February 27, 2011

Faithful Shmaithful

This week I'm cooking from the 50th Anniversary edition of Peg Bracken's I Hate To Cook Book. The book was widely used by cooks in the 1960s and 1970s.

You can't go wrong with a recipe titled "Old Faithful," can you? The title of the recipe on page 16 led me to believe that the recipe would be stupendous. It makes me think of national parks, gushing water, all things beautiful in nature. And it makes me think of mashed potatoes, mom's beans, and Oreo cookies: my personal comfort food.

Old Faithful lists a handful of ingredients. I added to the list because I'm just like that - and it looked like it could use a little help. I mean a casserole of pork chops, rice, tomato, green pepper, chicken broth, marjoram and thyme might sound good to you. To me it sounded like a casserole in need of flavor.

I added some chopped garlic and some bottled roasted red peppers. Technically, roasted yellow peppers, but neverthless, keeping in the spirit of the book, they were bottled. I did not roast them myself on my stovetop. I used Minute Rice in place of uncooked rice.

I browned the chops and set them on top of the rice in the casserole. The same casserole I made the Chicken and Artichokes in. I was praying for something better.

The vegetables I chopped and poured over top. The roasted pepper jar was a pain to open, so I ended up running hot water on it. That did the trick.

I measured the chicken broth, spices, and poured over. then it was covered, and went into the oven.

The recipe calls for a full hour of cooking. I kind of halved the recipe - using only one tomato instead of two for example, but with the addition of Minute Rice, I figured it wouldn't take as long to cook.

Boy, am I glad I only let this go for a half hour. The recipe calls for a full hour. If I would have waited the full hour, I can't imagine how dried out the chops would have been. I like the addition of chopped garlic. The roasted peppers seemed to make no difference at all. The rice was very tasty.

This is another one of those home cooking meals that are reliable (hence "faithful?") but nothing I'd trot out for guests. I'm not sure Ill give it another run through my kitchen either. Old Faithful? Nah -Old Boring is more like it.

February 25, 2011

Bring That Ham Back Here

This week I'm cooking from the 50th Anniversary edition of Peg Bracken's I Hate To Cook Book, and hoping to not learn to hate cooking. The first recipe did not go so well.

The next recipe I choose was "Back Country Ham" on page 170. This was about as easy as you can get with a recipe. You get yourself a slab of ham, throw it in a skillet and brown it.

Browned Slab O' Ham
Take it out, throw some other stuff in (maybe some Dijon mustard to make it fancy) and stir it up.

Sauce Before Cooking
Put the ham back into the pan and heat it all up.

Ham and Sauce In Pan
I nuked some canned corn in the microwave to go alongside the simple dish. It all went from fridge to table in 20 minutes, tops.

Ham & Corn
 The Back Country Ham is nothing to pull out to impress company or others who might spout off their knowledge of the latest food trends. No, people, this potentially is one of those hard-working, oft-repeated homemade fast food items you probably would like in your need-it-fast repertoire. Nothin' fancy, definitely not sexy or seductive. But it's good eating, and I'd do it again.

February 22, 2011

Diggin' Up Roots, or Some Things Are Better Left Undug

I was at the library a few weeks ago at a genealogy workshop. I took some time to think about my goals for research this year, but lure of the books recently acquired by the library won me over. My eyes went right to the cookbooks, and I discovered an oldie - or at least an updated version of an old cookbook.

The I Hate To Cook Book was originally published in 1960, and was written by Peg Bracken. The updated version published in 2010 has an introduction by Bracken's daughter, Johanna. This is the book I picked up, and it was all I could do to not laugh out loud in the library. What can I say? My mom was a librarian, and I learned to hold that laughter in...at least in the library.

I had to take the book home and explore - by cooking several recipes to see what happened. The first recipe I went with was "Chicken Artichoke and Casserole"  on page 92. It's one of the things that Bracken calls a recipe to impress company.

