Friday, October 29, 2010

Texas Food

Meredith and I had the chance for about three meals in Texas, so she showed me some iconic Texas cuisine: Mexican food, BBQ and "nuevo Texan food." First up: Mexican at Joe T's.

I may have disparaged it in the past, but I am here to eat my words. Tex-Mex is AMAZING. Who knew that hard taco shells could be delicious? I sure didn't.

Yes, that is rice and beans with two enchiladas and two tacos. And a margarita. I was really hungry. Meredith had chicken fajitas.

I'm sure they were good too.

Many hours later, we tried real Texas BBQ at Cousins.

I had brisket - very different from how I make it (haha).

Check out the pink ring around the edge. That means it's good. Meredith had ribs.

I've never been a ribs person, but I may be reforming. I love eating with my hands.

We had black eyed peas, fried okra and green beans on the side (not to mention the BBQ sauce). I don't really like BBQ sauce (at least not from a bottle), but this was good. Nice and tangy without too much smoky flavor.

Also, they have giant goblets of beer.

We then moved on to brunch at Tillmans.

I had skirt steak with a poached egg over smoky gouda grits.

It was absolute heaven. It's like all my favorite things together - runny eggs, juicy steak and cheese. Amazing. Who could ask for anything more?

All in all - Texas food is just super great. Especially when you have a wonderful guide like Meredith. Thanks for the great trip!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lena and Meredith go to Texas!

9 years ago, Meredith visited me in California. I promised I would visit her the following summer, but one thing led to another and I never did. So, when she moved to Texas (temporarily), I flew down to finally see what the Lone Star state was all about.

First of all, they have cowboy hats.

And real working, albeit touristy looking stockyards.

There were real cowboys there! Meredith assured me that they were real and non-ironic.

I bet you didn't know you could get wine tastings in the stockyards. But you can at the Cowtown Winery.

We did the robust red flight. It was nice! Authentic Texas wine....with grapes grown in California. Oh well, what can you do?

On to the food very very soon, I promise.

Oh and Meredith took all these photos! She's the best.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Must cook greens

My CSA (that's community supported agriculture, or a farm share if you don't know) has been giving me an onslaught of collard greens lately. Being a nice Jewish girl from California, I had no idea what to do with this ultimate Southern green at all. Once I tried slicing them into slivers and sauteing them quickly with bacon (Gourmet said it was okay to do it that way), but Zack wrinkled up his nose and said "That's not how you're supposed to cook these" (He's from South of the Mason-Dixon line). So I threw in the towel and ordered a ham hock. What's a ham hock?

That's a ham hock (post boiling for over an hour). I am honestly still not 100% sure what part of the pig it once came from. But they sure made for some nice collard greens.

Lena's Ridiculous Not Southern Collard Greens

3 large bunches of greens (I used two bunches of collard greens and one bunch of turnip greens), tough stems cut away
lots of water
white vinegar (about 1 Tbs)
1 giant ham hock
a little salt

1. Wash your greens - mine came from a farm and so were kinda dirty.

2. Put the ham hock in a giant pot of water - I used my Jewish grandmother's dutch oven. I'm sure she's rolling in her grave as I type. Add the vinegar and greens and bring to a boil.

3. Bring the heat down and simmer for at least an hour. Add a little salt if you think you need it. I added it because I can't resist tinkering.

4. That's it! Shred some of the meat from the ham hock and add it to the greens if you can't bear to think you paid a bunch of money for a giant piece of ham and now you're just throwing it away. Keep plenty of the water you cooked the greens in as well. It's super good. There will be way too much of it to save it all, but that's okay. This is how much I had leftover (after storing like 3 cups of it with the greens).

Full disclosure: I had no idea what to do with the ham hock once the greens were done boiling. I called my friend Danny and promptly blurted out "This is a weird question, but I'm asking you because you're from the South, even though you're Jewish," to which he replied "ham hock?" That is totally why we're friends. Amazing. He told me I should throw it away, which absolved me from keeping the weird boiled pig bone in my refrigerator for a week for no reason.

The greens are good, I think! I have no reference point for them at all, but I ate them happily. Or to be more precise, tasted them happily and stored them in my fridge until I make a main dish to go with them. And possibly some cornbread.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

People want homemade dessert late at night too

My friend Katie and I were having a great night drinking wine and watching Julie and Julia (if you haven't seen it, I'm pretty sure this movie is about me). Earlier in the evening I thought I'd make us a pie, but I got lazy. As the night went on, I really wanted pie, but I didn't want to wait a long time for it to cook or to chill the dough or all that rigamarole that comes with pie making. What's a girl to do? Make tiny pies of course.

Katie and I peeled and diced an apple and divided it into two small ovenproof dishes. We squeezed some lemon juice on the apple pieces and sprinkled some cinnamon on top. Then I melted a few tablespoons of butter in the microwave and mixed in a few tablespoons of flour, sugar, and a pinch of salt. Then I glopped the flour/butter/sugar/salt mixture over the apples.

