31 March 2011

Soothing nature/animal documentaries

I'm going to rant for a bit, so please carry on if you don't want to hear me frothing at the mouth about stuff that, in the grand scheme of things, isn't that important to anyone else.

You know what I miss? Good documentaries about animals. I'm talking those ones with a soothing voiced person telling us really cool facts about animals in their natural habitat. When Animal Planet (a TV station in the USA) came out, I spent almost the full first day watching those awesome documentaries. It was so cool. I would catch every episode of Nature that I could on PBS. I would watch them obsessively.

This goes double for Food Network. I remember a time when there were back-to-back cooking shows. Not with someone with any particular "celebrity" or "personality". Instead, it was people who would stand there, and teach you how to make food, and how to make it well. No gimmicks, no product lines, no nothing. Just good, honest shows.

Then, over time, Food Network stopped playing cooking shows, and started playing stuff that only vaguely had to do with food. Chefs on the network became celebrities in their own right, and were more interested in forwarding their gimmick than telling you anything about cooking. And then we got Sandra Lee.

This is what's happening to the documentaries too. National Geographic used to be at the forefront of excellent documentaries about animals and nature. Now? They're doing some crap about "Gorilla Murderers" and other such rubbish, where half the bloody thing is interviews with idiotic locals. It's sensationalised rot.

I want, nay, demand, the documentaries of my youth, and I don't think I'm the only one.

This is like when MTV stopped playing music videos. So then they made MTV2. Which also stopped playing music videos. And then the FOOD FREAKING NETWORK stopped playing real cooking shows, in favour of garbage. So then they come out with the Cooking Channel.

Which promptly starts playing the same old crap.

Now I remember why I cancelled the cable TV. Netflix gets me there.

30 March 2011

Pineapple scones

Sweet scones are meant to be unhealthy. Don't try to use wholemeal flour for these. They won't be as nice. Use the all purpose flour. Also, don't use brown sugar. Use the crappy white sugar. Trust me, it's worth it. You're not having these every day. You have them once in a great while with a cup of tea, and a spot of jam. Feel free to substitute orange juice for the pineapple juice if you'd like to. It'll be lovely still.

VERY IMPORTANT: Do not combine the wet with the dry ingredients until the oven is heated, the baking sheets are prepared, and you're ready to toss them into the oven. If the dough sits around for too long, the baking soda and baking powder will be spent, and your scones won't rise. Ew.

Pineapple Scones

2 cups all purpose flour
1 TB baking powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
¼ cup oil
¾ cup pineapple juice
½ cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350F.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda together. Using a whisk, lightly whip the flour, baking powder, and baking soda together, so that everything is well combined. Combine the oil with the dry ingredients, and stir with a rubber spatula. Stir until all the oil is incorporated with the flour.

In a measuring cup, measure out ¾ cup of pineapple juice. Measure out ½ cup of sugar, and pour it into the pineapple juice. Stir the sugar and juice together. It won't completely dissolve, but do your best to dissolve as much as you can.

When the oven is preheated, set up your baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats. You need some kind of protection for your baking sheet, because these suckers will STICK. Between the pineapple juice and the sugar, you're dealing with sticky little guys.

Using a rubber spatula, scrape out every last drop of juice and sugar from the measuring cup directly into the flour mixture. Use said rubber spatula to combine the ingredients together well. Don't overwork the mixture, or you'll end up with tough scones, and nobody wants that. Just mix until everything is combined. Don't worry if there are lumps. It will bake out.

Also, don't worry if the dough seems extremely wet and kind of sticky. It's supposed to be.

Using a tablespoon, drop the dough onto your lined baking sheet. Try to space them apart about 1 inch away from each other, so they don't run into each other when they bake.

Bake on the bottom rack at 350F for 14 minutes. When 14 minutes are finished, turn the baking sheet around, and move it to the top rack. Bake for an additional 6 minutes. When the baking is done, remove from the oven, and cool the scones in the baking sheet.

28 March 2011

Tofu Scramble

In The New and Now Zen cookbook (did I get that name right?) the author suggests that one use regular (not firm) tofu to make tofu scramble, because the texture of well made scrambled eggs is soft, and not firm. I gave it a shot this morning, using some ideas from her first book, which detailed Japanese recipes. In it, she had you use a good fair bit of vegetables, so that each pound of tofu is stretched much further than when you make regular tofu scramble.

Let me just say that it came out fantastic. I didn't have nutritional yeast, and I don't like the colour that soy sauce makes my scramble, so I left both out. However, I did use scallions (about 3 stalks), carrots (3 medium), a courgette (small one from which I already took a couple of thin slices for a sandwich last night), turmeric, garlic powder, and salt. I let the carrot and scallion cook in oil until it was soft. Then, I piled up the veg to one side of my skillet, and added another teaspoon or so of oil. I dropped the whole cubes of 1 lb of soft tofu into the skillet. This is tofu that Steve picked up from Chinatown on Sunday. They sell both firm and soft tofu.

