7/14/2015

Ranting with Iced Coffee


What we have here is a lovely bit of fluff, perfect for poolside or beach.  On What Grounds, by Cleo Coyle, is a cozy mystery revolving around and in a New York coffee house.  Up until page 105 anyway, where drinks orders are being taken in the coffee house.  We came to a shrieking halt right there.  And, I quote:
"Double tall cap, get the lead out!"
Sixteen-ounce cappuccino with decaf.
Decaf.
A shudder ran through me as I glanced up and saw the wane, (Typo note: do you think she means wan?? Wane being a verb?) pale, overanxious face of the man ordering the decaf.
Okay, I'm sorry, but decaf drinkers annoy me.
Expectant mothers I can understand, but lifelong decaf drinkers give me the creeps.  They're usually the sort who have a half-dozen imagined allergies, eat macrobiotic patties, and pop Rolaids like M&Ms when their acid reflux kicks in from anxiety over the Chinese restaurant's delivering white instead of brown rice."
She raves on a bit more in the same vein.  Now, being a decaf drinker (on the few occasions I do drink coffee) you might see how this kind of prejudicial  rant could annoy ME.  First off, I love the TASTE of coffee, whilst having a negative reaction to the caffeine.  As I mention to others, making similarly offensive, snobby remarks, some of us are actually, naturally caffeinated, i.e. high metabolism.  After drinking a cup of full strength coffee, I might find myself lying awake for maybe 3 nights, listening to my heart race.  And I do LOVE getting my sleep in. Not at all wan, don't complain of any allergies, etc. etc., sorry, and no acid reflux here.

So, we might ask ourselves, why should a request for decaf annoy anyone, unless they #1, don't have any available, or #2, are possibly feeling guilty about being clinically addicted to caffeine?  Personally, so glad not to be.

Luckily for us readers, the remainder of Coyle's book is free of derogatory attitudes.  I might even read the next in her series, as the bit of romance, mystery and NY grit - which can be enjoyed especially from afar - were good.


To celebrate I'm having an iced coffee.  Just perfect in the heat of summer. This is a drink that I first had in Australia, where "the Yank" was known to peculiarly enjoy iced tea.  Now on an occasional Saturday morning, when the crowd of women leave my home after a meeting, there is a quarter pot or so of coffee left.  Add some honey, stir well with ice cubes, cinnamon and cream. Voila!  A great drink, even if it might be made with decaf. Ha ha.  Nothing like an opportunity to do my own ranting.  We'll send this along to Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking meme.

7/02/2015

Fresh Pineapple for Upside-down Cake



 When you are literally surrounded by ripening, falling over pineapples, just cannot wait, and succumb to the urge to pick one on which, after all, there was a streak of yellow on one side, a leaf came out (one of the signs) fairly easily, only to discover it is NOT QUITE ready.  Here is what can be done.  Pineapple upside-down cake.  This is not headline news.  Just an old standard, only not out of a can.  Better.  And, with a hint of tartness to offset all that sweet.


First, the cored, peeled, sliced  pieces must be cooked a bit, in a little butter.  Then set aside until you are ready for CAKE!!  And, some of us consider cake a breakfast food.  But I baked it in the early morning, mainly because it's so hot later in the day I knew it probably wouldn't get made otherwise.  This is Alice Waters' recipe, which is a bit unnecessarily complicated, in my humble opinion.  Whilst separating, some of the yolk of the 1st egg went into the white, and I said, what the hey, lets beat them all together with the other stuff.

6/25/2015

Hola!! Cuban Shredded Beef


It's just terrific when I'm reading along, minding my own (or actually the character's) business and they hit you with food that absolutely needs to be tried.  Now!  So, it was whilst reading one of my favorite authors' cozy mysteries, Death at the Door, by Carolyn Hart, that I came upon this: 
She opened the door and was greeted by a delectable scent.  She paused.  "Mmm, something smells wonderful."
"Flank steak simmering with onion and bay leaf, soon to be Cuban shredded beef seasoned with sauterne and Burgundy."  Max emptied the contents of a bowl into the skillet...
 You see what I mean.  That cries out to be made.  And, so I did.  Unfortunately, my husband has messed up sinuses, so never walks in and says "Mmm, something smells wonderful."  Sigh.  But, at least I get to savor it the whole time it's cooking.  In this case, four hours.

