How tender is your loin?

Mine is super-tender. So tender, in fact, that I had to double check my thermometer reading to make sure I wouldn’t be innoculating my husband with trichonosis. The thermometer read 138–good enough! Trichonosis dies at 137 F. I pull my pork (Heh!) at 135, let it rest, and it climbs the extra couple of degrees it needs to climb. Still all juicy and tender and pink in the middle. Here’s a good example of a slightly more cooked, but not overcooked specimen, in case you want to cook it properly, but are a little squeamish about outright pinkness.

Which brings me to a thing that pisses me off—Why overcook meat? WHY?? I am technically related to people who eat their meat (heh!) around medium-well to well-done. Not just burgers, either. I’m talking beef tenderloin, pork, fish…it all gets the scorch treatment. I’m not judging (I totally am), I’m just saying that if your preference is to eat meat that is well-done, perhaps you should buy less expensive cuts of meat. Like brisket. Or Doc Martens. They’ll all be the same texture.

In our house, I cook all meat to the doneness that I think is appropriate. I’ve converted PLENTY of people, and I’m sure I’ve affronted plenty of others by not even asking how they like their meat cooked. It would be pointless to ask, because if they said something like “I like my filet cooked medium-well” I would then attempt to cook it medium-well. But once it hit medium-rare, I would see my right arm, posessed with the power of independent thought, reaching toward the spatula and removing the filet from the grill/pan/what have you. I could try to stop it by grabbing it with my left hand, but the battle would be short and fruitless–my right hand is much stronger than my left. I’d then have to sheepishly explain that ol’ righty had ideas of her own, and I was powerless to stop her. And that would make me sound crazy.

An aside: I had an instructor in culinary school who would always tell me my chicken was underdone if it was red directly next to the bone. I tried to explain repeatedly that sometimes during processing, redness next to or on the bone occurs from marrow. No dice. I always got marked down, even if the chicken was technically overcooked.

So the pork tenderloin last night was medium-rare and proud of it. Chris doesn’t even bother to opine on meat doneness anymore. He used to inspect pieces of meat before consuming them. This was early in the relationship. He has since learned to trust me (or to fear my wrath at being questioned re: meat). The tenderloin was rubbed in a Michael Doucharello concoction of cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, salt, white pepper, and a smidge of cayenne. A quick sear in the pan, then into the oven until 135 F. After I pulled it, I put it aside to rest and deglazed the pan with port and red wine vinegar. It reduced about 25%. I whisked in some butter, and created a beurre blanc that almost brought me to tears with its insane flavor and texture. I was pleased, because I’ve never made a beurre blanc at home, and I was winging it on this one.

Creamy, buttery polenta and caramelized red onions underneath the pork, drizzle the whole shebang with beurre blanc and KERPOW—delicious dinner.

Red beurre blanc also had the side benefit of obscuring the pinkness of the tenderloin, so if you wanted your pork cooked properly, but didn’t want your older guests to squawk like stuck pigs re: underdone pork, this would be a stupendous way to do it.

By the way, I do keep vicious kitchen organisms in check for the most part. I use separate cutting boards for meat and veggies. I do everything but don a HAZMAT suit to handle chicken. I use my friggin’ awesome ozonator (not technical name, but should be) to de-bacteriafy all of our produce…I just am less careful about things like raw eggs and USDA recs for meat. After all, my immune system is thus far serving me quite well, probably due to hygiene hypothesis (which I believe in. A lot. Go buy your kid a dog, and stop slathering them with antibacterial hand gels. Nothing breaks my heart more than a sickly little kid with overbearing parents).

One last thing–I went onto our SD card to get the photos for this post and found about 20 of these, which I did not take.
Apparently Chris and Chairman Meow have been having sexy photo sessions when I’m not around.

Cakk

My little brother is getting married in January…I can’t believe it. All of a sudden the blond haired tyke who called all of his action figures, as well as most strange men, “dudes.” The awkward kid who went through an entire three year stretch during his school years where he would only wear sweatpants that were three inches too short, followed immediately by a one year stretch where he would routinely wear full suits to school (like a little Barney from How I Met Your Mother). The semi-eccentric-but-totally-hilarious teenager who spent a lot of his time loitering in a tea shop, becoming an expert on various vintages, with a close male friend of his, to the point where my parents were trying to find out the best way to be supportive of his eventual homosexual de-closeting. The dorm pretty-boy who told me he had pictures of his naked girlfriend in the trunk of his car, just to prevent me from going in and seeing that he was doing professional modeling that involved not wearing a shirt and flexing a lot. Then the college Marine officer-in-training who decorated his house’s living room with poster-sized, framed pictures of each of the tenants, himself holding what looked like an automatic weapon (wearing army green), including a poster-sized photo of the house dog…That kid is getting married. He’s teaching honors English. He’s getting ready to be deployed as a full-on marine officer. He’s all growed up, it seems.

I’m happy for him, and for his wife to be. I get to be a bridesmaid and wear PINK, which is really exciting. And I get to make their cake, which is simultaneously exciting and completely terrifying, since I am in no way experienced and if I fuck it up that’s a lifetime of bad wedding memories that would be solely my fault. I’ve been practicing frosting the square cakes, since that’s what they want. Square cakes are much harder to frost, but I’m starting to get the knack of it. My first attempt was disastrous (and twee): but some changes in frosting and technique are improving the situation dramatically. So don’t be too afraid, Erik and Alissa. I have it covered.

