Category Archives: Food Worth Eating

It Was Time for Lunch.

I came home this afternoon from having spent most of the morning at banks, so I was already cranky and kind of depressed, on top of being ravenously hungry. It was time for lunch. It was time for comfort lunch. So I started prepping my favorite comfort ingredients – pasta, garlic, cheese, and pancetta. And then I looked in the fridge and found another zucchini and some more green beans, leftover from the CSA haul this week.

Liiiiight bulllllb.
(from “Despicable Me?” Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?)

Before I knew it, I not only felt a thousand times better about my day, but I also had a delicious, kinda-healthy lunch. I guess you could make it without the pancetta, but I don’t want to think about it. 😉

 

It was just perfect with the Italian lemonade, too. Magnifico!

I also just posted the recipe on the Recipes page. Enjoy these last few weeks of summer with some good food!


Today’s post is brought to you by the letters C, S, and A.

This week’s haul from the CSA:

  • Roma tomatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Green beans
  • Eggplant
  • Cucumber
  • Garlic
  • Chives
  • Callaloo
  • Bell peppers & jalapeños

 

First up? A stir fry. I cook stir-fry’s all the time, but it always – always – tastes so much better with actual fresh veggies. I can’t help but notice, every time I bring in the goodies from the CSA pick-up, that the veggies are so oddly shaped. I wonder, are they so visually unappealing that the local grocery stores wouldn’t carry them?

CSA veggies pre-stir fry

CSA stir fry finished

*          *          *          *

The tomatoes from the farm had been picked at such a perfect time that when I picked them out, they were already perfectly soft, so I needed to go ahead and use them quickly. Having just finished off several quart-sized freezer bags full of chopped tomatoes I’d frozen a while back, I was very eager to make some homemade pasta sauce from scratch. So I did.

tomato sauce

We made tomato sauce in a similar way with the kids at cooking camp last week, but when I went to write it down for the cookbook we gave them at the end of the week, I couldn’t even bring myself to reveal my favorite, sorta-secret ingredients! So this sauce – one of my very favorite things in the world – has been on my mind a lot lately. Imagine my delight at seeing those ripe, delicious-looking Romas sitting in those crates!

Making my favorite sauce tonight must have also caused the whimsical feeling that made me decide not to just scoop the sauce onto some pasta on a plate. I found a covered ramekin somewhere in the dark recesses of my cabinets and made myself a mini baked pasta casserole, with rosemary-olive oil breadcrumbs (I made those, too) and Parmiggiano Reggiano.

baked pasta

The cuteness of this dish has made me all sentimental, so I’ll be spending the rest of the evening curled up with a bit more wine and a very sappy, (and also a favorite) movie, trying not to think about how soon I’ll be back at work …


Cucina Miniscula

Long story short – I consider myself to be, more or less, an Italian home cook. I can cook a few Spanish dishes, a few French, a couple of Greek ones, even a couple of English ones (are there more than a couple? haha). But I really find myself constantly drawn to ingredients & techniques that are, above all, Italian.

I may or may not have Italian or Italian-American ancestry. There’s a lot of myth and mystery alike about that in my family. So I may not have an Italian-sounding name like Giada or something, but I can’t deny there is some kind of strong spiritual connection between Italy and my tiny kitchen (ahem … anyone know the patron saint of chefs/cooking?). Perhaps I should change the name of the blog to Cucina Miniscula.

Today, since I’m the latest person I know to give up cable in the name of financial stability, I was perusing the Cooking Channel website, and came across this: The Italian pantry essentials. I had been meaning to write a post on my own “pantry essentials” for quite some time, so when I came across that page, I thought: There’s no time like the present. And so, in no particular order, and without further ado …

Lemons. I’m never without lemons, or at the very least, lemon juice. North Carolina isn’t a big citrus-growing region, so I figure I might as well buy them year-round if they’re going to have to come from California anyway. I buy them by the bagful. There are very few things, in my opinion and experience, that a little lemon zest can’t improve. Tuna salad? Pasta with seasonal veggies? Warmed up Chinese leftovers? Even vanilla ice cream (trust me – just a dash, it’s amazing, and very Italian) takes to a bit of lemon like a fish to water. It’s my favorite way to make a dish taste like summer – my favorite time of year.

