooms, .5 of an onion, 1 carrot, 1 rib celery, and 10 basil leaves until everything is coarsely chopped. Melt 3 tbsp butter in your pressure cooker on medium-low heat. Add the chopped veggies to the butter, fry until the mushrooms have quit giving up liquid and are quite dry. Add 2 cloves garlic, minced, fry 30 seconds. Add 2 cups arborio rice, stir, frying, until the rice grains turn sort of translucent at the ends where they absorb the oils. This is a pretty critical part of risotto making. It provides a little oily waterproofing for the rice grains so that they do not absorb too much moisture and get gushy. Good risotto is a blend of creamy sauce and al dente grain, not gush in gush sauce. Once the rice has been pumped with butter in this way, add .5 cup dry white wine or vermouth and 1 tsp salt. Cook, stirring, until the wine is absorbed. Add 4.5 cups chicken stock, stir to combine, then lid the vessel and set on high pressure for 6 minutes. At the end of the 6 minutes, dump the pressure, unlid the vessel, and set to simmer. Add .5 cup more stock while stirring, allow it to get creamier, absorbing more of the liquid, then add 1.5 cups shredded Parmesan, freshly grated. Stir until the cheese is melted and integrated into the sauce. Pecorino romano works here as well but makes it a bit saltier. Don't use the Kraft pregrated stuff unless you like grit; anticaking agents in pregrated Parmesan also prevent it from melting smoothly. Pour off 3 cups of the risotto and put it in the fridge to make the suppli. Serve the rest for dinner. Hey, look at that, two suppers in one.

The thing about suppli is that it almost certainly was invented to use up leftover risotto, which is notorious for degrading in taste and quality when stored. By stuffing small quantities of risotto with soft cheese, breading them, and deep frying, some of the risotto's original creaminess is brought back from the grave, this time with a crispy coating.

Put your 3 cups of leftover risotto into a big bowl and add 3 eggs, beaten, stir to incorporate. In a big plate, put about 2 cups panko bread crumbs. Dice 8 oz of mozzarella into .5" cubes. You'll want to use supermaket block mozzarella, the hard stuff, not the buffalo or fresh mozzarella from the gourmet deli, it's too mushy to work with here. Wet your hands. Grab a heaping tablespoon of the risotto egg mixture in your hands, then kind of push a mozzarella cube into the mass, making sure the risotto mixture completely covers the cheese. Shape into a sphere. Roll the sphere in the panko until it isn't sticky anymore. Put on a baking sheet lined with saran wrap. Repeat this process until you are out of something. You should have a full cookie sheet of ready-to-go suppli. Gently wrap the cookie sheet full of suppli with saran wrap. Don't crush the balls! Slide into the refrigerator for 30 minutes or overnight.

When you're ready to fry, unwrap your balls. If any got crushed, roll it around in your hands until spherical again, making sure no cheese is exposed. If there is it is an awful mess. Heat some oil up to 350, or as close as you can get. 300 seems to be the limit of an electric burner/big pot combination; if you have a purpose built deep fryer you can probably do better. 300 worked for me. Carefully, gently plunk each ball into the oil. Just hold the ball right over the surface of the oil, let go, and get your hand out of the way as fast as you can without knocking shit over. Think "feeding a tiger sardines". Fry the balls until they are deep golden brown all over. Skim them out with your spider. A spider's one of those wide mesh devices you'll see a lot of in Oriental food and gift shops. They're like three bucks, go and get one. Once the balls are crispy and delicious, remove and set the ball on paper towels to drain. Serve with good marinara sauce for spoonin' and dunkin'. Probably be a good idea to serve some Tums too.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Begun Pora

For some reason or other, around this time of year I get a serious jonesin' for eggplant. It's a mystery. It does have the highest concentration of nicotine in any non-tobacco plant, so that could be one reason I like it so much. Sweet, sweet nicotine. It's also cheap in the summertime, especially in the farmers markets, because of its tendency to take over gardens when the weather is hot and juicy. More than any other reason, though, is the satin mouth feel in spite of eggplant's having nearly no carbs. That creamy, mashed-potato-like unctuousness pairs especially well with the eggplant's ability to take on any variety of flavored fats. Good in Indian food. And if there's one cuisine built of flavored fats it's Indian (and Chinese, but that's another eggplant post). Hey, look at that, someone's thought of it already, it's called begun pora.

Heat the oven to 400.

Slice a male eggplant in half, then into .5" semicircular slices. How do you sex an eggplant? A boy eggplant's stem is round instead of oval, and it tends to be longer and skinnier. Male eggplants have less seeds than their girly counterparts, and are hence less bitter. You can make this recipe with two eggplants if one isn't big enough.

Line a couple of baking sheets with foil, lube them up, then put in the eggplant in a single layer. High temp oil please, extra virgin or butter will burn at this temperature. Flip the eggplant in the oil so it has oil on all surfaces. Roast until brown on the bottom.

Chop up 1 big bunch green onions, 6 cloves garlic, and 14 oz of tomatoes (or open a can of tomatoes). Might as well chop up a handful of cilantro while you're at it, about 1 cup chopped.