I picked up a huge "pick of the chick" and saved the neck, gizzard, heart, and other odds and ends for stock. I sprinkled them with salt, pepper, and paprika, then browned in butter.  Then I placed the chicken into the casserole dish. I added more butter into the skillet and dropped mushrooms in to simmer. In the spirit of The I Hate To Cook Book, I bought the pre-cut, triple-washed button mushrooms, opened the package, and dumped them in.

Chicken stock, sherry, and flour completed the broth. This was my first indication that things were not going to go well.

Impressive Brown Stuff?
I scattered artichoke hearts around the browned chicken, poured the mushroom and sherry mixture over the chicken, and baked.

Baked Chicken with Artichokes Before Sauce Addition
What came out of the oven was neither pretty nor mouth-orgasmic delicious enough to make for company. Even Jasmine, the sophisticated Siamese napping on the black wool blanket backdrop, turned her back to the foul fowl dish covered with greasy mushroom sauce.

Miss Jasmine says "Duh, mew, no, mew, purr."
I ate one meal of this, then chopped the chicken up, filled plastic containers, and thrust the meat into the freezer for something in the future. I planned to forge on through the I Hate To Cook Book, and hoped I would not hate cooking after the week with the book.

February 20, 2011

The Nitty Gritty Summary

This week I cooked from The Grit Cookbook by Jessica Greene and Ted Hafer. The Grit is a vegetarian restaurant in Athens, Georgia. So how did the week go?

This was an easy cooking week for me. I've prepared the Grit-Style Tofu and Golden Bowl before, so I had to remember the technique - and it did work really well.

The Grit Black Bean Chili was delicious, as was the Mondo Burrito; I plan to revisit the Roasted Corn & Zucchini Quesadilla in the summer with fresh-from-the-garden vegetables. The Grit Brownie was disappointing, but that won't stop me from trying some of the other desserts. Must find a crowd to feed so I can test the Naked Granny Apple Pie or Amaretto Cream Cake. I also like that the book was published by an Athens area publisher keeping it a truly local effort.

What don't I like about The Grit Cookbook? Well, for one thing, my copy has fallen into two pieces - mostly from wear and tear.

Cookbook In Pieces
Additionally, the page numbers are difficult to locate. The numbers are in tiny crowns in the upper right and left corners...inset about two inches from the side of the page. So it's difficult to flip through and locate a page. On the other hand, I do like that those two inches on the left and right side of the pages are used for categories (Salads, Quesadillas and One Mondo Burrito, Breads, etc) and for quotes from famous Athens residents:

  • "Whenever I visit my old stomping grounds in Athens, my first stop is always The Grit!" -Kate Pierson of The B-52's.
  • "If every town had a vegetarian restaurant as good as The Grit, there would be a lot more cows, pigs, and chickens running around." -Dave Schools, Widespread Panic.
  • "The Grit is a great restaurant. They have consummate taste." - Michael Stipe of R.E.M.

I adore the various flyers that are included - they really make me homesick for a town I lived in for only four years. For example, on page 55 there's a flyer with a gorilla proclaiming "Me like food. Me eat at Grit! Me try new Teriyaki Tofu Wrap Sandwich! Eat every bite then jump and yell So Good!" Other advertisements include pictures from 1950s magazines with various Grit phrases included like "Eat Grit, Keep Fit" and "Try Our Coffee It's Delicious."

Grit Flyer
Not every restaurant has the personality and panache of The Grit. This cookbook has the style and swagger of the restaurant. All Hail The Grit - and The Grit Cookbook!

King Grit

February 19, 2011

Tofu Of My Dreams

This week I'm cooking from The Grit Cookbook by Jessica Greene and Ted Hafer. The Grit is a vegetarian restaurant in Athens, Georgia.

Let's address your fears of tofu first, shall we? I know, you cringe at the very thought of the white, tasteless stuff. If you see it floating around in a dish at a Chinese restaurant you avoid it. And you have good reason. On it's own, tofu is completely unappealing and bland.

