Saturday, May 29, 2010

No-shopping experiment, conclusion

The goodbye lunches and dinners have started and I'm done with the no-shopping experiment.  I've packed up many of my kitchen implements, spices/seasonings and small appliances, and taken a lot of the remaining food over to my mom.
I can't believe how much stuff I had left over after four months of not buying anything other than produce and dairy.  I used up all the cuts of meat and soups, but had lots of odds and ends like bacon, cheese, leftover ham, etc.  I ate my way through lots of oatmeal, barley, and quinoa, but still had lots of split peas and lentils.  I used up large quantities of flour, sugar, nuts and butter but lost momentum once I started packing up my kitchen.
So anyway, the take-home messages are that I buy way too much stuff and don't use it up in a timely manner, and that if there is ever a famine, shortage of specific ingredients, or another period of unemployment in my future, I will be all set.  I'm going to try to be better about not buying so much stuff.  Being 150 miles from the nearest Costco and Trader Joe's should help.
In an appropriate bookend to the no-shopping experiment, a Sprouts market is opening up near my CA house the day that the movers get here.  I've heard good things about it, but I'm glad it didn't open up any sooner or I'd have even more stuff left over.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Almond Pseudo-Croissants

I love almond croissants.  The best almond croissants I've ever had were at a coffee stand in the New Orleans Intercontinental.  Sheila and I were there for the ACS meeting, and I think we had almond croissants for breakfast every morning.  That was a fun meeting!  (Perhaps a bit too fun in some ways, but that's a story for my other blog.)
I've always wanted to make croissants, and had planned to do it while I still had a lot of time on my hands.  In the traditional recipe, you make a square of butter, put it on top of the dough that's been rolled out, fold it up like a letter, and chill it.  Ever so often, the dough is rolled out, refolded, and returned to the fridge.  This results in flaky layers.  At the end, the dough is rolled out, cut into triangles, and rolled into the traditional croissant shape.  It's a time consuming process.  Like making baguettes, it's probably best left to professionals.
I didn't do much cooking for a while.  By now, a lot of my kitchen is packed up already, and I'm improvising when it comes to ingredients.  I still wanted almond croissants, though.   I found the following recipe, which uses similar techniques as the no-knead breads that I've been making.
Yeast, water, milk, and egg yolks are combined.  Meanwhile, flour, butter, and sugar are combined. The butter is cut into the flour until the mix is crumbly.  The liquids are then mixed in, and the dough is allowed to chill in the fridge overnight.  Then you roll it out, cut it into triangles, and spread it with an almond paste mixture.  The wedges are rolled up and baked.
I had to grind up some rock sugar, since I was out of the regular stuff. There were still some larger chunks left in, but it wasn't noticeable in the final product.  I also used bread flour instead of regular flour. Sacre bleu!
Anyway, they certainly were easy.  The dough rolled out nicely and was easy to handle. It was somewhat slow to rise, though, but that's pretty typical for the refrigerator doughs.  The croissants were moist, buttery, and tasty.  They did not have the flaky croissant texture, but were quite good.  I ate one for breakfast and had another one for my picnic lunch at Point Reyes.  My parents finished off their batch already and raved about them.
I can see making these again, but shaping them and letting them rise in the evening, and then just baking them in the morning.  The dough would also be a great base for cinnamon rolls.
Someday, I'll find a real croissant recipe and make the traditional style ones.  I have a mental image of myself doing this in Ithaca, on a snowy weekend.  It's a nice image.  It's not quite as likely as me shoveling snow from my driveway, of course, but I'm going to hold onto my illusions as long as possible.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Friday, May 14, 2010

Cornmeal Pancakes

I've tried a few recipes for cornmeal pancakes.  None have worked very well.  Nonetheless, I was undeterred.  This morning I got one of my cooking emails and it featured pancakes.  Since it was breakfast time and I was hungry, I took a look.  (This is one advantage of being unemployed.)  The cornmeal pancake recipe caught my eye because I have cornmeal and four that need to be used up.  So I did some spur of the moment cooking.
It's not that different than the other recipes I tried.  Probably the use of buttermilk/baking soda, or the ratio of flour to cornmeal, helped. In any case, these ones worked.  (I did have to substitute milk/lemon juice for the buttermilk) The pancakes were tasty and had a slight crunch from the cornmeal, and had good body so that it wasn't hard to flip them.  I ate them with maple syrup (yet another thing I'm trying to use up) but they'd be even better if there were bacon or sausage involved.  (yes, i still have bacon and sausage in the freezer, so another batch may be made before I leave)

butter for the skillet
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup unbleached white flour
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons corn oil
Preheat a nonstick griddle, or with butter lightly grease a skillet, over medium heat while you mix the batter.
In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, salt, baking soda and flour.
In a separate large bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk and corn oil.
Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid mixture. With a fork gently combine the ingredients until smooth.
Over low heat, using about 3 to 4 tablespoons of batter for each pancake, cook the pancakes on the griddle or in the greased skillet, about 3 minutes on each side.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Recipe geek restaurant review: Cheesesteak Shop and Adamson's French Dip

