Autumn has arrived...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

...riding the mighty Northwestern winds.

It's getting to time to enjoy the fruits of our labor and gardens.  As the temperatures drop, the rains come in and fall foods start looking more and more yummy.  G'bye lettuce and hello squash.

We have been busy cooking and canning, so I apologize for the dearth of posting, but there are some pictures and commentary coming soon.  In the mean time, let me tell you about what my dear Mrs has made that completely captured me: tomato confit (cohn-fee).

Confit is a way cooking and preserving food and in this recipe (more handwaving than units, sorry) Mrs Yam has taken the tomatoes from our garden and saved them thusly:

Drizzle oil in a shallow baking pan or cookie sheet and in the oil drop fresh basil and thyme and a couple of crushed cloves of garlic.  Cut tomatoes in half and sorta swish them around in the herbs and oil and drizzle more oil over the top of the tomatoes.  Roast the tomatoes in a low oven (250F) for about three hours until the tomatoes have collapsed, but have not completely dried -- they should still be soft.  Put tomatoes and the liquid in a clean jar and it should keep in the fridge for a couple of months.

Put them over hot pasta or into salads or sandwiches.

Things I'll never buy again

Sunday, September 20, 2009

While many people strive to cook more, they only look at cooking as creating an entire meal or a large item like a loaf of bread or a cake.  Much of cooking is the mundane, the miniscule, the overlooked, the small things.  To understand how to cook, cook more.  That may sound simplistic, but it really is the crux of the matter.

Is this person familiar?  He (it's almost always a male) decides to cook a meal and now the entire household is put on notice -- "Do not enter the kitchen/backyard I'm cooking/grilling."  He then tends to make a production of creating a single meal with all the energy and activity of one of MacArthur's south sea island invasions.  Cookbooks, the right music, a glass of beer or wine,.pots and pans banging, curses thrown high and low, an emergency run to get a forgotten ingredient.  Then, after an interminable five hours or so, dinner is produced with a flourish.  This happens once a month or less, but everyone is expected to ooh and aah and deal with the false modesty of "this was just a little thing..." while others are left to clean up, of course.

Normally, he couldn't be bothered to help feed the kids, or to make something for a pot luck.  Cooking is work and the day to day can be a grind.  But with practice you gain skills and can accomplish simple tasks faster, recipes and snippets of recipes become second nature and can be prepared without thought and your preparation time really starts to drop off.

With more people trying to cook at home in an attempt to save money, you can also save a bunch on your grocery bills by not buying things that you can be easily made.  Look inside your refrigerator and tell me the number of bottles you have.  Go ahead, I'll wait.

Yup, that's a bunch.  Think of them as somewhere between $2 and $5 each and you can see where some of that lunch money went. Well, if you want to start claiming some of that money back and get some important kitchen time in, think of making what's in those bottles  yourself.

A quick list of things I'll (hopefully) never buy again:

  • salad dressing
  • soup
  • mustard
  • canned beans
Salad dressing is the place to start -- you can make what you need quickly and easily and you don't have to give up a lot of room in the fridge and when you make it when you need it, it's always fresh.  Start with a vinaigrette; this dressing is basically 3 parts oil to 1 part acid and flavorings.  Acids can be any vinegar you have handy, wine, citrus juice or any combination.  Seasonings can be as simple as salt and pepper and a bit of garlic powder.  A bit of mustard acts as an emulsifier to keep the oil and acid combined and adds some nice flavor besides.  Mix it up and serve on salads, vegetables, fish, etc.

Soup is something that you really should just make yourself.  It's a great way to use up the bits of things that are migrating to the back of the fridge and to add variety to your diet.  Soup is easy to make, just add stuff to water and simmer it.  That's all there is to it.  You needn't get crazy and make cream soups or bisques or potage du thisorthat, just cook some vegetables in simmering water, add spices and you have soup.  Add other things to keep it interesting, such as pasta or beans.  These act as thickeners besides, giving your soup a little more body.  Experiment, you'll be fine.

Mustard is something I've just started making, but simple condiment is anything but simple.  Look at all the mustards at your local grocery store!  You can start out making your own grainy style mustard by simply soaking 3 tablespoons mustard seeds with 3 tablespoons liquid (water, wine, vinegar or beer) and a crushed clove of garlic for a day and a half.  But the soaked seeds in a blender with a pinch of salt, a 2 teaspoons of honey and start blending in pulses.  Add water until you get the consistency you want.  Bang!  Whole grain German style mustard for about a quarter ($0.25).

The last one is one that I cannot stress enough -- cook your own beans.  You don't eat enough beans anyway, so learning to cook them is really important.  I tend to soak my beans, but that's not necessary.  I like to cook mine in a crock pot so I don't need to spend a lot of time with them, but you don't really need to do much with beans after you bring them to a boil except turn down the heat and cook them until they're tender.  When you have finished cooking your beans, freeze 'em with the bean water.  Add 'em to salads, put 'em in your soup, grind 'em up and make a dip out of 'em or throw 'em in with sauteed greens, garlic and lemon juice for a great side dish.  What people pay for beans makes me crazy -- for the price of a half a bag of beans, folks just bought a can of overcooked mush with some toxic canning water.  Bleah.  Make your own, ean more and save yourself a ton of cash.

