Saturday, April 24, 2010

who you callin' fattoush?

For the past three weeks, I have been working on a very large freelance project: copy-editing and Americanizing a British cookbook for publication in the U.S. It is unlike and much longer than other project I've worked on (thanks to my former life as a magazine editor), and it's been both exciting and grueling. Ironically, since I began working on it, I haven't cooked a damn thing. Instead, I've spent most of my time hunched over a desk, scribbling out computations and proofreading symbols, and the time not spent working has been spent wailing about how busy I am. My balls-to-the-wall approach to this task has left no time for kitchen business.

So, after handing in the first half of the assignment on Monday, I pulled out my knives, cracked open my cooking bible, and set to work turning the uber-stale whole wheat pitas festering on my kitchen counter into a big, refreshing dinner. Though I looked to Mark Bittman's recipe, I confess that I didn't measure a single ingredient. After days and days of being so structured with my time, so focused on a single task and exectuting it as perfectly as possible, I was sick of trying to be perfect. I threw those pitas in the oven to toast at a temperature we will never know and for a duration equally mysterious; meanwhile, I reached for vegetables, a bunch of parsley, a fragrant lemon. It's like I was on autopilot--mostly checked-out from my brain, but aware enough that I knew how good it felt not to be following directions or adhering to a schedule.
Oh, and it tasted really, really good.
Fattoush (Lebanese bread salad)
Adapted from Mark Bittman
Serves 2 to 3
Note: all quantities are approximations and/or outright guesses.
2 whole wheat pitas
A big pile of minced fresh parsley that, to you, looks like it might be about 1/3 cup
1/2 small or medium red onion, diced finely
10-15 grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 English cucumber, sliced into rounds and then cut into quarter-rounds
1/2 red bell pepper, cut about as small as the cucumber
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Juice of 1 lemon
Extra-virgin olive oil (4-6 Tbsp. or to taste)
1. Throw pita into a 250-350*F oven and toast until lightly or heavily crunchy; lightly crunchy is nice, but heavily works, too.
2. Combine parsley, onion, tomatoes, cucumber and bell pepper in a large bowl.
3. When pita is toasted to your liking, or when you remember it and pluck it from the oven, tear into bite-size pieces. (If it's really crunchy, just break it up as best you can and break up any pointed edges.) Add to bowl.
4. Season everything with salt and pepper, drizzle lemon juice and oil on top, and toss to combine. Serve immediately or, if your bread came out extremely crunchy, let salad sit a while for bread to soak up some liquid and soften to a eater-friendly consistency before serving.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I'm here, I swear


That, dear blog reader, is the sound of my frustration. You haven't seen a post from me in more than a month. The reason for this? Blogspot hates me. You see, I have done all sorts of delicious cooking so far this year. Spanakopita! Minestrone with five different kinds of vegetable! Oatmeal breakfast bars! The list goes on. But every time I try to upload photos, write a post, anything, the website goes wonky and nothing works right and I get reeeeally frustrated, hurl objects and expletives at my computer, and retreat in utter defeat.

So, that's why I've been a failure of a blogger for the past several weeks. I've been doing a hell of a job cooking awesome foods, and I've actually attempted to post every new recipe here. It's just that my efforts have been thwarted. I'll keep plugging away with this #&$@~^% site, but I cannot promise that anything good will come of it.

Monday, January 4, 2010

happy birthday to IDEB!

Cheers! As of three days ago, I Don't Eat Bacon is a full year old. I certainly haven't been diligent about what, how and when I post here, and I definitely haven't taken the writing process very seriously. But that's what I like about this little blog o' mine, that I approach it much as I approach cooking. The processes are creative, impulsive, not always well thought out, almost always pleasureable.

I will continue to eat and cook new foods in 2010, so I see no reason why not to continue to maintain the blog, too. And though I tend to resist the pressure to make resolutions, I do hope to keep cooking--and blogging--toward the top of my personal want-to-do list. Too often, when I get bogged down with day-to-day stresses, I view cooking as an inconvenience, when almost always it is a real joy, with delicious rewards. The blog is that way, too: more satisfying than I usually think.

Oh, and I finally uploaded pictures to a few recent posts, of mac 'n' cheese, chili sweet-potato hash and some of the raw materials for Christmas dinner. Enjoy!

Monday, December 28, 2009

pureed turnips

I'll be the first to admit it: There is nothing sexy about the word "turnip."

