Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Evacuation eats

This isn't exactly what to eat while you are evacuated from your home due to a raging wildfire, but what to eat when you return. When the town is hot and smoky and subdued, and "thank you firefighters" signs line the main streets, and you are thankful to do those mundane house things like mow your own lawn and sleep in your own bed. And guilty too, for that thankfulness, because you know that just down the hill, your neighbors are sorting through ash for their possessions and still grabbing food on the run in hotels and in friend's guest rooms. For a while, life's edges are sharp again.

When we came home this Sunday, from a sweaty weekend away—two adults, one baby, two cats, one dog on the run—we were ready for something simple, something soothing and cooling at once. We were hungry after days spent obsessively refreshing our browser. (Are we evacuated now? Are we evacuated now?) So while the baby napped, I made us all a completely bastardized version of Thai noodles based on a John Thorne recipe I found in an Organic Style magazine recipe booklet.

Ground Meat with Basil & Rice Noodles

12 oz. rice noodles, soaked in cool water until pliable, but not soft
peanut or grapeseed oil for stir-frying
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
1 t. Thai red curry paste
1 pound protein in small pieces (I like tofu and chicken combined, both cut in small cubes)
2 T. fish sauce
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 T. natural sugar (or regular, if that's all you've got)
1 overflowing cup of packed basil leaves, torn into big pieces

Heat 2 T. oil in wok or saute pan at medium heat. Cook garlic and onions until they start to turn golden. Add curry paste and stir in.
Turn up heat and add chicken. When it starts to brown, add in the tofu and stir it around a bit, until tofu warms through.
Add fish sauce, stock, and sugar. Bring to a simmer and add noodles. Cook until noodles are soft, adding more stock as necessary.
Add basil and stir until wilted.

Serve with sliced cucumbers toss and chilled with a little seasoned rice wine vinegar.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Beets, the easy way

I don’t mind getting messy; in fact, I sometimes like it. Hands in soft dough, fingertips scented with garlic, rare meat resting on a cutting board in a pool of its own juices.

I also don’t mind a little labor in the kitchen; I’m one of those crazy people who find peeling and slicing and shelling restorative. I would go so far as meditative, but am pulled back from the brink of maudlin by a keen awareness that some of you are gagging at the redolent prose already.

Let’s get back into the world I live in now, post-baby. I could be pulled back upstairs by the wails of a mad teether at any minute—no long saut├ęs, no delicate sauces that require painstaking attention. I’m tired (said teether)—hours spent shucking peas and mooning over pans of risotto are replaced by a quick 15-minute workout, a bit of reading, and an early, early bedtime.

So when I find a recipe for a beloved, messy, time-consuming favorite that makes my life easy, easy, easy, it’s a bit of a miracle. Like Jamie Oliver’s recipe for baked beets. No more peeling, cutting, prepping, making of dressing. Just a pile of beets in a foil packet opened steaming at the table or left out all afternoon and served cool in their juices. When it’s just the two of us, we slip the peels off (or not) at the table. Otherwise, it’s short work (really, they slide right off) and well worth the stained fingertips.

Essentially, you scrub small beets and throw them onto a large sheet of foil with fresh marjoram or oregano, smashed unpeeled garlic, salt, pepper, and generous amounts of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Seal up the package, set on a cookie sheet in a 400-degree oven for an hour or so, and you've got lovely beets in a fabulous sauce.

I served them the other night with Nigella Lawson’s easy breaded goat cheese medallions (breaded in advance and thrown in the oven 10 minutes before dinner) from Feast and salad greens with oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. They're also good with chunks of feta cheese.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Cross rib roast

Operation freezer cleanout is in effect. We've got 3 spring chickens on order from the farm down the hill, and a half a pig and a lamb on the way later in the year. And a freezer full of odds and ends: leftover pound cake from the baby's first birthday, saved for the fancy trifle that I'll never get around to making; a few cubes of enchilada sauce, not enough to use for anything much; bread ends; smoothie fruit...

And a cross rib roast, the final piece of meat of a grass-fed, organic beef sampler pack from one of our local heroes. I loved the idea of a selection of roasts and marinating and grilling steaks, but the actual cooking was painful and protracted.

I used to be a vegetarian, until one day the smell of bacon-y goodness lured me back to meat. I'm still picky--and we save up for meat in bulk from farms we've visited. And beef still tastes a little too "beefy" to me most of the time. So I stewed, making amazing winter dishes with onions and red wine and served with thick noodles, until I came to the roasting cuts. What the hell do I do with London broil? Bottom round? Cross rib?

There was some greyness, some toughness, some regrettable stringiness. I started to wonder whether beef was worth it. Whether grass fed was at fault. Until I Googled "cross rib" and found Jim H. and the simplest recipe ever.

I put the roast in a bowl with a generous amount of soy, sesame oil, mustard powder, chopped garlic, chopped ginger, salt, and pepper. We stuck it in the fridge for two days, turning when we remembered. Then into pan for browning and a 200-degree oven. It did take about 2 hours--through bathtime and the grownups' cocktail hour--and we took it out when the meat thermometer read 130 degrees.

I let it rest about 30 minutes while I roasted chunks of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions with rosemary and olive oil, and boiled some red wine and a chunk of butter down in the pan for a sauce. The meat was ruby red inside, rich and soft and minerally. The way beef is supposed to cook up, I imagine.
W., who has happily and enthusiastically eaten countless veggies and pasta for the past 10 years, said it was the best thing we'd ever made. (I vigorously defended lamb loin chops and homemade gnocchi, a pre-child special-occasion thing. But 15 minutes of actually work for "the best"? I'll take it.)

We cooked a 5-pound roast, which sounded like too much. But the baby loved the well-done edge pieces the next day, and W. ate thin slices in sandwiches with mustard and horseradish sauce. I cut the rest into strips and warmed it with sliced onion and red bell peppers that had been slightly blackened in a dry cast iron. A little squeeze of lime and into a warm tortilla with salsa, cilantro, and sour cream--fajitas. Really good. So simple.