What WOULD Bekki Eat?

Well, I'll start with what I wouldn't eat. I wouldn't eat margarine. Or tofu. Or lowered-fat anything. Olestra is right out. Hydrolyzed, isolated, evaporated, enriched, or chocolate flavored "phood" won't pass these lips.
What will I eat? Real food. Made-at-home food. Food that my great-great-grandmother could have made, if she had the money and the time. And if she hadn't been so busy trick-riding in a most unladylike way.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Salty talk

I'm so glad that New York is the center of the universe and that its mayor has become the benevolent dictator of us all.

Having solved all the other problems, from homelessness to cancer, Mayor Bloomberg is now waging a war on salt.


Yes, my knickers are in a twist over this one. I realize that high levels of sodium can sometimes raise blood pressure in susceptible individuals. But it is NOT the demon it has been made out to be. (Imagine that, me disagreeing with a commonly-held belief about nutrition!) Real salt, whole salt, with all the myriad trace minerals in it, is a wonderfully healthy addition to the diet. But I doubt Mayor "God" Bloomberg knows that. I doubt his edict takes that into account.

To take it even further, salt can be much more than just a health-neutral flavor-enhancer. It is an important medicine for me. That's right, I said medicine (great, now the FDA will be breaking down my door to confiscate my salt shaker.) A year ago I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue. Too much stress, too much coffee and sugar, too many allergies... yeah, I was really sick. This post isn't about adrenal issues, so I won't go into detail on that, but there is a lot of information that suggests that salt is vitally important for the adrenal glands. Yes, it's a much-needed nutrient. Common advice for people with adrenal glad problems is to start their morning with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of good, natural, mineral-rich sea salt in a glass of water. I didn't want to taste that, so instead I put a little bit in every glass of water I drink throughout the day. The results were astounding. I instantly had more energy, more clarity of thought, and better moods. From salt. I realize this is simply anecdotal, not science... a sample size of one doesn't prove anything. But there are many more "ones" out there if you google around.

And since when has it been the government's job to protect us from salt? Protect us from brazenly unsafe food... rotten meat being chemically treated and put into sausage... milk being watered down and fortified with nasty additives... produce being sprayed with toxic chemicals to keep it "fresh" (oh, wait, the government is in favor of that one... hmmm...) but that is the limit. I am a grown woman. I decide what goes in my mouth. I do not want a babysitter and I will not tolerate someone forcing their inaccurate opinions about health down my throat!

Bloomberg also took on public smoking and trans fats... and I have mixed feelings about that. Both are unhealthy... true. But who's job is it to decide?

And the part that really scares me is at the end of the article... maybe I'm reading too much into it, but maybe I'm not.
"Thomas Frieden, the city's health commissioner, said he wants manufacturers and restaurants to join the war on salt voluntarily. If they don't, the city could pass legislation making it the law."
Let me get this straight... if I'm a restaurant my choices are to voluntarily reduce the salt in my menu offerings or... be forced to reduce the salt in my menu offerings. Hmmm... that's not really a choice. Why even use the word "voluntarily?" What a threat! "Do what we want or we'll make you do what we want." Has the government of New York City always used knee-capping tactics and I just haven't noticed?

I wonder what's next on Emperor Bloomberg's list of personal causes? It had better not be butter, or else he really will find himself at war.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Kung Hei Fat Choi

What could this possibly portend? (Other than the fact that I'm probably PMS-ing...)

Chinese New Year. We like to celebrate it because it's another chance at a new start. Plus, it's an excuse to make something deliciously Asian other than stir-fry. A reason to stretch past our usual culinary comfort zones.

And this year we had the benefit of a guest, my mother. It's amazing what one more dinner plate can do for a menu. Normally I have to cut out many things I'd love to make, because there aren't enough people to eat all that food.

So, to summarize, I was extra excited about this holiday. And all that extra enthusiasm translated into extra disaster. Especially with the aforementioned PMS. (I didn't know I was under it's cloud until the kitchen catastrophes started piling up and I overreacted like a hormonal teenage Scorpio.*)

My biggest mistake was probably not taking the time to write out an Order of Events. I'm a listmaker. I dig lists. I like planning and had plenty of time to do it before dinnertime. My comfort zone generally is to have just one Major Headache recipe involved in a meal. By that I mean something fussy and/or unfamiliar. This time I had two, and it ended up breaking me.

I've thought about including recipes... but I really followed the ones I googled. So, I'll simply include links.

Lion's Head Meatballs
Vietnamese Spring Rolls (with instructions on how to roll here)
Noodles (mainly for the sake of our rather finicky daughter, but they ended up working well)

Everything was humming along very nicely. I actually consciously thought to myself several times how wonderfully it was all going. I got started prepping things early. I noticed... actually noticed that I was in a really good mood. Not feeling stressed like I usually do before special "feasts." Yeah. That should have scared me. Next time I'll know.