In fact, it's just waiting for a good sauce or cooking treatment. If you marinate tofu, it will absorb the flavors - so think of tofu as some sort of culinary sponge. Some techniques call for wrapping the tofu in paper towels, then pressing for an hour with a stack of cookbooks (or whatever you've got that will press the tofu and force the water out of the bean curd.)

The recipe for Grit-Style Tofu on page 8 calls for double-cooking. Learning this technique and the patience required in the first step took several disappointing attempts. Eventually I got it right, and I was hoping that I'd get it right again.

First I got myself some extra-firm tofu. Though the recipe calls for firm, I find that extra-firm holds up better when cutting and in the initial cooking stages. I cut the tofu into small cubes; The Grit Cookbook suggests "smaller than playing dice." I just got as close as I could.

Tiny Tofu Cubes
I oiled my skillet, let it get hot,  and added the little tofu dice. Then I exercised great patience. The book suggests that you can "toss" until "evenly and lightly golden brown..." I have learned to not toss at all until you start to see some browning - that can take a long time. And when you think you've got enough, wait a little longer. Because the longer you wait in this particular step of recipe preparation, the better the reward in the end.

Tofu - slightly golden

This long cooking of the little cubes of tofu removes liquid. And the longer you can wait, the better your ultimate results. Really do wait until that tofu is golden. You'll notice a difference in texture because the tofu gets chewy.

And, just so you know, as the tofu releases water, it may do a little dance just for you. Mine jump up and down. One or two jump out of the pan. This dancing and jumping signals to me that the liquid in the tofu is evaporating and that the tofu cubes are really starting to turn golden. When I couldn't stand it anymore, I sprinkled the tofu with soy sauce and kept sauteeing. Then I poured the tofu onto a waiting plate lined with paper towels, and it looked like this:

I wiped out the skillet, added more oil, and returned to the burner. The second phase of cooking the tofu always goes fast. I put the tofu back into the pan with some oil and started tossing the tofu around so it became more brown. At this point the tofu is firmer and can handle being bossed around by a spatula.

I sprinkled the tofu with more soy sauce and added some nutritional yeast.
Nutritional Yeast: Do Not Eat A Mouthful
Tossed the tofu around. Added soy sauce and more nutritional yeast. Once coated and well-browned, I dropped the tofu onto a plate.

Tofu at the end of stage 2
My goal was to recreate The Grit's humble but mighty "Golden Bowl." I heated some rice in a bowl and put some of the tofu on top. I covered the tofu with shredded vegetables, some shredded cheese, and a dollap of butter. Then dug in.

The Golden Bowl
Ahhh, that's Grit heaven, people! The tofu was fabulous and chewy. The butter dissolved into the dish and added extra flavor. I ate the entire bowl, and had more for lunch the next day. The Grit-Style Tofu and Golden Bowl are one of my very favorite foods, and I'm so delighted to be able to prepare them at home. This is one satisfied lady.

February 17, 2011

Mondo Burrito Baby!

This week I'm cooking from The Grit Cookbook by Jessica Greene and Ted Hafer. The Grit is a vegetarian restaurant in Athens, Georgia.

Earlier in the blog I talked about preparing The Grit Black Bean Chili. That chili can be used in many recipes in the book, including today's recipe - The Mondo Burrito.

As the name implies, the open-faced burrito as served in the restaurant is huge. In fact, the recipe says that a cup and a half of the Black Bean Chili be included in this beast of a burrito.

Other ingredients include a cup of cooked rice, a large flour tortilla, red onion, bell pepper, carrot, red cabbage, cheese, and salsa. The veggies and cheese are all shredded or diced to suit your particular tastes, while the salsa is always your decision. I make mine mild; this makes me a whimp to those of you out there who are heat seekers and habenero chili lovers. So be it. Still like some salsa, just can't stand heat in food.