To me, it is evocative of bitterly cold winters, economic hardship, damp and moldy places, wartime . . . all decidedly unsexy things. But, as a lover of vegetables and one always striving to serve interesting foods to dinner guests, I chose to include this purple-tinged root on our Christmas 2009 menu. Had I been the only chef in our house, I would have roasted the turnips along with carrots, parsnips, and maybe some purple potatoes (another yet-to-be-worked-with food obsession of mine), and that would have been that. However, my executive chef (a k a father) was firmly opposed to this idea.

We compromised on the following recipe--and still, I'm not sure why I ever agreed to it, given my strong, anti-pureeing proclivities. Why humans ever decided to take a food, any food, with all its structural distinction and textural complexity, run it through a food processor, and render it baby-food-like in consistency is a mystery to me. More than just confounding, I find it annoying. Call me crazy, but I like to chew my food.

(As I pound out these words on my keyboard, I know this is not a universal food law in my life. I love all sorts of things that don't require any chewing whatsoever. Soups! Smoothies! Applesauce! Chocolate mousse! No teeth required! So maybe I can't justify why purees annoy the crap out of me. But they do. At least, until now.)

Given the anti-turnip and anti-puree biases I brought to the table, it's a wonder I could be so utterly in love with this recipe. It came together in what seemed like no time at all, required no expert kitchen skills, and is perfect for making in advance and later reheating. The end result was surprisingly elegant, subtly flavorful, delightfully silky . . . and definitely sexy.

Pureed turnips
Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
Time: 45-55 minutes
Serves 5 or 6 as a side

1 1/2 lb. turnips
1 or 2 medium potatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Parsley, dried or minced fresh, for garnish

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, while working on the turnips and potatoes: wash, peel and cut into chunks of relatively equal size.

2. When water is boiling, salt it and add vegetables. Let water return to a boil, then lower it so that it gently bubbles. Cook vegetables until very tender, 20-30 minutes.

3. Drain vegetables, and transfer to the bowl of a food processor. Season with salt and pepper, add the oil, and process until extremely smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. (At this point, you can store puree in a tightly sealed container in the fridge. Before serving, warm in the microwave or on stove over low heat.) Serve hot, garnished with parsley.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

snow day, part 3 of 3

I made this recipe so long ago that I don't remember much of the specifics. I happened to be channel surfing one afternoon and stumbled quite accidentally upon the annoyingly cheerful Rachael Ray with her husky voice and irritating abbreviations. My visceral hatred for her 30-Minute Meals took longer than usual to kick in, and somehow I found myself watching her prepare a recipe that--gasp--I actually wanted to make!

Well, that's almost true. I saw that there was pork sausage in it and immediately wrote that out of the equation. But in the time it took me to watch her show, and for her to make a balanced meal from (cue signature sweeping hand motion) start to finish, I had effectively rewritten the recipe to suit my own tastes.

Chili sweet-potato hash
Adapted from Rachael Ray

Serves 4

Time: I forget how long it took me, but
definitely more than 30 minutes (oh, how I loathe cooking gimmicks!)

{for hash}

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 15-oz. can kidney or black beans, drained and rinsed

1 medium sweet potato, halved lengthwise and sliced into thin half-moons

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

2 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. ground coriander

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese

{for eggs}

1 Tbsp. butter or olive oil

4 large eggs

{optional garnishes}

Guacamole and salsa

1. Heat a large skillet with 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add sweet potatoes, onion, chili powder, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for 10-12 minutes, until vegetables are soft. Midway through the cooking (this is not scientific at all), add the beans so they can warm through and pick up flavors.

2. Transfer to serving platter, top with grated cheese and cover with foil to keep warm while you cook the eggs. *Note: If you have a cooking buddy who'll cook the eggs while you make the hash, this step is unnecessary.

3. Fry (or scramble) eggs to your liking in a preheated pan slicked with butter or olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then top hash with eggs and garnish with guac, salsa, both or neither!

snow day, part 2 of 3

For at least the last year (and probably longer), I have been obsessed with the idea of making delicious, perfect macaroni and cheese. I want it to be the greatest, most satisfying thing I have ever made. Whenever I find a recipe for it, though, I am seriously turned off by the massive quantities of milk, cheese and butter usually called for. And I abandon the mission for a time.