Annie, the heroine, and owner of a mystery book store, is often involved in helping to solve crimes on the island, off the South Carolina coast where she lives with her husband Max (also a good cook).  I love that they are happily married, besides being fully developed and interesting characters.  So many literary detectives and amateur crime solvers are riddled with angst, messed up and otherwise generally not fun to be around.

Anyway, off I went to procure the necessary ingredients, after searching Google for a righteous sounding recipe.  Which I adapted slightly.  You might think, 4 hours, oh boy, that's a lot of cooking.  But, the nice thing is, you can put it in a slow cooker or skillet on very low, early in the day, and forget about cooking dinner.  It's in the pot. 

6/15/2015

Texas Style Chipotle Chicken, Oven-fried


This recipe was inspired by a book I just finished, Susan Wittig Albert's, Cat's Claw, one of her Pecan Springs Mysteries, set in the Texas hill country.  Fun, not too nasty who-done-its.  The publisher's blurb on this states:
 As the first female police chief in Pecan Springs, Texas, Sheila Dawson has cracked many a mystery in collaboration with local sleuth China Bayles. Now Sheila puts her smarts to work, sifting through secrets to find a killer on the prowl…

Larry Kirk, Pecan Springs’ computer guru, has been shot dead in his kitchen. At first Sheila believes it to be suicide, but further investigation reveals that Kirk’s death wasn’t self-inflicted. And the truth is reinforced by her friend China Bayles’ news—Larry recently asked her for legal advice in regards to a stalker.

As a police chief in a male-dominated force, Sheila meets many challenges, especially when her theories rock the boat in high-profile cases like that of George Timms, who was caught breaking into Larry’s shop. Now that Larry is dead, Sheila is sure the burglary is connected to the murder. But when Timms disappears instead of turning himself in, Sheila must prove she’s got what it takes to hunt down a predator who’s loose on the streets of Pecan Springs…
I enjoyed Albert's recent approach to character voice, shifting between the various leads, which brings more depth and insight to the story.  She also includes her usual interesting segues into different local and cultivated herbs, as Cat's Claw, which give each book its title.

6/02/2015

Shaved Asparagus Meets Cast Iron Skillet Pizza


 Some of you may have noticed the Buzz Feed video being passed around on Facebook recently.  A rather speedy tutorial on quick pizza in a cast iron skillet.  Well, I wanted to try that.  Then the idea expanded.  One of you, likely on Beth Fish's Weekend cooking, recommended the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, and I got that from the library (to test out prior to buying, of course).  In it there is, among all the gorgeous food photography, a very tempting looking, shaved asparagus pizza.  You can see where this is going.  I did not care to use the packaged sauce and packaged pizza dough in the video.  I wanted to use some of my own bread dough with Deb's directions and  toppings.  It's a merger.

And that merger was spectacular!  I would buy shares for sure.  Baking bread about once a week or so, it is very easy to slightly increase the amounts, to have enough for some pizza.  I have done this in the past, however not nearly as successfully; was on the cusp of buying a pizza stone in fact.

My sponge is started the night before, and in the morning the remaining flour added, the dough kneaded, and set to rise.  Going with Deb's "leisurely pizza dough" suggestion, I cut off the amount for a 10" pizza (the size of my skillet) (eyeballing here), put it in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap and set in the fridge to do a very slow rise for 8 hours. Off to do other stuff.

5/22/2015

Jammin' Out Jambalaya

 Our latest Cook the Books Club pick has been (you all have til June 1st to join in) The Feast Nearby, by Robin Mather.  How she lost her job, buried a marriage, and still found her way, living on $40.00 a week, eating locally, keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, and bartering, in rural Michigan.

Still, all things considered, eating locally is one thing in Michigan and another on an island in the Pacific. Besides which, we each have our own priorities and my #1 priority is that whatever I put in my mouth would be healthful, without pesticides, preservatives, hormones, etc. etc., whether or not it was raised by a neighbor.  Although, when possible I do make an effort to buy locally....  Maybe not enough.

Short of shooting a wild  pig myself, gutting, breaking it down, hiking out of the woods with the meat on my back, then making the bacon, we wouldn't have any.  However, having said that and reconsidering things, I have decided to make more of an attempt to buy my chicken, duck, pork roasts, and sausage from a friend who actually does all that darn hunting stuff, as well as raising chickens, rabbits and ducks, and making sausage.  He's a very self-sufficient guy.  With a huge garden.  Quite inspiring.  As was this book.