Pasta. I’m going to learn to make my own fresh pasta this summer. I bought the machine and everything. In the meantime, I always have some decent storebought dried pasta. Lately I’ve gone back to the less-waistline-friendly “white” pasta, but I still keep the whole wheat stuff around. There’s something very comforting about knowing that no matter what else happened that day, or how little cash I have at any given moment, there’s always a comforting bowl of pasta a few minutes away at home.

Grains. Ever since I read Food Matters, I’m a huge believer in the power of whole grains. My personal favorite is farro. I’ve even started eating farro for breakfast with a bit of yogurt!

Olive Oil. Until recently, I didn’t pay much attention to the varying degrees of quality in olive oils. I’m still generally fine with whatever the supermarket has (even their in-house brand is good enough for me), but I recently had my mind opened to the wonderfulness that comes with a truly beautifully crafted, delicious olive oil. NC foodie folks, I suggest you check out Green Gate Olive Oils on Stratford Road in Winston-Salem (or down in Pinehurst). They are super-nice, you can taste olive oils and balsamic vinegars all day long, and I promise you’ll find a new favorite ingredient. Plus – olive oil is SO good for you!

Vinegar. I literally have five different kinds of vinegar in my cabinet right now. My most-used is probably balsamic (currently enjoying the heck out of a red apple balsamic from Green Gate!), but one of my most popular dishes lately has been a potato salad that uses Champagne vinegar. And I’m not sure where I learned this; it might be some kind of subliminal message from Mama Italia, but … a few dashes of balsamic vinegar in homemade tomato sauce will make WORLDS of difference.

Pork. In various forms. I’m not into many actual pork dishes (although my own mamma made an awesome pork Milanese last week when my brother and I visited – molto bene!). But I have found pancetta to be a nearly-indispensable starting point for some seriously good eating. Hell, I cook it up with scrambled eggs for a bacon-and-eggs treat, and it’s a well-known fact among my friends that the only I’ll eat melon is with prosciutto wrapped around it.

Spices. Easily the most overcrowded section of the pantry (isn’t it like that in every home cook’s kitchen?), but there are a few can’t-live-without-‘em, must-have go-tos here. Fresh garlic, obviously. Usually a couple of shallots (I use them so much more frequently than regular onions that I keep ‘em with the garlic in the spice cupboard). Red pepper flakes, powdered cayenne pepper, paprika, dried oregano & thyme, bay leaves – those are the ones I actually have to replace because I run out, not because they’ve been in there forever.

Stock. Almost always chicken, and almost always homemade. Making stock is possibly the simplest kitchen task there is. I usually buy chicken whole or in bits other than breast cuts, so there’s often a good bit of “breaking down” to do before I actually prepare a dish or put things away in the freezer. Those broken down parts are what stock is made of! It’s so much better than canned, and it’s classic “waste not, want not.”

Cheese. Much like the selection of vinegars & olive oils in my pantry, I usually also have quite a variety in the fridge at any given time. I have yet to find an Italian recipe involving pecorino Romano that I don’t absolutely love, and you can’t beat a few slices of good Cheddar with a bit of good bread for a simple midday meal.

Butter & flour. I put these two together because I use them together, more often than not. Bêchamel sauce (aka mac & cheese – I’m fancy like that), cream sauce – all those classic, decadent European sauces start with a roux of butter & flour. For me, lately, the basic roux has been a springboard into discovering all kinds of flavors for sauces, casseroles, and more.

Tomato. I realize this is the one perishable (well, maybe other than cheese) on my list, but I’m really including puree, canned, crushed, whatever. Like I said about pasta, there aren’t many easier, faster, or more comforting quick meals than pasta and tomato sauce, and with a box of pasta and a can of tomatoes in my pantry, that comfort is never more than a few minutes away.