Finally, I found a recipe I could commit to, one with relatively moderate amounts of the aforementioned ingredients. Of course, it was Mark Bittman's. Disappointingly, it was far from what I'd dreamed of. And I know that, if mind-blowingly amazing mac 'n' cheese is my goal, I probably must embrace scarily large amounts of dairy. But this time I didn't, which is why it was something of a bust.

Objectively, it was pretty good. But it fell far too short of my lofty expectations for me to appreciate it. And I'm predisposed to dislike any recipe that makes me dirty this many dishes.

Macaroni and cheese
Adapted from
How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
Serves 4 or more

Time: about 45 minutes

1 3/4 c. low-fat milk
1 bay leaf

1/2 lb. whole-wheat penne rigate

1/2 c. or more frozen peas

2 Tbsp. (1/4 stick) butter

1 1/2 Tbsp. flour

3/4 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 c. or more fresh whole-wheat bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 400* F. Bring a medium/large pot of water to a boil. Grease an 8x8 baking pan with a little bit of butter, reserving the rest for later.

2. Cook milk and bay leaf in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When small bubbles appear along the sides, about 5 minutes later, turn off heat and let stand.

3. Salt boiling water and cook pasta to the point where it still needs another three or four minutes to become tender. Throw in the frozen peas and cook another minute, then drain peas and pasta. Rinse under cold water to stop cooking, and set aside.

4. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt remaining butter. When it is foamy, add flour and cooking, stirring, until mixture browns, about 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf from milk and add about 1/4 c. of milk to hot flour mixture, whisking as you add. As soon as mixture becomes smooth, add a little more milk, and continue to whisk and add until all milk is added and mixture is thick and smooth. Add grated cheddar and stir.

5. Dump pasta and peas into this mixture, add parmesan, season with salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Pour into prepared baking pan, and top liberally with bread crumbs. Bake until bread crumbs are browned, about 15 minutes, and serve hot.

snow day, part 1 of 3

It seems I'm still playing catch-up here, since I still have to add recipes I made before the computer meltdown I mentioned in my last post. And while, lately, I have been busy in the kitchen--baking up my Christmas gifts (and keeping them temporarily off the blog, so as not to spoil the surprise for those receiving them)--during the past couple of months I have been cooking not much, and when I have cooked, I just haven't been tinkering with new recipes. I'm fuzzy on the reasons why this is the case; perhaps the darkening days, exhaustion during the peak of my marathon training (and after the race, too--I'm still sleeping more than ever), and approach of the holidays have taken my attention elsewhere.

Nevertheless, here I am today, snowbound and restless, with the perfect opportunity to make some progress on the blog. And to be perfectly illogical, I'm going to start with what I made last night and work my way backwards in time.

Stewed chickpeas with chicken
Adapted from
How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
Yield: 4+ servings

Time: About 45 minutes with precooked chickpeas

With the snow piling up outside all day yesterday, my dad and I wanted to make something warm and comforting. This recipe seemed to fit the bill, while also helping us satisfy our clashing meat-eating agendas (side note: At some point in the last few months, I started noticing that my tolerance for meat went waaaay down. I'm not sure whether it was mental, physical, or something about ramping up my mileage for the marathon that had this effect, but whatever the reason, I still find that it's rare that I want to, or can comfortably, consume any significant quantity of animal protein.), since the chicken is more like a garnish, or just one ingredient, than the main event.

4 c. drained canned chickpeas

2 c. chicken stock, bean cooking liquid, vegetable stock or water

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

1 tsp. peeled and minced fresh ginger

1/2 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. ground cumin

2 c. canned tomatoes, with liquid

1-2 c. shredded cooked chicken (we were lazy and bought a precooked bird that Wegmans roasted for us)

1. Combine chickpeas and stock in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Season to taste with salt (if necessary; I didn't find it to be) and black pepper. Let simmer gently, to warm chickpeas, while you work on everything else.

2. In a large saucepan or deep skillet, heat oil over medium heat, then add onion, celery and carrot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin and tomatoes, and cook 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally.

3. Add chickpeas and stock to vegetable-tomato mixture, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, to let flavors combine and to let liquid reduce. *Note: How long you simmer is up to you. If you want it very soupy, you can serve it immediately. If you want it more stew-like, with less liquid, continue to simmer for 5-10 minutes or more.

4. When there's just about (or slightly more than) the amount of liquid you want, add chicken and stir thoroughly. Lower heat and cover for just a minute or two, to warm chicken through. Serve over cooked grains or with a hunk of warm, crusty bread.