Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Tale of Two Soups

What a difference a day (or sometimes two) makes.

Now is the part where I get to report that I finally got my ass into the kitchen and cooked my worries away.

Much happened in between that occurrence and my last posting. A big show! Unexpected (and yet very welcome) well-dressed house guests, with whom I lingered over strong coffee and pastry from La Farine this morning. A trip to the Berkeley Bowl. A pumpkin carving party...

...and then there were two soups. And all was right in the world again.

Today I'll post the recipe for this Kale & Cauliflower stew that I adapted from Rachel Ray.

In a big soup pot, sautee 1 chopped yellow onion & 4 or 5 big cloves garlic of garlic, plus about 3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary over medium heat until the onion starts to soften.

Add 2 diced (& peeled) russet potatoes & sautee until potatoes just begin to become tender. Add 1 whole head of cauliflower, quartered, cored & diced into bite sized bits. Also add 2 roasted red peppers, rinsed & diced. Here the recipe called for 6 cups chicken stock but I wanted this to be veggie-friendly, so I used 6 cups vegetable stock, and later added a manchego cheese rind. But we'll get back to that.

After you add the stock, season with salt & pepper and bring to a boil. Now, add that cheese rind - this will lend a richness & depth of flavor to the soup, adding body. It's an especially nice option if you're not using chicken stock, but you can do this even if you are. The rind can be from parmesan or romano or asiago or manchego cheese - as always, use your intuition and your imagination!

Now, lower heat, cover & simmer for another 10 minutes or so until cauliflower is becoming tender. While the stew is simmering, rinse & remove the stalks from 2 or 3 bunches of kale and slice the greens into thin slivers. When the cauliflower is nearly tender, add the slivered greens, a handful at a time and let them wilt before adding the next batch of greens.

Once you've added all the greens and they're all nicely wilted, grate some fresh nutmeg into the pot (about 1/2 teaspoon or so). Let it sit for a few minutes on the stove, taste and adjust seasonings, and serve it up with crushed red pepper and shredded parmesan or whatever suits your fancy. Don't forget to remove that unsightly cheese rind! It's not pretty, but it WILL do its job of richening this stock.

This might all sound like a lot of work but really, it takes about an hour or so from start to finish. All you gotta do it crank up the tunes which for me today were (aforementioned house guests) Peculiar Pretzelmen, Stevie Wonder (a much loved gift from a very dear friend) and KALX Radio 90.7 FM.

I do believe that's quite enough for tonight, but...

Soon I'll also post the recipe that I'm still adapting from Food & Wine Magazine.

This one features a luscious combo of yellow split peas, pumpkin & butternut squash with cumin & curry. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Popcorn and Advil

Sometimes the things that make your heart feel heavy also make your eyelids heavy, and you want to sleep but you can't, because your mind is racing.

I wish that this could be one of those blog postings wherein the next words would be "... and then you find yourself in the kitchen cooking all your troubles away...", but alas, tonight I'm far too exhausted for cooking or creativity, or forced optimism.

Tonight, it's popcorn and Advil for dinner. Sometimes that's just where you find yourself. In the middle of your empty kitchen feeling empty. It isn't very romantic or sexy but it's real.

The other day, someone randomly said to me " everything perfect?". And I said no, but that everything is perfectly fucked up in its own perfect way. I'm sure there's some meaning in there but I think the perfect thing for tonight is to forget about finding the meaning, and focus instead on finding the path to sleep.... wish me luck...

Monday, October 22, 2007

When in Doubt, Frittata

Oh, thank goodness for frittatas. They are the kind of thing you can whip up on a school night without too much trouble, embellished with a few good bits you've got lying around your fridge. I know I've written about them before, but it's my blog and I'll repeat if I want to! Here is a refresher course in how to whip up a tasty dinner without too much fuss.

First, keep some eggs lying around. No eggs, no frittata.

Second, remain creative in your approach and keep your mind open.

What do you have in that fridge of yours??! Tonight I had a few potatoes I had steamed a couple of days ago, some fresh basil, an onion and some shitake mushrooms.

