Saturday, November 3, 2012

3 cheers for OCD!

The compulsion to seek perfection is my downfall...pride goeth before the fall was a lesson taught often in my childhood, always with St. Michael the Archangel as the example of what to strive for.  God created the heavens and the earth, angels and even more important archangels, but He gave them free will just like us.  Apparently God also made them so cool they thought maybe they were better than Him, so the most beautiful of them, Lucifer, gathered an army of other archangels and tried to take over Heaven.  Michael was the archangel that led the battle and drove them out of Heaven and into hell...and Lucifer has been peeved ever since and spends all his time sulking and trying to mess with us.  This is a good thing to remind myself when I'm obsessed with something that really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things - we're only talking about hummus for crying out loud.

I posted a recipe a long time ago for hummus, and thought it was excellent, best I ever tasted.  I was woefully ignorant and unschooled as I found out recently.  Went to a Greek restaurant...more like a cafeteria really, and ordered a hummus plate for everyone to share while we waited for our lunch.  BLEW ME AWAY.  How they achieved a texture so silky, void of odd aftertaste, and fruity, yet full-bodied explosion of flavor I do not know...and the dude running the place was not willing to give up a clue to his methods.  Others have also tried and failed...the only nugget learned so far is "the secret is very good olive oil".  Pfft....that isn't the whole story by a long shot.  So to the Google I went, researching my fingers to the bone and learning that everyone and his dog has a recipe for hummus.  Sigh...I had my work cut out for me.

One lead took me to SW Portland, just a hop, skip and a jump from the house I grew up in just outside of Multnomah Village.  In the building that used to be the Piggly Wiggly, where my mom and Uncle Bob worked as meat packer and butcher, was Barbur World Foods.  They specialize in Middle Eastern fare, including a lengthy deli case filled with Greek delights and an oven you could order a freshly baked pita from on the spot.  The hummus there was highly regarded, and rightly so - nothing to muck it up, just pure and simple flavors, and only 4.99 a lb...DANG that's cheap!  I asked a couple questions, and found that they cook their own beans daily, and use a particular brand of hummus - took home a tub of already made plus all needed ingredients and experimented until the house was filled with the music of the legume....I really need to buy some more Yankee Candles.

Several blogs and columns mentioned that skinning the beans would make the end product smoother, so after some trial and error, I found that it only took a little more prep - a big fluffy towel is the key.  Good olive oil is also important...the light stuff I always use is not nearly as good, and doesn't have that fruity flavor the good stuff imparts.  FRESH lemon juice...I will never make it with bottled again, and a good quality tahini and you're almost there.  I hear you can use a blender, but a food processor will be your friend unless you have a fancy blender - I would love to know how it compares, but mine is not so much so my Cuisinart rules.

End result?  One friend tried mine, then that restaurant's and proclaimed mine better...I still think theirs is better, but I'm hyper-critical of myself and cheap to boot so I'm not a good judge.  I hate to say it, but try Gyro House on Baseline in Hillsboro, then this recipe and see what you think...I think they're both worth the effort and inevitable after-effects. And never forget, he who smelt it, dealt it.

Hummus Redux

3 C. dry garbanzo beans (fresher is better...go bulk or a specialty store because it's less likely they've been in that bag since 1983

Soak overnight, rinse and cover with fresh water (a couple inches above beans) and a pinch of salt, bring to boil and let simmer for an hour or more, adding water to keep it above the beans and testing until they are quite soft.  And yes, skim the gross foam off now and then.  Drain and rinse in colander, then pour out on a clean towel, folding over beans and rubbing them with towel until most of the skins are removed.  The hard part was figuring out how to separate them...dump all into a big bowl and cover with lots of cold water.  Stir with your hand in a circle, then as the skins come to the top of the beans and form a tornado, scoop them off and repeat until you've gotten as many as you can out of the bowl.  Drain beans again, set aside.

In large food processor, put the following:

1/3 C. GOOD olive oil...extra virgin, spend a little more and you'll be happier
Juice of one lemon, with a second standing by
1/4 C. GOOD tahini...DO NOT buy the kind in the can, it tastes burnt and bitter.  Look for a jar...
1 or more garlic cloves, or 1/2 tsp garlic granules...use what you like
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper or 1/8 tsp. cayenne...your choice

Process until smooth and emulsified, then add 3 cups of the cooked, de-skinned beans and process.  (The rest of the beans can be stored in the fridge, covered with water, for a week, or in a ziploc bag in the freezer infefinitely) It will lump up, and look nasty, but keep it running and add 1/4 C. warm water.  It will smooth out and start to look less ragged...keep it running, and add more olive oil if it's too thick.  It should be soft, not clumpy - stop and taste so no one gets a piece of your finger in theirs, and add more salt/garlic/pepper/lemon/oil...whatever you think it needs.  I will use a full tsp of garlic granules, or 2-3 cloves, maybe a full tsp of kosher salt, and 1 to 1.5 lemons...I've even been known to add a bit more tahini, but whatever does it for you is good.  Just let it process while you clean up the kitchen and it will actually warm up and smooth out even can't overprocess it.  

