Monday, November 21, 2011

Everybody Panic...

...because it's almost Thanksgiving.

I had a lot of interesting and fabulous food this weekend, and I am surely remiss for not blogging about it right this minute. However, Thanksgiving is this week, and every food blogger on the planet is having all kinds of ridiculous freakouts over it. So I would be more remiss in not blogging some random thoughts about said notable cooking holiday.

My best advice is not to panic. And don't get all food-fetish Martha Stewart-y if that's not your thing. I always think it's an excuse to have fun, even the year I committed to cooking everything. It worked out great. Keep your sense of humor, play around, and everything will be ok.

This year, we're lucky enough to be invited over for the holiday. I will be making the salmon rilettes and the cauliflower gratin from Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook, and everything else is someone else's problem.

Still panicked?

If you need something easy to take somewhere, try Cooking for Engineers' garlic potatoes or cheesecake cupcakes. I've made them both multiple times, and they're foolproof and delicious. Or go for the garlic mashed potatoes. They're awesome, too.

If you want something a little more complicated or posh, check out Serious Eats' Thanksgiving guide. They have a lot of delicious-looking sides. Until I decided to tone things down for the possibly-less-crazy palates at our potluck Thanksgiving, I was going to make the Momofoku Brussels sprouts.

If you're looking for cooking inspiration, or just some crazy aspirational food porn, Gilt Taste has been doing a great job of that lately. They also have a holiday cooking hotline going at 877-445-9228 during limited hours through Wednesday. I almost want to call it, just to chat up the no doubt awesome food people on the other end.

And that pumpkin milkshake? I WILL make you. Preferably after I start training for a marathon or something.

So, you're not panicked. Maybe you're more worried about the booze?

I believe in beer with Thanksgiving dinner. Or non-traditional wine. Whatever floats your boat.

For beer, try going local first. Here in DC, I'd grab some of DC Brau's limited edition Imperial Pumpkin Porter. It's substantial, but not too heavy, and not sickeningly sweet or overly flavored like a lot of pumpkin beers. I'd also get some of Port City's porter, which is lighter than most porters, but really well-balanced.

If you prefer lighter, Schlafly's Kolsch is a winner. It's an excellent session beer, goes well with a variety of foods, and is subtle but a lot more interesting than most light beers. New Belgium's Abbey, Boulevard's Tank 7, or Abita's Harvest Ale are all nice choices.

Apologies for the lack of California beers- I'm trying for geographic diversity, but can't think of a great West Coast beer I really love. Bear Republic might have something good, or Anchor Steam, if you're into it. I think I like Firestone Walker, but haven't had enough experience with their beers to recommend anything in particular.

What about wines?

The traditional choice is Beaujolais. If you go this route, please go Villages and not Nouveau. Speaking very generally, the nouveau tends to be candy-like, treacly, thin, and awful. And it sells at a premium, because it's what *everyone* wants for Thanksgiving.

Honestly, I think something from the Languedoc is more interesting. Their wines are also relatively light, but tend to be simple, dry, and lower-alcohol, with more offbeat flavor notes- leather, graphite, violet, and the like- and gorgeous deep purple color. Or, if you're into white wine, go for a rousanne, viognier, verdejo, or similar. I'm a huge fan of mineral and marine flavors. Trader Joe's has a kosher white still that's pretty nice. Even a vinjo verde could be interesting, or a cava. And if you see Spanish or French cider, just grab it- it's bound to be perfect.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Onion and Andouille Pasta at Home

For lunch, I had fusilli in a creamy onion sauce, with andouille sausage, and a persimmon for dessert. And a glass of red wine.

(My rant about Americans and lunch drinking is coming one of these days. For now, I'll just say that wine with lunch is one of the great pleasures of life, and if you don't appreciate it, you depress me. And that your Frappucinos and sodas are going to kill you a lot faster anyway.)

The onions were genius. They actually started yesterday as a precursor to French onion soup. But they smelled so fabulous as they were caramelizing, I couldn't bear to add anything to them. So instead I smeared heaps of onion confit onto slices of bread with dinner, and couldn't wait to use the remainder today.

Quick digression: if you want to make your own onion deliciousness, I made it by melting 3T butter in a large dutch oven, then adding two pounds of onions, sliced 1/4" thick or so. Specificity in slicing doesn't really matter, just the time and heat level. Lots of time, very little heat. Stir every 15 minutes, less towards the beginning, more towards the end. For 2-4 hours. Or you can even stop sooner, if you like the way things smell and it's reduced to a spreadable consistency.

Anyway. I woke up thinking about these onions. They're that delicious. I vaguely thought, in my half-awake daze, that they might be amazing with pasta. Then this afternoon, I was picking up my newly-sharpened knives from the local butcher (this is not nearly as virtuous as it sounds: this is the first time, ever, I've had them sharpened), and couldn't resist grabbing some andouille sausage, too.

Like the lazy food blogger that I am, I actually tossed the sausage into the boiling water while the pasta cooked, then pan-fried it in a little butter to get a little browning. I then tossed in the cooked pasta, a little pasta water, and the leftover onion confit, and mixed everything for a few minutes. It was the perfect meal for an overcast, ridiculously foggy day.