The basic drill is that you want to sautee your onion or garlic (or both!) slowly in butter, then sautee the other bits (in my case, the potatoes & mushrooms) in this savory concoction. Your bits could be steamed squash, kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, steamed chard or kale, sausage, bacon, or, you tell me! Cheese is good too, but add that, along with your fresh herbs, right at the end.

So after you've sauteed the onions and/or garlic, toss in whatever you got, and then, beat a half a dozen eggs and pour it over this good stuff. Top with fresh herbs and parmesan cheese if you have it.

Now, put the skillet with all this goodness into a pre-heated oven that is about 350 degrees. Bake it for about 15 minutes or until it's done but not overly done. Come on people, I know you have intuition and I know you know how to use it! Follow your nose and your gut. They won't lead you astray.

Once the frittata is golden brown, turn it over onto a cooling rack. Eat a slice or two, and then bring it to work the next day so people can have it for breakfast.

See? It's not that hard. Life can be hard, but frittatas are not that hard. This is a good thing for which to be thankful. And I am.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hooray for Hollywood

Wow, that was a blast. Some gigs can be so thankless, and every now and then you get thrown a bone to make up for all those blown sound systems, cans of budweiser, $27 dollars split by 5 people, and playing to 3 people on a Monday night at 12:30 a.m.

Yes, once in awhile, you find yourself in the Southern part of our Golden State, playing to an attentive and appreciative, CD-buying audience, with a dressing room, a cooler of real beer and a couple bottles of wine, and food that would have been delicious if you'd remembered to eat it before the show. Oh well, can't complain!

What we're talkin' about here, is the El Mirage show that happened in Hollywood a mere couple nights ago, opening for our friends, stellar musicians and delightful human beings Missy Gibson & Mike Flanagan of the band Breech. It was a fabulous celebration and a real treat to be a part of it. Breech is so good, so very very very much better than much of what you can hear on commercial radio these days. Don't take my word for it; just go buy their CD & find out for yourself!

While in L.A., we also got to enjoy some fine food and sights, like these most jumbo of shrimp at a little place in Thai Town called Relax. Are they shrimp or are they giant creatures come to eat YOU?!

Warning, if you are afraid of clowns,
especially the evil two-headed kind,
you might want to avert your eyes for this one,
taken at a store called the Dapper Cadaver, oh my!

Carol Powell, the artist who did the cover art for the Breech CD, creates some mighty fine paintings, illustrations, and creatures, like these:

Those are just a few highlights of what was a wonderful and action-packed 24 hours. I also scored a seriously killer pair of cowboy boots, but will have to post that photo another time, because this posting is long overdue.

One of these days my life will settle down and I'll get back to cooking, I swear. Soup season is coming! Until then, stay warm and dry, and I'll try to do the same, no thanks to my slumlord :(

Monday, October 15, 2007

Please Stand By...

... I swear I'm gonna post something new soon, but the rain that's pissing down through my ceiling into my once-cozy bedroom has me a little distracted right now.

Go here and listen to this and I'll be back, and in a much better mood, soon...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Adventures in the Lone Star State

Once again, so much living has been packed into a week that I hardly know what to tell you about first so I'll just dive right in while the granola is in the oven, soup is on the stove, wine is in the glass, and the Mommyheads are cranked on the stereo downstairs.

I just got back from a whirlwind weekend trip to Austin with my friends and fellow musicians Sue and Suki of She Mob. We were storming the streets of Austin, hanging with our beloved Oakland transplant Camille, and just generally having a great time. We ate Mexican food and Barbeque, the likes of which you can only find in Texas, and boy, did we enjoy every last bite, which we naturally washed down with ice cold beer and margaritas.

Just like the Bay area, Indian summer was in full force and it was hot and balmy and muggy and it seemed to stay light late into the evening, and when the sun went down the sky was noisy with crickets and birds and music.

We saw a great show on Friday night called the Golden Hornet Project that featured a ten-piece horn section w/ bass, drums, guitar and vibraphone, and man, was that just completely smoking. We were sad that we couldn't rally to stick around & catch the Invincible Czars, but our cheap plane fares caused us to rise at 4 am that day to catch a plane that had two layovers and ended up taking the better part of the day to get our butts to the Lone Star State, and well, some of us are old and tired and just can't party like rock stars anymore.

