Thursday, January 19, 2006

Raisinhater on the Road

Sorry about the brief absence, I got married and ran off to Argentina!

Right now I'm on my honeymoon in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. Picture South America – Ushuaia is a city located at the very bottom pointy part, near Antarctica. I arrived two days ago, exhausted after 24 hours of transit.

Yesterday was my first real opportunity to eat non-airplane-food. Here is my first Argentine beef…

It was tender and mild tasting. Beef isn’t aged in Argentina the way it is in the US, so it has a sweeter taste than what Americans are used to. Argentines in the United States often find our meat to be gamey or leathery tasting because they are accustomed to different flavors.

I was so excited that I gobbled this right up, hopefully next time (dinner today?) I’ll have a better opportunity to savor and reflect and say smart sounding things about cows and whatnot. Or at least take better photos. No promises though, because we're headed into some pretty remote areas and internet may not even be available.

In the meantime, here is a lovely photo of the Beagle Channel. Note the snow capped mountains, even though it is the middle of summer!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Play With Your Food

We all heard it growing up – “Stop playing with your food!” This Sunday’s New York Times Magazine encourages us to do the exact opposite. The recipe for Poached Scrambled Eggs is all about morning fun.

To make poached scrambled eggs, you strain out the thin part of the albumen (egg white) before mixing the eggs in a bowl, and then you add the resulting mixture to a spinning vortex of salted lightly boiling water. Cover the pot for 20 seconds, remove the lid, and MAGIC! You have an almost cooked scrambled egg.

After (very carefully) pouring off most of the water, place the almost scrambled eggs in a strainer, where they finish cooking for a minute or so.

Is this the fastest, simplest way to make scrambled eggs? Probably not, because you have to wash the strainer. Is it the tastiest? Yes. The end product is soft and fluffy, greaseless, and perfect on an English muffin with a little cheese and sausage.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

One Good Way to Ruin Your New Year’s Resolutions

Late on Thanksgiving Eve (or perhaps early Thanksgiving morning), R Raisinhater and I were lapping up the last of the wine and reminiscing about some of our finest breakfasts. Emboldened by drink, we vowed to recreate one of our favorites, biscuits with sausage gravy.

We aren’t Southern, we have no background in this, no family tradition to draw from, but Mom or Dad remembered spotting the recipe in the New York Times Heritage Cookbook (probably 15 years ago) and dug out the volume.

Sausage and Cream Gravy over Biscuits

1½ lbs sausage meat (we used both breakfast sausage and Italian sausage with no noticeable difference)
1/3 cup flour
½ cup water
2 cups heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste (I used only pepper, and lots of it)
6 hot biscuits, split

Break sausage into small pieces and fry in a heavy skillet until brown and cooked through. Remove and drain.

Remove all but 1/3 cup fat from the skillet. (We used fairly lean sausage and ended up with only 2-3 T fat in the skillet, this was sufficient.) Sprinkle the flour over the fat in the skillet and mix, gradually add water, stirring constantly.

Stir in the cream, bring to a boil, turn down heat to a rowdy simmer, stirring constantly until flour clumps break up (this may take a while, but they will dissolve eventually).

Return sausage to the skillet and continue simmering and stirring until desired consistency is reached. Serve over split biscuits.

I suggest serving with Bloody Marys.

The recipe suggests that you should shape the sausage into patties and serve them over biscuits topped with gravy, but I prefer crumbling the sausage into the gravy, because that’s the way they do it at the Lee Hi truckstop in Lexington, Virginia.

The first time we made this, we were quite concerned about the flour clumps. Mom Raisinhater got in there with an immersion blender and sprayed all of us with hot cream, but the clumps resisted. Apparently they just like to take their sweet time about it.

