25 May 2007

My Plans for Sainthoood

Coconut-Braised Short Ribs and Sweet Potatoes

I think I chose the wrong career. I should have gone into sainthood.
The reason being is that I have developed a marketing strategy that is going to help my friends who are smokers live longer: Package every pack of cigarettes with a sweet potato. Everyone who buys a pack of smokes gets a free sweet potato!

Why? Smoking (or inhaling second-hand smoke) depletes the body of vitamin A. Low levels of vitamin A are linked to emphysema of the lungs and several types of cancer, including that of the lung and heart. Sweet potatoes are high in beta carotene, which the liver converts to vitamin A. So if you breathe in a lot of smoke, your lungs will be in better shape if you can replenish your body with copious vitamin A. Read more if you don’t believe me.

As if this superhuman super-vegetable quality wasn’t enough, the sweet potato also is also a good source of copper, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, potassium, and iron, and an even better source of vitamin C and manganese.

Are you ready for more?
The beta carotenes in sweet potatoes make these root vegetables a high souce of antioxidants, which boost the immune system.

Should I keep going?
A food containing anti-inflammatory nutrients, sweet potatoes are also very healthy for those with asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

Wait! There’s more!
It hasn’t been proven yet, but there are studies being done that are exploring the effects of sweet potato on people with diabetes. It is hypothesized that sweet potatoes help stabilize blood sugar levels and lower insulin resistance.

Enabling my smoker friends (as well as smokers around the world) to live longer is Plan A for reaching sainthood status. If it doesn’t work, fear not, I have a back-up plan:

I will write a catchy, rhyming song to promote the new packaged deal. The melody will ring through the ears of the nation, and everyone will want to sing along, and then the whole country will be singing the same song all at once and it will be so inspiring that all my smoker friends will want to live longer so that they can keep singing the song forever and ever, so then they will all quit smoking and proclaim me a saint. I also hope that they will all give me a percentage of what they would have spent on cigarettes for the rest of their lives, and then I will be a rich saint, because those are the best kind.

Coconut-Braised Short Ribs and Sweet Potatoes
(because beef is better for you than smoking)
~a Fancy Toast original recipe

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 lb. short ribs, bone-in
1 large onion, chopped coarsely
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons ginger, chopped or grated
1 stick lemongrass, cut lengthwise and smashed with the end of a knife
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 15 oz. cans coconut milk (you can use low-fat if you like)
1/2 cup orange juice
2 cups chicken broth
1 handful cilantro stems, bundled together in cheesecloth or in a teaball

3 sweet potatoes, cut into 1” cubes
1 handful of cilantro leaves

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Farenheit.

Pat the short ribs dry with a paper towel. Rub salt and pepper into all sides of the meat.
In a Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. Brown the short ribs, taking care not to crowd the ribs or else they will not brown properly. Do in 2 batches if necessary.
Remove the ribs from the heat and set aside (the lid of the Dutch oven works perfectly for this…it’s going to get dirty anyway, right?)

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the onions and let soften for a few minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, lemongrass, and pepper, and cook until the garlic is fragrant.
Place the short ribs and any accumulated juices back in the Dutch oven, nestling them in one layer, if possible. Add the coconut milk and the orange juice. Add the chicken broth, until the broth is just barely covering the meat. If you don’t use all of the chicken broth, that’s fine. If you need more liquid, add more chicken broth or water.
Place the cilantro stems into the broth.

Cover the Dutch oven and place in the oven. After ten minutes, check the liquid and make sure that it is not bubbling too aggressively. If it is at more than a gentle simmer, turn the heat down.

Cook for thirty minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and cook for about another hour, until the meat and the potatoes are tender.

Remove the cilantro stems from the broth, ladle into individual bowls, and garnish with cilantro leaves.

16 May 2007

Polenta Flipbook

Flipbook Instructions:

Print out the following photographs.
Use scissors to cut along the edge of each picture.
Stack the photographs into a booklet, making sure to maintain the same order as shown below.
Holding the lower left corner of the booklet with your left hand, use your right thumb to flip the pages quickly from front to back.
Watch the polenta in action, prepared like they used to in the countryside of Northern Italy!

Place a marble slab on the countertop.

Pour hot polenta over the marble slab and spread out evenly.

Spread it good, polenta man.

Spoon the topping over the polenta.

Sprinkle with parmesan shavings.

Painstakingly wait for polenta to harden from the coolnes of the marble slab. Sip wine and pretend to flirt with polenta man, but really, all you can think about is polenta.

The polenta has now cooled enough to be sliced into individual pieces.

Thanks, polenta man.

