Monday, October 29, 2012

Something Cool That Italy Did

Obviously I think that food brings people together. That's why I cook for my friends so often. That's why I swap recipes with the internet so often that's why I have several sizes of jeans in my dresser. 

But, you guys, did you hear about Italy coming together over a bowl of risotto?

Okay, so there was an earthquake in Italy, remember? It struck the Parma region which is--you may have guessed--responsible for Parmesan cheese. Well, when the earthquake happened, "several hundred thousand wheels" of cheese fell from the shelves where they were perched to age and be undisturbed. That's a lot of cheese, right? Until you consider that each wheel weighs a good eighty pounds. That's a lot of cheese. 

So, now that the Parma region is recovering, there was an effort to make sure that everyone was aware of it. Using social media and other outlets, Parmigiano-Reggiano supporters sought to get the word out by alerting the country and inviting them all to sit down to dinner, together. At the same time. And do the same meal. 

The recipe was developed by chef Massimo Bottura--an adaptation on Cacio e Pepe (which is a favorite of mine and pretty much roughly translates to pasta with cheese and pepper). Apparently northern Italy is more rice-based and not exactly pasta based so he chose a risotto. And he switched out the cheese, which would normally come from Rome, to Parmigiano-Reggiano. So there's the whole country covered in this one dish.

And I thought this was such a cool idea. So I wanted to join in. Late. And in The United States. And completely differently because the Parmesan cheese that I have access to was probably made in, like, Cheboygan anyway. And I don't have four different kinds of pepper.  Also I don't feel like hand-grating 5 lbs of cheese into a pot of water and then not being able to use it until the next day. Maybe this is something ordinary for the Italians to do? I could research "Parmesan water" but I won't.

At any rate. I will put in the tiniest bit of support. And I will make risotto with cheese and pepper because it sounds delicious and say, "that's a really cool thing you did, Parmigiano-Reggiano supporters of Italy."

Let's eat risotto with cheese and pepper. It's a good night for it, anyway. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Accidental Sandwich

You know how sometimes you get to that point in your refrigerator when you're certain that you've got something to work with but you're just not sure what it is? And you don't have to be at work until 10 am and so you decide to make yourself a legitimate breakfast? So then you've got your mind set on breakfast but then your fridge says, "all of your go-to's are occupied for the moment. Might I interest you in something completely off the wall?"

You have eggs but you're out of sliced bread for toast. But you do have a bag of whole grain baguettes...
An egg and a baguette? Sounds kind of dry. What else?

Carrots, an on-his-last-legs avocado, kale salad, a few slices of mozzarella cheese, and about 600 never-used condiments. These are the things that greet you. It's like the Mystery Box challenge on Master Chef except that no one has to care about how this turns out except for me. So let's go for it.

I've made no secret of my love for avocado toast. So this morning, a fried egg sandwich married avocado toast and their love created a baby.

Accidents can be so nice.

I don't like mayo or anything slick involved in my egg sandwiches. It feels like too much of a mess. So in lieu of a greasy condiment, I mashed up the good bits of my avocado and I spread it all over my whole wheat baguette (which I had toasted in a dry skillet). Topped it with a slice of mozzarella and then topped that with  an egg that, while cooking, received a healthy dose of black pepper.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen: we have a delicious breakfast sandwich.

Have you ever unespectedly happened upon some delicious combinations?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

When I am a Century and a Half

There's this one lady who comes in and she is about a hundred and thirty years old. And she does not annoy me like every other old person does. I think it's because she's so sweet. She keeps me occupied for ages and ages so I can't get anything productive accomplished. She has a broken leg and her niece, wheels her in. Her niece is, like, 70 or something. It's so funny for me to think of nieces as anything other than seven-year-olds. 

Usually older people are grouchy with me. It's not uncommon for someone to tell me that they just want to die already. This Lady, though, everything in the whole world is just lovely to her. When an older person says, "my vision is blurry" and I say, "well, you have macular degeneration and so you will have some spots that are not entirely crisp and clear", they get annoyed that I'm not able to solve their problem. But this one, now, she may forget that I said anything to her 30 seconds ago but at least she is gracious. She asked why her glasses are straight on her face but not straight on the table. When I explained that her face is not shaped like a table, she laughed and laughed and said, "I suppose you're right." No one ever laughs at that! I don't know why I still even use it.

