Business. Serious Business.

Foodie Nation…. you know I’ve got my struggles with the Bean Juice. I wake up in the morning and I almost automatically just make coffee even if I know I shouldn’t be having any. But even with all my cravings I still won’t lower myself to a bad cup of coffee. I have some serious limits there.

During our Mother’s Day lunch a few weeks ago I had carefully made the coffee in the french press and set it on the counter to steep when one of my cousins (whom I love dearly) decided that playing with the plunger bit looked like fun and just started pumping it up and down. There’s were actual gasps from the company and I shouted across the room for her to cease and desist immediately… which she didn’t do. When the horror had ended and she had gotten the talk from someone, I was in too much shock to tell from who, we asked her “What were you thinking?! Why would you do that?!”. Her response was “It was fun…”

ARGH!

Now my dad tells me I’m not allowed to be picky and all “uppity” about my coffee because I’m just not and he’s wrong. He also commits some pretty horrifying offenses against the art of making coffee and it drives me nuts. He comes from a land where coffee is ground into a superfine powder and steeped directly in the cup it is to be drunk from. The “silt” settles to the bottom of the cup and all is well. I have had some pretty awful tasting Indonesian coffee. It tasted burnt and bitter and in one case it was sour… SOUR. I’m not saying there aren’t people who don’t think that’s just the epitome of food engineering but I’m gonna just put my hand up and say “Thanks…. But no thanks.”

The photo above comes from “The Biggest Coffee Brewing Mistakes Slideshow” on The Daily Meal and the slideshow covers the basics. If you are concerned that you might be making your coffee wrong I highly suggest you check it out. I’ve been lax in some of my coffee bean keeping methods but lately with the workplace being what it is and my need to retreat into the safety of the Dreamtime more than is medically advisable I’ve been polishing off a Costco sized bag of Mayorga’s Cafe Cubano pretty quickly. Not in a week but fast enough that I’m not losing much on the flavor by the time it’s ready to go and buy a new one. Also, I’m pretty sure this particular coffee is magic and can easily replace several prescription drugs.  Mayorga coffe: migraine and anti-depressant in one delicious cup!

Drink up me Foodies! There’s is a full day of pillaging ahead…

Photo from Desde my Ventana

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Ma Nourriture Est En Feu!: Crepes Suzette Day

Crepes Suzette

“Crepes Suzette” from Seduction Meals

I’m a bit of a pyromaniac, if you haven’t figured that out already. When I found out that today is Crepes Suzette Day… well I guess you can imagine.

Now I’m sure that, like me, you have all probably heard some not so nice rumors about Crepes Suzette. That it’s complicated. That it’s bourgeois. And on and on the rumor mills go making us all afraid of something quite simple. Make crepes. Again a lot of rumors about crepes but speaking as someone who actually cannot make pancakes but can make crepes… they’re easy. Put stuff in and on crepes. Easy enough, right? Get some booze all up in there. That’s not only easy but it sounds like a party. Light that S**T on FIRE!

Eat but be careful. Don’t eat the fire. That’s just stupid.

Eat smart Foodie Nation!

It’s My Party and I’ll Bake If I Want To!

Macarons

Macarons (The link goes to the Not So Humble Pie blog and its extensive tutorial on all things macaron making)

I’m planning my Silver Jubilee (because I really DO have delusions of grandeur) and since our household party budgets are not currently up to my intense party planning abilities I’m keeping it small(ish) and having a tea party instead of the 7-course sit down dinner for 60 like I originally dreamed up.

So I’m thinking small things and one such thing I’ve been dying to try my hand at is macarons. I’ve had them several times before and they’re very much worth trying. I got them at a friend’s graduation party ages ago, I had some in France, and the last time I had some was over Christmas/New Years when I bought my brother some down in Florida on St. Armand’s Circle along with some cute (but not as tasty as they looked) chocolates.

If you’re following the Gastrogasms: Dessert board on Pinterest you’ll see macarons pop up every so often because I think they’re simply fabulous. Here are a few finds:

French Macarons

French Macarons

Macarons

Macarons (Just pretty photos of macarons from Claudia Castaldi)

Lemon Meringue Macarons

“Lemon Meringue Macarons” from Bakers Royale

Vegetarian?

