What I Eat When I Eat Alon

I know that there are lots of people who live alone and eat alone all the time. To those people, I apologize for making a somewhat big deal about eating alone.

At one time, my sister said to me, “When the kids are gone and Ron and I are alone, I’m not going to cook anymore. It doesn’t make sense to cook for only two people.”

“But Mark and I are only two people and I cook all the time, “I answered.

“You like to cook, “she replied.

I know that as one of a twosome, I find some joy in being alone and eating alone. Whenever Mark is gone, I plan my meals so that I eat the foods that he doesn’t like. I also don’t cook. Yes, that is true. I don’t cook – I buy foods, eat out and graze for the time he is gone.

One thing that I always turn to when I’m alone is herring. As I write this, I can almost taste it. I love herring in every way:  In wine sauce, in cream sauce, rolled up. Every which way you could think of. When I was young, I would watch my father eat lox and herring and whitefish. (Not all at the same time.) I was appalled! How could he eat that stuff?

And now, I love herring. How much life changes and surprises us!

I always try to buy (or make) some dolmas – cold rice wrapped in grape leaves – when eating alone. I could eat quite a few before I got tired of them.  Sometimes when I know I’ll be alone, I make a pot of ratatouille. I could eat it for lunch and dinner for days on end. I especially love it on an English muffin, with some cheese melted over it. An instant pizza.

But most of all, I like to eat bits and pieces of things when I’m alone. Not exactly cooking, but creating a meal out of what’s around.

Mark, who almost never cooks for us, always cooks for himself when I’m not around. Odd.

My friend, Diana, who lives alone and eats alone a lot of the time, cooks for herself just about every day. During the summer months, she grows tons (I mean that literally) of basil and cooks it on pasta with tomatoes or in capresse salads.

In San Francisco, after I left my first husband and was alone, I hardly ever cooked. I heated tortillas over the flame of my gas stove and then slathered butter on it and rolled it up. Yummy!  I also ate cheese with good bread every Friday night with my dog, Dennis. That was quite the treat for both of us.

In Reno, I often bought a jar of caviar (a very dusty jar!) and ate it with my cat, Lorraine.  We were in heaven!

I guess I don’t really eat alone; I always eat with my pets.

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Testing Recipes

Testing recipes is a different kind of chore.  I usually write up the recipe and then make it according to the recipe. Any changes are noted on the recipe. 

But what do I do with all that food? Have a party, of course!

My friend, Leslie, helped me test some appetizers that may go into my next book – Entertaining Food. We made a dish that Leslie has made many time – Antojitos (Mexican for snacks). We also made some Mediterranean taquitos, using goat cheese, caramelized onions and roasted peppers.

This recipe is great because you can modify it easily to your taste and have fun with it.

Here’s Leslie’s recipe for Antojitos. Play with it!

Antojitos

Makes 24

12 6-inch flour tortillas

½ cup cheese (cheddar, jack or mix), shredded

1 tomato, diced

1 cup red bell pepper (1/2 of small pepper), diced

1/3 cup green onion (2-3 onions), diced

1 cup black beans, canned and drained

¼ cup salsa

1 teaspoon chili powder

 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly grease mini-muffin tin, or use non-stick.

Using a 3-inch cookie cutter (or equivalent), cut each tortilla into round pieces. Insert the pieces into the muffin tin cups.

 

Mash the black beans with salsa until creamy.

 

Put approximately 1 teaspoon of the bean mixture into each tortilla cup. Add ¼ teaspoon red pepper, green onion and tomato to the cups. Put a pinch of chili powder on top of each cup.  Top with cheese.

 

Bake for five minutes, or until the cheese is lightly browned and bubbly.

 

 

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What are we getting all steamed up about

Editor’s Note:  Another great blog post from home bread-baker, Alan Fishman

When you stop by a bakery, especially a French bakery where the baguettes are fairly authentic, the breads that you’ll see, by and large, are going to have a sheen on the surface of the crust.  Why is that?  The glistened surface is the product of steam.

Most professional bakeries have a steaming device built into the bread oven.  Baguettes are loaded into the oven, door closed and steam is injected into the oven.  Steam cools the surface of the dough long enough so that the crust doesn’t set too quickly.  This allows the scored dough to expand and bloom open to create the ear or (French) grigne.  The secondary effect is to allow the surface to caramelize.  And this is what gives the bread that characteristic sheen.

