Portobello Road

I feel like I should start this post with a blanket defense of my perceived inability to eat a whole ham in a two week period. It was commented on my previous post that this may be a failure of my porky aptitude. It’s not that I CAN’T, believe me. It’s that I don’t ONLY have a ham in my freezer. I also have duck breasts and sausages and edamame and pork roasts and whole chickens. So if I have to pick the easiest transportable item, I’m going to say a 20 lb ham that has been frozen into a solid block. And then I’m going to spend two weeks trying to plow through the rest of that crap. I am a food hoarder. TLC should do a show on me. I already have to donate a pornographic amount of other food to the local shelter because it can’t come with us.

And some of it is so weird that I’ll feel guilty donating it. Although, if I were ever out of work and had to go to the food bank, and I came across squid ink pasta, lentils, a 10 lb bar of Guittard chocolate, panang curry paste, tahini, piquillo peppers, etc… Well, I’d be thrilled. There have to be homeless foodies, right?

Oh, and I’m assuming the homeless shelter doesn’t want an entire leg of lamb, so who gets that?? It’s not like I bothered making friends out here or anything. Maybe I’ll post it on Facebook.

And I can’t eat that much meat without having a few vegetarian meals. I’m not an Atkins-approved girl, and I would go into gastric shock if I ate nothing but animal protein for two weeks.

Fortunately, vegetarian meals lend themselves beautifully to cleaning out the pantry and fridge. I get asked for vegetarian recipes all the time, and the truth is there are far more of them out there than there are meat recipes, so it should be relatively simple to locate them. Or just come up with one on your own.

First of all, pick a protein. Will it be Eggs? Cheese? Yogurt? Beans? Lentils? Tofu? Historically, most protein in the world’s diet isn’t even from animal flesh. There are buttloads of options, so hop on that bad boy and give it a whirl. Then pick a carb. Pasta? Rice? Bread? Bulgur wheat? Couscous? Again, this category is endless. Then pick some veggies. Onions and garlic are a gimme for pretty much every dish. Everything else should just be whatever looks in season and fresh at the farmer’s market (or grocery store, or garden, or whatever).

Now go smoke a bowl or something, because all you really need is a touch…an IOTA…of creativity and hunger, and you’re going to come up with something good. I am persistently frustrated by the idea that a meal without meat is some kind of elusive goal. Pastas, pizzas, chowders, soups, salads, fritters…

Last night, I had some gorgeous portobello mushrooms in the fridge that had been hanging out since we went to the farmer’s market on Saturday. Normally, portobello mushrooms at the grocery store look like fish fighting through the BP spill…just barely. They’re broken and dirty and smeared in black nonsense. Half the gills are beaten to hell, and they’re completely inedible. At the market, the gills are tightly closed, they’re easily cleaned, pretty, sturdy. A few scrapes to get the gills out, a brief rinse to get off any dirt, and then a wipe down with flavored oil or fat gets them ready for just about anything you can imagine doing to them. Maybe not that, you sick bastard.

What I imagined doing to them last night was stuffing them and baking them. I do this a lot, but last night was so stupidly simple and delicious that I thought I’d pass it on to you so you could give it a shot. It’s filling, and has all the important nutritional components of a great meal.

**Notes on substitutions**
As a point I’ve beleaguered pretty thoroughly, I’m clearing out the fridge right now, which means I found a tub of black truffle butter. I also have a few dribbles of truffle oil and a container of truffle salt that are ready to be eaten. So I added a truffle spin to the dish. PLEASE feel free to substitute whatever you have at hand. If you don’t have truffle butter, use regular butter or garlic butter or chive butter or whatever. If you don’t have truffle oil, use olive oil. If you don’t have truffle salt, use plain ol’ kosher. The point isn’t to go out and buy new ingredients, but to use what’s at your disposal.

Okay, so without further ado, here’s the world’s easiest stuffed portobello mushroom. It’s a shell recipe, meaning you can make it what you want, provided the method is similar.

3 portobello caps, gills and stems removed
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T butter
1 C onion, chopped
1/2 C parsley, chopped (sub spinach or kale or whatever green thing you have)
2 C panko breadcrumbs (or regular, if that’s what you’ve got– panko=crispy)
1 t truffle salt
2 T truffle oil
3 T truffle butter
3 eggs (go cage free, it’s easy and cheap)
1/4 C grated parmaggiano reggiano

-Preheat oven to 375

-Rub your portobellos with truffle oil inside and out, and set on a lined baking sheet
-In a saute pan, melt butter over medium high heat and saute your onions and garlic together until soft but not brown. Scrape into a mixing bowl.
-Add breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, and salt and stir together.