Melt 3 tbsp butter in a big skillet. Add 1 tbsp dry mustard and 1 tbsp garam masala. You're supposed to use black mustard seed here, but it's not something I often have around, while I always have dry mustard around for vinaigrette, mayonnaise, bechamel . . all sorts of things, really. Fry the spices for 30 seconds. Add onions, garlic, 1 tbsp tumeric, 1 tbsp chili powder, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp coriander, and 1 tsp salt. Add a chopped fresh chili if you have one, if not, add 1 tsp red pepper flakes, or more depending on spice tolerance. Fry until the garlic is aromatic. Add the tomatoes and a bucket of sliced mushrooms (white button or crimini, about 8-12oz), toss to coat everything in gravy, then put a lid on it and simmer until mushrooms are soft. If the mushrooms have given off too much liquid, or if the gravy is just too watery, cook it down uncovered until thick.

Make sure you're not burning your eggplant. I always end up burning some of it. If it's done, scrape it into the gravy, add the chopped cilantro, and toss to combine. There's your begun pora.

Make up some raita. Finely chop 1 cucumber, 2 stalks mint, 1 tiny white onion. Combine with 3 heaping tbsp greek yogurt or sour cream and 1 tsp salt.

Serve the eggplant and raita with papadoum (low carb option) or some naan and basmati rice (delicious option).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Chill the Noodle

Well, it's not exactly low carb, but soba noodles are nutritional powerhouses, especially compared to their blanched white hoodlum friends, semolina pastas. They also chill well with a simple dressing and a few odds and ends in the crisper drawer. I want to tap the well of Japanese knowledge on this subject- cold soba is apparently an everyday food in Japan- and it is too damn hot down here in the Sunshine State this time of year to cook anything not involving a grill.

Boil a gallon of water. Cook 12 oz of soba noodles according to the instructions on the package, assuming you can find some in English. Mine had a cartoon bear chasing some ghost creature with what looked like a gas can that had the number "6" on it. Six minutes of cartoon bear ghost chasing then. You don't want to know what the next panel looked like.

Decant the soba and rinse in cool water right away. You want to drop the temp on those soba as soon as you can because they overcook lightning quick. Drain and reserve.

In a big bowl, whisk .25 cup soy sauce, 1 tbsp rice vinegar, 1 tsp honey, .1 tsp ginger, 1 tsp wasabi, and 1 or 2 tsp sesame oil. Whisk and taste. Balance the flavors until you got something you like. Finely slice 3 medium scallions, add them to dressing.

Add some matchstick carrots, leftover coleslaw mix, thinly sliced bell peppers, thinly sliced cukes- you get the idea here. It likes anything crispy and not too terribly starchy. It is really forgiving. Just don't add something like, I don't know, mashed potatoes or baked beans or something like that.

Add the soba to the veggies and dressing, toss to coat. Adjust flavoring. Chill and serve.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Smoking Chuck

I always thought pulled pork was my favorite kind of barbecue, but recent experiences in smoking beef chuck have changed my opinion. Smoked beef chuck is easier and better than its piggy counterparts, but is also on average a dollar per pound more expensive, sometimes more.

Fire up a chimney worth of charcoal. Make sure you have some hardwood chunks handy. Don't use mesquite. Get back inside to prep your meat.

Get about six pounds of chuck- 2 big pieces, or one big pack from Sam's. Cut each piece into quarters so that no piece is more than two inches thick on any axis. Dump a fair amount of fajita seasoning (I like Badia's mix) into a plate, then roll each chuck piece in the seasoning until coated. Put the coated pieces into 2 half-size aluminum pans- I think they're 9x13". Make sure they have some spacing or the smoke and heat won't be able to get to them.

Once the coals have a coating of ash, dump them on one side of your smoker, then scatter some hardwood chunks on the coals. Arrange the pans with meat in them on the side the heat isn't. Cover the grill, and close the vents to 20% or so. You want to be somewhere between 250 and 300 degrees, but keep it below 300.

When the two hours are almost up, preheat the oven to 300, retrieve meat from the smoker. Using tongs, flip each piece of meat so that the dry side is in the wet stuff. Cover each pan with aluminum foil and put in the oven for 2-3 hours, or until meat pulls apart easily.

Take meat out of pans and set aside. Drain cooking fluids into vessel, skim off 2 tbsp of fat, discard the rest of the fat. Reserve the non-fatty cooking juices.

Put the reserved 2 tbsp of fat into a saucepan and heat over medium. Cook 1 onion in the fat until soft. Add 6 chopped garlic cloves and 1 tsp chili powder, cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the reserved cooking juices, 1.25 cups ketchup, a tsp of instant coffee, .5 cup cider vinegar, .5 cup brown sugar, 3 tbsp Worcestershire, 1 tsp ground black pepper, and 1 tsp liquid smoke. Cook this mixture down until thickened.

Shred the meat using two forks, then add half the sauce, stir to combine. Serve with the reserved sauce.