Presentation is are supposed to put it on a plate, spread out and then starting at the center with the back of a spoon, start turning the plate and making a spiral in it to the outside...either that or 4 shallow depressions on top, then drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of paprika.  This new and improved recipe has knocked quite a few socks off, and HS has even said he LOVES it...and it had fresh garlic, unbeknownst to him.  It's good with pita, I love it with wheat pretzel braids, not bad with crudite, and has a delightful edge served directly into your mouth off your finger or the Cuisinart blade.  Thowwy...dithwegawd that wast thatement - I bwame luthifer.  Photo will be added at a later date...enjoy!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ensconced in Red Velvet

Motivation?  HA.  Summer is about to expire, my new job is sucking the life out of me, and the last couple weeks have been a blur of "squeeze the last bits of fun out of vacation season", all of which has left me feeling like I was drug through a knothole backwards.  But I will not give in personal goal for this summer was to work up to bicycling the entire Banks-Vernonia Linear Trail and Handsome Stranger and I are going to attempt it this coming weekend.  No guts, no glory, and unless I get some of those padded bike shorts you will know exactly why I'm walking funny next week.

HS and I went on an impromptu road trip to San Francisco week before last, and had a wonderful time....I would like to say we relaxed, but I doubt it would hold up in court....but he did more than I because he has his Kindle Fire and will read anywhere.  Even when there is a beautiful swimming pool and spa next to him, mountain bikes begging to be ridden around Pickle Spit or into the charming little boho town of Mill Valley where he went in the summers to visit his Great Gramma Foster and look at the hippies in the town park, or even sitting in bed while his smokin hot wife lathers herself with aloe because she spent too much time in the pool/spa/biking in the California sun.  And I really MEAN smokin hot...ouch.  I am antsy, always gotta be doing something and can NOT waste time when enjoying my relaxation, dammit....too much like Mom.

Speaking of Mom, she turned 75 yesterday....we took her to dinner at a lovely brew pub in the area and had a really great time with 4 generations of the Swaja family there, probably much to the horror of the restaurant staff.  But they were good sports, no one got thrown out, and more importantly, Mom had a great time.  I could have bought a cake, but NO.....if I don't throw at least one roadblock in my own way for every event that comes down the pike you can bet I am an imposter and the real me is tied up in a closet somewhere, struggling mightily to free myself from the duct tape and dishtowel gag so I can get BACK TO THE KITCHEN AND FINISH FROSTING THE CUPCAKES.  I know I'm sick....

So after posting the pix of the glorious results of my OCD riddled existence, I received a fb message from my beautiful niece Belle in Texas for the recipe.  She even said if it was a secret I could kill her, but she drooled on her phone over the pic and wants to bring them to an event of her own.  No prob, missy...and it is not a secret, I found it online - joy of baking is a GREAT place to find good recipes.  Now mind you, I did not tweak the cupcake recipe one iota, but the frosting is from another place....this is my new, and definitively the best cream cheese icing I have EVER also has a bit of a twist that improves the texture and shocked the hell out of me - it was years before I would try it, and then I was mad at myself for not doing it sooner.

So here ya go, sweetie....and even if you can get them to look EXACTLY the same mine will still be better because they are on my tin reproduction powder coated tray from a set of three I had your Handsome Uncle buy me for my birthday for a ridiculous sum of money....those I would have to kill you for.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, line at least 20 muffin tins with preferably foil or some nice heavy duty muffin papers if you can find them.

2.5 cups sifted cake flour (didn't have it, used AP and they were light as a feather)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 T. cocoa (I always use uber dark, but whatev)
1/2 cup butter (unsalted blahblahblah...I use what I eat and that crap is gross)
1.5 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
2 T. red food coloring (look for stores that have it in separate bottles...the little ones take two)
1 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. baking soda

Ready?  OK.  sift the flour over wax paper, then carefully pour it in cup or scoop with a spoon into it and level off.  Mix with salt and cocoa powder in a medium bowl and set aside.

