"Those who forget the pasta are condemned to reheat it." ~Unknown

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chicken Pot-Pie with a Biscuit Crust

Chicken pot-pie is an intangible. It is a piece of every memory that anyone has from the 50's and 60's. A simple dish that says so much about that era in America. It had reached the endangered foods list yet, somehow, has made a resurgence. Chicken pot-pie is coming back.
The first (and only) time I've had chicken pot-pie was at outdoor school last October. Outdoor school is the M.E.S.D.'s (Multnomah Educational Service District) way to get all 6th graders into the woods for a week. Summer Camps are rented in spring and fall where lucky sixth graders are bused in for a week in the woods. I have memories of "eagle eye" tag, the first time I shot a bow, singing camp songs with my friends on the way back to school on a Friday and most of all the dinner we had that Thursday -- Chicken Pot-Pie. It was served in a great big aluminum/tin foil bowl almost two feet by one foot. I remember that the 8 people at my table ate one huge bowl together. Then me and my friend Oscar went and got seconds which we devoured on our own.
The cooking is at a standstill. We had tenderized the veggies (carrot, celery and red potatoes) and mixed them with the chicken meat (we ate most of a roast chicken last night while watching The Twin Towers the second movie in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, so tonight we are using the leftovers.) Then we realized that we were out of onions. "Mom, are we out of onions?"
"Honey we're never out of onions, are you sure your looking in the right place? When you made spaghetti and meatballs you didn't know where we kept the onions."
Well Dad's back from the store now and I should be cooking.
A whirl of activity. Nutmeg, grated, thyme and parsley chopped. Steam rising. Salt, pepper. Onions and chicken broth! 3/4 stick of butter. Cheddar cheese in the biscuit crust. Oven preheated to 450 degrees. We're in the eye-of-the-storm now. It's become my favorite part of cooking. A chance to sit back in your kitchen, let the smells of your creation permeate your soul. The sounds of AC/DC's You Shook Me All Night Long pouring in with the songs of the birds in your backyard. The sun coming in the window. The beautiful mess of your cooking implements before you. The dogs asleep at you feet. It's then that you know you've succeeded. Like the moment in a marathon: your dragging your feet when you look up, you're a block from the finish, and you realize that nobodies broken the tape yet, knowledge that you will complete what you set out to do, and if anything, exceed your own expectations. So to everyone else out their remember that cooking is a marathon. You must fight your own ideas of what you can do, you must remember that anything you set your mind to is possible. And most of all remember that in the end you're going to have to eat what you cook, so don't cook broccoli. Cook and eat chicken pot-pie.
And then eat ice cream and cookies for desert! The pot-pie was awesome though a little watery if you ask me. (I need to write note in the cookbook for only 2 cups of chicken broth.) But it was exactly what I remembered it being. A bunch of vegetables, that, to use the cliche, taste like chicken. Yum. I would have gone for seconds. If we'd had any...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Pizza ... On a Wood Fired Grill