Cheesy Skillet Polenta and Eggplant Bake

Cheesy Skillet Polenta and Eggplant Bake

So the other day the above photograph showed up as a post from America’s Test Kitchen. The post read something like polenta is a vegetarian option blah blah blah being a vegetarian is no fun because then you have to eat polenta blah blah…

In case it isn’t apparent, I don’t like polenta. It makes this sort of dry hard lumpy mass of grits meets cream of wheat and I don’t like any of those above descriptors. Now, maybe you like polenta. That’s up to you and your taste buds. But I do not and I also do not like people bashing on vegetarianism. Yes, I do love goat curry and satay and yes, I do occasionally enjoy a good burger. But I was a vegetarian until I was 17 and my mom let my dad take me on a trip to Africa instead of attending my high school graduation and my dad was NOT raised a vegetarian and I was told I was old enough to try for myself and make a decision. So I tried lots of things and I decided I was no longer strictly a vegetarian. Still don’t like chicken much, however.

There seems to still be some sort of stigma attached to vegetarian cooking these days that just seems silly. While I eat meat occasionally I almost never (and I mean NEVER) cook meat at home. I’m sure I could if I had to in order to save my family from murderers but that’s about it.

My brain tends to run a mile (or two) a minute so between seeing that post yesterday and now I’ve been thinking a lot about goo resources for vegetarian cooking that makes it both appealing and non-disgusting looking. I’ve seen a lot of craptastic vegetarian food and I would never wish that on any of you.

In some of my musings and milling aboutness on the internet I saw a few cookbooks that I have previewed and which, I feel, seem somewhat promising. The first one is “Meatless: More Than 200 of the Very Best Vegetarian Recipes” by Martha Stewart. Say what you will about the woman but she’s got a decent set of gastroporn in her back pocket and I often approve of it.

Meatless: More Than 200 of the Very Best Vegetarian Recipes

Meatless: More Than 200 of the Very Best Vegetarian Recipes

The biggest problem of eating vegetarian is that too many people try to REPLACE meat with something that isn’t meat and try to pass it off as meat. Stop. Don’t do that. Once you start trying to replace your meat with a “meat-like” mass, you’re doomed.

Check out this burger:

Spicy Black Bean Burgers

“Spicy Black Bean Burgers” from Skinnytaste.com

No meat, no problem.

Being vegetarian or vegan can sometimes come with religious or spiritual backgrounds but for a lot of people it’s a fad or a phase. Like “I’m so cool because I’m a… Vegetarian…” (insert some over the top facial expressions and maybe even a hair flip  in there somewhere). The problem with that is that you take it seriously for a while then you get these cravings and it’s all over. So better not to do that.

Of course their are health benefits to cutting out meat in the average diet. If you want any of these benefits it’s like using that exercise machine. Doing it all in a week then sitting on the sofa the rest of the month isn’t going to help your fat ass get any sexier. Although some people have a sexy fat ass… I think you all are much smarter than the majority of students I have to deal with and can figure out for yourself what you need to do.

Let’s Do It

Recently, I was asked if I would be interested in teaching a group of teens some basic cooking skills. Apparently they were doing some service projects and during a “feed the homeless” project one of them was injured because they lacked the basic kitchen skills.

I already had a cooking curriculum made up for younger kids but I’ve changed it from 16 weeks to 6 weeks to fit into the summer. While I can barely remember my early teen years and high school was a very short 2 year blur I know all to well how easily I get bored so I’ve decided to try and use gastroporn to try and rope ’em in and keep ’em round. Imagery is how the cigarette companies do it so why not me?

One website that I love for cooking related slide shows, articles, and videos is Kitchen Daily. I’ve been going through several of the tutorial videos and here are a few I think are pretty awesome:

 

 

How To Make Your Own Butter (and buttermilk)

Knife Skills

Flan

Dark Chocolate Mousse With Candied Orange

A Tale of Two Grandmas: Why I Hate Coleslaw But No Longer Hold It Against the Vegans

Yesterday (late) morning my family was sitting down to have our current favorite meal of Banh Mi and my parents were discussing the soon-upon-us arrival of my uncle, aunt, and cousin who will be staying with us the rest of the summer while on sabbatical from Indonesia. Since my aunt and uncle will both be working at the university where my dad works for their sabbatical they will be needing to bring at least one meal for during the day during the week and Banh Mi is an excellent option.

Banh Mi – Courtesy of “Battle of the Banh Mi”

Apo, my paternal grandmother, was asking about some of the ingredients and then there was also a subsequent discussion about Vegenaise, which we prefer over mayonnaise for most things. My Apo, being oddly minded about western food products that look to her like they might contain any dairy products kept getting all perturbed over us having to use it in any recipe we would be serving to any of our Indo friends and relatives. Being me and knowing exactly why she would think it was an issue I asked her if she thought it had cheese in it. Her response is “I know it has cheese in it!”.