Last, but certainly not least …

Beer and/or wine. Actually, it’s rare that I’ll have both on hand. I am not a big believer in “saving” wines for “special occasions,” or whatever other silly reasons. If there’s wine in my house, it’s going into my belly one way or another. There are always two glasses of wine out when I’m cooking – one for me and one for whatever’s on the stove. As for beer, I’ve long acknowledged that I have beer-snob tendencies (although, still can’t beat dollar-domestics night at the local bar …), and this summer is the summer when I put my snobbery to the test as I learn about and attempt home brewing with my best friend Lisa. Much “taste testing” of different brews and styles has happened over the last few weeks and I think we’re actually going to try and make our own very soon.

 

On a somewhat related note, my dear friend and fellow blogger Healthy Mika just recently posted her entry into the “ABCs of Food” trend that’s making the rounds. As always, her post is excellently written, insightful, down-to-earth, and downright inspiring. And if you peruse her blog carefully you may get to see several embarassing photos of yours truly.

Buon apetito!

photo 4 (5)

photo 3 (7)


Velocium quam asparagi coquantur

(or, a very nerdy post about asparagus)

 

Those great foodies, the ancient Romans, used this Latin expression to describe doing something quickly – meaning, “in the time it takes to cook asparagus.” And, like most good things in ancient Roman culture, asparagus was stolen from the Greeks. In the centuries since, asparagus has become an important vegetable to most European and several American cuisines, and in my tiny kitchen, it’s a staple.

You have to plan ahead with asparagus, especially during its very short season. Basically, if you’re able to buy absolutely fresh asparagus (grown no more than an hour or two away from where you plan to cook it), first of all, you should; and second, you should cook it as soon as possible. Of course this is true of pretty much all veggies but asparagus is particularly particular. Most folks recommend storing asparagus upright in a bowl or glass with a little water in the bottom. Turns out, not only should they be stored like flowers, they more or less are flowers, as part of the extended lily family. And, like flowers, you shouldn’t eat the dried-out or slimy ones. Er … hang on …

Of course, for most of us, decently good imported asparagus is almost always available. And – let’s be honest – most of us wouldn’t know the difference. Asparagus can grow pretty much anywhere there’s good, sandy soil, but it’s actually a perennial plant and has to occupy its space on the farm plot permanently, meaning it’s costing the farmer the space to grow it all the time and not just during its short season, on top of the price increase from having it shipped to your local supermarket. Most people who are determined enough to eat that many veggies in their diets are going to pay the out-of-season prices of asparagus to get it year-round – and why shouldn’t they?

Asparagus is good just about any old way – my personal favorite is to roast it, especially in a little olive oil and some bread crumbs (feeling indulgent? Throw some mozzarella on there, too). It’s also amazingly tender and perfectly salty when wrapped in prosciutto and gently roasted or grilled. This weekend I’m hoping to serve some just barely warmed, with some Old Bay aioli – ready and delicious, in the time it takes to cook the asparagus.

(photos by kpeeples/MPC 2011)

Sources
Asparagus. Retrieved 27 May, 2011 from http://cooksinfo.com/asparagus.

Asparagus. Retrieved 27 May, 2011 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/asparagus.

Herbst, S. & Herbst, R (2007). The New Food Lover’s Companion.


“Moderation can be overdone!”

“Suds & Sustainability Beer School Event” – Lucky32 & Great Lakes Brewing Company

I looked forward to this event for weeks, and I was not disappointed. I would doubt very seriously if anyone in the sold-out room was, either!

tasting menuThe menu

I had previously tried almost all the beers on the tasting menu, but never with a designated food pairing. One of the first things I learned, starting with the Dortmunder Gold, was that Great Lakes’ beers are excellent onphoto 1 (5) their own, but truly exceptional when paired with the right food. With the Dortmunder, we had two pork liver-based dishes. I strongly preferred the boudin (a Louisiana favorite) to the pudding, but as Chef Pierce himself said, if you call it “sausage,” folks will eat it. The real bond here between the beer and the food was the whole grain German-style mustard; the spice of the mustard brought out a really surprising spiciness in the hops in the beer.