It was so good we had it again on Christmas Day. Perhaps this is the birth of a new tradition. As you eat this, you will feel your arteries stiffen. You will not care, because you will also feel your hangover magically disappear. You also may need a nap.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Macaroni and Cheese

, I admitted my weakness for Velveeta Shells and Cheese (with bits of “real bacon”). Despite this torrid little relationship, I maintain a strong and healthy affection for the homemade kind featured in today’s New York Times, the kind with the crusty top that you make in the oven in a big dish. I’m sure the New York Times recipes are nice and all, but the Raisinhater family has been celebrating Christmas Day with macaroni and cheese for a really long time, and Dad Raisinhater is a bit of an expert.

Dad Raisinhater’s recipe, from James Beard (Beard on Pasta, 1983).

This recipe produces a gooey and rich dish using a base of béchamel and a ton of sharp, flavorful cheddar. The cheese on top should be burnt and chewy. If you’re the cook, it’s perfectly acceptable exercise your “chef’s privilege” – just pull the crispy bits off and eat them before sending it out to the other diners.

4 T butter
4 T flour
2 c milk
1 dash black pepper
½ tsp Tabasco, or more to taste (we use Sriracha)
½ c heavy cream or crème fraiche
¾ lb grated cheddar
½ lb macaroni elbows or, for more fun, double elbows

Preheat oven at 350 F. In a heavy saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Add
flour, stir with a wooden spoon for 3 minutes or until roux is frothy &
taste of raw flour is gone. Heat the milk in another pan and gradually stir warm milk into roux, stirring hard all the while.

Turn up heat, stir until sauce is just at boiling point. Turn down heat, let simmer
a few minutes. Add pepper & Tabasco (“don’t be afraid of the Tabasco it will help to bring out the taste of the cheese”) Stir in heavy cream & simmer a little longer until flavors are blended. Cook and drain the macaroni. Stir 3/4s of the cheese into the simmering sauce until melted. Combine sauce with macaroni, pour into baking pan and sprinkle with remaining cheese, bake for 20 - 30 minutes or until bubbly & light golden. Serves 4.

The New York Times also reviewed a number of boxed and frozen brands. In the interest of science, I decided to see how their reviews measured up.
For lunch, I had Whole Foods 365 Organic Macaroni and Cheese (frozen). This mac and cheese heats up quickly in the microwave and a serving (the whole box) has only 321 calories.

New York Times: “like the other frozen brands, the frozen Organic noodles were softer and soggier than the ones you cook yourself (if you don’t overcook them, that is), but the sauce was creamier, if, in this case, a bit pasty.”

MeBeth: Dear New York Times, get over yourselves, we know how to cook our pasta thankyouverymuch. Al dente snobbery is so 1985. My Organic noodles were firm and relatively chewy for a microwavable frozen box meal. The cheese was mild (so mild, in fact, that I added a bit of Sriracha to spice mine up) but is creamy and has a rich consistency without tasting gluey. 365 Organic makes no pretense of a crispy topping, but does firm up into a casserole-like consistency when allowed to cool for two minutes after microwaving, although the cheese did develop a slightly grainy consistency. One drawback – this mac and cheese didn’t have the decadent feel. Maybe it was the package size, maybe because I knew it was organic? Either way, it was a delicious lunch, but not sufficient for a full on dinner-size mac and cheese craving.

For dinner, I had Velveeta Shells and Cheese with bits of bacon. One box allegedly contains 2.5 servings (at 360 calories per serving) but really, that is just crap. One box = one serving, best eaten by solo diners in pajamas while watching trashy television.

New York Times: Velveeta Shells and Cheese was one of the least appealing mac and cheeses sampled. “Velveeta, with its characteristic pouch of squishy cheese, was like pouring Cheez Whiz or, well, Velveeta, on pasta. But, if you could get past the slightly sour and harsh flavor of the goop, you might be able to enjoy the satiny texture.”

MeBeth: Wrong. All wrong. First of all, you wouldn’t have that sour/harsh flavor problem if you bought the kind with “real bacon pieces.” Second, pouring Cheez Whiz on pasta is exactly the point of store bought macaroni and cheese.