I have a final class to take in culinary school, since I missed the EuroMed section for my wedding. It takes place at the end of January/beginning of February, and the wedding falls smack in the middle of it, so I am going to fly out to Colorado for 4 days, during which I will make said cake, attend festivities, and say a final goodbye and good luck to crazy single Erik, and embracing newly-married Erik, as well as my new sister.

As a last hurrah (kind of like a bachelor party, but for family and without strippers or any of his friends), Chris and I are taking him to Alinea. I can’t wait to share that with him, and to take Chicago by storm. Topolabampo, Ann Sathers (for a cinnamon roll), Hot Dougs (for duck fat fries), Avec if we can find time…it’s going to be nuts. I’m going to get fat. I’m going to be poor. But I’m mostly going to try to transition my thoughts from Erik the kid to Erik the grown-ass man, with real responsibilities and a real wife and a real career. I couldn’t be happier for him.

Viva Italia!


I speak no Italian. I mean ZERO. I don’t even speak the kind of Italian Giada DeLaurentis speaks on her show (which I think should be renamed Big Head, Big Flavor), a language wherein you speak English, except for WAAAAAY overpronouncing any Italian words (like prosciutto). I don’t pronounce the words incorrectly, necessarily, but that’s not an Italian thing so much as an all-across-the-map thing. Actually, here’s a teensy tutorial on a couple of commonly mispronounced food words that will likely earn you a gentle slap across the cheek if uttered in my presence:

Chipotle—Let’s sound it out, shall we? Chip…oat…lay. Not too trixy, right? Then how come everyone and their brother says “chipoltay”? Even Bobby Flay, master of southwestern pretense (also married to my television girlfriend, Stephanie March), pronounces it “chipoatuhlay”. The extra syllable just hangs there in the air, like a verbal booger, and drives me crazy.

————-Note to Stephanie March: He doesn’t deserve you. I sorta do. And I’m afraid of physical acts of lesbianism, so I’ll stay married to my husband, and you can just stand near me and be pretty and adorable, mmkay?—————————

Next–

Mascarpone—Again, let’s sound it out. Mass…car…po..nay. Not “mar-ska-pone”, dammit. One of the chefs who taught us in culinary school mispronounced this word all day long, and it made me shake with rage. He also said chipotle wrong, but was crotchety and hilarious, so I let it slide. Also, Michael Chiarello says “mar-ska-pone,” and he’s an Italian chef, so it’s unforgivable.

Robert Irving had an episode recently where he not only SAID “expresso,” but also spelled it that way on the white board. I’m not sure I’ll recover from that treachery.

Nobody’s perfect. I mispronounce words occasionally. It comes from the fact that there are many words I’ve read and comprehended numerous times, without ever having heard them used in speech. So, while I know the word, the spelling, the meaning, I have zero grasp on the pronunciation. But I LEARN. The first time I hear it spoken, I mentally correct myself and am appropriately chagrined. I refuse to believe that these chefs have never heard the name of the common ingredients spoken aloud.

BTW, mascarpone is an Italian triple-creme cheese. It’s not unlike cream cheese, but is richer, creamier, more decadent. It’s used in tiramisu, most commonly, but I like it in cheesecake, on scones, wherever I can put it.

Chipotle peppers are smoked (usually dried) jalapenos. They’re usually canned, reconstituted, in adobo sauce, which is a rich, red, tangy-spicy Mexican preparation. They’re HOT, but deeply flavorful.

So, there’s your lesson. Now, want to see them in action? Here are two meals from the last four days at our house. The first is a Rick Bayless-inspired meal. I just bought one of his cookbooks the other day, and was thrilled to see that it was chock full of food that I REALLY LIKE. I’d become somewhat disillusioned by Mexican food, living in San Antonio, but these recipes are “a whole ‘nother” category of awesome. What I wouldn’t give to have his talent, I swear…


Hot, homemade corn tortillas


wrapped around chipotle-marinated steak and grilled onions


served with “cowboy beans” that began as a bag of dried beans, and ended up a brothy, smokey, bacon-y, garlicky, cumin-scented bowl of genius


and a side of rice that is made with four whole cloves of minced garlic, sea salt, and plenty of butter

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Chef Bayless. All of these dishes were spectacular and comforting, and the perfect meal with which to watch you win Top Chef Masters! On a hunch, I made this meal the night the final episode aired, so we got to enjoy some of his edible brainchildren while we watched him kick ass on the finale. PLUS, we have reservations to eat at his Chicago restaurant Topolabampo in less than two weeks. I can’t wait! Something about suckling pig, Oaxacan mole, Ahi tuna…swoon.

If that weren’t enough, we also threw down some serious Italian eats last night, just out of eagerness to eat some fresh cherry tomatoes before summer ends (hopefully VERY SOON).

Burrata is something I’ve written about before so I’ll let you go back and check it out, rather than re-bore you with the details. This was an attempt at imitating the dish from Dough. It was great, but I’ve still got a lot of technique to work on before it’s anything like as good as Chef Horn’s version.