photo 3 (3)
Amanda from Great Lakes and Chef Pierce

My personal favorite of Great Lakes’ many offerings going into this event has long been Eliot Ness, the amber lager. I’m a big fan of amber lagers anyway; my own local brewery, Natty Greene’s, makes an awesome amber lager called Buckshot. And if I learned from the first course that I needn’t have been concerned about the liver pudding (I agree, it should just be called “sausage,” it doesn’t even look appealing as I type the words myself), maybe I should have been a bit less optimistic about the smoked trout crostini. I think I was expecting a slightly tangier chevre, and the trout didn’t stand out to me. But the really, truly pleasant surprise was the butterscotch/sherry vinegar dress. With the amber lager, it was sublimely delicious. I even forgot to snap a photo before we ate up all the crostini.

A pale ale, called Burning River, was the third course. While I like this beer on its own a lot, pale ale in general isn’t my favorite (though I think this one might have the cleverest name in the Great Lakes lineup of very clever names). I still really enjoyed the pale ale here, but was less impressed with the food course. Chef Pierce explained that he had intended to serve portobellos photo 3 (4)rather than shiitakes, and I think that would have made a big difference had he been able. The mild little shiitake just got overwhelmed by the salty bread crumb & bleu cheese “stuffing.” The beer did cut the saltiness really well, and I think that probably makes it the most all-purpose of Great Lakes’ beers for informal, chips & dip-type gatherings. And – sorry, Chef – the pickled green cherry/grape tomatoes just didn’t do it for me.

Two very intensely-flavored beers made up the fourth & fifth courses: Doppelrock (a double bock named for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) andphoto 5 Commodore Perry (an Imperial IPA), and they came along with intensely flavored dishes. The Doppelrock was paired with a house recipe meatloaf which, although everyone at our table had different ideas about what was in or why, everyone also agreed was absolutely delicious. The meatloaf seemed to combine the saltiness of the previous course (though it came from the bacon the meatloaf was wrapped in, so less intense) and the spiciness of the first course, and the beer brought both qualities out beautifully.

The Ephoto 1 (4)nglish-style IPA was quite surprising in how delicious it was on its own, and it was only better with the pulled pork & cornbread it came with. That cornbread, in my opinion, is one of the finest things that Lucky 32 serves. I wish they’d sell it by the loaf. And if they did. I’d buy it and pick up some Commodore Perry IPA on the way home. Not surprisingly, Chef Pierce does pulled pork barbeque and cornbread very, very well.

Finally (and a little sadly), the meal came to an end with a half-glass of Edmund Fitzgerald porter and some intensely chocolatey whoopee pies. Chef Pierce made an awfully fancy cake/cookie batter for these, from a recipe for Fphoto 2 (4)rench chocolate cake, and I could have eaten those on their own all night. But, throw in a giant homemade marshmallow, and along with that amazing porter and the chocolate overdrive,  I can’t think of a better end to the experience.

The theme of yesterday’s tasting event was Earth Day and sustainability. Lucky 32 maintains an excellent reputation for its (and its chefs’)dedication to local food & farm development. That reputation has surely been affirmed by this event, and I’m sure that more than a few new Lucky 32 fans were made. And for people like me, who love to cook and (more importantly) love to eat, and are constantly learning about new & exciting ways to do both, the educational experience provided by Great Lakes was invaluable. The local breweries here are wonderful and most of them do a great job of making their beers sustainably, but I’d really love to see them doing more of the kind of outreach that Great Lakes has taken on. I’m a Southern gal and a Southern cook, but I couldn’t help but smile at their comment that Great Lakes is working “to turn the Rust Belt into a Green Belt.” That’s exactly the kind of thinking we need so badly around here, and I’m so thrilled and proud that we have restaurants like Lucky 32 and forward-thinking chefs like Jay Pierce.

See for yourself:
Great Lakes beer is available at most local supermarkets.
http://www.greatlakesbrewing.com/
Lucky 32 is located just off of Wendover Ave in Greensboro.
http://www.lucky32.com/greensboro.htm


Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Pan-Fried Eggplant & Lemon Basil Pesto Pasta

Ever since last night, when I wrote my sad post about missing the fruits (literally – and veggies too) of summer, I tried to think of ways to make my meals this week taste more summery. One of the first ingredients to come to mind was lemon.

