February 26, 2011 Comments Off on moby’s vegan blueberry pancakes
My brother flew in from Seattle last night to spend a weekend with us and to get some quality niece and nephew time. Coulter is great, and it’s amazingly cool to have him here. Among other things he’s a serious runner, so we did five this morning at the rec center. He took it pretty easy on me.
The one tricky thing about Coulter is that he’s vegan. And not the “oh, if there’s a little butter in it that’s not a big deal” kind of vegan. He’s serious. He spent two years on the road working for PETA. So this meant some thinking about what we’d cook. Dinner is easy–stir fry tonight and risotto tomorrow. But breakfast? Quick, think of a good vegan breakfast. No eggs, no milk. Yikes.
Fortunately, Epicurious came to the rescue. Pancakes. And not just any pancakes, but Moby’s Vegan Blueberry Pancakes. By happy coincidence, some of my brother’s PETA time was spent on the road with Moby, manning a booth at his shows, so this seemed like destiny. According to Epicurious, this is really his pancake recipe. It’s based on spelt flour, which is gluten-free. There’s also oat and wheat bran, just to prolong your time in the bulk section of the natural food store.
I have to say, I was skeptical–the ingredient list made it sound as though these would taste like grass–but they were really good. Sort of like buckwheat pancakes, but a bit lighter. The kids plowed through them, though they admitted they preferred the lightweight buttermilk pancakes I’ve been making. I kind of do, too, but I think with a little vanilla and sugar these would be even better. Lord knows we’ve got plenty of oat bran (the recipe calls for a tablespoon, I accidentally unloaded about two cups), so they’ll reappear in some form or another.
One of K’s relatives lives in rural Michigan, by chance across the road from the parents of Metallica’s drummer. They shared their recipe for baked beans once, and we’ve always referred to them as “Metallica Baked Beans,” often to confused looks. So now we can add Moby’s Vegan Blueberry Pancakes to our very limited but distinguished list of celebrity recipes.
February 18, 2011 Comments Off on elementary school carnival and chorus concert
I always managed to get out of the annual elementary school carnival. “You’ll hate it,” K would tell me. “Total chaos. I’ll take them.” OK, I always thought. Off you go. I’ll crack open a nice glass of wine instead.
And now I’ve figured it out. While the kids are zooing out on carnival games, pop, candy, and karaoke, the grownups have their own room. With hot coffee, cakes, scones, and candlelit tables. The only thing missing was incense and a masseuse. Had I known this–had someone told me about this, I would have jumped at the chance to ‘share’ this experience with the kids. Who, of course, couldn’t wait to shuffle me off to the old folks’ room and get on with the business at hand.
They did well, turning twelve bucks worth of tickets into several cents worth of plastic prizes. But the school also paired the carnival with a chorus concert, and C and his friends put on a great show. He’s almost dead center in the photo above, there, singing his heart out. It was, as always, heartwarming.
Not to be outdone, the girl belted out a couple of karaoke hits with her alumni friends. She asked me afterwards, honestly, how was it? What’s a dad to say? “It was good,” I said. “The two of you had real stage presence.”
“But what about our voices?”
“Honestly? It was a little pitchy, but you were certainly better than some of the contestants.”
That little bit of Idol critique was fine with her.
She had a vegetarian walking taco for dinner, which I have to say is like saying sans serif braille. But she enjoyed it. “What do they make a vegetarian walking taco out of?” I foolishly asked her.
“Vegetarians, of course.”
As C would say, “NICE.”
February 3, 2011 Comments Off on dinner–the full roma
So with a full snow day today, I figured we could experiment a bit in the kitchen. The kids were totally up for it, but they suggested we work around the concept of pizza for dinner. I said sure, but we didn’t have any of the really good Peter Reinhart dough left. It needs to sit in the fridge overnight, so I figured we’d try one of the same-day dough recipes and see how it stacked up. The boy and I (as you may have seen) threw down after lunch, putting together a mean ball of yeast and bread flour, and I started hacking away at it an hour or so before dinner.
I made one tried and true marinara–actually the overly spicy amatriciana sauce from the other night minus the bacon–and told the girl we were going to try the potato pizza again. I found a country-simple recipe that basically said slice the potatoes thin (ahoy, mandoline!), douse them in oil and rosemary, throw them on the crust, and bake the hell out of them. My kind of recipe, really. Our lazy crust worked fine–less yeasty than the Reinhart version, but easy to work with and serviceable, at any rate. The amatrciana worked out well, and the boy recognized the heat and said he really liked it on the crust. He also went through two glasses of milk, so this seems a worthy strategy to keep in mind going forward. O and I discussed the potato pizza at length. It was closer, we agreed, to the most awesomest pizza ever in Rome, but it was still missing something. She correctly identified the rosemary as the key missing ingredient from last time, and thought the potatoes should be thicker. “It was really like french fries–actual french fries–on the pizza, Dad,” she told me. “But it’s still missing something tasty.” I know exactly what that is, actually. Salt. A. Ton. Of. Salt. I went and got the little jar of sea salt that was a complimentary welcome gift for signing up at the food co-op, and told her to sprinkle away. “Closer,” she said.