I'm mostly done with the contents of my freezer, and have started making the rounds of local restaurants that I've been meaning to try.  The first two places, the Cheesesteak Shop and Adamson's French Dip Restaurant, are in the same shopping center.  It's about half a mile from where Missy and I grew up.  We spent a lot of time there, since there was a drug store and a grocery store.  Now's it's restaurant central, with a Popeye's, a pho place, a chinese place, a cheesesteak place, and a French Dip place.
Anyway, two nights ago I wanted to try the French Dip place, but it was closed, so I went to the cheesesteak place and ordered a small chicken cheesesteak for $5.  It was tasty, not quite as good as the premier place, but tasty nonetheless.  The chicken was chopped up in very small bits, philly style, rather than in stir-fry size pieces. There was ample amount of cheese, so it was an ooey gooey delight.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  However, the Yelp reviewers were right. It was not very big.  If you's hungry, order a larger one or get double meat.
Tonight I stopped off at Adamson's French Dip after I went walking.  It's an interesting place. It's located in the middle of the parking lot in a former camera store. It's mostly take-out so there are just a few tables.   It serves beef, chicken and pork cooked in a wood fired oven.  The star item is, of course, the French Dip.  I got hooked on French Dip sandwiches when I was in college.  They're like pizza - even when they're bad they're still good.  But this one was probably the best one I've tried.  The meat was amply marinated and juicy, so the au jus was hardly necessary, but it was nice.  The bread was squishy and yummy.  A sandwich was $7. It had about three times as much meat as my cheesesteak.  The fries were good too.  They tasted like old-school McDonald's fries from my childhood, so they must be cooked in beef lard.  Everything was on the salty side, which was fine by me since I love my meat and potatoes to be salty. 
I'll do some reviews on stuff other than meat/cheese sandwiches in my next update.

Monday, May 3, 2010

No shopping experiment update/Pedrick Produce/artichokes

I haven't cooked very much unusual stuff lately, so there's not much to post here.  Nonetheless, the no-shopping experiment is going well.  I'm into the home stretch.  The frozen fruit is getting eaten, and the frozen veggies are gone.  I cooked a roast tonight.  It had been in the freezer for a year and a half, but it tasted ok.  I've got a few pork chops and a turkey left.  The turkey is getting cooked on Mother's Day, and a lot of the unopened canned foods and dried goods are getting donated to the postal service food drive.
I visited Missy this weekend.  As usual, I stopped off at Pedrick Produce on the way back.  It's in Dixon, a few miles from Davis.  They specialize in really cheap produce.  You can get a great deal, if you don't mind buying big bags of whatever is in season.  It's usually very fresh, and I end up buying huge quantities and sharing the bounty with my parents.  My favorites are the watermelons for $0.09/lb, and cherries and asparagus for $0.99/lb.  Other items of interest are the extensive selection of grains, beans, dried fruit, candy, seasonings, etc.  There's also a wide variety of hot sauces, homemade style tortillas, and pies.  It's always really crowded, but it's worth the wait.  I recommend stopping there if you're on Highway 80.
Anyway, the no-shopping experiment means that I haven't hit up the dried goods lately, but I still pick up produce.  We're at an in-between season here.  Strawberries are going strong, but it's been rainy so the quality isn't up to par.  I scored some pears, mangos, and jumbo artichokes.  The artichokes were 5 for $4.  If I'd gotten them at the farmer's market they'd cost at least $2/each.
I cooked them up tonight since my parents were coming over for dinner.  They take about an hour, but are easy.  Just cut off the stem* and top, place them in a pot, and cook in salted water with a bit of lemon juice until tender.    Serve with melted butter, balsamic vinegar, or salad dressing.  These were the first ones I've had this year, and it really hit the spot.

* The stems are pretty tasty.  Cut off the discolored end, peel, and cook with the artichokes.