She told me, "You know, I got home and saw that this case that you gave to me has a Made In China sticker on it and that just bothers me. Do you have anything that was made in the United States?" Are you kidding me? The majority of perishable fruit in the grocery store isn't even made in the United States! But I love her so much and so I went scouring our stock looking for something that didn't blatantly advertise that it was made in China. Her niece was, I can tell, embarrassed that I'm being made to go through all of the cupboards but I gave her a wink to tell her that I didn't mind. Most people cancelled their appointments, today, and so I really am free for the next two hours and happy to run around doing unreasonable things for grateful people. 

 I hope that when I'm a century and a half, then I'll look at the world like it's a beautiful, wondrous thing full of stuff that I can't wait to learn. 
This is what I saw when I walked out my front door this morning. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Putting Words on Paper

You know I started this blog years and years ago (you probably could go back to the beginning but I beg of you not to) because I liked writing. Not because I liked cooking or wanted to become internet famous (honestly, I didn't even know that was a thing--at one point I actually thought, "I wish people could make a living as a blogger but, alas."). I just really liked writing. And lately I feel like I don't ever post anything because I haven't made it a project or I haven't put enough thought into it or it's stupid. But, sheesh, I just really like to put words on paper. So I want to do that more and care less about it. Just spit it out whether or not it is deep or funny or comment-able.
So I found some random journal prompt site and I'm going to write the first thing that I find until my dinner is ready.

"Write about what one would see in your closet right now."
If you opened up my closet door, you would find a laundry basket that has never held any laundry--only miscelaneous junk from "the move" three years ago. Clearly these things are very important to me and can not be parted with. Or... laziness. You would see a sweatshirt on a shelf that is a perfect fit width-wise but strikingly short and yet, I can't seem to get rid of it because I just really like the royal blue color. There's an air mattress that I can only assume has at least one hole, an old microwave which belonged to the previous tennants and I just didn't feel right about tossing out. It's becoming clear to me that, when I moved in, I hoped that this would be some sort of incinerator rather than an actual closet. I remain hopeful.

You'll also see about 35 hangers with about three in use for garments. One is a Halloween costume from last year that I worked so hard on but will never wear again, one is a blazer that my sister gave to me but which I can not bring myself to wear out, and a top that I have only ever worn to every job interview I've ever had since graduating from college. It is silk and features a pretty obnoxious geometric pattern in blues and greens and yellows. It sounds hideous, right? Well I still don't know if it looks good or not. All I know that I bought it with the expressed intention of leaving an impression whether good or bad. I kind of adopt the "any attention is good attention" when it comes to job interviews. 

I have such high hopes every time I do my laundry. I feel proud of myself when my unders get stashed into the dresser drawer rather than just kept in the laundry basket. But when things actually get hung up and placed into the closet, I always have that fleeting feeling that I must really have my life together. And I keep it up for exactly 36 hours before my guest room just turns into "the dressing room" and the guest bed becomes "where we keep clothing items". There's not a decent mother alive that wouldn't shake her head at this. I can't blame her. Was I raised in a barn??

Dinner is served.
Have a lovely night.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Kendall Can Go to the Grocery Store (Alternate title: The Procurement)

For background on the series, Kendall Can, you can go here. Living on your own for the first time is awesome and weird and you realize all the things you don't really know that much.

Let me just tell you that grocery blogging is about as exciting as it sounds.
There's the list of things to buy, list of things to photograph, the taking of notes, the sending and receiving of incidental texts and the mental management of, "...I'm probably forgetting something." I swear to Cosby, this particular trip to the grocery store would not have been possible without my iPhone and my new favorite app, ShopShop. I know what you're thinking, "I could just write down my grocery list." Sure, but how many grocery lists get written and then forgotten on the coffee table. And then, how many of you leave your phone at home when you run out to the store? I don't know the math, but I'm sure the overlap is minimal and incidental.
Oh, I love the way that feels!
This trip to the grocery store is mostly about basics, deals, and things that may have gone overlooked. Okay, my personal trip was for a more advanced homemaker but everything that was documented was about basics, deals and overlooked things.
We will discuss the creation of a grocery list at a later date. In the mean time, here we go.