I especially enjoyed the moments with Pippin, Robins's very clever parrot, having had no idea that some varieties of parrot were so intelligent.  He understands and answers her.  Amazing.  Overall, the book is geared to locales with freezing winters, getting the summer harvest into storage by canning, dehydrating or freezing.  We have a year-round growing season here in Hawaii, though preserving what we grow is still an excellent thing.  Using fruit that is abundant beyond what can be eaten out of hand, to prevent waste and save money.  Just think of all the wine I don't have to buy, because I grow the fruit and make it.


The book is divided into 4 overall sections, based upon the seasons, with recipes appropriate to each.  It was hard to single out one dish, from Baked Acorn Squash with sausage and maple syrup to Cardamom-coffee Toffee Bars, Lamb and Apricot Tagine, and Cheese Souffle with greens, all sounding delicious, but what especially called to me was the Jambalaya.  I do love a good Cajun-Creole Jambalaya.

5/12/2015

Mushroom Soup Umaminess


 Well, there should be a word. So I am coining it, as of now.  Umaminess.  The n'th degree of umami.   In my favorite little market the other day I was astounded by a new batch of shitake mushrooms that had just arrived.  Specimens so robust, so plump, so big and fresh looking, it was impossible to resist them; practically jumping out of the bin and into my cart.   Well, I had been wanting mushrooms for soup; and, in my humble opinion shitakes are the kings of mushroom flavor.   They are admittedly pricey, but when vegetables look really really good, it is totally worth it.  Besides which, I am a mushroom admirer, see my various posts on the subject.  The fungal fascination.


In her blog, Ruth Reichl had mentioned Elizabeth David's book, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, which I then got from the library and have been reading.  A collection of various articles she had written over the years. In that interesting book David very briefly discusses soups thickened with bread;  particularly a mushroom soup recipe of hers which appears in French Provincial Cooking.  Now I was not willing to wait for another book, and could find no such recipe online.  So, it was time to improvise darlings.

Always on the lookout for ways to utilize the remains of my loaves of bread, this was a match made in heaven for the soup of shitakes.  The method is not too difficult.  Briefly, just saute some onion in a bit of butter, add your mushrooms, saute some more, then add stock and the bread cubes, some fresh thyme or marjoram, simmer, blend.

5/08/2015

The Mysterious Properties of Beans and Green Papaya

Not so mysterious really.  Papayas have an enzyme, blah, blah, blah.  Sometimes science takes all the mystery out of things.  This post developed as a result of my pinto beans not softening.  I added the small amount of baking soda, soaked them overnight, boiled them for hours, on hours, all to no avail.  They remained quite firm.  Then, I remembered the tenderizing effect of green papayas, and thought we'd give that a try as a last ditch attempt.  Nice there were some in the garden.

Unfortunately the papaya did not help.  Definitely a good thing I had started early on my Cinco de Mayo project, a big pot of Chile con Carne, to go with my Margarita.  The beans weren't totally hard, but a large portion of them got eliminated set aside for another use (maybe bean dip), and the chile turned out fine with mostly meat and vegetables (including that green papaya, which cooks up like squash.)  Do you know that in some places they don't even consider putting beans into chile.

Also the mystery of the beans got solved.  If you keep your dry beans, especially here in Hawaii with the humidity and warmth, for a year or longer, there are phenolic compounds, blah, blah, blah..... and they will never get soft.  Period.  No matter WHAT you do.  *see note below.

Next day,  3/4s of a green papaya left.  Now, what does that suggest?  Yes, Green Papaya Salad, which I do happen to love.  One of the best things on a Thai menu.  And, perfect to have after or with a bowl of Chili, seeing as the green fruit has a lot of that digestive enzyme.

5/03/2015

Fiddlehead Ferns for Dinner


I am so thrilled with my warabi, or fiddle-head ferns.  The little patch of them in a side garden by some rocks has grown and is thriving.  We are now having lovely fern shoots as a vegetable from time to time, and I don't need to go out in the boonies and forage.

Whether you know them as warabi (Japanese), ho‘i‘o (Hawaiian) or ostrich fern (most of the mainland), the fiddle-head ferns are the young, edible, tightly coiled shoots of the fern that resemble the end of a violin or fiddle. The shoots remain coiled for about two-weeks before they unfurl into the delicate, lacy greenery we are all familiar with.

The species most commonly found in Hawai‘i is the Pteridium aquilinum, which grows in temperate and sub-tropical regions. It was introduced to the islands by Japanese immigrants who value it mainly for the young stems rather than the unfurled coils. Certain varieties of the plant contain the carcinogenic compound Ptaquiloside and need to be cooked thoroughly before eating.