Vegenaise

My mom, ever the crusader for the west in our household, went and grabbed the bottle and assured her there was no such ingredient in it to Apo while I laughed at her paranoia that there is cheese in everything she isn’t familiar with. And I should carify here at “cheese” in Indonesia is pretty limited and the only kind you will see regularly are the “cheese by-products” just as blocks of Kraft “Cheddar” (of the poorly named American “Cheese” variety) or Velveeta if you’re fancy. There’s also a very strange stigma attached to this very narrow concept of cheese in our Indonesian circles which I’m sorry to say is not only cultural but also partly religious.

Apo, now thrilled to learn that Vegenaise was no longer going to kill her took a spoon and tried a bit and absolutely loved it. She’s now planning to put it on a lot more of her food. I pointed out that a lot of the things that she claims not to like because it has cheese in it she used to like before she found out there was any cheese in it. For instance we’ve had to tell her that Paneer is an Indian tofu so she’d try it because when we started to say it was a form of cheese she started scraping it off of her plate before we could even finish explaining.

The whole thing wasn’t helped by my dad who said “There’s no cheese in it, only milk”. My mom and I just about died and there was a sudden riot in the kitchen. My mom proceeded to yell out all the ingredients on the label to better inform the rest of our family just how misguided they truly were.

Another thing my Apo claims to hate is chocolate. For some reason she will get up on her little soapbox and denounce the stuff but will make herself a cup of hot cocoa nearly every winter morning saying it’s not really chocolate or some other such nonsense. She is a little more lenient on the chocolate issue than the whole cheese thing but I know she actually likes both as long as you don’t name them or point it out.

My other grandma also has an aversion to chocolate. She also doesn’t have sugar or salt in her house. While my grandma isn’t a strict vegan she does cook vegan at home, a fact that used to drive my grandpa absolutely bonkers when he was no longer able to do his own cooking. He’d be a good sport and eat her tofu scrambles and carob pudding sweetened with dates but whenever asked if he wanted us to bring anything when we came over to visit he usually asked for some sort of red meat. Well he’d ask my dad specifically since my mom’s a pescatarian.

While there can be several connections made between my grandma’s cooking abilities and her being British I should point out that she grew up in Burma (now Myanmar) and India and spent very little time in England before moving to America where she worked for the British Consulate in DC. At 92 years old, her ability to still do everything herself is impressive. Most of her food, however is not.

One particularly horrifying memory that still haunts me to this day is of a Christmas my family had come to the US for when I was little. We went up to my uncle’s house in West Virginia and everything was going great. Me being the only child/grandchild/niece had a little something to do with that.

I’d done everything right from trying to stay up late for Santa to not getting in the way of my uncle and Gpa playing Mario Golf and I was ready to attack that mountain of presents like nothing else on earth mattered. There was only one problem: I’d woken up late and as a result had slept in until lunch time.

Mario Golf (Screenshot)

Of course, they had saved me some of the nice breakfasty foods (although I can’t remember what they were today) but it also meant that I had to include some of the lunch foods into my meal. This included my Gma’s coleslaw. I don’t know what she put in that coleslaw but to this day I still refuse to eat anything that even resembles coleslaw. I remember it having raisins in it, too, and from that day on I also refused to eat raisins.

With my little kid logic I’d eaten everything else on my plate and had even offered to eat more of whatever they gave me as long as I didn’t have to eat that coleslaw. My grandma told me I was to sit there at the counter and finish the coleslaw and that I wasn’t to leave that spot until I did. With a little more clarification I also found out that meant I couldn’t open presents until I’d finished eating it either.

I tried just sitting there and hoping they’d forget about the whole thing. I tried hiding the coleslaw somewhere else and claiming I’d eaten it. I tried feeding it to the dog and the cat but no luck. Even my Gpa came and tried to plead my case (since I was crying at this point) but to no avail.

A good hour and a half later my grandpa coached me through the art of eating my Gma’s coleslaw by putting enough salt on it to down out the weird sweet taste that was engaging my gag reflexes and just getting it down as fast as possible. Eventually, the deed was done and I lay my head down on the counter in exhaustion and defeat and told me mom I needed a cup of eggnog. Stat.