Oh, and the persimmons? So fabulous. They'll get their own post someday soon, too.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Provencal Sunshine

For dinner, I made this tastiness:

Sort of a Proven├žal chicken dish, with thyme and super-bright lemon flavor. With green beans on the side, and a glass of red wine.

It was loosely based on this recipe, which is itself a loose approximation of an Ina Garten recipe, and which I discovered via Jenna Sauers' excellent twitter feed.

We all know how lazy I am. Baste? Oy. And whatever casserole dishes we may own are still stowed away in a box somewhere. So I decided to braise everything in my huge dutch oven instead.

I omitted: the fresh thyme, because it was exactly the same price as a cheap bottle of wine (I got the wine instead); the bacon, at the last minute, because I was curious to see what it would taste like without all that smoky richness; and a few other ingredients. I dusted a little dried, ground thyme into the pot, but would probably spring for fresh thyme next time.

The results were fabulous, as promised. The lemon flavors were so huge and sunny and bright; it would be an awesome mid-winter dish. Instant happiness. Omit the thyme, make some rice, and it sort of becomes Moroccan. Or add some salt-cured olives. Regardless of what you do, the broth makes an amazing sauce. It would work great on fish. Or anything. Jon was actually dipping pita chips into the puddle of sauce on my plate as I destroyed the wannabe leftovers.

If you want to make it my way:

Lightly coat the bottom of a large dutch oven with oil. Cook the chicken thighs in the oil for a few minutes. Then toss the onion, carrots, and lemons on top, very coarsely chopped, along with the garlic cloves. Dust some thyme on top, and plop on pats of butter (I used 3-4T), and some salt. Cover, place in your pre-heated 400-degree oven for 30 min. At that point, I actually lowered a steamer basket full of green beans into the top, lowered the heat to 350, and cooked, still covered, for another 20 minutes. I then removed the chicken with tongs, lightly dusted with smoked paprika, and broiled for 3 minutes or so, just to dry them off a little. At the same time, I reduced the liquid over high heat on the stovetop, and fished out the lemon chunks.

The $2.77 bottle of wine? Questionable, but not horrid. My quick test for how much a cheap bottle of wine is going to suck is to look at the ABV. The higher it is, the worse the wine. 14% or higher is a dealbreaker. This, the Oak Leaf Vineyard Merlot (rule #2: cheap Merlot is way better than cheap Cab), is 13%. It's pretty oaky, a little spicy, and not very complex, but at least not treacly. Maybe a step below Whole Foods' Three Wishes Merlot, and way above Chuck Shaw. Both of which are at similar price points.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Calling Marion Nestle

This weekend, Jon made chili, and we had a little party. Chili is his thing, so he made his usual beef, lamb, and bean chili, and an experimental vegetarian version with portobellos, zucchini, and beans. We had a cheese plate (Trader Joe's cranberry-swathed goat cheese is A-mazing), and people brought over tasty appetizers and beer. It was delicious and fun, and something we should do more often.

Sadly, I didn't take any food photos. But while we were grocery shopping beforehand, I found some great blog fodder...

You know that public health vs. processed foods industry debate over food labeling? This is exhibit A in what's wrong with the current rules. Honestly, I don't even know what the current rules are. But any regs that permit labeling this misleading are, I think, categorically immoral.

If you can't read it, the copy says:
"Nutrition Rich Cookies...As much fiber as a bowl of oatmeal...As much calcium and Vitamin D as an 8oz glass of milk...As much Vitamin C as a cup of blueberries"

I'm sure that's all technically true. But let's check out the ingredient list.

Oh, and all the additional misleading comparisons above the ingredient list, too.

In addition to repeating the comparisons from the front, it says:
"As much iron as compared to a cup of cooked spinach"
"As much Vitamin B12 as compared to a cup of cottage cheese with fruit"
"As much Vitamin A as compared to an 8oz glass of tomato juice"
"As much Vitamin E as compared to two cups (16oz) of carrot juice"

Which all creates the illusion, for the less educated about food, that these cookies might actually be good for you. Who knew? indeed.

First ingredient? Sugar. Then flour (not whole). Then a mixed cocktail of vegetable oils, one hydrogenated. Trans fats FTW, y'all. Cocoa. Corn sugar. Polydextrose (which is apparently where those silly fiber numbers come from. Who knew?). Corn flour, then corn syrup. And a few other random things.

Then there's a separate list of added vitamins and minerals below the ingredient list. I mean, I guess that's what it's doing there. I didn't know it was legal to separate out ingredients like that. Kind of creates the illusion that there's something good for you in all this, like separating "active ingredients" out on medicine labels. Bottom line, you won't get a goiter eating these things.

So who makes this crap? I was really hoping for Nabisco. And who knows, there probably is some huge company hiding behind "Suncore Products, LLC". For a company allegedly based in Denver but distributing in the DC area, there's a serious dearth of info online.

Certainly, their own website in an exercise in ridiculousness. Maybe I should start working my way through their recipes starring said cookies?

And I should definitely be happy their FAQ answer to "can I stop eating fruits and vegetables if I eat your cookies?" is a no.

But hey, there's already a law firm on it. "If you or someone you know has been harmed by WhoNu? cookies or a similar product, please contact us to discuss your legal rights." Let me know if you go that route. I'd appreciate the referral bonus.