Countdown of Catastrophes:

1) My new timer just didn't work. I set it for 16 minutes, for the rice spaghetti. Who-knows-how-many minutes later, I glanced at it to check how much time I had left. It was off. That's really what started everything falling apart.
2) The pan I'd gotten out to soak my spring roll wrappers in was too small. But I tried to stick with it anyway.
3) Rolling spring rolls is really, really hard. Especially if you have no idea what you're doing. They are sticky. And hard to roll tightly. And I had no idea what to try different. My brain actually snapped while rolling the fourth one. I felt it snap. I lost all grip. It was rather scary.
4) I checked my lion meatballs and it looked distinctly like my greens were not cooking fast enough. Oh, goody! I love it when the main course is late!
5) I suddenly realized I had made an entire package of noodles, instead of just what my daughter would want to eat, and had no idea what to DO with them to make them... Asiany.
6) I suddenly realized I was almost out of time and hadn't bothered to make any sort of dipping sauce for the spring rolls.
7) I suddenly realized I wanted to throw the spring rolls against a wall, to see if they'd stick.
8) The timer (that I'd reset for a guessed amount of time) went off for the pasta. Oh, goody, nothing else was done yet... the noodles will get cold and everyone hates cold noodles!
9) Crap, I hadn't stirred the noodles enough and some had clumped together. Everyone hates clumpy noodles!
10) In my rush to get the spring rolls ready, I used my Silpat as a cutting board... because my cutting board was full... and completely f-ing killed it.

Wow. I need another piece of chocolate, just from recounting all of that. Whew. And they say that whatever happens on New Year's Day (regular or Chinese) is auspicious for the year to come. Yikes!

So, in the end... it was all pretty tasty and not deserving of all the drama. I served the Lion's Head Meatballs on the noodles, instead of on the greens. I'd made 8 meatballs instead of 4, since 8 is a luckier number for the new year. So, instead of looking like lion's heads, it looked like eyeballs. I wonder if that's considered lucky?

*Apology to any Scorpios... but really... you've gotta remember what you were like. I've got a 10-year-old Scorp just beginning her journey into painful irrationality... I think I know of what I speak.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Iron Chef Duet!

It has been ages, felt like eons, indeed so much time has passed that it almost faded into legend... but Iron Chef Mom and Iron Chef Grill have returned! (Huzzah! The villagers rejoice!)

Now that my mom is living nearby, we have an additional source for Secret Ingredient inspiration. So tonight, for the first time, the two Iron Chefs teamed up for a historical battle against... well... no one, really. Perhaps it was against the Secret Ingredient itself. For tonight's was truly unique. Not a usual part of the American diet, although it certainly should be. Tonight's ingredient was... chicken livers. Nutrient-dense and incredibly inexpensive, liver of all sorts should be restored to it's once-a-week spot on the menu.

We decided to go with a vaguely Cuban theme for the meal.

The menu:

Grilled skewers with veggies and bacon-wrapped chicken livers
Grilled green beans
Fried chicken livers with onions on herbed, buttered white rice and braised greens
Grilled Orange Bananas Dean (an Iron Chef Grill original)
The wine: MiBal Tinto 2006 Ribera del Duero, 100% Tempranillo

The skewers
Cherry tomatoes
Chopped green peppers
Marinated halved button mushrooms (marinated in Worcestershire sauce),
Bacon-wrapped chicken livers

The chicken livers were marinated in this:

1/2 cup soy sauce (tamari in this case)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground ginger
a few dashes salt and pepper

The green beans were tossed with olive oil and salt, then grilled.

The fried chicken livers followed, somewhat, the Julia Child recipe from The Way to Cook. I breaded with half cornmeal, after seeing that in a few online recipes, and hoping it would help them be more crisp. It didn't work. But, here's what I did:

About 1 pound of chicken livers, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
Salt and freshly-ground pepper
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup white rice flour
several shakes each: chili powder, regular paprika, sweet paprika
3 tablespoons duck fat (leftover from our Christmas duck)
1/2 cup gently browned onions (recipe to follow)
1/4 cup dry vermouth
1/3 cup chicken stock

Season the chicken livers with salt and pepper, then dredge in mixture of flour, cornmeal, and seasonings. Fry in duck fat over medium-high heat, a couple minutes per side. Top the liver with the browned onions, pour in the stock and vermouth, raise the heat, and boil rapidly, basting the liver with the sauce. Scoop liver over herbed rice (recipe to follow) and garnish with parsley, if desired.

Browned Onions

Slowly saute 3 cups sliced onions in 2-3 tablespoons of butter, in a covered pan, stirring frequently, until the onions are very tender- 15 minutes or so. Uncover the pan, salt lightly, raise the heat to moderately high, and let the onions brown nicely, stirring frequently- 5 minutes or so. Can be made ahead of time.

Herbed Rice

Stir herbed butter (or butter and fresh oregano, parsley, and/or sage) into prepared rice, about 1 tablespoon butter per cup of rice. For this dish, make a ring of rice on a platter, place braised greens in the middle, and top with the fried chicken livers and onions, including the pan sauce. Garnish with parsley.

Grilled Orange Bananas Dean
(as opposed to Bananas Foster, where all the booze is cooked off...)

The booze is NOT cooked off here, and is quite tasty. The original recipe can be found here, but this time he used Amaretto for half the liquor, and I really like the change.

The Judge, my mama, really liked it all. She preferred the fried chicken livers... as did the Grill Geek. I was really surprised to like both (I'd never had chicken liver before.) The flavor of the bacon-wrapped was awesome, but the texture of the fried was better. I'm hoping to have them again soon, but in a marinara sauce. We didn't get done in an hour (it's amazing how fast that first 30 minutes goes!) but we all declared it a "win" anyway.

About Me

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Tejas, United States
I am many things... all at the same time. (No wonder I don't get much done!) I am a wife to a retired infantryman, mother of 3, stocker (and stalker) of the fridge, passionate fan of food, nutrition, ecology, coffee, wine, and college football. I love all things witchy and piratey. I often cook with booze. I feed stray cats. I don't believe in sunscreen. I don't like shoes and really hate socks. And I currently can't eat any gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, coconut(!?), or sodium metabisulfite (aw, shucks, no chemical snackies.) Sometimes even citric acid gets me. But only sometimes.