Really, I hope that at some point the food industry starts distinguishing between spice and heat in the description of foods. It seems to me that many articles get the two confused. Heat is what comes from a pepper (or whatever else you're using to create that heat.) Spice is from spices. A pepper can be "spicy" but a spice does not necessarily produce heat. For example, basil isn't hot, while cayenne pepper is. So are many curry powders...which inevidably have some semblance of pepper in them. Can't stand a lot of pepper, so I am (as a co-worker says) "a delicate flower." Edible, but delicate. Now where did that burrito go?

I had to find a hearty meal to feed a friend. I'd made the pot of Grit Black Bean Chili the day before, so the Mondo Burrito fit the bill perfect. I pre-heated the broiler, and got all ingredients out of the fridge. I shredded the onion, pepper, carrot, and cabbage. There's some leftover cilantro in there, too.

Shredded Veggies

The leftover Black Bean Chili I heated in the microwave, as I did the tortillas. I used the Fiestaware I received for Christmas (love this stuff!)

First in went the tortilla. I tore this apart so it was easier to remove little pieces of it as the burrito was devoured. The restaurant uses an entire intact tortilla. Then I added copious amounts of steaming rice and Black Bean Chili. I topped that with some shredded cheese, and placed it into the oven for a few minutes.

My friend and I carried on talking, and eventually smelled burning. The tortillas were burned - just on the tips. I removed the dishes and topped with chopped veggies, sour cream, and salsa.

Mondo Burrito
My friend and I dug in with gusto, and were not disappointed. This was a hearty dish for a cold night, and it fueled plenty of good conversation. Isn't that what good food's supposed to do? I'm sure I'll be making myself a Mondo Burrito from The Grit Cookbook again sometime soon.

February 15, 2011

The Grit Blondies - Oh No!

This week I'm cooking from The Grit Cookbook by Jessica Greene and Ted Hafer. The Grit is a vegetarian restaurant in Athens, Georgia.

I have a confession...I love cookies. Bar cookies more specifically, so I'm always looking for a new recipe to rock my cookie-filled world. I remember walking into The Grit, seeing the dessert case, and seriously consider bypassing sustenance in exchange for a direct connection to a sugar concoction - sometimes I gave in. So surely The Grit Cookbook had a good recipe for Blondies.

I found what I was looking for on 103 of the cookbook. I read the ingredients and didn't see anything unusual so began my preparation.

I preheated the oven to 350 and greased my 9x13 pan. I melted the butter, measured the brown sugar, flour, baking powder, and eggs. Then I stopped.

Where was the vanilla? That's the one ingredient that, to me, makes a "blonde" brownie. The recipe didn't call for any, so I threw in about two teaspoons. I added in the cup of chocolate chips and some pecan pieces (no walnuts in the house.) The mixture looked good and tasted good.

The Grit Blondie Batter
I spread the mixture into the prepared pan and put them into the oven for the recommended 35 minutes. The house filled with the aroma of baking Blondies and I anticipated eating the entire pan. They looked beautiful fresh out of the oven, if a little extra golden. And then I took a bite.

Baked Blondies
These were sad Blondies, devoid of excitement. They were crumbly and crunchy. After they cooled, they were even hard to chew. I prefer a moist, chewy (but not crunchy) cookie. I did not gobble my way through the whole pan. Instead, I ate a few and the rest of them went down the garbage disposal drain. I ate doing that with food and feel so utterly wasteful. But with no gang of pals to help chow down the bunch of crunchy cookies, that was all I could think of doing at the time. Still, don't they look lovely?

February 12, 2011

Chili-Chili Oooo Mmmmmm Chili!

 This week I'm cooking from The Grit Cookbook. The Grit is a vegetarian restaurant in Athens, Georgia. If you're afraid of vegetarian food - keep reading. You're gonna like this stuff.

Yeah, I complain about winter. It's dark, cold, windy, and I can't stand driving in snow. However, one of the things I love about winter is hot and steamy soup. The legendary Grit Black Bean Chili is one of those super soups that keep you going when the weather gets you down.

The Grit's Black Bean Chili is the very first recipe in the cookbook. This is no surprise as the chili is an essential ingredient in a number of Grit staples; it's a versatile soup that also doubles and freezes well. Trust me.