It should remind you of coming home from the college bars at 2am and gathering around with your roommates to rehash the night over hangover-preventing bowls of the stuff. (Constrained by poverty, we sometimes made ours with noodles and regular Kraft singles). It should taste not exactly cheesy, but more sharp and Yellow, somehow. I ate the whole box for dinner and it was scrumptious (in that gross, artificial flavor kind of way). It gets gluey in about 30 seconds, so eat fast. For me – it’s comfort in a bowl.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Are You Well Fed?

The Well Fed network is up and running! Well Fed is a “blog network” – basically a collection of blogs, each written by multiple bloggers. It’s a compendium of food writing on a variety of topics. Right now, the Well Fed network includes the following five blogs:

Growers & Grocers – a blog about the food industry, from pig to plate;

Paper Palate
– what’s hot and what stinks in all those magazines and newspapers piled up next to the couch;

The Spirit World
– Mmmm, drinks!

Sugar Savvy – I bet you have room for just one more bite…

Well Fed’s Main Site
– Your gateway to the Well Fed blogs.

Check it out!

Why, you ask, should I read the Well Fed network? Perhaps you say “hey, I read a lot of food blogs, I don’t need one more!”

First of all, if you’re family, you better march right on over and start reading ASAP! That’s right. Go to Paper Palate and look for the articles about the San Francisco Chronicle, because I wrote them. And keep your eyes peeled for Bon Appétit and Cook’s Illustrated. I wrote those too. What, don’t you love me? If you loved me you’d go read them. And by the way, you guys could leave me a comment now and then, eh?

Everyone else - just head on over to Well Fed because it’s good writing about good (and bad) food!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Creative Writing 101

Frances was already yelling at Boo and it wasn’t even 5:30. Boo and Frances didn’t normally cook together, but it was Friday night and there was a horse show in town. Speedy never showed up to prep, so I was covering my tables and running back to the kitchen whenever I could, to chop vegetables and slice lemon wedges skinny enough to fit inside a Corona bottle.

“Get your big black ass away from my flattop and go chop me some peppers and onions for these steak sandwiches,” she bellowed, poking at his forearm with the hot spatula.

“Frances, you just cant leave the chicken on like that - you’ve got to keep turning her or she’ll burn her skin.”

“Boo, if you don’t shut your fat mouth and get the hell away from me I swear I’m going to put rat poison in your burgers and kill half this town.”

I watched him retreat; the yellow bandanna print headscarf was the only part of him visible over the slicers and fridges that lined the walls of the prep area. Frances glared at me through beady eyes and muttered something about too many cooks. Her black eyes flashed and her freckled skin reddened. I grabbed table six’s chicken fingers, by the time I got there the cadets were staring longingly at their empty mugs and they dove into the pitcher as I sloshed it down onto the table.

It took nearly a half an hour to get an order from table eight - two sticky looking little girls in pink jumpers who requested that none of the food on their plates touch any other food and an old grandmother who had a list of dietary restrictions a mile long. I gave the granny our blue-hair special: grilled chicken breast, mashed potatoes and boiled cauliflower. Everything on the plate is colorless, tasteless and safe for diabetics, epileptics, phenylketonurics, insomniacs and even hypochondriacs. The girls got chicken fingers. Everyone under the age of 12 gets chicken fingers if I have any say in the matter. I bring them about eight different dipping sauces and the kids love me. Usually that guarantees at least 15%, especially because there’s no extra charge for the dipping sauces.

The couple at table ten smiled as I coaxed their little girls through their order. The wife looked like a local with her corduroy jumper and duck print turtleneck. Her accent confirmed it; when she ordered white toast for her turkey club, the letter “h” came out long and breathy. She grew up a townie, but her family had money. Most likely her father was a professor at the military academy. I turned to her husband to get his order and I gagged a little on my pen cap when he looked up at me.

“Good evening, Ms. Raisinhater” I pulled the slobbery cap out of my mouth, hoping he couldn’t see. The light blue “Palms” t-shirt brought out my eyes. I was wearing my short khaki skirt rather than the ugly denim one I wore only on Monday nights.

“Good evening, Professor Lawrence, can I take your order?”