Behold the polenta at Enoteca Roma, a restaurant and wine bar that prides itself on its rustic preparation of polentaria. The dish is assembled in front of you, and you can literally see the polenta hardening on the marble slab while you wait for it to cool. The main course served atop my polenta was salsiccia e funghi, a savory mixture of crimini mushrooms and sausage...soon I will need to go back soon to taste the corvara (venison Bolognese and parmigiano) and quattro formaggi (Letizia's four-cheese sauce).

Although I do not consider myself a very good tinkerer in the kitchen (generally I need a recipe), I am considering a serious attempt to tinker away and try this technique out at home.

In the meantime, while you wait for me to figure out a decent recipe and post it, visit Enoteca Roma and taste their polenta. You might even see me there. I would be the one sneaking out the door with my new marble slab. Sssssshhh, don't tell polenta man.

Enoteca Roma
2144-2166 W. Division St.
Chicago, IL 60622

13 May 2007

Reasons Why I Haven’t Been Blogging Lately

Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Brazil Nut Pesto

Reasons Why I Haven’t Been Blogging Lately:

1. I’ve been on a diet ha ha ha ha ha ha.
2. I’ve been training for space travel.
3. My teleporting skills have been discovered and the government has been dissecting my brain. Meanwhile, the scientists are loaning me a temporary brain. I have a sneaking suspicion that it might be the brain of a monkey because I really can’t think of anything to write lately and I have been resisting strong urges to eat banana peels and hurl turds at people.
4. I have won the lottery and I’ve been making lists of who I like and don’t like and who I will share my money with and who doesn’t get any. Anyone who comments on this post automatically gets $100.
5. I’ve been spending all my spare time figuring out the HTML code for strikethrough.

Truthfully, I have no excuse for not posting regularly. Maybe the beautiful weather has been keeping me outside. But before the weather gets too warm, you need to know about this delicious cauliflower soup from Heidi Swanson's new book. I slurped it up steaming hot, but next time I make it, I just might try it cold.

If you haven’t heard about Heidi Swanson’s new book, Super Natural Cooking, let me tell you a little about it. The author of the blog 101 Cookbooks has created a gorgeous and inspiring cookbook. She teaches you how to use natural ingredients to make delicious and satisfying meals. Instead of being scared away by ‘health food,’ readers can learn about her unique approach to the preparation of vegetables, beans, whole-grains, and other whole foods. The photography is all her own, and the pages are done in a soft, matte finish, which enhances the natural concept of the book. Having made the sweet potato spoon bread, shredded green beans with lemon-lime zest and snipped chives, golden-crusted brussels sprouts, giant crusty and creamy white beans with greens, and this cauliflower soup, I can say that all the buzz her book is creating is well deserved. Yum.

The soup is quick and easy to prepare, and while the flavors are simmering, you can get the pesto ready. The hardest part is making the swirl. In lieu of a swirl, a dollop would suffice.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Brazil Nut Pesto
from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking

For the Soup:
3 tablespoons clarified butter or extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 large potato peeled and chopped
1 ½ pounds cauliflower, coarsely chopped
5 cups vegetable stock or water
1/3 cup heavy cream or Cashew Cream
fine-grain sea salt (I used kosher salt, still good)

For the Pesto:
½ cup toasted Brazil nutes (I only had pine nuts, still good)
2 handfuls spinach leaves, stemmed
4 cloves garlic
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
generous pinch of fine-grain sea salt (I used kosher)

Heat the butter in a soup pot over medium-high heat, add the garlic, onion, and red pepper flakes and sauté for 2 or 3 minutes, until translucent. Stir in the potato and cauliflower and cook for another couple of minutes. Add the stock, bring to a simmer, and cook until the vegetables are tender. Remove from the heat and puree thoroughly with a handheld immersion blender. Stir in the cream and season to taste.

To Make the Pesto:
Puree all the ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Taste and add more salt if needed.

Ladle the soup into individual bowls, drop a spoonful of pesto in each one, and use a knife or toothpick to swirl.

a spoonful of pesto (who needs the soup?)

05 May 2007

Self-Pity Pie

Chocolate Cookie Banana Peanut Butter Pie

I think I read somewhere that when something good happens to a friend, you should be happy for said friend. I can't remember where I read that, but I don't think it's true, because something good is happening to some of my friends, and I am violently fluctuating between being happy for them and insanely jealous of them.

What has happened to my friends that has caused my dark envy to rear its ugly head? They are becoming rock stars, that’s what’s happening. Indie rock stars (the cool kind).