Here’s how I did it: First, I made fresh mozzarella, which involves a lot of scalding. Then, at the end, I took the last of my curd and made a skin of mozzarella. Then, I took the scraps of curd from the bottom of my pot, mixed them with macarpone and truffle oil, and placed an ice cream scoop of the filling into the skin.
Finally, it formed a ball around the filling, and was dropped into a bowl of warm, salty water.
The end result gets set up with some fresh tomatoes, balsamic, and basil chiffonade. And that’s the recipe for how to make homemade burrata. It’s borderline pornographic in flavor, especially when spread on wood-fired flatbread.

The mozzarella that was made to aid in this process? It got turned into pizzas. Pizza Margherita, which is simple and fresh.
And pizza Kristie, which has bacon, caramelized onions, and three cheeses. Yowza.

Oops, no time to proofread, I have to go to kickboxing to try and work off my weekend calories. If there are mistakes, I’ll fix ’em later.

Experimental Forshizzics

I’ve always secretly wished I were a scientist. Maybe not so secretly, actually. Which is why, when Chris walked into the kitchen today, he said “the only thing that would make this picture better is lab goggles. Kristie, wearing giant oven mitts and a skirt, leaning away clearly nervous about the reaction she’ll get from pouring a chemical into a boiling pot on the stove.. It’s just so…Kristie.” I love to cook, but I REALLY love science.

Maybe that’s why I married a scientist, actually. I get really jealous when Chris gets his science publications in the mail and he gets to throw around words like “methylcholine” and “antigen” in casual sentences every day. I’d love to be able to do that. When I worked in a pharmacy, I would wile away all my hours just hiding in the back, reading the little white pamphlets that are folded into tight squares and stuck to the sides of pharmaceutical bottles. I learned my drugs, their interactions, their indications, fairly quickly. Pharmaceuticals fascinate me to no end, and not just because some show recreational promise (obviously not for me, I’m a lady). When Chris and I were first dating, and we’d spend one of his on-call weekends hanging out, I’d tag along to the hospital if he got called in. He’d sit me down in his office, hand me a dermatology textbook, and leave to handle his bid-ness. By the time he’d come back, I’d be gabbling on about, I don’t know, erithema migrans or something. He was really more tolerant than I ever deserved.

The biggest reason I’m not a scientist (aside from my inability to get along with math teachers) is that they’re a fairly regimented group of people. I love the ideas and the experiments and the occasional setting of things on fire. I think the chemicals are fascinating, and I love the nomenclature like it’s my only child. But the second things get strict (WHOA there, Newton. Whaddaya mean LAWS? I’m a GROWN ASS WOMAN, and you can’t BOSS me) I bail. I love making a chemical reaction, but if asked to do the same experiment a shitload of times, and then put it in an Excel table, and I’m gone so fast that I leave a Kristie-shaped cloud where I once stood. There’s not much room for creativity, and there is a level of precision that I would never be able to achieve (Okaaaaaay, so um, I need to put in 2.1 grams of this white powder, and then 2.1 of the pink…ah, close enough *BOOM*). So I stick to my kitchen.

With the dawn of molecular gastronomy, I’ve now been able to bring chemicals, reactions, and words like “hydrocolloid” into my kitchen. Two days ago, I spherified butter using calcium lactage and sodium alginate. Yesterday, I made a rich caramel, then mixed it with tapioca maltodextrin to make a powder that looked dry, was manipulated as if it were dry, but immediately turned into viscous, perfect caramel the second it it the tongue. So unexpected, to take a powder into your mouth, and then feel as if you’ve taken a big spoonful of rich caramel. I knew what I was making, and I was still taken aback by the strange sensation–the dissociation between what I’d visually perceived as the texture, versus what I could feel in my mouth as the texture. I just think it’s awesome. And it was so good that I nearly rolled up a dollar bill and did lines of it, but caramel drugs are bad, mmmkay?

Those two recipes are from my new Alinea cookbook, as is the one I did today. Today was a liquid caramel corn shot. That’s right, a liquid shot that tasted EXACTLY like biting into a clump of caramel corn. Insane. It involved popping corn, making that popped corn into a stock, with butter and sugar and salt and water, straining it, blending it, straining it again and then making a liquid caramel froth with liquid lecithin (which incidentally is stickier than gorilla glue and more slippery than teflon, simultaneously). The shot settled into layers, and then went down the hatch in one smooth gulp. A moment of thought, and then all of a sudden…WOW. That tastes EXACTLY like caramel corn. I’m going to make the buttery popcorn stock into some kind of ice cream, and then make a caramel sauce to serve with it. That’s my most recent idea. Or maybe substitute the caramel for butterscotch schnapps. The stock is THAT good.

Anyway, it makes me happy that there’s a full-blown experimental science that can take place in my kitchen (aside from the obvious chemical reactions involved in baking or the maillard reaction). I think it’s cool that my chef’s jacket can become a lab coat. And I’m happy, more than anything, that we can EAT my experiments. Nothing too edible about most lab work, is there?

TRIUMPH!!

HA! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! I’ve done it! I’ve completed my magnum opus for my 27th year. I….HAVE SPHERIFIED BUTTER!!!


I’m so excited I’m actually shaking. Sure, I’ve piddle-diddled around with spherification, which is the encasement of a liquid inside a thin gel bubble, so when you pop the bubble, the liquid gushes out. The tiny ones look like caviar, but can actually be, oh, say, carrot juice. And the big ones, like in the post right before this one, are orb-like. The yogurt is really simple, because it’s got such a high calcium content, and is viscous. The carrot juice is easyish, because you add a different chemical to the equation that helps the process along. But butter…butter has foiled many a stronger chef than I.