“I didn’t know you worked here - must be tough to see your classmates in here drinking while you wait on them?”

“It’s not so bad. As their sole means of access to $3.50 pitchers, I am always the most popular woman in the room.”

“Understandably,” he chuckled.

Oh please dear Lord let that be some kind of innuendo. Please let him mean “understandably” in the sense that he finds me stunningly attractive, not unlike a ripe peach, rather than “understandably” in the sense that he got my dumb beer joke and perhaps wants me to hurry the hell up and bring his Sam Adams.

I ran the order back to the kitchen and found that Boo had replaced Frances at the flattop and was flipping about a hundred burgers and sticking little color coded toothpicks in them. I heard Frances cursing from the storeroom.

“Dammit Boo, where the hell is the damn chopper. How the hell can I be expected to keep this place running when you cant even keep track of the damn chopper for more than fifteen frigging seconds.” Marlboro smoke wafted out of the storeroom and we heard the sound of vegetable crates being overturned. Boo grinned at me and pointed to the chopper lying on the block where Frances had left it.

As I delivered the drinks to Professor Lawrence and his brood, I noticed his hand on his wife’s knee and I felt a stab through my heart. Actually it was more of a twitch in my ankle, probably from wearing heels to a job where I spend nine hours in a row standing up, but I attributed it to heartache. I knew he was married when I signed up for a second semester of administrative law; I was happy just watching him from the back row. His slick jeans, the sloppy oxfords with orange t-shirts underneath, brown sandals and sometimes even flip flops, the kind with the foam sole with rainbow strips along the outside. He was tan and lean and looked nothing like a law professor. He looked like an archeologist and I found myself sighing loudly every time I thought of him.

A horrific clanging came from the kitchen. Frances was clearly back in control and was ringing the bell for my pick up. As I grabbed the cadets’ sandwiches I glimpsed Boo and Frances, hip to hip, at the flattop. She was shoving him out of her way hard as he was deliberately splattering bacon drippings onto her veggie combo.

“You dumb shit, get away from that combo.”

“Frances, I’m just trying to get this bacon done. I hold no malice toward your damn veggie sandwich.”

“If that combo tastes like bacon fat you can be sure some skinny little bitch out there is gonna send it back to me. If that happens I can assure you that it will be you undertaking the chopping of a whole new batch of vegetables.”

Boo gave his Zen-man look and slid his big butt just a little closer to the center of the grill. I turned away because the cadets were again looking over with lust, this time at the tray of burgers they suspected were coming their way.

Happy New Year

The holidays were full of silly hats, wild debauchery, and lots of gifts for me.

As you can tell by my red cheeks, the holidays were also full of wine.

But now it's 2006 and time for sobriety and resolutions and all that awful stuff.

I’m not a fan of resolutions, and I’ve never had much success at anything involving willpower. One glass of wine and I’m craving the smokes. If there’s cheese in the fridge, it’s not there for long. Eventually I discovered that, for me, the most successful resolutions involve enhancing my life rather than depriving myself of something.

I don’t actually remember what I resolved to do last year, but let’s just pretend that it was “run the marathon” or “start a food blog” because I actually ended up accomplishing those things.

Like many food bloggers, I have a few new things I’d like to try and work on in 2006…

Bread – Learn to make it using my own starter.

Dessert – I don’t usually eat dessert, but that doesn’t mean the dinner guests aren’t sitting there craving something sweet. I need to expand my dessert repertoire beyond crepes, chocolate chip cookies, and ciao bella ice cream.

Scary Foods
– I need to use up or throw out some of those old scary foods and condiments lurking around the fridge before I poison someone.

Fish – It’s delicious (and sometimes even healthy), so why do I never cook it? If I could make the perfect fried fish tacos I’d be contributing significantly to my quality of life.

Wine - I love it so much, but I experiment so little. In 2006 I hope to find many new and affordable wines to add to my list of favorites.

I know there are more – I’ll add them as I remember them.

I'll be blogging more frequently in the next few weeks, so see ya tomorrow.