My wife overheard someone at work talk about liking “tender bread”.  Not my cup of tea.  I like a dark bake with a crusty crust and a crunch to the exterior of the bread.  And maybe that’s why I love toast so much.  I once told my sister-in-law that if she didn’t know what to get me for a present, she could give me toast and I’d be happy. With reference to people’s individual tastes, my father used to say “that’s what makes the world go ‘round”. Okay, now that I’ve covered most familial bases I can move on…

There are different ways to introduce steam into a home oven, some of which provide adequate steam.  As many ways as I have fingers and toes (still 20 as of last count).  An efficient and popular way these days is to form a boule (ball) and drop it into a Dutch Oven which has been heating up in the ~480F–500F degree oven for 45–60 minutes. Quickly cover and bake for xminutes, then removing the cover to let the bread “set” and complete baking.  The moisture from the dough will create its own steam.

I like to shape baguettes, and tend to stay away from the Dutch Oven. So what to do, what to do? As you can see from the first picture, I use a metal pan loaded with lava rocks, which has been heating up with the oven all along.  After loading the baguettes, I pour ~2 cups of very hot water into the pan and close the oven door immediately, not to be reopened for ~12 minutes to allow the steam created to do its work. Words of caution: place a towel over the oven door window so that the relatively cool temperature of the water doesn’t create a cracked glass door, do wear an oven mitt that covers at least your wrist, and finally – do not open the oven door to peek at your masterpiece, else all of that hard earned steam will scamper away!
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Picture 2 demonstrates a properly steamed baguette.

 

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Picture 3 illustrates what happens when there isn’t sufficient steam and the surface doesn’t caramelize.

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Baking Bread

Editor’s Note: Today’s blog is written by a good friend and excellent baker, Alan Fishman

I woke up this morning and planned on baking some bread.  What folks these days call “artisan bread”.  Now, maybe it is, but I won’t call it that.  That’s because anything and everything can be deemed “artisan” even if it comes off a big factory production line.  It’s like calling something “old fashioned”.  Like from 1980 or 1880?

When I say that I planned on baking some bread, I don’t just mean that I awoke and I had this bright idea and some gumption to bake today.  No, no.  In this case “plan” doesn’t mean that at all.  Plan means that two days ago I mixed some levain* starter, yesterday morning I mixed almost all of the dough ingredients, and according to the recipe, today is the full mix and bake day.

Some breads can be done in a single long day, some over the course of two days, and some, like this one, take a bit more planning and an extra day.  Of course it doesn’t require 72 hours of toil.  In this case the first day consisted of a 15 minute prep and then an overnight maturing of the levain starter.  Yesterday was a 20 minute hand mix of almost all of the ingredients.  And for this particular bread, a levain baguette inspired by Phillipe Gosselin’s long cold retardation baguettes at his Parisian bakery, today was the 4 hour work day.  Which consisted of hand mixing in the remaining ingredients (in this case the salt and small amount of water), letting the dough rise and then the divide, pre-shape, final shaping (rolling the baguettes) and final rise known as the proof.  And then, and then – finally baking the baguettes.  All controlled by the kitchen timer.  In fact, in the world of breads, life’s rhythms and chores are set to the ticking of the kitchen timer.

Now, I’ll get it out up front that what I do in my spare time as my tasty hobby is done without the help of either a bread machine or a mixer (with one exception).  I’m not knocking the products, I’m just shooting for something else, something that I can put my hands on, and in, from the first.  I get a certain satisfaction out of the craftsmanship and handwork of mixing, rolling and scoring (the slashes) baguettes.

If you’ve made it this far, then you are either a food enthusiast or couldn’t find anything better to do with your morning.  Hopefully the former.  And this would seem to mean that you neither view good bread as that bleached white stuff that we all grew up with way way back, nor as just a vehicle to bulldoze your peas onto a knife.  And you also don’t believe that all of the holes in the crumb (interior) of the bread are a way of cheating the paying public out of a full loaf of bread.

The pictures are of my morning’s work. 