I first had a butter orb at Alinea, with a popcorn and lobster dish. It was schweeeeeet. I told myself, “self! Someday, you will make a ball of melted butter. And it will gush when pierced, just like this one.” It has been an uphill battle, but I got it. And while this one is kind of weak-looking, it’s because I mushed the ball into a ball form with my hands (the mixture is water, butter, and calcium lactate emulsion). It melts the second it touches your hands, due to the water content. So the ball was rough and pointy in spots. Once I procure a silicone 1/2″ sphere mold, it’s on like Donkey Kong.

I’ll keep you posted. I’m going to go back to dancing around the house and high-fiving myself, now. Loves!

Coco Cabana

I bought a whole coconut for %.79 at the commissary on base. Normally, I don’t stop at the commissary on base. It’s a constant battle in my head, and it goes something like this:

–I’m already on base so meathead surgeon can look at my belly and pronounce that I have not yet died from his technique in appendix removal. Why not stop by the commissary? And the BX, too.

–I forgot how much I hate the BX, with all the cadets milling around in ugly outfits. The guys are ALL skinny and in need of Accutane, and the girls ALL have wide asses. Not necessarily big, but WIDE. They all look totally miserable, and I would be too if I had to wear that outfit in Texas heat.

–Oooh! I forgot that the BX has cheap, tax-free liquor. I love the BX!

–I hate the BX. I have to give them my military ID to buy anything, and they always look at Chris’s rank and then eyeball my wedding ring, and then eyeball me. The implication, sometimes verbally expressed and sometimes expressed via body language, is that I must be married to a much older man. This is not the case. The case is that Chris has been in the Air Force since he was 18 years old, and that the government will reward the medical corps for ANYTHING. There are commendations and promotions and awards for such accomplishments as “Not Getting Cheez-it crumbs in the official military keyboard” or “Wearing your hat right-side up”. Whatever.

–OMG Armani sunglasses for $40! I love the BX! Okay, off to the commissary.

–I hate the commissary. They have giant carts and the entrance is really narrow and has sliding doors that try to close on you. And the whole store smells like pee.

–YAY! Creme Fraiche for $2! I LOVE the commissary.

–Ugh. Commissary is BS. How can they not have ANY free-range chicken? One brand of meat, period? Nothing that hasn’t been stuck in a feedlot? Guess we’re eating tofu again. Stupid commissary.

–Is that a coconut for $.79? That’s incredible. *shakeshake* Oh! And it’s all fresh and full of liquid!

–How can this store, which is manned ENTIRELY by Asian wives who have been imported by military men stationed in Korea and Japan, not have a single person who knows what yuzu is? Even the sushi bar doesn’t know about yuzu. Grrrrr.

–Tax free again. And the groceries are practically free. I have to ask the cashier if she’s sure she got everything. Then I remember how cheap things are on base, and it all seems worthwhile. Until the next time…

So I ended up with this whole coconut, just because it was cheap and fresh, and no idea what I’d do with it. The easy decision would be to make a coconut cake, but then I’d have an entire labor-intensive cake and nobody to eat it but me and Chris, and Chris insists he hates coconut, until anytime we actually EAT coconut, when he remembers that he likes it a lot, except when it’s the prepackaged crap that is used for Santa’s beard on the gross kind of Christmas cookies. So no on the cake.

I posted my dilemma on Facebook, and got several suggestions immediately. The winner was Nate of “Nate and Becky are Awesome.” He suggested a tamarind and coconut beef dish with Indian origins.

Peter was a close second with his idea of a coconut bong, but sadly Chris is in line for another commendation for “Not Smoking Pot, Even Though He Really Wants To,” so we’re abstaining. My husband desperately wants to smoke pot, since he’s certain that all college kids smoke pot, and that he missed out on a big part of the college experience by attending the Air Force Academy, where they strongly frown on (read: will beat you for) marijuana use. I’m pretty sure his yearning will fizzle out by the time he gets out of the military and can actually try it without the threat of court-martial. Plus, that’s many years from now, and it will be legal by that point and have lost its appeal.

I made Nate’s recipe (Fall apart beef cubes with spinach and coconut), and only changed a couple of things. The recipe is long, so I’ll post it on my recipe space, but the gist is that you braise cubes of beef (the recipe suggests stew meat, but I only had strip in the freezer, so I used that and added some fat) in water after marinating it in spiced yogurt. Then, after the beef is tender, you add tamarind paste and fresh, grated coconut. And spinach leaves (I only had frozen spinach, so I used that).

It was good. Very good. But I missed the mark by using the frozen spinach, I think. It tasted really…spinachy. Almost a callaloo kind of tang. Weird. I served it over buttered rice, warmed up some roti, and made yogurt orbs with my sodium alginate and a squeeze bottle. Most of you know about spherification, but for those who don’t, basically you take a liquid, dip it into a solution of .65% sodium alginate, and a thin membrane forms immediately around the liquid, but leaves the inside as a liquid. So you can hold a ball of it in your hand, then spear it with a fork and it gushes out all over the place. It’s totally sweet. And I’m going to figure out how to spherify butter by Thanksgiving. That’s my goal.

