I start my new job on Monday. Since last night was date night and I wasn’t going to be cooking dinner, I decided to make a little something to share with my coworkers at the place I’m leaving today. Let me just say that I might have to reconsider this whole “not baking” thing. This was really, really good. Thanks, Dorie.
I’m taking the rest of the week off. There’s a lot going on right now for me personally, and honestly, the events of this week have left a really bad taste in my mouth.
Back soon, I hope.
“The holder of a copyright reserves the sole right to publish a work, and is entitled to take legal action against infringement.”
— (from Wiktionary)
Some of you know that I work with lawyers, but what you may not know is that specifically, we deal with Intellectual Property law. Infringement of IP rights is something I take very seriously, so when I learned (via Haalo and Pim) that Chef Jasper J. Mirabile, Jr. had passed off my photo of an heirloom tomato and goat cheese tart (blogged here, last year) as his own, I was, to put it mildly, furious.
Mr. Mirabile, the “all rights reserved” license on my photo apparently means nothing to you, but it certainly means a hell of a lot to me. And how dare you. How dare you.
You’ve already taken my photo down so I’m content to simply lodge a complaint about you with Blogspot and to point out, as others have, that you’re a thief and a fraud, and I will thank you (and anyone else who might be so inclined) to NEVER, EVER use my content without permission. We food bloggers look out for each other. You will be found out.
I always love reading your comments and emails – it brings such a smile to my face knowing that this little blog has touched so many people near and far, and honestly, you guys are what keeps me going at times (like now) when I’m so busy I barely have time to think. And I know I’m not always great at responding to questions in a timely fashion, but I hope to get better at that. To start, I’ll answer a question from Nadia in Calgary, Alberta (Hi, Nadia!) – she writes:
…if you don’t mind me asking, what is your weekly budget for food? Any recommendations for cutting costs without losing your dignity as a chef?
With respect to our food budget, I’ll be honest – we don’t really have a set amount that we hold ourselves to for the week. It varies, depending on the time of year and our circumstances. For instance, things were pretty tight for us in the month after our move since I wasn’t working, and we had to really stretch things, food-wise. I was really grateful at the time that we had moved so much of the contents of our freezer and pantry with us, because I was able to base meals on the beans and grains we had on hand, incorporate meats here and there, and spend most of our food money on fresh produce, eggs, dairy and bread.
There are times when we are able to be a little more extravagant, and it’s those times when you’ll see the occasional gourmet items sneak in – a little foie gras here, tenderloin there, etc. And there are times like now, at the height of summer, when we spend the majority of our food money at the farmers’ markets we frequent. There’s so much good stuff in season right now, so we’re trying to fit as much of it into our meals as possible.
We generally try to have one meatless dinner per week year-round, but in the summertime, we’ll do so more often. This week we fit in three: our squash blossom-topped tomato soup on Monday, a not-very-photogenic casserole on Tuesday, and on Thursday, this summer vegetable soup, loaded with fresh tomatoes, summer squash, kale, and string and shell beans from the farmers’ market, plus some of my homemade chicken stock:
We spent about $100 at the farmers’ market yesterday, and another $100 at Whole Foods; last week we spent $140 at the farmers’ market and $120 at Whole Foods. Some of what we bought is “stock up” type stuff that we have stashed away for future use, and some will be used a little at a time over several meals – for instance, a whole duck which Mike will break down after it’s thawed, some of which will be smoked, some prepared as confit, the bones and wings made into stock, the fat rendered and reserved, etc. The $15 we spent on that duck will go a long way.
We do love our meat, and we have no intention of giving it up, but the way we eat meat has changed for both ethical and financial reasons. We try to buy more unusual cuts, like these lamb shoulder chops, rather than rib chops or a rack. They’re far less expensive but just as tasty, which helps us keep our budget in check. Likewise, choosing bluefish, sardines or mackerel instead of salmon or halibut from time to time allows us to enjoy luscious and heart-healthy fatty fish, with less of an impact on both our budget and the environment. And instead of cooking up a steak for each of us, these days we’re more likely to split one, slicing it and serving it with plenty of veggies and other accompaniments to dress it up.
Finally, we try to use as much as possible of what we buy. Heels of bread or hunks that have gone slightly stale get turned to breadcrumbs or croutons; our freezer is filled with bones and trimmings all waiting to be turned into stock; leftovers are either eaten for lunch or given new life in other dishes. Our freezer is always full, with stuff rotating in and out constantly, and periodic inventories taken to make sure things don’t get lost in the shuffle.