-Add eggs and stir to make a thickish “stuffing” mixture. It should be wet enough to pack into a semi-solid ball in your hand, but not so wet that it squishes through your fingers.
-Pack the mixture into each portobello, filling generously and tightly
-Dot with small pieces of truffle butter and a delicate sprinkle of salt.
-Bake at 375 until golden brown on top, then dot again with butter

-Serve immediately with a salad or whatever suits your fancy

Those pictures make me all kinds of squirrely with delight.

Maybe I’ll have to start eating real meals for breakfast and lunch, too, just to get through all this food. As it stands, I go through a family-sized box of Kashi or Total every 2-3 days (no joke whatsoever, and accounts for 2600 calories per box), plus truckloads of Clif bars. The only real meal I eat is at dinner, with Chris, because as much as I completely am gay for cooking, I’m also really way too lazy to make meals of food for just myself.

Okay, fine. I’m going to ban myself from buying any more cereal or Clif bars for the duration of our time here. And I’m out of regular AP flour and down to weird hippie flours like spelt and graham flour. It’s about to get seriously “alternative” up in my kitchen.

I’ll post what will likely be a large string of failures for your amusement. Don’t say I never did anything for you.

Also, would you like a leg of lamb?

Cheese your own adventure

Lest you think that we’re not eating, I suppose I’d better post something about food, too. We’re still eating meals on a semi-regular basis, it’s just that we’re moving in 14 days, and I’m trying to use up all the random things we still have lurking in the freezer and the pantry. Sometimes this is inspired, and sometimes it’s clearly “using up the ingredients” and nothing more. Also, we ran out of propane a few days ago, so no grilling. And I have to mail my knives to Shun so they can sharpen them and send them to the new house. So no fancy knife skillz. And I’m slowly cleaning and polishing all of my cool kitchen gadgets and setting them aside to be packed, so my days of frying, bread-making, panini-pressing, and shwarmatizing are numbered.

I’m taking my spices with me, but there are a LOT of canned Asian veggies and curry pastes that will be getting donated to the homeless shelter. Hopefully they know how to use foods like whole water chestnut to feed the masses. The military is weird about what they will and will not ship for you. Canned food is one of the big “no” items, like dead hookers or semi-automatic weapons.

I am transporting a whole ham. Is that weird? I may have told you about this, but you probably forgot, too. I have a huge, spiral cut heritage ham that I bought on sale after Easter and froze. It was originally…a lot of money. I got it for slightly less money. I want to eat it, but there’s no way that two of us could do any kind of damage to that much meat. So it’s going to be in a cooler in the car with us. What else can I do? Two cats, a dog, two bikes, two adults, a suitcase of clothes, and a frozen ham. All in/on a single Honda civic, with no pit stops in the desert because I’m afraid of tarantulas.

I don’t care. I can’t WAIT to GTFO. And I’m eating all my other freezer findings with relish (not, like, actual pickle relish or anything. Just with great fanfare and excitement).

For example: Duck. I’ve got a couple of whole, vacuum-packed Hudson Valley duck breasts all up in there. And a single pack is plenty for Chris and me to eat for two nights, plus two lunches for him (provided there are other items to pad his belly).

Night One: Chimichurri Duck with duck fat home fries

Step one: Score your breast. Or someone else’s breasts, really. It doesn’t matter all that much. Just make sure that you only score through the fat layer, at about 1/4″ intervals, and that you don’t hit the muscle. Cut down the middle to make two breast halves that will be easier to manage.

Step two: Season with salt and pepper.

Step three: In a large, hot, cast iron pan, lay your breast halves fat side down and heat over medium-high until the fat has rendered. Your duck will be swimming in fat at this point, and the fat layer will be golden brown. The top of your duck, though, will still look pretty raw.

Step four: Stick the whole pan in the oven at 375F until the internal temp registers about 135F. The final product, after being turned over, will look like this: This is half of a whole breast. Or one of the duck’s titties, if you prefer to think of it that way…as I do.