It's a sunny day in Portland, not a (dark) cloud in sight. With all this sunny summer weather we're going to begin the grilling season. Cy's selected an odd dish for the grill though. He'll be making pizza.
Pizza is, as suggested by the ample tomato sauce and cheeses, is an originally Italian dish. It was invented by a Italian bread seller who's topping-less pies (hence the term pizza-pie) were so popular that one day Queen Margherita put in an order for one of his savory pies. Mr. Pizza (that was his name) wanted to make her something special, she was the queen after all. So he went and bought a white cheese, tomato sauce, and basil, from some fellow vendors. He then put these toppings on the queens pizza in the pattern of the Italian flag, red, white and green. He presented to Queen Margherita the first ever Margherita Pizza.
Now, pizza is a food recognized world wide. Everybody has a local pizza joint a few minutes away and a fast food chain devoted to pizza still closer. Pizza is the quick, easy, and ever-likeable sleepover food, yet it's also something else, pizza is coming into the vision of influential chefs-the sort of people you see on the Food Network-big names with big kitchens. One of my favorite examples of this is Ken's Artisan Pizza here in Portland. They have a great big wood fired oven, easily visible from the dining room, that creates some darn good pizza, Sunset magazine recently named Ken's some of the best pizza in the west. I must agree.
But before we even think about getting outside to the grill Cy needs to prepare the dough and tomato sauce. And make a pineapple upside down cake for our grandmother's birthday. Happy Birthday Mimi!
Cy really wanted to take out the grill for tonights meal and his pizza will probably be better for it, but it also introduces a new risk, the possibility that his pizza will slip through the grate into the flames, his pizza going down in a blaze of (not so glorious) glory. But thats to worry about later, now we need to worry about Dad cutting his finger in half while mincing garlic. "Use a cutting board Dad! Not your hand!" Sheesh. The pineapple upside down cake is in the oven, one sauce is done, and the spicy, cayenne pepper sauce is cooking. I'm gonna' take a break. Even great chef's have to go to school and I have homework.
Now there's something to write about, Cy's pineapple upside down cakes have come out of the oven and flipped (semi)successfully and are now cooling in our kitchen. The coals on our grill our burning hot yet you can barely see the flames let alone the smoke, Bob Marley is playing on Pandora and the buzz of our neighbors @#!#* buzz saw is coming through our open door. Okay, maybe things aren't as good as I thought. But the smell of my mom's signature pizza dough is still wafting towards me as Cyrus spreads it out, the smell of olive oil at it's best.
All these sights, smells, and sounds are overwhelming. Auuuuuggggghhhhh! Sensory overload! Food really does make us who we are.
The pizza should be on the grill soon and looking out the window you couldn't tell our backyard from the Eyjafjallajokull area in Iceland. (How do you pronounce that? I pity the poor news anchors these days, don't you?)The pizza is on the grill with toppings now and some of the smoke from our local Eyjafjallajokull has died down but only half the flights out of PDX are expected to be operational by Monday. Ha ha ha. Tonight is not only the start of grilling season but also the first outdoor dinner of 2010.

The pizza was perfect. The crust had an amazing set of ridges that were alternately carbon covered and clean of any by-product of the grill fire. The pizza was indescribable, I just can't find the right words to describe it. Smoky, yet, something unique, all it's own. I think it had something to do with the tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese. It was truly wonderful pizza and we haven't even had dessert yet! It is hard to describe that pizza. "Now, Mom, Dad, lets find out what that pineapple upside down cake tastes like, the Blazers game tips-off in 30 minutes!" Maybe this cake we can describe.
I haven't tasted any pineapple upside down cakes before but this one tasted pretty good, the cake slightly dry and crumbly, the pineapple soft and moist and, well, pineapple-y, next to two scoops of vanilla ice cream (not homemade but we should look into that) cold, melting, and sweet.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sushi: kappa-maki and the art of "Wait, we were supposed to do what?"

I've finally gotten around to making sushi. With the help of a library book I am now boiling the sushi rice. My favorite kind of sushi, cucumber rolls, are the main course for tonight along with the ever classic miso soup.
Tonight I'm cooking for quite a few more people than usual, my cousins, aunt, and their grandma came up from Corvallis for-guess what? Sushi! To celebrate their birthdays.
I'm hoping their second sushi meal of the day is the better one. Of course there's plenty of misgiving that we got the right ingredients, we read as much Japanese as we have cooked miso soup!