*levain = sourdough = masa madre = lievito madre

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Happy Hour

I love Happy Hour.  What’s not to love? At the end of the day, you sit down with your loved one, perhaps a friend or two, have a drink (martinis!) and a snack or two.

Of course the real trick is not to eat, or drink, too much and spoil dinner. Most of the time, we’re controlled and just have one drink and a small treat. But sometimes we go all the way and eat way too much. Then we skip dinner.

We started our Happy Hour tradition the first time we lived in Mexico. Before that time, we worked and didn’t have the time to have a Happy Hour.  After arriving in Mexico, we realized that all our old rules, habits and traditions were no longer viable. We could start new ones. So, we did.

Every afternoon, around 5 pm or so, we’d sit in our small courtyard and have a happy hour. Now, we sit in our back courtyard, or sometimes in our living room, to have our happy hour. It just depends on the weather. Sometimes it is too hot outside, or wet during the rainy season. This time of year, it is very pleasant out there and we often have our happy outside.

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In our first Happy Hour repast in Mexico, we just had some cheese and meats, with a cocktail. We’ve since expanded our offerings.

I like to grill some bread, swipe it with a slice of garlic and then a bit of olive oil. Sometimes I have grilled peppers to place on the bread, with or without some cheese. I usually grill the peppers on the bbq while I’m grilling dinner. I char the peppers, put them in a plastic bag, and then peel the skin off. They are very sweet this time of year.

I also roasted some cherry tomatoes. They are also very sweet and nice to put on grilled bread.

Lately, I’m into tapenade. I love it on the grilled bread with a thin slice of the roasted peppers on top and maybe some burrata cheese. Yum!

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Ladies Who Lunch – Part 2

Yesterday was my turn to make lunch for my friends. I decided to make something new and experiment.

I had read a great ravioli recipe in the New York Times that I wanted to try. It used ricotta cheese, which I decided to make from scratch. The lunch was on Monday so I made some homemade ricotta on Sunday. Ricotta is so easy to make that you’ll wonder why you ever bought it. In fact, you can make it more quickly than going to the store and buying it.

Basically, you boil whole milk (8 cups), add a cup of heavy cream, if you want, and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to about 200 degrees, almost a boil. Lower the flame to low and add 3 – 4 tablespoons of white vinegar, or fresh lemon or lime juice. I usually use lemon juice. Curdles will form almost immediately. Spoon the curdled milk off into a sieve lined with cheesecloth, set over a bowl. Let the ricotta drain for 15 minutes or so. It will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a few days, or you can freeze the ricotta.

How easy is that?

I followed Melissa Clark’s recipe and then made a version of my own. We all enjoyed both versions, both of which I served with some store-bought pesto.

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Here’s the recipe for my version.

Ricotta Ravioli

½ cup fresh ricotta cheese, about 4 ounces

1 egg

¼ teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

1 egg, beaten for egg wash

Cornmeal, for dusting

1 package wonton skins

Mix ricotta, egg, lemon peel and nutmeg in a bow.

You can use the wonton wrappers as they are, or you can cut them into rounds. Because I felt that the squares were a bit too large, I used a cookie cutter to make rounds.

Lay out six wrappers, brush with egg wash. Mound ¼ to ½ tablespoon of mixture in center of wrapper. Cover with another egg-brushed wrapper, sealing with your fingers. Make sure you push out any air. Repeat until you’re out of filling or out of wrappers.

I placed the finished ravioli on a baking sheet, dusted with cornmeal. Put in the refrigerator until ready to use.

When you’re ready to cook, place the ravioli in boiling water for 2 -3 minutes, until cooked through. Drain well.

 

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Lunch with Friends

I don’t think there is anything more fun than lunch with friends. Two of my friends and I try to get together at least once a month for lunch.

We used to go out to lunch, but lately we’ve been rotating houses and having lunch at home. This has been wonderful. We have more time to chat, the food is better (!) and we are more relaxed.

This past week, Jenifer invited us to her house, which is a few minutes away in the country. What a beautiful setting and a fantastic lunch. It sure didn’t hurt that Jenifer was once a caterer.

Our lunch started with a light soup – zucchini and potato – served with fantastic bread and butter. This was followed by cold poached salmon and a salad. We shared two fantastic desserts. And the best part was spending time with friends.

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