Step five: Rest for 10 minutes on a cutting board and slice thinly. You can keep one of the breast halves unsliced, wrapped tightly for another meal.

Step six: Make a chimichurri sauce.

-1 lemon, zested and juiced
-3 cloves garlic
-1/4 C red wine vinegar
-1/2 C olive oil
pinch red chili flakes
pinch kosher salt
1 C fresh parsley
1/4 C fresh cilantro

Pulse it all in your food processor or blender to make a pesto-like sauce. Taste it and add salt, oil, or vinegar to taste. If it’s too loose (heh), just add some more parsley.

Chimichurri sauce is good on damned near everything, but really shines on red meat. Argentinians eat it with steak all the time, and for good reason. A duck is just a steak that flies, if you ask me. So they go together so much better than I could have even predicted. Wowza.

I also sliced up some tiny yellow potatoes from the farmer’s market and roasted them in the rendered duck fat. Honestly, there should be a whole post devoted to why potatoes and duck fat are best friends and lovers and dirty sex machines, but I have no time for that nonsense. I’ve got a business to run. A business of polishing my kitchen gadgets for packing!

The next night, I set up a fun “choose your own adventure” of Philly cheese steak for Chris. He brought out the meat slicer, and I sliced up onions, jalapenos, sweet banana peppers (all from the farmer’s market). Then I sliced up some sharp, smelly provolone cheese. Finally I thinly sliced the leftover duck breast. A rough chop of a portobello (also from market), and a few store bought bolillo buns, and a small dish of minced garlic and it was go time.

I gave Chris a plate and a pair of tongs and told him to hit it up like he would at a Mongolian BBQ, loading his plate with his own pile of meat/veggies/garlic.

Mongolian BBQ is a great concept, but the finished product always tastes like a bag of spicy asses. This is probably due to cheap ingredients, weak sauces, and failure to layer flavors. So I hate them. But the idea of people getting to pick out their own ingredient ratio appeals to the controlling food beast in me. As long as all you’re doing is rolling out a quick saute or an omelet, this can be a great way to give everyone what they want, have them be involved in their own meal, and appeal to both vegetarians and meat-devotees in your group. Just be sure to use the slicer on the meat last, so you don’t have to clean it in between items.

All I did at that point was toast the bun with the provolone in the oven while I sauteed his veggies and meat together with a touch of butter, some salt, and a squirt of water toward the end (to keep it all moist and steamed through). Took about 3 minutes. I slid the filling onto the cheesy bun, mashed it together with a spatula, and handed it to my husband.

Please forgive the blurry photo. The other one I did without the flash, and it was too dark to work well.


And THAT is why I am the best wife/short order cook in the history of mankind.

It’s another example of why it’s so cheap to eat well. Market ingredients? $3. A whole duck bosom? $18 (and that’s a MAJOR luxury ingredient). Rolls? $2. Cheese? $4. So $26 for four dinner servings, plus two lunches. $13/day feeds two of us our major meals, when they include duck breast shipped from the Hudson Valley. Suck on that, Applebees/Red Robin/Fazolis.

A tale about spiders

I tried to think of the best way to begin this story. First, I was going to tell you about how my sister and I got sparkly flowers painted on our toes when Chris and I went to close on our house. Mine are hot pink, and have a white hibiscus with silver sparkle paint on each big toe. So cute. My sister got a sunflower.

Then I decided that was digging too far back, so I was going to tell you about how my dog Willie learned to swim in a lake at a park in San Antonio this past Saturday. I was feeling particularly benevolent after we did the Flag Day 5k and hit the farmer’s market, so we showered, sunscreened back up, and took him to Woodlawn Lake park. He jumped in the water after his ball like a natural, was surprised that the surface he’d jumped on to wasn’t a solid, frantically paddled back to shore, then “chased” every subsequent stick we threw by dipping his paw into the water and trying to make elaborate paddling movements to draw the stick to shore. Looks like we’ll be working on this some more in Colorado.

When we got home, we were all filthy from the mud and sand on the shore, so we decided to bust out the hose and give him a good bath in our backyard. The hose felt good, with nice cool water. Willie seemed to love it, and Chris and I were blithely spending time OUTSIDE in TEXAS. This has never happened. Not in two years and one and a half months of living here. I saw a red ant on my leg, and just hosed it off. Falalalala! Joy unbounded for us all.