There’s something very bright, uplifting, and colorful about a lemon. It’s visually appealing, of course, and if you want to taste summer, it’s hard to beat, in my opinion. For me, lemons are a summer staple. I use them with pasta & pesto, on sautéed or pan-fried veggies, or – my personal favorite – on seafood (steamed, broiled, boiled, or grilled – any old way, really).

And therein lies the problem with this attempt at eating summery dishes in January in this part of the U.S.: The right ingredients just aren’t in season. I mentioned in my last post how it’s difficult to “eat local” when the most readily available local produce this time of year is, well, a bit limiting. This, to me, seems a blessing and a curse. I can buy pretty decent lemons at the supermarket in the wintertime. Does that mean I should? What about the other citrus on display? Or the other fruit? Or veggies, like squash and zucchini? Because its origin is slightly less certain this time of year, should I avoid it?

No. And I won’t. For plenty of foods (including lemons & other citrus), as long as the quality is excellent and the price is within reason, I’m all for it. I’ve been able to trust the produce at my local supermarket thus far, and I’ll buy LOADS of fresh, locally grown zucchini, and summer squash, and even lemons when they’re here in a few months. They’ll forget my name at the supermarket, come summer.

And what about seafood? Well, friends, there I draw the line. It took me a good long while to trust “inland” seafood, having experienced it at its freshest in my childhood summers in Charleston. I’m willing to believe that a particular catch was caught recently, if the calendar is turned to June or July, but I won’t be fooled in January.

Tonight, I put my bag of lemons to use and made a lemon-basil pesto for some pasta, and also squeezed some fresh onto my pan-fried eggplant (another wintertime import to these parts). Throughout the week, I’ll be compiling some dishes to remind me (and you) of summer. Feel free to comment with ingredient suggestions, or drop me a tweet (@petite_cuisine) or two. Later on in the week, I’ll put up a list of the recipes. Meanwhile … make some lemonade, y’all!

The last bite


Evolution of a Lunch

I got up early this morning, not exactly happily since it’s a school holiday and I should be able to sleep in, but (thankfully) in time to get to my 2nd job. As I began to plan out my day in my head, I mentally left blank the space for lunch, not having any idea what I wanted -or what would be available – to eat. This is the rest of the story from there.

9:40 AM, arrive at work, remember there are leftover sweet potatoes in my fridge. That’ll work for lunch.

11:05 AM, take a break, start to think I’ll stop by a Starbucks on my way back home for a day-off treat. Remember I still have a gift card I can use there – bonus.

1:05 PM, stomach starts to rumble as I wait on a student’s mom to pick her up (class ended at 1:00 … grrr).

1:20 PM, start to head home, decide to skip Starbucks, afraid I’ll order too much since I’m so hungry.

1:45 PM, at home, realize I’ll need lunch to take to school tomorrow. Then realize I still have pancetta I need to use before it goes bad. I put on water to cook some pasta and then slice up the pancetta.

1:50 PM, notice the dried shiitakes in the fridge. Pull some out, then add some of the boiling water for the pasta to “reanimate” the mushrooms. Add two servings worth of pasta.

2:05 PM, add mushrooms and pancetta to hot pan & brown. Notice the mushrooms are getting a bit crispy but keep them in anyway.

2:10 PM, assemble pasta with mushrooms, pancetta, and pecorino. I help myself to about a quarter of it, and then reach for the leftover sweet potatoes after all. Zap a couple of forkfuls of the potatoes for a few seconds to enjoy as a “dessert.”

2:15 PM, bon appetit!

I never want to write a boring, here’s-what-I-ate-today sort of blog. I only do it here to demonstrate how much I enjoy a day off, when I can cook my lunch. It’s so much more satisfying than just microwaving last night’s leftovers (although, most of the time, that’s a close second). The evolution here, of going from mere leftovers to something more original, is often the highlight of a day like today. And as my fellow teachers and I head into the most dreary, longest stretch of our year, I know I’ll find myself missing days like this – cooked lunches – more and more.