Aw, crikey...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Here I'm just trying to look at a couple of sites before heading to bed, sleep the sleep of the not-on-call for the first time in a week and I come across this.  I just wanted to get my blood pressure down to a reasonable level before beddy-bye and this comes along.

I've been reading his Omnivore's Dilemma and this all sorta plays into a longish sort of screed I plan to post as soon as I can gather all the scattered thoughts in my head.

Expect it in 2013. 

Gone Campin'

Mrs and I are out camping soon, but I will tell tall tales of open fire camp cooking when we return...

Cooking from scratch

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

This is my first post on this blog. I am so honored that bother yam asked me to be a partner in this venture. I blog about everything random at The Middle Way and about biking in San Diego here.

If one were to ask my 18 year old self if I would be cooking every meal from scratch and getting so much joy from the act of cooking not just for myself, but for friends and other strangers...I would have laughed and then possibly gotten very offended at the very idea.

So in a span of 10 years I find it quite amazing that food is a subject that I spend a considerable amount of time on. The act of preparing meals is one that is so gratifying that I cannot imagine doing anything else when I cook meals.

How did I begin cooking? The answer is very simple, I was getting homesick for homecooked meals. I was craving the beef masala from my grandmother...where every single piece of meat was marinated and then slow cooked over a wood burning stove. I was craving fried sardines - sardines marinated in a variety of Indian spices and pan fried over a wood burning stove. I craved egg masala curry - boiled eggs marinated in a coconut based curry. The reality of these meals entering my senses was remote. And no restaurant that I knew catered to my taste buds the way my mother or grandmother did.

So I began the monumental task of trying to figure out how to satisfy my craving. It was monumental because I despise being in the kitchen. As a feminist of the 21st century I thought it was beneath me to learn how to tool around in the kitchen. No, I was destined to follow a much higher calling...that of a paper pusher.

My initial attempts were not really disasters per say. But the beef was over cooked and raw sardines were impossible to find. I was stuck with figuring out how to make egg curry.

And I eventually learned how to make the egg curry my tastebuds craved. It had carmelized onions and the exact level of spiciness, and a coconut milk based curry that went well with not just chappatis but also rice.

Below is my basic recipe for that egg curry.

Boil eggs and set aside after removing shells.

garam masala
one can coconut milk

Fry onions chopped lengthwise along with minced garlic and minced ginger in vegetable oil. Add chopped tomatoes and spices. Finally add the coconut milk and let the curry simmer. Add the eggs. Slicing the eggs in half and dropping them in the curry will allow the eggs to absorb much of the flavor and spices.

Serve with chappatis (flat bread) or over rice.

Updated with a pictured as requested


Friday, September 4, 2009

...or so it feels.

Why does canning my own tomato sauce feel like an act of rebellion?  Can I not just buy canned tomato sauce (or paste, or diced, or whole or whatever) more quickly and cheaply than spending hours cutting and peeling and standing over boiling water?  Why in the world would I want to do this?

That's a good question...

Why do I fix my own bikes?  Why do I cook my own meals?  Make my own computers?  Grow my own vegetables?  Ride my bike in all weather?

Why do I want to live my life?  Do for myself?  Continue learning -- and by learning, I mean learning by doing and not learning by watching TV and "learning" about some subject.  I want to do for myself.  To fail as I did when I first started canning these tomatoes -- I forgot the lemon juice.  I had to pour all the jars back into the cooking pot, add the lemon juice and start all over again after cleaning out the jars.  Do I need the lemon juice?  Intellectually, I think I don't, but I've never canned tomatoes before, so I follow the directions, pour out the canned tomatoes and start again.  I don't know.  Maybe next year I'll know, but right now I don't.  I follow the directions, I learn the basics and subsume my ego, myself.  I try to find Beginner's Mind. 

I learn, I listen (or read) from those who know.  I've never canned.  I have ideas, but I've never canned and My Ideas Don't Count.

I learn.  I fail.  I succeed.

I have 7 quarts of tomato sauce.  At what cost?  I could have purchased tomato sauce for much less than the canning jars, tomatoes, lids, water, gas and pots needed.  I would still be ignorant, I wouldn't have failed.  I wouldn't have forgotten the lemon juice.  I wouldn't have spent the time feeling the tomatoes, cutting the stems and bad bits away, smelling the scent as they collapse in the pan, sweated over the boiling tomatoes and jars.  I wouldn't have forgotten the lemon juice.  I would just have cans of tomatoes.  An ingredient, nothing more.

I wouldn't have learned anything.

Now I know about lemon juice and hot jars and stirring and smells and sweat and I appreciate my sauce.  It now has more meaning than just something that you pour over noodles.  Something in which meatballs swim -- there's a lesson, some life's meaning.

Easy doesn't mean much, you don't learn, you never care, you don't remember.

Tomato sauce, jams and pickles and mustards.  Living life with what is vibrant now and capturing it and the smells and sights while still vital and fresh.


Not the safe, comfortable, easy way.