First of all, get the reusable bags! Here's the thing about saving the planet, it's great for people who don't even care about saving the planet! (Not that I don't care about saving the planet, I just understand that sometimes it can be difficult to see big-picture.) If you, like me, make a competitive game out of trying to make only one trip from your car to your house with hundreds of pounds of groceries, this will up your chances of winning significantly! Seriously, I bought $45 worth of groceries and my skilled check-out-lady, Lucy, got everything into two bags. TWO! And when you have this boss-level greeting you before you can make it into your living room, you will respond with a heart of gratitude.
So you've got your list with you, you've got your reusable bags and you're driving to the grocery store. I recommend that on the way, no matter who you are, you try to listen to Passion Pit's, Little Secrets. It just will give you a good, I've-really-got-my-life together vibe. But that might only work for me. If I could get a sampling of people to try that out for me, I'd be interested to know the results.

When you get into the store, try to stage your plan of attack so that you end at the freezer section. Not only because it makes scientific sense, but also because when you have a cart full of stuff, already, you'll be less likely to throw in all of that expensive, gross, pre-made food.

I like to walk around the perimeter of the store, first, and load up on produce, fresh meat, bakery stuffs.
 Produce section: First, get whatever is on your list. Then grab a few fruits that you know you like. Apples, who doesn't like apples? Strawberries? This way when you're watching Fringe and feel like eating something sweet, you can eat an apple (which provides you with protein, fiber, and deliciousness) instead of mindlessly gnawing a box of pop tarts (which provides you with diabetes).
Meat section: This place has intimidated me for ages and so I have avoided it as much as possible. Meat always seems so expensive! But people like it so I think you should probably buy it if you ever want to eat it. If you're confused, just look at these two things:
There is .82 of a pound of meat in this package. That doesn't mean too much to you, probably, so round it around to kind of nearly a pound and then think about how a decent-sized hamburger is about 1/4 of a pound and then you think, "all of the meat in this package will make not-quite four meals and it costs not-quite $4.00, is that worth it to me?" And then if you're like, "Yes, a dollar a meal is a good price", then (wrap that puppy up in the provided plastic bags so that it doesn't leak or something) toss him in your cart. This was worth it to me so he came home with me.
If you can't find any of that meat that is affordable to you (and trust me, I've walked away from this section several times), then walk a little further and you will come upon something that I only recently discovered.
If you eat just one of these sausages for a meal (which both the FDA and myself recommend because no one should ingest that much sodium in one sitting), then each little weiner dude is fifty cents! If that's not worth it, I don't know what is. I know, you're thinking, "I'm not going to eat only one sausage for dinner." And I don't fault you for that, we'll get to sides. We'll get there. Particularly potatoes. I could (and very well may) dedicate an entire blog post to the very subject of potatoes.
Bakery Section: Okay, in all reality, you should just avoid this section. Go to the back of the store where they keep the day-old rack. That bread is just as good, it's just cheaper. Keep it in the fridge and it will last for about a week and a half (maybe, I'm so bad at estimating time).

Once you've got fresh food, then you can go into what I just now dubbed, "Preservative Island". Let me remind you that this is not a trip to the grocery store for the healthiest eaters on the planet. This is a reasonable trip to the store for someone who has recently entered into the world of adulthood so let's not pretend like this person isn't going to, at some point, be looking for the Spaghetti-o's or the Kraft macaroni and cheese.  You know, I can remember a time when macaroni and cheese cost less than a quarter. Those days are gone, my friends.
Let me take you to a little section, though, that is a more grown-up version of macaroni and cheese. That's right, the Rice A Roni section. It's the San Fransisco/ McPherson, Kansas treat.
I mean, look, it's a dollar and you have more than one serving in there. Let's say there's two servings in there, add one of your 50 cent sausages and *bam* you just ate dinner for a dollar! I don't know if this is how your brain works, but this is how mine works and it makes me feel a lot better. I think about what I can get at McDonalds for one dollar. I mean, a McChicken is yummy and everything but... eh.
So, sometimes in life you think "I want to have lasagna for dinner" or something and it's all very thought out and organized and you make a list of all of the ingredients and then procure them. And sometimes you get home from work and you're like, "Crap! I'm hungry now." And you'll need to lean on something that has already been procured. And in that instance, it's good to have a box of Rice a Roni. I'm not suggesting that you eat this every day, though.
Other things, I always keep for those "oh crap" moments: a box of pasta and a jar of Prego in my cupboard. A bag of frozen chicken in my freezer (I'll tell you later about how easy it is to make dinner with frozen chicken). And a bag of potatoes in my potato drawer (not everyone has a potato drawer and I feel really bad about that).
I also, when I'm thinking about it, grab all of the non-perishable ingredients for making the simplest pot of chili. This is, for me, the gastronomical equivalent of stuffing a five dollar bill in the pocket of your coat before you put it away for the season.
 You're really not supposed to eat canned tomatoes because apparently they give you cancer or something? But it sounds like everything gives you cancer but everything else prevents cancer so maybe if you do it right, you'll even out? I'm really not sure (does anyone else feel like this post has gotten way too long?). I buy two of each diced tomatoes and chili beans (sometimes I get black beans or a can of corn--it's your dinner, do what you want), one can of sauce and one tiny can of tomato paste. You COULD use all fresh ingredients but this is intended to sit in the back of your cupboard until one day when you're like, "I am really in the mood for chili".
When I, one day, do actually make this chili I promise to give you the full recipe. In the meantime, if you buy these things, just wing it. And toss in a packet of taco seasoning. It's beans and tomatoes. What could go wrong? This is my kitchen philosophy.