Until… *be prepared for swearing*

THIS motherfucker was ON MY FOOT. Not just near me, or brushing next to me. No. It was just hanging out on the very top of my foot near my ankle, having climbed over my flip flop to reach my creamy foot-skin. I’m not ashamed to say that I lost my shit completely. I simultaneously screeched, performed a major act of kickboxing, shot the hose at full blast in the direction of my foot, and ran, convulsing violently, into the house. I sat on the kitchen chair, sobbing hysterically, and furiously clawing at my skin like I was on PCP for the better part of 15 minutes. Chris came inside shortly after I did. He didn’t know what was going on at first, but saw the thing from 5 yards away, climbing around on our grass, and guessed I had had a brush with it. Then he gave me 1/2 a valium, because he’s a good husband and an even better doctor, and he knew I was experiencing what might turn into a cardiac event if I didn’t settle down soon. Or possibly he was tired of listening to me wail.

Then he told me that I had been very sensible about the whole thing, and confirmed that I was, indeed, to be pitied thoroughly for what happened. He sat on the bench by the bathroom while I showered, crooning calming things to me, and then we had ice cream for lunch AND dinner, and watched the entire first season of Lie to Me.

Great show.

I’ve been wearing socks for the past 3 days.

I’ll never go in my yard again.

Screw you, Texas.

To add insult to considerable injury, I found out later that these tarantulas come out for a while in summer to look for mates, and they’re active when it rains. So I basically set myself up by being out during mating season, making it rain for an extended period of time with the hose. And he had no choice but to attempt meaningful and erotic intercourse with my foot. I was asking for it. I was dressed like a tramp, all that foot-skin showing right at compound-eye-level. And drizzling cool, tempting water down my toe cleavage.

My brother says it laid eggs in my skin, but that’s just because he’s tired from being tortured at Quantico and wants me to be equally miserable. The jokes on him, because I know in my heart that male spiders don’t lay eggs. My foot is probably covered in tarantula spunk, though. I should look into making sure it’s been thoroughly washed off of me. I am spider bukaake.

An Ode to my Vitamix

Everybody has a few kitchen tools in their arsenal that they would never be able to go without, not even for a week. Chris and I play a game wherein we say “if this broke, how quickly would we go buy a new one?” There are some that we waffle around for a month, and there are others that we would buy immediately, regardless of cost and distance and time restraints. I could actually live without my Kitchenaid and Cuisinart for a few weeks. I have really good knives, and a hand mixer for cake emergencies. I wouldn’t ever want a kitchen without those two items, but they wouldn’t be an emergency or anything if they disappeared for a short time.

Here, though, is a list of the things that would be bought within a week:
Zojirushi rice cooker
Zojirushi breadmaker
WaringPro deep fryer

And here is the item that would be bought within a day:

There is no tool in my kitchen that has proven to be more of a badass, useful, easy, workhorse than that particular blender.

I’m at the point in my love affair with Vitamix that I wouldn’t even accept a different brand of blender if it were free of charge. The Vitamix costs a pretty penny, but it’s worth three times its cost and lasts FOREVER.

It’s not even attractive. It’s so obviously a utilitarian item that it doesn’t even need to TRY to be pretty. It’d be like putting rhinestones on Heidi Klum’s vagina. Who the hell is even going to NOTICE something sparkly on something that is already surrounded by a veil of magic and mystery and ethereal glitter?

Anyway, this is not so much a recipe as it is just paying homage to my blender, but I thought you should give it a try if you’re able.

Corn, poblano, and potato soup

6 ears corn on the cob, grilled until slightly charred in spots
2 poblano peppers, charred on the grill, peeled, and seeded
1 medium onion, diced
1 T minced garlic (a spoonful of garlic confit works even better)
About 6 small red potatoes, cleaned and diced into bite-sized pieces
Vegetable stock as needed
.25 C half and half
A big handful of either stale tortilla chips or a few old corn tortillas
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Cumin, a smidge
Garnishes like avocado, cilantro, cheese, or sour cream, if you please

Saute the onion in the olive oil until it starts to get soft. Stick it in the blender. Then add the potatoes to the same pan, cover with vegetable stock, salt a bit, and then simmer until the potatoes are tender (about 10 minutes). Don’t overcook them. Strain the potatoes, reserving the stock. Set the potatoes aside in a large bowl.