It's not pretty but it's gonna taste good. I turned the oven on and it would only go to 550 degrees (that happens sometimes. Gah). We threw the tiny pies in the oven and baked them for about ten minutes.

Anytime you can make a homemade dessert that you can eat warm right out of the oven is a good time. These were super quick easy and went surprisingly well with the cheap dessert wine we were drinking. Impromptu baking is the best.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I stained my shirt

Let's say it's a Saturday night. You've worked all week at jobs that you love but that are totally exhausting. Your husband is at work, leaving you all alone to empty the dishwasher and clear out your DVR. As you're trying to throw a Tupperware lid onto a top shelf, it falls to the ground. You lean over to pick it up and as you're standing, you crack your head on the very sharp edge of the microwave that never quite fit into the nook you tried to stuff it into. You end up on your knees on the floor and when you stand up, your head hurts. So you put your hand to your head and when you reach back and look at it, it's covered in blood.

After applying pressure to your head with a dishtowel that you're never going to use again, you figure that the only thing to do is make a bittersweet chocolate and pear cake.

True story.

Don't worry, I'm totally fine, except that now I have both dried blood and cake batter in my hair. Sometimes I think that my grandmother's mental illness really has manifested itself in my brain (my hair?).

This is one of those recipes that I glanced at online and decided it would be easy to make since I have a thousand pears and I don't like them very much. When I started making it, I realized it was a super crazy recipe. But I soldiered on.

Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake - via (where else?) Smitten Kitchen

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 pears, peeled, in a small dice
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks (I used Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chips. They are my favorite things ever. If you've ever had a dessert I made, I probably used them)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (or just turn it on and pray if your oven is demented, like mine is). Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with flour.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside (or ya know, don't. I didn't).

Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. (In a professional Kitchen Aid, it takes at least five minutes; on a home machine, it will take nine minutes to get sufficient volume. This step is crazy cool. I love using my stand mixer).

While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan (because it will foam a lot) and cook it until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot. Mine got all foamy and had little brown flecks. I think it's okay though. This isn't it - this is my butter pre-browned, but I didn't get a chance to take a brown picture. Whoops.

Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more.

Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to loose volume, turn the mixture down to stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined — no more than a minute from when the flour is first added — and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It is very important not to over-whisk or fold the batter or it will lose volume. Full disclosure - I left my mixer on high by accident. We'll see how it turns out.

See the little brown flecks from the butter? Yum.

Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top.

I love it when you make a cake where you put stuff on top and then the batter rises and covers it. Bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes or a tester comes out clean.

This cake tastes really good. It's really light and the outside is all crisp but the inside is warm and cakey. Pears are the best when you add chocolate to them. Put some fresh whipped cream on top for an amazing end to a stupid bloody evening.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

For my mom

This evening, Zack and I sat down to a home cooked meal and he said "aaaah, food. You haven't cooked food all week." "That's not true!" I sniffed indignantly. "I cooked food on.......huh." Unless making Annie's mac and cheese and mixing in frozen peas count as cooking, I really haven't cooked in a week.

I made these last week for my Mom's birthday. My mom really loves marzipan (god knows why - I think it's kinda icky). Sometimes in the past, I've sent her a big box of See's Candy custom filled with marzipan. But this year, I figured I'd give it a shot. I've only had about 50/50 luck so far with candy things, but the recipe made it seem totally feasible (thank you Smitten Kitchen. You are the best).

Marzipan for Mom - adapted from Smitten Kitchen

8 ounces blanched almonds (I only had 6 oz, so I adjusted accordingly)
1 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar (I used 1 1/4 cups)
1 tablespoon almond extract (I left this the same)
4 tablespoons corn syrup (ditto - gotta make sure it lasts as I ship it across the country)
Bittersweet chocolate - less than one bag of Ghiradelli chips will do it

Grind the almonds in a food processor for about two minutes: it will first become crumbly, and the crumbs will get successively smaller until it is more of a fine powder. Keep it going through this stage, and when it nearly forms clumps, that’s when you’ve got it right.

Mine actually formed clumps. Whatever. It'll be fine.

Add the confectioners’ sugar and almond extract, then the corn syrup, processing until well-combined. Turn the mixture out onto a work surface and knead until it makes a smooth dough. If the dough seems too sticky, knead in a little more confectioners’ sugar. If it seems too dry, add more corn syrup. At this point, the dough can be tightly wrapped in foil (I rolled it into a log) and refrigerated until needed.

I did that (whoops, no pictures) and melted some chocolate in a double boiler. Then I rolled the marzipan into balls and dipped them in the chocolate (I used two spoons - that's a good method. You don't want to touch it with your fingers and leave weird chocolate fingerprints everywhere). Let them cool in the fridge and you've got candy!

Yay! I did it. It tasted pretty good (as far as I can tell - who knows with marzipan), but I guess we'll have to wait and see if my mom likes it. Hopefully she'll let us know in the comments.

Happy Birthday Mom!