I had a long Sunday cooped up in the house, so I figured I'd make up a ton of Grit Black Bean Chili. I did a rapid soak of the beans beginning at 8:30am, and by 1pm the chili was done. Then I had to find other things to do. This is the kind of chili that gets better as it simmers, though, so be sure to allow ample time. I rinsed the beans in a bright blue colander, placed in a large pot, boiled for two minutes, removed from the heat, covered, and soaked for at least an hour.
Black Beans in Blue Colander
While the beans were soaking I gathered the other ingredients. First I chopped a lot of onion and garlic.
Have Knife? Chop Onion & Garlic.
Then I poured the spices onto a plate - that's chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne...I think that's it.

A little black pepper, too.

I returned to the beans, rinsed them thoroughly in the bright blue colander, added about 8 cups of water. Onion, garlic, and spices followed quickly. This simmered on the stove top until the beans were tender - at least an hour.

During the long wait, I chopped celery, onion, and yellow pepper. This was sauteed in some olive oil and set aside.
Celery, Yellow Pepper, Onion
Once the beans were done, I poured the celery, onion, and yellow pepper into the beans and stirred to combine. And this is where patience comes into play when making Grit Black Bean Chili. The directions admonish the cook to "Allow flavors to marry for at least 1 hour;" I'd say let them get good and acquainted. Take your time. Take as long as you can stand. The chili only gets better as the flavors mingle.

I'm impatient about these things, and was (as usual) darn hungry. It's easy to be very hungry when breakfast is often a large mug of Earl Grey tea and some peanut butter on toast. I scooped up a small bowlful, topped with shredded cheese and sour cream.

Doesn't that look yummy? And it definitely beats those winter blues away!

February 10, 2011

Get To The Grit: Roasted Corn & Zucchini Quesadillas

The Grit Cookbook

I wish the college town I live in had a restaurant like The Grit. Sure, there are a handful of local places to eat, but nothing that remotely resembles the funky feel of The Grit in Athens, Georgia. The cookbook merely reflects the restaurant, which reflects the town, which reverberates through me whenever I encounter a vegetarian restaurant or cookbook. I'm always wondering -  can it match or beat The Grit?

True, I'm expressing significant favoritism here. I used to volunteer at Daily Groceries Co-Op that used to be in the same building as The Grit on Prince Avenue, and has since relocated about a block away. Still, it wasn't unusual for someone from the restaurant to run over in a mild panic asking for tomatoes or an avocado or something else they'd run out of. And I'm willing to bet that The Grit has at least one struggling musician on staff right now.

I've eaten at The Grit countless times and, if it didn't take a twelve-hour drive, I'd be on my way there right now. I've long since moved from the South, and the cookbook moved with me. I have mastered the art of the quintessential "Golden Bowl," and plan to cook it later this week. For starters, I went with Roasted Corn and Zucchini Quesadilla's on page 74.

This was a very simple recipe to follow and prepare. It calls for oven roasting corn and zucchini in olive oil. I hesitated because the recipe calls for frozen corn, and I envisioned something yicky. I used a spiffy Persian Lime-Flavored Olive Oil I received for Christmas this year. It smelled fabulous while roasting - and looked good, too.

Roasted Corn, Zucchini, Lime-Flavored Olive Oil & Cilantro
Quesadilla's aren't complicated to cook. You simply heat your pan up add in a tortilla and the fixin's and cook it up a bit. The end result was slightly crispy on the outside, and ooey-gooey on the inside. At first I was not impressed, even disappointed as the inside seemed watery and bland, possibly due to the frozen corn. But after a few bites, I chomped and the flavors of cilantro (which I like) and lime exploded in my mouth. The lime was bright while cilantro played a lower, even earthy note.

If I make this again, it will be in the summer. I'm picturing chicken marinated in the lime olive oil, grilled, shredded. And definitely fresh sweet corn for a sensational, sexy summertime meal. Mmmmm!