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Sunday, September 25, 2005

airing out
Last week, I heard this story on NPR about a new book on hamburgers. I thought about hamburgers for a whole week after I listened to the author discuss the regional peculiarities of this fine food. For example, there are places in Louisiana where they make something called a "doughburger," which basically amounts to bread dough and hamburger fried in the usual manner and then placed between more bread. That was less appetizing than the place in Kansas where they carmelize onions in a frying pan before pressing the beef on top of the onions and squishing down until a pancake-like patty is laced with curly bits of sweet onions.

The latter was my inspiration for last night's dinner. I was supposed to go to a "Balkan bluegrass" concert in San Francisco with Emily, but she had too much homework and had to cancel. So I was at loose ends and decided it was my chance to eat a bunch of meat and watch television.

I went to the market and bought a pound of chuck, which I asked the butcher to grind, and some big fluffy hamburger buns. I only used half a pound of the chuck, ultimately, but the rest is in the freezer and will be excellent for something.

I chopped half a yellow onion and sauteed until translucent. Turned off the heat and put the onions into a bowl with the chuck. Sprinkled all with salt and pepper and mixed it up. Formed a ball with the contents of said bowl and then flattened.

Turned the heat back on underneath the pan I used for sauteing the onions. No need to add more oil. Placed hamburger in pan and set it to fry. Cooking took about 15 minutes, whilst I toasted my hamburger bun and mixed mayonnaise with ketchup and Worcestershite sauce. I also sliced some small tomatoes. (I view lettuce as a major interferance on sandwiches of any kind.)

I assembled my hamburger with tomatoes and the aforementioned sauce on both sides of the bun. Then, I turned on the third disc of the fourth season of Six Feet Under (just acquired from Netflix) and savored it all.

I should have opened the windows while cooking--my apartment filled with the thick smell of crispy onions and meat--and I had to open them while I watched TV for the rest of the evening. Anyone passing my apartment must have thought my choice of entertainment (discussion of bodies, embalming, and so on) to be rather macabre, but so it is.

posted by Robin at 8:55 AM; 6 comments

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Part II: Souper duper
Although I think the biscuits in their great buttery deliciousness turned out to be the highlight of the meal for both Shan and I, we actually made them to go along with soup.

The soup in question is a white bean and sage soup that Shan first made for a dinner party* a few years ago that I happened to attend. This particular soup has many virtues: It's hearty, it's flavorful, and it's a snap to make. 30 minutes or less, with a minimum of chopping.

In the past, we've both made this soup with small white beans; this time, on a recommendation from The New Best Recipe, we decided to try it with Progresso's cannellini (white kidney) beans instead. It turned out well, but I think I still prefer the white beans; they make a slightly thicker and definitely creamier soup. We also used fresh sage; I've used ground sage before, but that's risky because it can be overpowering if you use too much. Used in a pinch with care, it's just fine, but fresh sage is definitely the best option.

Although the soup is normally also vegetarian, we decided to add a twist: sausage. We wanted something subtle that would blend in and enhance the flavor instead of standing out because the soup already has plenty of flavor on its own. We opted for a chicken, spinach and fontina cheese sausage that we found at Trader Joe's. It did just what we wanted and added a nice extra kick. The soup doesn't need help, but our experiment proved that since it's so simple, you can easily add a few frills for something a little different. Between it and the beautiful Gruyere biscuits, we ate very, very well.

So, without further adieu:

White bean and sage soup
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 15-oz cans white or navy beans, drained and divided
27 ounces chicken or veggie broth**
1/2 cup short tube pasta (although any small pasta, such as shells or small macaroni, will work)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat oil in saucepan. Saute onion and garlic until soft. Add 1 can beans and press into a paste. Add the broth and heat to a boil.

Add pasta, sage and pepper. Boil until pasta is just tender. Add remaining can of beans and simmer 2 minutes.


* This recipe is sort of small. It's just right if you're making it for one or two people and want a couple days of leftovers; it reheats well. But if you want to make it for a group of people, double it.
** This soup is pretty thick, and leftovers can turn into the consistency of dip in the fridge, so I recommend adding a little extra broth. I usually buy a 32-ounce box of broth and use it all; you could thin it even more if you like a little more broth in your soup.

posted by Katie at 11:28 PM; 0 comments

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Gruyère, we salute you!
Because we are classy dames, my mother and I have been speaking more French lately. We've been calling each other mon frère for years, and now the odd bon jour and bonne nuit have begun to pop up in our daily phone conversations. But our favorite French word by far is Gruyère. (Can you blame us? I challenge you to think of a word that is more fun to say.) Recently, it's taken the place of a greeting:

Mom (answering phone): Hello?

I also have another reason to love this fine cheese. The ten pounds I gained during the summer of 2004 can, I believe, be solely attributed to the Little Rae's Bakery Gruyère and thyme scones sold at City Grind Espresso in the lobby of City Hall. They're cheesy but not greasy, thymey but not overpowering, and are sprinkled with rock salt and coarsely ground black pepper. They are perfect when microwaved for exactly twenty seconds (a tip from the City Grind guys). I don't know who Little Rae is, but she makes a fine scone.