Cut the corn off of the cobs, being careful not to cut too close to the cob and get the fibrous material. Stick half of it in the blender, reserve the rest into the bowl with the potatoes.

Roughly chop the poblanos and stick them in the blender.

Add a small amount of reserved stock to the blender with the corn, poblanos, garlic, and onions. Blend on low speed, adding vegetable stock as needed to make a thick soup. Increase speed as you go to get a uniform consistency.

Add your tortilla chips or tortillas, your cream, and a smidge of cumin, salt, and pepper. Blend until a medium consistency soup has formed. Make sure there aren’t any chunks. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Pour soup over potatoes and reserved corn. Top with garnishes like sour cream, avocado, cilantro, or cheese. Serve.

This soup is spicy, hearty, vegetarian, nutritious, and spectacularly refreshing all at once. And it takes all of 20 minutes to prepare, start to finish, leaving you with one pot, one knife, one cutting board, and one easy-to-clean blender in your dirty pile. Not so bad, my friend. Not so bad.

Let he who has never made out with his blender cast the first stone.

Chairman of the Bored

Back from vacation, if you want to call flying to Denver, running a 10k, buying furniture, closing on a house, and flying back for Chris’s allergy graduation “vacation.” We now own a house, which is beyond cool. It’s also beyond anxiety-producing, because I’ve got workmen tramping through there all willy-nilly without me being around to say things like “don’t wear muddy boots on the carpet” and “stop hiding dead bodies in all of our crawlspaces.”

There are FOUR different crawlspace areas in the house, and I’m a proponent of locking them all up, boarding over them with drywall, and pretending they don’t exist. Crawlspaces are just havens for spiders and places for hiding victims, if you ask me. They terrify me. The house has about a zillion finished square feet, so WTF do I need 500 additional square feet of unfinished doom-holes?? Can’t I store my Christmas decorations in a spare bedroom or something? Nightmares.

Plus, we only had about three hours after our closing to pick out paint colors, get bids on the ductwork for a ventilation system in the kitchen, and play “imagine the furniture layout.” This is NOT enough time to do those things.

Then we had to fly home on a teensy plane that was bashed around so much by rogue air pockets that I think I may be suffering from shaken baby syndrome. Still. OH! And when we were taking off, I decided to help myself get over my paralyzing fear of flying by looking out the window the entire time during takeoff. Yes, I still had a small amount of valium Irish-jigging around my bloodstream, but it was a big step. Exposure therapy, I reasoned. And it would be no big deal, and I could stop burying my face into my own crotch during every single takeoff. Solutions!

As it turns out, this was a poor idea. As we took off, we made a sharp right. I started to imagine the plane crashing and burning…right as we flew over (I am so not bullshitting you here) a “test crash” plane site. The little tester plane was burnt to a crisp, and had burnt the surrounding field for quite a distance. One of the wings was broken off and laying about three feet from the rest of the body. I asked Chris to confirm that there was a plane wreck about 100 feet below our current plane window. He agreed, and then started to laugh and say “well, they have to practice somehow.”

To further our comedy of errors, we returned home to find that I had defrosted some ground chicken a week and a half ago, and had forgotten about it in the fridge. I NEVER leave the house without cleaning the fridge, but had just overlooked it this one time. Stink. Filth. Pestilence. It was gross. The refrigerator got thoroughly emptied, disassembled, scrubbed, dried, and restocked. We were out of dairy anyway, which meant I got to go to WhoFo after the farmer’s market and get our final batch of dairy for this house. All at once. I LOVE getting all new dairy at the same time. It makes the refrigerator look so new and fresh.

Aaaaaand then I took a picture of it. Stop judging me. Look how pretty it all looks, with its newness and freshness:

I do weird shit like this all the time. I like to organize my pantry and take pictures of it. I unload all of my farmer’s market items and take pictures of them before I put them away, too. If I were still in school, I’d do it with my school supplies. I’m like a friggin’ magpie who will only collect new string. Kind of a neophile, maybe, but without the revolutionary obsessions.

Two things to spot-

1– the expiration on these items is for the week we leave Texas FOREVER
2– there are definitely the makings for another round of burrata

I’ll post a recipe for some really easy, fantastic, vegetarian Mexican soup later today, but I wanted to show off my dairy and tell you about my harrowing past week.

Try to feel bad for me. If you can’t muster pity, at least share my fear of crawlspaces.