After a big meal of Indian-style flavors, I thought a light, fresh dessert would be nice. I reduced some watermelon juice, sweetened it, and mixed it with coconut milk and light cream to make an ice cream base. 20 minutes in the ice cream machine and SHAZAM, watermelon coconut ice cream. So pleasing on the palate, and such a cool flavor combination.

While all of that was very good, the highlight of my day had to be popping popcorn in bacon fat, and then tossing the crispy bacon bits in the popcorn once it was popped. Seriously? That exists? Yes. And it was fabulous.

Arrrgggghhhhhhh

So there’s this extremely creeptacular, pervy weinermobile who lives in my parents’ neighborhood. He’s been lurking around the house since I left home, since I cannot be there to enforce the ‘No Weinermobiles” rule. I have tried being dismissive, being condescending, and being a raging she-demon…none have worked. And before you suggest I try being kind, I should tell you that another member of my family has tried that approach, and I think that’s why he’s lingering around, instead of returning to the warmth and darkness of his mother’s basement, where he lives, despite being in his forties.

Since I’m not sure he understands spoken English, and he certainly doesn’t understand social cues, I’m going to try a language that he clearly understands—Cookies. My hope is that he is possessed with the power of literacy and doesn’t just stare blankly at the tray until he recognizes the symbols that mean his name. “D…D….D…DAN! Hey that’s me!! MY name is Dan, too! My cookies. My chickies. My bunnies. Mineminemine.”

As a result of spending my afternoon baking public service messages, poor Chris had to eat spaghetti with slightly-altered marinara FROM A JAR. He’s sucking his thumb and rocking back and forth now, muttering about the dawn of the culinary apocalypse.

He’s a gyro!


I’ve written about the gyro before. It’s a favorite food ’round these parts. Actually, I don’t know Chris’s position on the gyro. I’d ask him now but he’s cheerfully watching old Transformers cartoons as part of a reward for getting a pretty groundbreaking article published in a national medical journal. Yay Chris!! And it was about food (allergies, but whatever, it’s still about food), so that’s even cooler. But anyway it’s one of MY favorite foods, and I’m the one who buys groceries and makes dinner, so I’m pretty much the boss of everything.

I’ve got two distinct approaches to the gyro sandwich. The first is the Very Identifiable Meat gyro. This gyro consists of flank steak (sometimes ribeye if I’m feeling decadent), marinated in the typical Greek seasonings of lemon, oregano, garlic, salt, pepper, and a smidgen of cinnamon. The steak hangs out, works the crowd, buys rounds of shots for the ladies, sings along to Journey…the usual. After around eight hours of merriment in a zipped plastic bag, when it’s clear that the steak will benefit no more from staying at the party (by this point he’s vomited in a houseplant and made untoward advances on someone’s mom), he’s pulled from the marinade, grilled to a nice mid-rare, and sliced on the bayou (bias). The taste is really fresh and has that light grilled flavor that really gets my heart and belly doing the two-step. I’ve made a fair dinkum of this type of gyro in my day.

The second type of gyro, something a bit more authentic in texture, is the Amalgamation of Meat gyro. It looks about as unappetizing as it sounds, but the truth is that it can pack a flavor punch right to the junk of the unwary diner. It’s usually a combination of ground beef and ground lamb, seasoned with all the same things as the Very Identifiable Meat gyro (minus the lemon), and processed together with grated and drained onions to make a sort of meat paste. Again, sounds repulsive. Then again, pork rilette has much the same consistency, and it’s a contender for my favorite food. Anyway, the paste gets packed into foil-lined mini-loaf pans, then into the oven at 375 F for a solid hour or so. When it’s pulled, I put a second loaf tin nested inside each one, and then weigh it down with a cinderblock for another 30 minutes to compress the meat and squoosh out some of the effluvia. Once it’s cooled quite a bit, it gets sliced thinly and voila! Gyro meat! This meat is solidly good, especially if it’s salted enough during the paste-making process.
Nothing can kill a dish faster than inadequate salting, regardless of what the surgeon general is babbling on about. Note (and I’ve told you this before)—provided you have no underlying kidney issues, and providing you drink enough water to flush them out, a high-salt diet isn’t going to hurt you. What raises blood pressure is inadequate exercise, alcohol use, smoking, obesity…all things we’d be wise to avoid anyway. Nobody likes the overweight, sedentary, chain-smoking guy who drinks all the time. But people DO like the guy who salts his food correctly. Because that makes food DELICIOUS.

There is a Gyro Of The Future, which happens on a rotisserie. It’s the Gyro of the Future because I don’t have a rotisserie. Sad, I know. Amazon has the one I want—the Cuisinart vertical rotisserie—at 50% off right now, so if any of you have been so taken with my blog that you felt desirous of sending a stranger a Christmas gift… I think with a rotisserie I could do the slicey-peeley thing that they do at Renzio’s in the mall. That’s the kind of gyro I grew up on, and is fantastic eats. Something about the texture and moisture from the rotisserie gyros is very different from the Gyros of the Present. I know you can buy the strips that are pre-processed on a rotisserie and frozen, but I think those are semi-icky. I’m wary about meat-sourcing anyway, preferring fresh, local, and humanely raised meats. When they’re processed to the point where they aren’t identifiable as meat without biting into them first, that causes me to question their freshness and responsible ranching behavior. That’s why I’d rather go buy my meat from the farmers market or the WhoFo, then make my own.