Now, let's talk about those taters.
TWENTY CENTS A POTATO!! You can cut those up and bake them in the oven and, bam, you have french fries (How much is a bag of frozen french fries? Like four bucks.) If you eat a baked potato with that sausage you should have bought, you just ate dinner for SEVENTY CENTS. Yes, this is blowing my mind. Why are we not buying more groceries?! You can make a baked potato in the oven (just scrub it first) in an hour or you can make a "baked" potato in the micorwave (not that I recomend this--I don't recommend microwaves at all, but you're going to use it anyway) in three minutes (just scrub it and poke a hole in it first).
You can cut it up in squares, boil it for about 7 minutes, drain off the water, add some butter and a splash of milk and mash it up with a fork and you just made yourself some mashed potatoes. How easy is it to make mashed potatoes? Well I just gave you the recipe--in one sentence. You can do this, you guys!

Let's talk about, specifically, the Dillon's store. I like to go here because they put things on sale and they don't do that at Walmart (in our tiny town, we have two choices for grocers). Granted, some things are more expensive but really not everything. And they put stuff on clearance. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't recommend that you buy a lot of food on clearance. But you can use your discretion, probably. I would stay away from on-clearance dairy unless I'm for sure going to use it that day (it's a mental block for me, it may be okay for you). Veggies, though, I always buy on clearance. Mostly because they're vegetables so I'm going to use them soon anyway and also because you can get introduced to new things.
Do you see what we're looking at, here? That's purple cauliflower. The next day, I cut it up and roasted it for lunch. It was delicious. Tasted exactly like cauliflower.
Choosing the right check out person is imperative. If I can help it, I stay far away from teenage boys because they, generally speaking, don't really give a crap about whether or not my bread is on the bottom of a ten pound bag of groceries. You don't want the oldest lady in the world, either, unless you just have all night and no ice cream. My check out lady was named Lucy. She was fast and had been doing her job for years and years and years and she packed my bags like a hero. Cans on the bottom, potato chips on the top, all the cold stuff packed together betwixt the layers. And, as mentioned before, got my next two weeks worth of groceries into two reusable bags.

Now, go home, put every thing away and revel at your full pantry and try not to eat everything all at once.

Do you ever stash money in your coats (sometimes I put it in books) for you to find later?
What are your grocery essentials?
Are there any recipes that I've mentioned here that you really want me to expound upon?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

New Series: Kendall Can

I've been friends with Kendall since he was 6 years old.

 A week or so ago, he moved into his first apartment. Later that night he posted something on Facebook about how now that he lives alone, he'll need to go shopping and/ or feed himself. As a woman who has been living all alone for three years now, I find this inspiring. I think I'm going to add a whole new series to this blog all dedicated to young and independent living. I am naming it "Kendall Can". And if Kendall can, anyone can. :)

Today... Kendall Can Cook: Buttered Noodles (Noodle Doodles courtesy of Katherine G. Hurl)

I know, I know, you're a 19 year old fellow and society tells you that you're worthless in the kitchen--a slave to Ramen and Froot Loops unless and until you con a woman into making food. I assure you, that's not the case at all. Stand up for yourself. Stand up... for masculinity!!  I'm not saying you need to learn a bunch of kitchen skills, either. You can impress/ feed yourself and others really easily.