Two of the girls in my string quartet are currently on a U.S. and European tour with the popular indie rock band Bright Eyes. The other one is about to go on another tour with her wonderful Chicago-based band, The 1900s. Two of them have played with Kanye West, one of them with Sufjan Stevens, two with Rilo Kiley, and one with Pinetop Seven. Why haven't I played with these bands, you ask? Well, I play the viola. Enough said. My track to stardom was over the day I learned how to read alto clef.

Quickly working their way up the indie rock ladder, my rock star friends will soon be sporting their own entries in Wikipedia, and Pitchfork readers will recognize them instantly when they walk into any bar or coffehouse across the nation.

OK fine, maybe I have had a small taste of their rock-star status when I got to play on the Oprah show with Il Divo.
But I hate Il Divo.
So it doesn't count.

Getting back to self-pity. Let us compare the life of my rock star friends to my miserable existence. hate them poke them in the eyes with their bows
1. My rock star friends gallivant about the planet, seeing interesting people and places everyday, exposed to the wonders of the world. I gallivant to the suburbs.
2. My rock star friends wake up at noon. I wake up at not-noon.
3. My rock star friends will soon be feasting on Parisian brie and baguettes. I will be feasting on cafeteria tater tots and the occasional Einstein’s Bagel if I am lucky to get out to the strip malls once in awhile.
4. My rock star friends have new MacBooks to check their email while they travel on their state-of-the-art wi-fi tour buses. I have a new toilet bowl scrubber. Suck it, Apple.
5. My rock star friends wear cute indie rock outfits all the time and get to show their cleavage. I am lucky if I can find something cute that's not a mock turtleneck.

So that I don’t collapse into a wallowing heap of self-loathing (which is important to do once in awhile but I like to save that for days where my only clean article of clothing is a mock turtleneck), allow me to list what I perceive to be downsides to the rock star lifestyle.

1. My rock star friends can’t make espresso on the road. When they buy coffee at a coffeehouse, they have no control over the quality of coffee they drink. Meanwhile, I am lucky to have a husband who ensures that I will have a quality cup of espresso every day of my life. Unless he dies before me. Which I’m pretty sure he will. But let us not think about that at this time.
2. My rock star friends can’t do yoga whenever they want. Whereas I can break out into sirshasana (head stand) whenever it suits my fancy. I think my fourth graders would definitely remember anything I teach them if I was teaching it to them while balancing upside-down.
3. My rock star friends aren’t allowed to poop on the tour bus. I can poop pretty much whenever. Can you imagine how awkward it must be when you have to poop on a tour bus and you have to hold a conversation with a fellow rock star while having to poop and be cool at the same time? I am so glad that’s not me.
4. Last but not least, my rock star friends don’t have a kitchen on the bus, which means they don’t get to make pie whenever they want. Which is the opposite from my situation, because I can make/eat pie anytime. Especially if it is chocolate cookie banana peanut butter pie. Or in this case, I can find the recipe online and have my husband make the pie, because I have too much self-pity about not being a rock star that I can't get out of bed to make it myself. My husband is so good at making pie. I hope he doesn’t die before me, because I couldn’t bear to be without pie.

Chocolate Cookie — Peanut Butter Banana Pie
~recipe adapted from Emeril's There's a Chef in My World by Emeril Lagasse (don’t judge me, Tony Bourdain, you have to admit his food is pretty tasty sometimes)

16 cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookies
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey-roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 ½ cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 small bananas (My husband thought 2 bananas was enough, whereas I would have liked to add another one for a more prominent banana flavor. But that could just be my government-loaned monkey brain talking.)

In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine 16 chocolate sandwich cookies and 1/4 cup of the peanuts. Process until finely crumbled.

Place the crumbs in a medium mixing bowl and drizzle with the melted butter, stirring until moistened. Press the crumb mixture into a 9-inch pie pan, covering the bottom and sides evenly. Chill the piecrust in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the peanut butter and cream cheese. Mix on low until creamy. With the mixer still on low, gradually add the confectioners' sugar, mixing until combined. Turn the mixer off, remove the peanut butter mixture, and place in a large mixing bowl.

Clean the bowl of the mixer and remove the paddle attachment. Add the whisk attachment and, in the clean bowl, whisk the cream on medium-high until stiff peaks form.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture, adding the cream a little at a time, and being careful not to overmix.
Peel and slice the bananas, about 1/4 inch thick. Lay the banana slices in one even layer in the bottom of the chilled piecrust.
Spoon the peanut butter filling into the piecrust over the bananas and smooth the top with the back of the spoon. (The filling will be taller than the edges of the piecrust.)
Cover the pie lightly with plastic wrap and freeze for 4 hours or overnight.
Note: If the pie has been frozen for longer than 4 hours, allow it to sit for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.