With any and all gyros, there are some accompanying players. There’s the tzatziki sauce, a yogurt-based sauce that is the first cousin of the Indian raita. I never liked tzatziki sauce when I was growing up, since I thought for sure it was made of mayonnaise and/or sour cream, but then I saw Alton Brown episode on the gyro, found out it was yogurt-based, and then it was GAME ON. Now I can’t get enough of the stuff. My version has Greek yogurt, minced cucumber, minced garlic, chopped dill and mint, salt and pepper, and a squidge of lemon juice. Can’t be done in a blender or food processer because it liquefies the yogurt. My blender actually liquefies and then eats the yogurt itself, because it is a great, hulking behemoth of a blender, and frankly I’m too afraid of it to complain.

Then there’s the pita, which should be homemade. And the sidekicks of fresh shredded lettuce, kalamata olives, and cotija cheese. Sure, sure, they use feta over in Greece. But I don’t like feta, based on an early childhood dislike of the smell. And cotija is different, but similar in texture. It’s crumbly and salty and mild, and relatively easy to find here in the state that has more Mexican culture than Mexico itself. Dice up a fresh tomato and you’ve got the makings of a gyro platter sitting in front of you. A slightly less fatass approach would be to make a big salad, thinly sliced red onions mixed throughout, then top with all the aforementioned toppings except the pita. Pitas aren’t the worlds least caloric foods. It is a lean dough, though, so you can go to bed without feeling like you’ve flat-out betrayed your bathing suit.

An apple a day…


A bushel of apples–I think–I don’t know what a bushel is, and I don’t care enough to Google it, which is saying something from the girl who has Googled such gems as “Rachel Ray needs a boob job” and “repeated dreams that one leg is longer than the other and I run all gimpy”

Ah, apple season. The crisp smell of leaves, crunching beneath the workboots of bearded woodsmen, heading out to tap maple trees of their thick, golden syrup. The sharp tang of cinnamon tints the air, and the sound of feed, pitter-patter-scatter across the chilly ground, as red-cheeked cherubs feed the turkeys to fatten them for Thanksgiving…

It’s a magical thing, apple season. Except for in Texas. In Texas, apple season is in July and early August. It seems the heat–the blistering, soulless heat–acts as hormone-laden milk to the apples, causing them to mature when it’s still the dead, dying middle of summer. It’s freakin’ weird. But I love apples in a way that’s almost unhealthy, so I’ll take it when I can get it. Even if it means temporarily hip-checking gorgeous summer berries out of the picture, so that I can focus on the very-distinctly-fall fruits. Sad, kinda.

Not to be deterred by the unnaturally premature development of my beloved apples, Chris and I just went with it. We woke up early on Saturday and packed into the car for a 90 minute trek out of town to the apple orchards. Medina, TX has the dubious honor of being named “The Apple Capital of Texas.” Kind of like calling Anchorage “The Peach Capital of Alaska”, but whatever. Medina is a town that consists of a small orchard, a store devoted entirely to apple kitsch, two gas-station-cum-general-stores, and a tiny town square, covered by a peeling white pergola, that becomes a farmer’s market each Saturday. A tiny, squalid farmer’s market, but a farmer’s market nonetheless, in that it has farmers (usually two), marketing their produce (usually two or three different kinds of produce, all of which look like they’ve been attacked by angry moles).

We pulled up to the orchard, lured by the online promise of “pick your own” apples. Apple pickin’ sounded quaint and homestead-y, which appealed to Chris’s and my less rational ideas of what we could and would be, were we not so horrified by Texas nature (here I’m thinking of various flesh-eating ants, as well as UV rays visible to the naked eye). After a few minutes of milling aimlessly in front of the abandoned orchard, a nice, mustachioed hispanic man pulled up in a ramshackle truck to greet us. He had large splotches of orange egg yolk on his face, with pieces of the white clinging tenaciously to his mustache. Hott. He was incredibly friendly, if a little hard to follow, and ran behind the farmhouse, emerging moments later with a golf cart. He jumped into his truck without a word about the golf cart, then drove off into the orchard. Mmmmkay…

I knocked on the door of the farmhouse, trying to ascertain whether or not I was supposed to be following in the cart, or waiting for him, or what. An old lady answered and told us to “git on out there and follow him to the apples.” Sure thing, lady. We hopped on the golf cart and hauled semi-confused butt out to the orchard. Mr. Mustache was was waiting patiently, gestured gruffly at the rows we were allowed to harvest, and then left. And all of a sudden it was just Chris and me, a golf cart, and a few boxes, standing in front of a row of laughably small apple trees. We got to work.

The trees bore clumps of apples that were similarly laughably small, with a few here and there that looked at least marginally respectable in girth.

Me picking one of the three apples I managed before the attack. I look sweaty, but that’s just a trick of the light. The actual sweating didn’t occur until a solid three, maybe even four, minutes later

We started pulling them off and chucking them into our boxes. The first tree, third apple, I got to had a little brown clump next to the stem. When I held it up to my eye to examine the clump, checking to see if it was some kind of apple disease I wouldn’t want to eat, it unfurled itself into an alarmingly large spider. I hurled the apple about 50 yards into the clump of trees and resigned myself to the role of foreman, pointing at apples for Chris to pick. No way in hell I was sacrificing any limbs.