First things first is stocking your kitchen with essentials.
As far as utensils go, you can get surprisingly far with a pot, a skillet, a strainer and a spoon. I bought all of mine from thrift stores. Go to Salvation Army (but not Goodwill due to questionable business practices) and run to the kitchen section (this is where I bought all my plates and bowls and coffee mugs, too). A pot should be big enough to boil four cups of water, a skillet should be big enough for a slice or two of bread and your strainer should not be rusted out (you can get one of these at walmart for about a dollar so I am not opposed to buying a new one that isn't filled with petrified pasta remnants).
Then go to the grocery store. I'll give you a more detailed account of how to go shopping in a later post but for now, you're going to spend about $6.00 and get yourself enough food to eat at least four times.
Get a box of pasta (any kind--it's the fun part), a pound of butter (for Pete's sake--real butter), and Parmesan cheese. (Upgrade options: parsley and/ or red pepper flakes)
Take all of these things home, put the butter and cheese in the fridge, wash the crap out of your used dishes and then assemble as such:

I'm running on the assumption that your pot is as big as mine and that you already have salt and pepper in your home. If your reality is different from my assumptions then for goodness sake, buy salt and pepper. And if your pan is smaller than mine, mentally cut everything in half. The important thing to remember is that it's just food and if you ruin it, your mom doesn't live that far away and would love to hear the story of how you ruined Buttered Noodles.

Fill your pot with water. Not all the way to the top, but certainly past the halfway point.
Heat that water on high until it starts to boil. Congratulations! You can boil water!
Insert pasta. When I make pasta in a my-pot-sized-pot, I put about half the box in and I have a fair amount of left overs. Frankly, it's really hard to know how much pasta to cook.
Use that spoon to stir your pasta immediately after you put it into the pot. That's your one expert cooking tip. If you don't, it'll get stuck to the bottom and sides of the pan.
After a few minutes, fish out a piece of pasta. Blow on it and then eat it. If it's got some crunchy bits, keep cooking and repeat this process until there are no more crunchy bits. If there are no crunchy bits, continue.
Turn off the burner.
Pour the pasta and the water into the strainer. Let it strain.
Put some butter (I don't know, cut off maybe an inch of a stick of butter--because you're using real butter that comes in sticks) into the pan. Toss in a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper (this is where you could add the upgrades as well), pour the hot pasta back in and stir it all up so that butter is all over your pasta.
Top with Parmesan.
Grab a fork.

You didn't buy a plate today so you're going to have to eat it out of the pot. That happens sometimes.

(Upgrade option that will make your mother proud: when the pasta is almost done cooking, throw in a handful or two of frozen veggies into the boiling water and finish as usual)

Next time... Kendall Can Buy Groceries

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Weather and Peaches and Blueberries

Cold weather can't come soon enough. I just recently read an article about how the number of Black Widow spiders have greatly increased since last winter never really got cold enough to do them in for good. The good news: they rarely go indoors and only like to attack you if you're attacking their babies. So if you're going after a spider nest, do it with a can of something flammable and from a mighty distance.

It's back to being a hundred degrees, outside. This weekend was a nice little reminder that we will get through this and Autumn will fall and we will cuddle in the chill once again. Yesterday it even rained for most of the day (or at least had a drizzely feel to it) and I felt like coming home and listening to Bon Iver and wearing a sweater and eating potato soup. And I did. Even though it was still 80 degrees.
One morning, it was in the low 70's. I opened the windows and the cat couldn't decide which sill would be her perch. She's gone so long without them that she tried them all out until she settled in her favorite. Always the one in the living room, behind the purple chair, where she can watch the driveway and pretend as though she couldn't be bothered by the lives of the neighbors. Even though she's secretly fascinated.

Last summer, I was introduced to roasting vegetables. This summer I gave fruit a go.
 Peaches + blueberries + the tiniest squeeze of agave + 400 degrees = something both purple and versatile.
I don't want to make time go faster and I like to think of myself as a woman who revels in living in the moment. But as a woman who also lives on rainy, overcast, drizzely days, this Kansas drought is taking a toll on my soul. I would dance, I would pray, I would wash my car if it would make it rain. Good, soaking rain. Good fill-in-all-of-the-cracks rain.