Their version of soft tofu is not like that which you'd find commercially. Instead, it's kind of firm, but silkier than firm tofu. Very lovely stuff. I generally don't buy it, because the firm does everything that I want it to, but they ran out of the firm, so Steve bought one of the soft. I added the turmeric and salt.

Anyway. Once the tofus were in the pan (in Chinatown, the tofus are made in ⅓ pound increments, for whatever reason), I let them sear a bit for about a minute. Then I seared off the other sides for about 30 seconds each. I wanted to evaporate a bit of the excess liquid. Then, as I stirred it with my wooden spoon, the tofu broke up into chunks on its own. That's the other bonus of using soft tofu. You don't need to mash it ahead of time, and make your hand feel frozen.

I let the veg and tofu cook together for a good five minutes or so, so that the excess liquid would evaporate, and the tofu would break up a bit more. Essentially, I wanted it to get to the point where it gets a little watery, then cross over to the other side, where it dries out a bit. I wanted a bit of moistness in the scramble, but not so much that there's liquid that'd pool on my plate. Your stove may require more or less time.

At the last 3 minutes of cooking, I added the courgette. It came out fantastic. We ate it with garlic toast.

27 March 2011



2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ cup coconut milk
¾ cups water
2 tsp oil
1 tsp sugar

Preheat oven to 350F

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a mixing bowl. Using a whisk, combine the ingredients together until thoroughly mixed. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (I use a silicon baking mat).

In a blender, combine the coconut milk, water, oil, and sugar. You can mix the liquid ingredients by hand, but I've found that I get best results when I use a blender. If your coconut milk is not chilled cold and separated, it works just fine to mix by hand.

When the oven is preheated, combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients. Use as little force as possible when combining everything together. However, because the recipe is fairly forgiving, don't worry if you work it a little hard. Just be careful to be gentle with the dough.

Using a table spoon measure, measure out about 25 - 30 little ball shaped dough lumps, and place them on your baking sheet. You can use a small ice cream scoop to do the job even better.

Leave about 1 inch on all sides to allow the biscuits to expand as needed.

Bake in the oven for 14 minutes.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

1 1/2 cups flour (REMOVE three TB of flour from the 1 1/2 cups)
3 TB cornstarch
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder

Combine in a measuring cup:
1 cup pineapple juice
1/3 cup canola, peanut, or corn oil
1 TB cider or distilled vinegar
1 TB vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract

20 oz can of pineapple chunks in pineapple juice (this is where the juice came from; if you don't have quite enough juice, feel free to augment it with water)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line your baking apparatus with parchment paper. Drain (but don't squeeze out excess juice from) the can of pineapple chunks, and reserve the juice. Sprinkle the pineapple evenly over the parchment paper in your baking dish.

Sift the flour, cornstarch, sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder together. Once you've sifted them into your mixing bowl, use a whisk to combine the ingredients together completely.

In a separate container, combine the pineapple juice (augmenting with water, as needed), oil, vinegar, vanilla, and almond extract. It's not going to form any kind of emulsion, but that's OK. When the oven is preheated (and not a minute sooner) combine the liquid ingredients with the dry ingredients, using a rubber spatula, so that you can quickly combine all the ingredients together. Do this in as few stirs as possible. If there are lumps in the batter, it's OK. They'll bake out. The important part is to combine everything quickly.

Then, using your rubber spatula to scrape down the bowl completely, pour the batter into the baking dish with the pineapples in. Get every last bit of batter into the dish, so that you don't miss anything.

Bake in the oven at 350F for 37 minutes. When the cake is finished baking, remove it from the oven, and invert it onto an oven safe dish. I used a baking sheet. Remove the parchment paper, and lightly sprinkle the pineapple chunks with a bit of brown sugar. If some of your pineapple pieces get stuck, don't worry. The sugar is going to cover up any ugly spots. Place the dish under the broiler for a few seconds at a time, until the sugar is melted and caramelised.

The brown sugar under the broiler step is optional, but I like it, because it makes such a nice crispy counterpoint to the moist cake.

12 March 2011

1 year later, and still smoke free

I got a letter from the NYC Dept of Health, letting me know that one year ago, I had called 311. That means that it's been one year since I quit smoking.

I remember that night well. Puppy and I were chatting, and I noticed that I was down to three packs of cigarettes. That would mean that I'd have another nine day's worth of smokes left in my stash. I went to the box that the cigarettes came in (I generally sent away for them, because I could buy cartons, rather than one pack at a time). It wasn't until that moment that I noticed that there was a note in the bottom of the box. "Due to Obama's [something or other law], we can't ship cigarettes anymore. Sorry guys!" (Or something like that.)