He was a pretty good sport, grabbing the apples I found, as well as many of his own. Sure, his grabbing of the apples was quick and minimized any extended hand contact. He’d rip them from the tree, and throw them at the box I was holding, hoping that any lingering “nature” would be slower at rousing than he was at throwing. About every third apple he’d pull would have some “threat” that he’d perceive, causing him to throw them on the ground and announce “that one spoiled the bunch.” Sometimes he’d refuse to pull the ones I’d point at, explaining patiently “that one’s keeping me away.” Laugh a minute, that guy.

Chris bravely grabbing apples. My knight in shining Nike.

We decided to quit when Chris saw some ants tromping in a line across the hose like some sort of communist military regime. We already had about 25 lbs of apples, which was plenty for our modest apple needs, and we both were feeling very lucky that our worst nature assault hadn’t resulted in loss of life or limb. No need to push that luck.

But it turns out that 25 lbs of apples is…A SHITLOAD OF APPLES. So we spent the entire weekend dealing with them. We baked apple pies and apple tarts. We processed and canned apple butter and apple slices. We made apple caramel, and feed strands of apple peels to our dog, who (not unlike a goat) loves them. Thank God for our apple corer/peeler, which made lighter work for us. Now we just need to get a housekeeper to mop the sticky up off of every available surface in our kitchen (including the floors and ceilings). Turns out dealing with that many apples means apple juice and cinnamon and sugar get spread on everything. I’m actually afraid of our kitchen right now.

The apple pie was a treat. I made a crust with 2/3 butter and 1/3 lard for the fat, making it flaky and savory and sweet and crumbly all at the same time. Then cooked the apples just a touch, leaving the crisp intact, using a sticky turbinado-style sugar that still has gobs of deep molasses flavor throughout. The apples went into the crust, got a quick lattice top, and baked until golden brown.

Excuse the yellow pictures. It was late night and I was too lazy to unearth my lighting props

Scoops of Ben and Jerry’s Cinnamon Bun ice cream went alongside, making us both roll around on the floor in fits of ecstacy. I’m a big fan of the chunks in ice cream, and this has bumper crops of cinnamon bun dough and thick cinnamon goo swirl throughout. Absolutely perfect as a foil for the rick and thick crust.

Go buy a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cinnamon Bun and let me know what you think. I enjoyed it again, for lunch. I need to go to the gym…

And we ended up canning 12 pints of apple butter and 7 quarts of sliced apples for pies later on.

That’s cinnamon, not funk

Less than 24 hours from tree to preservation means a fresh-tasting product all winter. The “fresh” apples in the stores right now were harvested last year and kept in storage. Sort of brings a whole new view to the idea of “fresh”, doesn’t it?
Ack, gotta go. Willie is licking the floor, trying to get all of the various juices up for us. It’s a sweet gesture, but will likely result in a sticky dog, which is the last thing I need.

Diced, Sliced, and Chopped

What was it, Friday night that I started to feel “dodgy”? All I know is that I was sitting there on the couch, minding my own business and eating ice cream out of the container (per usual)…

When all of a sudden
There ‘rose such a clatter
I clutched my po’ belly
To see what was the matter

Vice-like waves of cramping
From sternum to back
Had me bitching and moaning
Like a housewife on crack

“What’s WRONG?!” cried my husband
Grabbing my Ben and Jerry
I guessed it was reflux
The only condition I carry

I popped down some Nexium
and, for good measure, Tums
While Chris finished my ice cream
leaving nothing but crumbs

We went up to bed
I thought I’d sleep it off
But I woke up shortly later
racked with dry heaves and cough

The pain was back fiercely
And my head was a fog
My new bed was the bathroom floor
My new pillow was my dog

I grabbed my iPhone
Which was close by, what luck!
But the answer was grim
My appendix; ah, fuck!!

Eventually I crawled
Back over to the bed
Looked at my sleeping angel of a husband
And straight cold-cocked his head

He woke with a start
To see what was the matter
I told him my appendix
Seemed about ready to splatter

We got dressed in a flash
He was cute and concerned
I was tight-lipped and bitchy
As my belly, it burned

We drove to the hospital
I was admitted quickly *shock*
Apparently this is a perk
Of being the sick wife of a doc

They put an IV in my arm
(I don’t tolerate needles in my hand)
They hopped me up on pain meds
I got a shiny, white wristband

A mix of residents and doctors
Paraded past my bed
They asked me stupid questions
And one looked pretty inbred

Guess which one examined me?
Was it a smart, attractive filly?
NO! You’re right! It wasn’t!
I was assigned Dr. Squidbilly!