Saturday's highlights included a quick drive-by past the Soup Peddler's Headquarters...

...and a visit to a toy store that reminded me a lot of Berkeley's Mr. Mopps, where I simply could not pass up this fabulous photo opportunity.

As Saturday afternoon turned to evening, Sue, Suki, Camille, Jo (Camille's friend who also happens to be a Meat Purveyor) and I found ourselves in the midst of what turned out to be a little bitty all-girl hootenanny in Jo & Camille's living room, and this was my most favorite part of the trip. Suki played drums with her hands, we all sang and passed the guitar around, and once again I found myself feeling like the luckiest creature in the universe to be in such fine company, with a belly full of fine food and the warm summer air blowing in through the window.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Second Best Chili You Will Ever Taste

If you read my last post, then you already know that I won second place in a chili cook-off recently (well, TIED for second place in fact, and that's another story!).

I used a recipe I found on the good ol' internet by doing a search for "chili recipe". Although tons of links came up, I simply couldn't pass up a recipe that contains two of my favorite things: beer and strong coffee. And also, with a name like "The Best Chili You Will Ever Taste", it's gotta be good, right??

Of course, I had to make my own modifications; mainly, upping the amount of spice and reducing the amount of sweetness. The version you see below is my adapatation and it's definitely worth checking out the original recipe for the sake of comparison and to see what I added/changed. Prize or no prize, this chili seriously rocks and has a depth of flavor as sublime and potent as the bass line to a Toots & the Maytals song, which is what I was listening to when I made this:

First, let's look at the ingredients:

2 teaspoons canola oil
2 white (not yellow or red, but white!) onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound grass fed ground beef
1 pound grass fed beef sirlion, cut into 2 inch cubes
1 14 1/2 ounce can tomato sauce
1 can Young's Double Chocolate Stout (original recipe calls for 1 can stout plus 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, but I think omitting the cocoa and using this chocolate stout is key)
1 cup strong black coffee (I use Cole coffee and nothing but!)
2 cans tomato paste (I was skeptical about this part but have faith!)
1 1/2 cups beef stock
3 to 4 tablespoons Pickapeppa hot sauce (accept no substitute!)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons whole coriander pods
1 chile negro (dried)
1 teaspoon cayenne
salt to taste
8 cups cooked (scratch is best!) or 4 cans kidney beans
4 jalapeno peppers, diced fine
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
chipotles in adobo sauce (really, you just need the sauce and I like the Embassa brand)

I like to start by sauteeing the onions in the oil over medium heat in a large cast-iron pot until they start to just turn golden brown. Then I add the garlic, lower the heat and continue to sautee.

While this is happening, I heat my smallest cast iron skillet and first add the cumin seeds and shake the pan constantly for about 30 seconds or until they start to just toast and release their aroma. Toss those into a bowl and do the same thing with the coriander pods and the whole chile negro, and turn off the heat. Next, I grind the spices, one at a time, in my little grinder (I use a coffee grinder that's dedicated to spices). You want to measure out about one teaspoon of the chile negro and you may have a little more or a little less, depending on the size of the chile.

You didn't forget about the onions & garlic did you?? Now it's time to add the meat to the pot and continue stirring over medium heat until the meat starts to brown.

Once the meat is starting to brown, pour the beer into the pot and stir, followed by the tomato sauce, tomato paste, coffee, broth and Pickapeppa sauce. Stir it well and then add the oregano, cumin, coriander, chile negro and cayenne. Now add half the beans and all the peppers. Reduce heat to a low simmer and let the flavors mingle and mature for a good one and a half hours.

Now, add the remaining kidney beans, one tablespoon brown sugar, about two teaspoons of adobo sauce, and a generous teaspoon or two of kosher salt. Simmer for another thirty minutes and then remove from heat. Let it cool completely and then let the flavors mingle even more overnight, and heat it up the next day. Enjoy it preferably in the company of good friends old and new, with great music courtesy of the Shut-ins, Yard Sale and Loretta Lynch (featuring yours truly!). Raise money to help feed the homeless. Drink whiskey, eat pie and dance your ass off until you can't dance no mo'. And be very, very grateful to be able to experience every last perfect moment. I was, and I am. Enough said.