My heart dropped to the pit of my stomach, as I realised that a habit that used to cost me $4.50 a pack (including shipping) was about to jump to $12+ per pack. And a pack lasts me 3 days. $12 for 3 days is more than I spend on groceries. In a blind panic, I looked at Puppy, and said, "I have to quit. There's absolutely no choice anymore." I called 311 that night to ask about getting nic patches for free (they provided the first two weeks for free, then you're supposed to use the money you'd save from not smoking to buy your next round).

It went horribly. I was shaking all the time, dehydrated, and had the most awful, violent, upsetting nightmares. Anyone who knows me knows that I won't even watch films that are violent, because they upset me. Having things more graphic and brutal than that invade my brain was horrible. What was worse is that every time I'd pass by a smoker, the cravings would get stronger, and more severe. I took that mess for about a week, and stopped. It was getting too physically painful to function. Fortunately, a friend had a batch of Chantix that he was done with, and let me have. Why couldn't I go get my own? While NYC does provide Chantix, and ever major insurance and health care plan covers it, I had none at all. That'd mean I'd need to spend hundreds of dollars out of pocket for a doctor's visit, then hundreds of dollars on the pill. I don't know how that's supposed to be a choice.

So here I am. The reason I'm quitting smoking is because I can't afford it anymore. The best option (Chantix) is restricted to those folks who have the access to a doctor, and a health care plan. The worst option (nicotine patches, which do not work) are available freely. The garbage wasn't working, so I went for the Chantix.

What really helped, however, was this book called The Easy Way to Quit Smoking. I'd been off of cigarettes for a couple of weeks by that point, so I couldn't follow his advice of continuing to smoke while reading the book, and seeing that I could break the addiction. Whatever, that's fine. I was at least on the Chantix which deadened the effect of what little cigarette smoke I was inhaling from being outside, etc. WIth the combination of the two, I managed to get from going through even worse withdrawal symptoms (of quitting the patch, no less) into having my body be back at a reasonable equilibrium.

This is also when I realised that were I ever to rely on hormonal birth control I'd be pregnant many times over. I'd keep forgetting to take the pill. I tried alarms, I tried notes to myself, I tried carrying the pill in my bag. No dice. I was supposed to take it twice a day, then taper off to once a day, then taper off to none eventually. I started taking it once a day, because that's about what I could remember, and reading my book. I read the book in bites, rather than all at once, because my schedule still existed, and I still had a life.

Funny thing is that I never got to the end of the book, but I did manage to break the spell that cigarettes had over me. I don't care for the smell so much, but it doesn't grate on me like it did when I was on the gods-awful patch.

Has anyone out there actually used a patch successfully?

As I sit here in bed, hacking up a lung (bad flu or something), I'm kind of at peace to know that it's a horrible virus inside me that's causing it, and not my own actions. I don't know why, but that gives me some level of comfort for some reason.

Here's to one year, and hopefully many more, of being free of my addiction.

06 March 2011

Quinoa & Collards

I generally like Quinoa, but in fairly dry applications, like pilaf, or whatnot. What I didn’t realise is that it also does rather well in wet-ish applications as well. I made a dish with curried collard greens. You know the drill. Mustard seed, cumin seed, sesame seed, curry leaves, onions, garlic, ginger, bla bla bla. Throw in collard greens (chopped finely at the stem, and coarsely at the leaves, so that they cook at the same time). Finish with a splash of coconut milk and water. Let the collard greens get tender.

While that was going, I had a pot boiling with quinoa in. I let it cook until it was about 75% of the way done. I drained it, and dumped it into the collard greens. The quinoa absorbed the extra liquid in the pot, and made it so that the whole thing became coherent. It wasn’t as fluffy and dry as I generally serve quinoa, but I didn’t care. It was cold out, and I wanted comfort food. In case you haven’t noticed by now, comfort food tends to be creamy, and on the wetter side. Bread is good, but it becomes great when doused in large quantities of garlic, oil, and herbs. Mashed potatoes don’t become pleasurable until bathed in coconut milk, and showers of ground black pepper. Macaroni and cheese that’s not smothered in the sauce is just not tasty. Similarly, comfort quinoa is generous with the wet.

When it finished cooking, there was still a bit of sauce in the pot. A kind of quinoa and collard green and coconut cream gravy. I made a fairly large pot of the stuff, but Steve and I managed to demolish it in two sittings. First sitting was the night I made it. I served it with rounds of French bread that I sauteed in oil until it was crispy like a crouton on both sides, then I sprinkled it with salt. We ate the quinoa sort of like a thing to pile on crackers. It was ever so tasty. When the toasts were done, we just ate the rest of the stuff with a spoon.

The second sitting involves us sitting on this bus on the way to DC. The quinoa is now gone. Boo.