Sushi is an odd kind of food to blog about. When you have a break to blog there's nothing to blog about, I mean who wants to read about somebody boiling rice whilst dissolving sugar and salt into rice vinegar? Not me, I can assure you. Then, when your chopping the cucumber and rolling the cucumber rolls you don't have the time to blog.
Ultimately, though despite many setbacks, dad and I fell into a rhythm, he compiled and rolled the kappa-maki and I cut them. Cutting sushi is not the easiest thing ever, its round, soft, porous-ness just wants to collapse under the knife and the deep green of the nori doesn't want to slice, it wants to rip, tear, and distribute the other ingredients all over your clothes.
The cucumber rolls were good as was the miso soup yet everything was far from perfect, I imagine it was a bit like a Japanese family trying their hand at lasagna, meatloaf or some other very western dish. But it was quite good for Cy, he'd had a stuffy nose all day but when he bit into a wasabi covered cucumber roll three things happened, his cheeks became redder than a rose, steam shot out of his ears, he chugged a glass of water and his nose decided it was a good idea to stop being stuffy. For the next ten minutes right now I can hear his screams from the dining room as he stuffs still more wasabi into his mouth. It's a wonder all that steam hasn't fried his brain yet.
I'm going to have to try this again now that I know what its basics are. I'm also going to need mom to get her knives sharpened...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Meatball Po' Boys

Fried food detox done. We are going back to some particularly interesting parts of our spring break trip. New Orleans is known for three-and more recently-four things; food; jazz; swamps and the Saints, a championship winning football team. Dad, not deigning to take out the fryer, suggested that Cy make po' boys. Po' boys (poor boys, as the sandwich is generally referred to with a deep south accent,) are a staple of the New Orleans diet and, despite their name, are sandwiches so packed with meatballs or other ingredients (including alligator) that Dagwood would have trouble getting his mouth around them. The po' boy hearkens back to French Colonial days with a sort of soft baguette wrap. For us the best bet to find the right kind of bread was, being on the West Coast, at a Vietnamese bakery, (both Vietnam and Louisiana were French colonies and so share some basic culinary tastes) and this is probably the case for most other areas in the U.S. It often draws on certain French tastes with one of the common po' boy incarnations being a meatball version rich in melted cheeses and tomato sauce.
Tonight's version is the traditional meatball which has been perfected over the years to the point that, it's a bit like the Shirley Temple, everyone (including many French Quarter mini-marts) serve it.
Having the right bread is paramount to a good po' boy. If the bread is too hard or not baguette-y enough the sandwich doesn't work, if its normal sandwich bread or wheat bread it doesn't work, you have to have long, thin, soft, white bread.
Dad just returned with the 1o small loaves of bread from the An Xuyen Vietnamese bakery while Cyrus is preparing the meatballs on a cookie tray and readying kale for a side of greens. The physical preparation has at this point reached a bit of a standstill while bacon, a key ingredient in the Southern greens recipe is prepared.
We are nearing mealtime, the greens (the last harvest of our 2009 garden) are nearly ready, the meatballs are in the oven and Dad is slicing (very carefully) the bread. One of the few things left is to make Majiggy Fruit Salad, this is Cy's signature dish and was featured in the August 2006 issue of Cooking Light. As I was in our basement looking for one of the four old issues (Mom was quite proud of her little seven-year-old) the cooking progressed quite a bit, the meatballs and greens are done cooking and some of the separate pieces of the sandwich are being prepared. The beer, onions and garlic are being combined into the brown roux to finish the gravy which will smother the meatballs. This meal is slowly taking shape and that shape pleases the eye quite a bit.
No kidding about the slowly part! A brown roux takes a long time to cook. An-hour-and-a-half later I am still waiting for the meal to be completed, I can tell we're getting close though-the Majiggy Salad has been tossed with it's yogurt/jam sauce-and the meatballs are nearly done basting.

You know how on Thanksgiving when you're really full ... you ... feel really ... tired? Well... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Wow that's a lot of food. It ... was ... good ... too. When I took that first bite of beer simmered garlic-y meatball-ness it took me back to the Napoleon House in the middle of the French Quarter. A bright courtyard on my left, a street with no cars, only horse drawn carriages and foot traffic, my teeth sinking into a sandwich. Sauce falling over my fingers, a jazz musician a few blocks away. A saxophone I think. A Voodoo shop across the street, the quiet clink of plates. Then I'm snapped back to reality: "Wow Cy," my Dad says around a mouthful of meatball po' boy. Ooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. The food was amazing Cyrus. I hope I can top you next week with sushi. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.