Because of food-memories like this I  had a lingering distaste for food my Gma made. The fact that she cooks vegan gave me a very false sense of what it means to be vegan and what vegan food means. Of course, as I got older I learned how to mask this distaste in front of my grandma but my Gpa and I always washed whatever she gave us down with a “proper” dessert.

Apo retired and moved to Haiti to live with us when I was 9 years old, and my brother was 1, and over the years she has taught me to be less dubious of the concept of vegan foods. She does occasionally cook eggs but most Indonesian foods that don’t involve meat (which can easily be substituted in almost all cases) are devoid of dairy.

So for anyone that think vegans eat a lot of tofu, this is often true. For those who feel bad for people who eat a lot of tofu, please, don’t. We’re all doing really great over here. While I still have a HUGE issue with people who try to adulterate my artfully created dishes and drinks by saying “Oh this could be made vegan by doing [blah]” or “If you only removed [Blah] and replaced it with [*expletive*]” I can easily say that I like vegan food, especially tofu.

How I remember making Tofu as a kid:

Tofu is easy to make. My parents brought large sacks of dried soybeans with us to Haiti and every Friday night was Tofu making night. The beans had been soaked the whole day if not since Thursday night

First you teach your kids how to count and measure.

Using a really good blender (or vitamix if you can) measure out 1 part soybeans to 3 parts water and blend until it looks like soymilk.

Put Soy-Water liquid into a large pot and repeat last step until you have a lot of it in your pot. I’m sorry but as a 9 year old my skills and sight measuring weren’t so good but I do know we would make at least 4 to 5 sets of the soy-water mixture. If you’re actually going to experiment with them just use a large pot and see how it goes the first time.

Heat up you soy-water but do not boil it. There’s should probably be some stirring involved because I remember it burning on the bottom once. Because we used a vitamix to blend everything together there were often larger pieces that just didn’t liquefy in the process. There will also be a sort of foam that appears on the top of the mixture while it’s cooking. You want to skin this off with a strainer or something. You can throw it away but sometimes Apo (once she came to live with us) would use these solids and make fritters with them.

Add in a couple spoonfuls of epsom salt and stir.

At this point the tofu should begin to coagulate. Once this has occurred take the pot off the heat and begin filling your containers. We used these tallish rectangular plastic containers that fit into one another and made holes in the bottom of half of them. You put a cheese cloth in the bottom of the container with holes, fill it with the coagulated tofu mixture from your pot while letting as much of the water drain out as possible. Once you have a good amount of the solid pieces in your container (about 1/3- 1/2 full) you fold the cheese cloth over the top of the mass to cover it and then put a container on top without holes.

Then they put a cutting board on top of it and had me sit on top to compress the tofu into a block. You need to push out as much water as possible. And also, don’t forget to do this over something the water can drain into otherwise you’re you’re going to have a mess all over your kitchen. If I remember correctly, we used a large bucket with a cutting board laid across the top, the straining/presses on top of that, and then the second cutting board on top of which I sat.

Note: If you do not have a small child at home you can probably do this over the sink with two cutting boards and just press down on it.

What you end up with is fresh, homemade, and still warm tofu. We usually took at least 2 blocks and cut them up, drizzled a little kecap manis (an think, Indonesian, sweet soy sauce) and just eat it.

This is Kecap (pronounced like Ketchup) Manis

For anyone who hasn’t heard of this type of Soy Sauce before, it is magic. I grew up with this stuff and it’s used in so many, many, Indo dishes. Here’s one you can make with all your fresh tofu that Apo makes and is one of my A-List comfort foods:

Tahu Kecap

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 cloves of garlic sliced
  • 3-4 blocks of extra firm tofu (if you’re buying blocks in the store they are probably smaller and you might need more. DO NOT USE “Silken Tofu”)
  • Oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons (it’s all to taste really)Kecap Manis
  • 2-3 teaspoons of Soy sauce

Steps:

  1. Heat about 1/4 inch of oil in a frying pan on medium-medium high heat.
  2. Cut tofu into smaller pieces. The best way is to cut the block in half and then slice across.
  3. Fry the tofu in batches gently until the skin becomes a light brown. Set aside to drain and discard most of the oil.
  4. Using the remaining oil cook the garlic until it smells really good but before they start to brown.
  5. Add in your fried tofu and stir quickly.
  6. Add in Kecap Manis and soy sauce (amounts can vary depending on how much tofu you actually have and also on how much “sauce” you want with your tofu)
  7. Cook for several minutes.
  8. Serve with fresh jasmine rice.