In your Kitchenaid mixer (oops....hahaha, or a big bowl and your wimpy hand mixer), beat butter until soft.  Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy, then add eggs and beat well.  Add vanilla and combine, scrape bowl.

In measuring cup, whisk buttermilk with food coloring , then add buttermilk and flour mixtures alternately in 3 additions, beginning and ending with flour.  Just so you know, I realize that is not mathematically correct but the stupid recipe said it and I was compelled to write it down.

In small cup, combine soda and vinegar and stir - it will fizz up, then quickly fold into the batter.

Divide evenly in the muffin tins, I use a 1/4 cup ish scoop, and don't over fill like I did...if you do and they mushroom you need to use a knife to push them off the pan before they cool and cement themselves there.  Pissed me off....little cupcakes are better than spready ones.  Bake in oven 20-25 minutes, check with a toothpick for doneness and let cool in the pan about 10 minutes before removing.  Cool completely before frosting.

Next, pick the ugliest cupcake, peel off the wrapper and TAKE THAT OUT OF YOUR MOUTH!  Break it up in small bits and distribute in one of the empty muffin tins.  Put back in the oven you should already have turned off and ignore it for a want to dry the crumbs out, not brown them.  While you're ignoring them make the frosting.

Cream Cheese Icing

This was at the bottom of a kick-ass recipe I use for carrot will see in a sec why it took me so long to use it.  I think this method was used during the depression, but I doubt they had access to a lot of cream cheese so who just works, altho it's hard to pick which is better, the carrot cake or the icing....

1/4 cup soft butter
12 oz. cream cheese (I even used Neufchatel and it still works)
2.5 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup flour.  Yes, I said it....flour.

Whip butter and cream cheese until fluffy, work in powdered sugar and flour.  REALLY.  No vanilla either...go ahead if you want, but it's not necessary...cream cheese has a lovely tang so why muck it up?  Because of the flour, this icing holds up beautifully - if you pipe it with a frosting tip with the sharkey looking points on it the ridges stay nice and also forms that delightful "crust"...I know it's not a nice adjective for icing, but it is what it fave kind of frosting has an ever-so-thin dry layer that has a spectacular mouth feel when you bite through it and into the squoosh below.  Yup, that is my new word...squoosh.

Now either use an offset spreader, a butter knife, a spoon or even a frosting bag with a giant sharkey tip on it and frost those completely cool cupcakes!  When they are perfect, take the cake bits out of the oven, put them in a ziploc and smash them to oblivion.  I dumped mine into a wire strainer and rubbed them through the mesh onto a paper towel, which was brilliance.  Then sprinkle with your fingers over each freshly iced cupcake so they will stick and voila!  Red Velvet is not my fave because I swear I can taste the food coloring, but man does everyone else go gaga for lactose intolerant sister lost sight of the fact that she was so afflicted and ate a whole one, for which she paid dearly later that night.  But I don't believe she regrets it....

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Born to Shop

I will tell you that I hate shopping, but my family just rolls their eyes when they hear that - they don't understand my compulsion to ultimately walk away from X store with a trunkful of stuff that they had to pay ME to take away.  It's all about the deal...and altho I am not one of those crazy coupon shoppers (anymore), I have scored more times than the Harlem Globetrotters.  AND without dribbling.

Costco...there, I said it.  I LOVELOVELOVE the place - it makes my blood pressure drop just walking through the door.  I don't even mind parking 3 miles from the entrance, it just increases the excitement of passing under that giant rolling door and winking at the person with the clicker...I feel like Norm in Cheers, and that all the staff are gonna yell "SHARON" when I walk in.  It has taken me YEARS to learn to shop there though, and have fallen into their snake pit traps time and time again...a long-ago co-worker once told me she called it the $300 dollar store 'cause she could never get out without spending that much.  It takes an iron constitution, nerves of steel, and a really big wad of gum to do it, but it is possible...just never forget that the sample people are satan himself and you will save at least 25% on your final bill if you don't sully your wad of Trident with chunks of apple pie, salt & pepper Kettle Chips, and teriyaki beef jerky.