Now, we cook for two most nights, and what we spend on food for the two of us each week may seem excessive, but we have made a conscious decision to spend more on the best quality food we can afford – it’s a priority for us, moreso than going to see movies or traveling or buying non-essentials. And we really have no real-life experience with what goes into cooking for a family, with their varied tastes and requirements – maybe we will, someday, and I hope that we’ll continue to eat as locally and sustainably as possible, whatever the cost. Mike and I do realize how lucky we are that we live comfortably and can make these choices; I’ve said before I know that many can’t, but I hope that at least some of the tips I’ve mentioned above are things you can incorporate into your own cooking, regardless of your personal situation.
My week has been… more than a little crazy, but one very high point was Wednesday night’s getting-to-know-you barbecue with the lovely folks we rent from and the newest tenant at the house. Mike provided one of his fabulous grilled chickens, and I made two contributions. First, this white bean and red pepper dip with lots of fresh summer veggies – a little something to nosh on while the grilling took place (and while we enjoyed drinks and conversation).
My second contribution was something I was really happy with – a grilled bread panzanella with peaches and basil. I’ve been in love with the combination of peaches and basil since last summer, and have been even more in love with adding grilled wholegrain bread cubes to summer salads lately, so this was a natural combination of both. I dressed it in a mixture of good balsamic vinegar, some citrus champagne vinegar, local honey, sea salt, lots of freshly ground black pepper, and our very best olive oil, and it was a hit – a fun change from the standard tomato panzanella and definitely something I’ll make again.
Grilled Bread Salad with Peaches and Basil
3-4 1-inch thick slices of hearty multigrain boule (I used Seven Stars multigrain, but any hearty multi will do)
1-2 tablespoons each aged balsamic and champagne vinegar
Kosher or sea salt plus freshly ground black pepper
a heaping teaspoon of local honey
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional to rub on the bread
2 fat ripe peaches
2 cups loosely packed whole basil leaves
flaky sea salt (like Maldon) for finishing
Rub the bread slices with olive oil on both sides and grill them over the cool side of a grill (you can also run them under a broiler or use a grill pan for this) until they are nicely toasted. Set aside to cool slightly, then cut into about 1 inch chunks. Add the vinegars to a large bowl with a good pinch of salt and several grindings of pepper. Whisk in the honey and the olive oil until the dressing is emulsified. Cut the peaches into chunks of about the same size as the bread cubes, and toss them with the dressing. Add the bread cubes and the basil leaves, tossing just before serving, and finishing with a sprinkle of flaky salt and additional pepper, if desired.
My friend Andrew over at Very Good Taste came up with a fun little meme which I couldn’t resist. Want to play along? It’s simple:
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at http://www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.
The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile (does Alligator count?)
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
10. Baba ghanoush
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (…what?)
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects (not a cross-out, though I’m iffy on this one)
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
47. Chicken tikka masala
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
60. Carob chips
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
79. Lapsang souchong
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant (no, but I’ve had lunch at Le Bernardin)
85. Kobe beef
89. Horse (see #42)
90. Criollo chocolate
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
I think I’ve spoken before of my fondness for Rhode Island-style calamari, but did you know that most of the squid served in restaurants in this country is actually from the waters off little Rhody? I didn’t until I read an article about it in the Spring 2008 issue of Edible Rhody magazine, and since then I’ve happily indulged in this local treat whenever possible.
I’ve lamented the fact that, to my surprise, fresh local seafood can be difficult to find in stores around here, but our nearby Whole Foods often has plenty of Point Judith squid available. It’s inexpensive and plentiful, and I picked up a pound of it recently hoping to make it the focus of a meal.
I had originally planned to go in a slightly different direction here, but I settled on a salad infused with Spanish flavors, mixing up a smoked Spanish paprika and sherry vinaigrette to dress the smoky grilled squid and warm potatoes. Chopped shallot and celery added some crunch, and plenty of fresh celery leaves and parsley provided an herbal bite. The finishing touch was a few slivers of fresh red chile pepper, which imparted a gentle heat and pop of color.
Every time I think the market can’t possibly have more beautiful summer produce to offer, I’m proven wrong – it’s almost too much of a good thing. It’s hard for me to exercise restraint with so much bounty before me, and when I bring it all home it’s important not to let it go to waste.
Luckily, we love our veggies, and this time of year it’s easy to load up on them. This salad was the first of many main dish versions I have planned for the week, and it features two southern favorites: fried green tomatoes and fried okra. I did a basic dredge, first in a mixture of buttermilk and beaten egg, then coated the tomatoes and okra in seasoned flour and cornmeal, and fried them in batches until crisp and golden. I arranged them on a bed of young, peppery arugula leaves, drizzling them with a buttermilk-Tabasco vinaigrette. A smattering of halved yellow and red grape tomatoes came next, and to gild the lily a wee bit more, I topped each plate with a poached egg.
One of the things we both loved about this salad was the interplay between the tart and crusty green tomatoes and the sweet fresh ones. The dressing was a total experiment, but a successful one, providing a little bit of heat and becoming creamier as it mixed with the egg yolk.