I've been contemplating an attempt to make my own version of the Gruyère and thyme scone, and this weekend's visit to Katie seemed like the perfect opportunity. We adapted a drop biscuit recipe from Cook 1.0 (by Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks) to great success. It was one of those "Wow, did this really come out of my kitchen?" moments. And while we didn't quite replicate the scones of days gone by, I feel confident that I could gain at least ten pounds in biscuits this fall.

Basic drop biscuits with Gruyère and thyme
adapted from Cook 1.0: A Fresh Approach to the Vegetarian Kitchen by Heidi Swanson
(This recipe makes 18 big biscuits.)
You will need:
4 cups flour
2 tbsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (yes, that's two sticks) chilled butter, cut into small chunks
2 cups milk
1/2 cup Gruyère cheese, finely grated
1 or 1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme

The cool thing about Cook 1.0 is that it gives you a basic recipe and then a bunch of suggestions for adapting it to your tastes. You could make the basic drop biscuits by following the recipe and leaving out the cheese and thyme. Anyway, we used the proportions for the Parmesan and basil biscuits in the book, and it worked quite well. Since we were using dried and not fresh thyme, though, we did reduce the amount of herbs called for. You could easily make these with fresh thyme or another herb; the book calls for half a cup.

Preheat oven to 425.

Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl (you will probably want to use the largest mixing bowl you have). Add the butter and cut with a pastry cutter (or a combination of two knives, a knife and a fork, and a wire whisk, all of which we attempted. It's pretty torturous without a pastry cutter) until the mixture is the consistency of "tiny, sandy pebbles." (The book also suggests using 25 pulses in the food processor, which would be way faster.)

To this mixture, add the milk, cheese, and thyme and stir until ingredients are just combined. The mixture will be very thick and difficult to stir. Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto a baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown on top.

Now: take a bite, and everyone say "Gruyère!"

posted by shan at 8:03 PM; 0 comments

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Sister act
On the surface, M. and I couldn't be more different. She's the black hooded sweatshirt to my twirly pink skirt, the dry turkey sandwich to my overstuffed quesadilla. Her music tastes run more to Metallica and Eminem than Joni Mitchell and Death Cab for Cutie. Dig a little deeper, though, and the similarities begin to emerge. You have only to see me eating a bagel (edges first, then the middle) and M.'s demolition of a plate of IHOP pancakes (she peels the top layer off first) to know that we're from the same family.

M. was in Seattle for three days. When we weren't shopping downtown or watching seaplanes land on Lake Union, we were eating. We had pho twice (and discovered that we may both be mildly allergic). We had IHOP pancakes twice (the waitress looked at M.'s deconstructed pancakes and said, "You were here yesterday, weren't you?"). A trip to Sushi Express? Check. Margaritas at the Broadway Grill? Check. On this trip, however, we had decided to branch out. We were going to make dinner.

Easier said than done. First, we had to think of something we'd both want to eat. Fortunately, we share an love of beans in nearly all their forms (I draw the line at green ones). The latest issue of Light and Tasty had the answer: refried bean enchiladas.

We had high hopes for our enchiladas, and, despite a messy sauce and a few dropped tortillas, we weren't disappointed. They weren't exactly pretty, but they tasted great, especially accompanied by orangeade and a few spoonfuls of strawberry-kiwi Jell-O at 10 p.m.

The next day, I had to put her on the train home, and there was some sniffling. But the thought of food is usually enough to cheer me up, and those weren't just any leftovers waiting in my fridge. Nope, those were leftovers made by me and my sister.

Refried bean enchiladas
adapted from a recipe in Light and Tasty magazine

You will need:
1 can refried beans. Now, our tastes differ when it comes to refried beans, too: she's a Rosarita girl, and I prefer the Amy's organic refried black beans which go for the exorbitant price of $2.39 (does anyone else REALLY miss the old Trader Joe's refried black beans? The new ones just don't do it for me). Since M. already had a stash of Rosaritas, though, we went with those. I'll probably use my favorites next time, and I bet these would be great with some of Erin's homemade refried black beans, too.
1 cup, plus a little more, cottage cheese
Six flour tortillas (medium size)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 teaspoons chili powder
3 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dried minced onion, divided

Preheat oven to 350.

For the filling, mix refried beans with cottage cheese and half of the minced onion and set aside. That was easy, huh? It should be noted that the original recipe calls for some shredded cheese -- cheddar, I think -- to go in the filling and also on top of the enchiladas. M. doesn't care much for cheese, though, so we left it out, and they were still great.

For the sauce, whisk olive oil, chili powder, flour, and salt in a medium skillet until they form a paste. Add the water, cider vinegar, and minced onion, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and stir until sauce thickens. Remove from heat.

This is the messy part, but it's worth it. Dip each tortilla into the pan of sauce, then fill with the bean mixture and roll. We found that although the recipe claimed it would make 12 enchiladas, there was only enough filling for six. Bake enchiladas for 20-25 minutes, and enjoy, preferably with your sister, mom, or fellow-chef of your choice.

posted by shan at 12:09 AM; 3 comments

A creature of habit
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