Growing up with 4 siblings means you never get your own room....unless you're the oldest and a girl.  We shared rooms in many different configurations, but when we moved to Banks, me and my two sisters shared one room for a short time, and my oldest sister would tell us stories when the lights went favorites were the ones where you got locked in a big department store for a week because they closed it for some unknown reason - it had to be a week because there were too many things to do in just one night.  As a kid in a one income family that was the ultimate lottery winning dream....have unfettered access to ANYTHING you wanted without the worry of punishment - if they lock you in a store, they're not going to put you in jail, right?  So what if you rode bikes up and down the aisles, filled up swimming pools, ate every kind of candy on the shelf, and had fashion shows with all the clothes...they would just be happy if our parents didn't sue them, right?  Those stories and the somehow inbred need for a deal is where I lay the blame for my nasty little habit.  But before you judge, how many of you have a never-been used, one model year behind 12 cup Cuisinart food processor that only cost you 24.99??  BOO YAH.

This recipe has absolutely nothing to do with any of this, and after going through some recipes I realize that I am starting to run out of good stuff that isn't too involved/weird/stolen....not sure how long this can keep going but I will try.  This is a super easy (read uses BOTTLED DRESSING), but is one of those things that you have once and wonder how the hell something so simple can look like a million bucks AND taste fabulous.  Sure some are going to whine about the shrimp, but skip it if you don't like it.  It won't be the same, but if it called for capers I would do the same - no slimy boogers for me.  And many thanks to my lovely niece Carrie from Cali - this is actually her mom's recipe, hence the name....just don't tell HER you screwed with her recipe, I'm convinced she had "connections" and you might just find a package in your mailbox with a small piece of your favorite salad bowl in it.

Suzy's Salad

Another one of those with no set amounts....I will give you suggestions, but you can monkey with it to your own liking - it would be really hard to mess it up.  REALLY...even YOU, haha.

Lettuce - a mix of romaine, leaf and iceberg would do nicely...a head of each cut or torn into bites sized pieces, perhaps?
Salami, cut in bite sized pieces (I get it sliced from the deli, then cut it in 1/4's)
Feta cheese, crumbled
Black olives, quartered (looks prettier than sliced, or you could buy small and leave whole)
Tomatoes, cut in bite sized pieces (grape tomatoes are perfect cut in half...the juice adds to it)
Baby shrimp (I would say up to a lb, and clean it - no one likes shells and feelers)
Red onion, sliced (I cut in half, then in quarters and cut thin sticks from that)
Girard's Champagne Dressing (this is the key, don't use anything else)

Put all fixins in your large and undamaged salad bowl, pour about half the bottle of Girard's over all and toss, add more if needed and I would totally grind some black pepper into it.  It may also have had croutons tossed into it....that would be good too.  If you use enough of the toppings it can be a full meal with some nice crusty bread - and it will get you a flood of invitations to potlucks if you're not have been warned.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Gift From the Heart

Handsome Stranger has struggled for years when it comes to gifts for me, and I really feel bad for him. I never think "For cryin' out LOUD, you've known me for over 33 years, why the HELL can't you read my mind??" because I don't know what I want myself most of the time. I am also cheaper than than the day is long, and will, immediately upon opening any gift, will think (in my head most of the time) "Where did you buy this? Was it on sale or did you use a coupon? Did you check online to see if you could get it for less?"....I can't help it. He overthrew the flowery romantic notion of buying jewelry long ago since I just lose it; the last such items were a new rock in my engagement band because apparently the other one broke off and is probably in a landfill or one of our former custodians teeth (I think it happened in the file room), and a simple anniversary ring for our 25th that I am actually wearing right now. And that is fine with me - the man played his hand when he bought me the Camaro for my 50th so he can do what he wants.

It is also difficult to surprise me. I hate knowing what I'm getting, so I've had to be very careful during the month of December to not look at my bank account (I clean up the aftermath on the 26th), avoid rifling through his wallet and drawers, and run away if I see a box/bag/mysterious lumpy thing that appears to be in one of our big suitcases...ruins the surprise. But this year he was successful...I had no clue (except the box of Sees, I could smell the damn raspberry creams through the wrapping paper) and was delighted when I unwrapped a set of Kitchenaid pasta making attachments I have always wanted but was too cheap to buy. I've seen the occasional one at Goodwill, but after noting cat hair in one, determined that purchasing one second hand would be like using a toothbrush you found in a gas station bathroom. And he used a coupon....I love that man!