I prayed he just LOOKED stupid
But was quick just like a fox.
Then he examined my appendix
By shining a light in my box

My appendix is up in my abdomen
This guy was clearly a fool
Unless there’s a secret trapdoor
That you learn about in medical school

Once my girl-bits were deemed to be healthy
I had one basic choice to make
Either “waste time” getting a CAT scan
Or go home because my symptoms were fake

At this point my husband stepped in
Told Dr. Dork that he’d had enough
I was wheeled off to wait for my CAT scan
And made to drink some Godawful stuff

The CAT scan proved the obvious
My appendix was fit to be fried
And if I’d gone home per recommendation
It could have exploded and I might have died

So I waited a few painful hours
And then I went under the laparoscopic knife
While Chris sat in the waiting room
Kind of excited a robot was operating on his wife

When I came to I thought I was dying
So much pain, though clearly out of danger
And then they hooked up the drugs
I was a Mighty Morphine Power Ranger

=========================================================

So that’s basically how my weekend went. Lots of hospital stupidity, then surgery performed by a robot, then laying around the hospital seeing how high I could get the levels of morphine in my blood via a creative pain-ranking system, then being openly hostile to anyone who tried to make off with more of my blood, then refusing to eat hospital food and subsisting solely on a diet of sugar-free jello and Twizzlers Pull N’ Peel, then more convalescence.

Apparently you have to do something unpleasant with your bowels to be released after an abdominal surgery, but I am pleased to *honestly* report that I am the first person I’ve ever heard of who managed to get out of this requirement. So I was sent home with my dignity and ladylike-ness intact, much to Chris’s outrage. He thought it was vaguely irresponsible that they let me off the hook so easily, but I’d like to point out that this is the self-same hospital that tried to send me home with appendicitis after giving me some morphine and a pelvic exam.

The last few days have been so frustrating for me that I might explode from boredom and pent up energy. I can’t lift anything, can’t go jogging, can’t drive because of the drugs, can’t fit into any of my clothes because my belly is swollen up like a pregnant lady, can’t do ANYTHING. Sucks.

So Chris came up with the idea of doing a home version of the Food Network show “Chopped” (bless his heart). For those of you who have lives of your own, and don’t depend on tawdry reality tv to fill your time, Chopped is a show wherein four chefs are selected to compete for $10,000. They have three rounds, and in each round they’re given a set of mystery ingredients and a time limit. They have that time, those ingredients, plus any additional ingredients from the set “pantry”, to come up with a dish to present the judges. There’s an appetizer round (three ingredients), a main course round (four ingredients) and a dessert round (three ingredients). At the end of each round, a contestant gets “chopped” by the judging panel and has to go home. The last person standing is the winner. And the mystery ingredients are usually totally effed up. Like, for example, strawberries, turkey, and gummi bears will be handed out to make an appetizer.

So here’s how our home version of “Chopped” went:

Appetizer Round: Chorizo, red plums, and fresh green beans

What did I make? Chorizo “nachos” with sweet onion, green bean, and red plum salsa.

How was it? It was okay. I mean…plums and chorizo? WTF, Chris? But we both ate ours, and it was determined that I had not been chopped. Chris set up a judging system wherein I was competing against the computer. He’d google the three ingredients he’d picked, click on the first entry, and tell me if my food sounded better than the option on the computer. In this case, the computer only used two of the ingredients (chorizo and green beans) so I won for following the rules.

Chris is an excellent commentator, BTW. And he hustles in to clean up between rounds, so that helps, too.

Main Course Round: beef country ribs, pale ale, chiles and…potato buds?

What did I make? Chili con carne and potato biscuits with honey butter


How was it? Damned good, if I must say. The meat choice was designed to give me a headache, since it can’t be cooked in 30 minutes, but I did my best with a superfast braise. It was tender enough to chew without major difficulty, and the flavor with the ale and the chocolate I added was fantastic. The chiles lent a solid bite, and it had a hearty consistency. The biscuits were the real sleeper. I’ve never made biscuits without using some sort of measurement reference, but these were just thrown together with half flour and half potato buds, a liberal pinch of baking powder, several tablespoons of cold butter and some milk. The potato buds made them more buttery, somehow, and the crust was crisp with a really tender crumb. I soaked them in honey butter, which brightened the outlook considerably. I was almost able to forget I was eating potato buds…I didn’t get chopped, because computer made a green chili with potato dumplings that Chris said “fell apart like an oil slick.” He’s got a vivid imagination.

Dessert Course Round: maple flavored granola, navel oranges, and mascarpone

What did I make? A big freakin’ mess. You could call it mascarpone griddle cakes with maple oranges and buttered granola.

How was it? Again, a big freakin’ mess. I had started out making mini cheesecakes with granola crust and sauteed orange topping. This was NOT going to work in the time frame allotted, so with 1 minute remaining, I pulled it from the oven, dumped it into a bowl, crust and all (also dumped a goodly portion into my utensil drawer by accident), stirred in some flour, and fried them up in a pan like griddle cakes. All in all, it sucked. Huge failure. The computer was weak-ass, too, but I wanted to cry at the waste of a full container of mascarpone.

Fortunately, I had a good showing throughout the meal and beat the computer by a few inches, according to Host Chris. And instead of winning $10,000, pretend style, Chris actually awarded me a surprise gift—

THE ALINEA COOKBOOK

It was designed to cheer me up since I’m an invalid right now and can’t exercise or go anywhere, and it worked. Sometimes I can’t believe how sweet he is, and the little things he thinks of. It gets me all teary-eyed, but that could just be the meds.

I already asked Alinea if I can bring the book when we visit next month, and they said both that I can, and that Achatz will be there to sign it. Swoon.

I’ve got some serious experimentation to do. Not with Achatz, but with the book. Obviously. I’m married.