So my first experience was making lasagne only use one attachment, the roller, and just have to run the rested dough through on several different settings until it's the width of the roller and as thick as you like, then lay it out on towels while you make the rest of the ingredients so you can put it all together. It was AMAZING lasagne...the sheets were thin, and had a more pastry-ish quality - tender and almost creamy, without that rubbery bite but not mushy either. Best lasagne I have ever had....anywhere. The second was a marathon session where I made TWO batches of lasagne and two of fettucini....that day I made traditional and veggie alfredo lasagne, and once again, could not have been more pleased with the results. Then I used some of the fettucini for a huge batch of cottage cheese, noodles and bacon that Ethan requested for days afterwards, and then some with bolognese sauce for him one night we were eating something highly objectionable to him (he's not really picky, just 10) to a very happy outcome. I also shared some of the dried fettucini with a friend, and she said it was really good...I choose to believe her.

Today everyone was watching the Maltese Falcon, and I was bored because it was in BLACK & WHITE....sheesh, we used to have to watch that in the middle ages (1960's), and they didn't even bother to colorize it. I love that they were SO un-PC back then, and we got some pretty good guffaws out of some of their mannerisms and choices of vocab, but it wasn't enough to keep me entertained so I grabbed an apron and noodled up. I rolled the sheets a bit thicker, then cut them by hand into strips about as wide and long as my thumb....then I made chicken veggie soup and threw those delicious eggy strips of heaven into the pot. Not very many people make noodles by hand, mostly cause it's a giant pain in the arse - that is unless you have magical machines to do the hard part, but either way...BEST. CHICKEN. SOUP. ON. THE. PLANET. I should build a shrine to Kitchenaid, but that would be false idolatry so I won't, but man-oh-man you should try it takes a bit of elbow grease to roll out pasta dough, but this soup is SO very worth it!

Chicken NOODLE Soup

So if you want to use homemade, the recipe will follow for the pasta, otherwise I highly suggest you buy fresh or the frozen egg noodles....the kind in the bag are never as good. Or you can make the soup with no noodles and avoid the carbs - sometimes I add butternut squash I've roasted and that's good too. But I have suspected for years that the Manna the Israelites found every morning in the desert for 40 years while they wandered lost because Moses didn't have GPS was actually noodles....they just changed the name later.

1 T. olive oil
3 large raw chicken breasts, cut into 1/4" dice
1.5 C. celery, cut in 1/4" slices
1.5 C. onion, diced
1.5 C. carrots, cut in half and 1/4" thick
2 C. frozen or fresh corn
1.5 C. crookneck squash, 1/2" dice (they will break down a little)
1/2 LARGE cabbage, coarsely chopped
16 C. Hot water OR chicken broth
5 T. chicken soup base (the paste type is the best) if using water
1/2 tsp. turmeric (yellow curry)
Salt and FRESH GROUND black pepper to taste
1 lb. fresh pasta

Heat olive oil in large stock pot until smoking, add chicken, celery, onion, carrot, corn and saute for a couple minutes. Add squash and cabbage and cook a couple more minutes until it all kind of wilts, then put in water, soup base (or broth), and seasonings. Bring to a boil and cook for about 8 minutes, then add pasta and stir, continuing to cook at a low boil about 5 minutes or until pasta is at least al dente. It will continue to cook from the heat in the pot, but you can serve immediately or let it sit a while....the flavor will actually improve if you can believe that.

If you want to make the pasta, I will give you the recipe I use for the Kitchenaid, but you may have to actually mix it with your hands if you don't have a fancy mixer...OR you can use a food processor, just not a hand mixer unless you want a new one when it burns up from attempting to mix concrete.

Egg Noodles

3.5 C. sifted AP flour
1/2 tsp. table salt (kosher grains are too big)
1 T. water
4 whole eggs

Put all ingredients in mixer and use the flat beater, beat on 2 for 1-2 minutes until flour is incorporated, then switch to dough hook and knead on 2 for 2 minutes. Remove dough from hook/bowl and knead for another 1-2 minutes or until smooth. Let rest covered with a towel for 20 minutes or it will just laugh at you if you try to roll it out. This is where I run it through the rollers on 1, folding it every time and repeating 4 or 5 times, then roll it once at 2, once at 3 and once at 4 to make thick ones (I think it goes up to 7). If you are doing it manually, you just cut the dough in 4 pieces, and start rolling with a rolling pin.....they should be about as thin as...well....a noodle. Then cut into smaller squares, then in whatever size noodle you want.

I used them fresh, just cook in whatever for 4-5 minutes for the thick ones, but you can dry them on a towel for later, just make sure they are separated and don't stack...they will stick together and you will say very bad words and cook the whole deformed mess, then cry bitter tears of disappointment while you eat your noodles with a steak knife and fork, raking them through a puddle of melted butter and they will STILL be delicious. And THAT, my friends, is a gift from MY heart.