What the meal was really missing, though, was the crucial second half. We made it a point to go out for a meal once a week or so in Rome, and we usually went cheap and cheerful. Trastevere, the neighborhood we lived in, was full of good neighborhood pizza joints that catered to natives and to tourists who had ventured one ring out from the centro. These trattoria were one step up from the sidewalk pizza storefronts, so you got bread, K and I could get wine, and we could sit for a while and watch the street go by. And, crucially, we could go on a walk through the neighborhood afterward, ending up at one of our three favorite gelato stands, grabbing cones full of silky, custardy goodness, and sitting in the main piazza to eat them.
And those gelati looked and tasted just about like this. Oh, heck yes, we made gelato today. It took most of the morning to get the custard put together, and some serious hawk-like monitoring to make sure we didn’t overcook it. But we did it, and it was superb.
Gelato is at the high end of the ice cream decadence spectrum. Where sorbet is basically fruit and sugar, and ice cream is basically cream and flavor, gelato is custard and flavor. So the prep involved four egg yolks, whipping cream, and pounds of sugar–I used the organic cane stuff we bought the other day, and it made a difference. Cooking that is a bit of a challenge, because you have to basically pasteurize the egg without boiling it. Fortunately, my CIA deep fry thermometer was up to the challenge, and I was able to keep the mixture right at 170° until it thickened up. It sat in the fridge all afternoon, and then we broke out the ice cream maker (a perverse thing to do on a day with 7″ of snow on the ground and the thermometer stuck at 2°…) and whipped it into shape. It needed a good freeze after that, but we all agreed the effort had been well worth it. It was silky smooth, just eggy enough, and full of vanilla flava. And it didn’t hurt that we splurged and bought Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips–a touch of San Francisco in our Italian. Fortunately it made a bunch, so we’ll be eating this through the weekend. (For those keeping score, I ran five hard miles this morning, knowing full well that this might be coming).
And the punch line? When I went out to do some late shopping after dinner, the co-op had a huge barrel of blood oranges on sale. We had these for lunch all the time in Rome–they were a staple at the neighborhood market and both kids loved their super-sweet juice. I brought them home and said “look what I bought,” and O knew instantly.
“This,” she said, “is the Romiest day yet!” And she nommed one of these in about thirty seconds flat.
More snow days, please. This was awesome…
January 26, 2011 Comments Off on pizza > flu
We’d planned pizza tonight anyway, which worked out well as the girl’s battle with the flu made me not want to be in the kitchen all afternoon. We got some ibuprofen in her, which perked her up a bit, and now she’s on the cough medicine with the codeine, so I suspect we’ll not hear from her until morning. Poor kid. She’s a tough one, so when she lets on that she’s suffering, it must be pretty bad.
So with a limited prep time, we used a couple of frozen pizza dough balls left over that I had thawed out overnight and then let sit on the countertop all day. That made them nice and flexible, so tossing them into more or less pizza shapes wasn’t as difficult. As you can tell, I need work in the geometry department, but they were the right thickness this time–paper thin in the middle and nice and thick at the edge. The boy wanted just cheese and sauce, so that one went in first…
This time I heeded Reinhart’s advice to turn the oven up as far as it would go, which I’m a little disappointed to report was only 550°. Still, that was plenty warm, and as you can see it absolutely vaporized the mozzarella. Clearly those instructions are fairly crust-centric, but since we were just using crappy shredded stuff, that was probably the right way to go. Next time we’ll go back to the sliced mozzarella balls (“HA!” C says…)
I suggested trying potato pizza again to the girl but as sick as she is it was obvious she was in no mood to experiment. Just a pizza bianca, she said. No sauce, nothin’. I at least threw a few spices into the oil and brushed the thing really well…
And the result was pretty marvelous. My last one was too salty, and so here I threw a couple of pinches into the oil, which spread it out better. The extra heat really helped this one–it came out crackly but chewy, salty, and yeasty. Pretty good stuff, and I had to agree, it might have been wasted under potatoes. She didn’t eat much, but the boy had five slices–including two of the bianca, which was a new thing for him. He also had his first bowl of ramen today, and was totally in to that–so he’s ready for college.
The girl is still running a fever, so no school for her tomorrow. She’s not a huge fan, so she’s OK with that. What she doesn’t know is that we just might try that cocoa brownie recipe in this month’s Bon Appetit. They’ll go nicely with the hammags on homemade buns we’re planning. I’ve had a piece of good news this week and I hit the minus 50 pound mark this morning, so flu or not, we are going to celebrate just a bit.
January 19, 2011 Comments Off on vegetarian lasagna
I learned from the last lasagna attempt that my kids have healthier tastes than I do. Overly saucy, gloppy, cheesy, calorie and carb-laden lasagna grossed them out, and really, it should have grossed me out too (it was, of course, delicious). So since we had a ton of noodles left over, I told them we’d try again, but I wanted their advice on how to make it better.
“Less sauce,” said C.
“No meat,” said O.
OK. So I cooked up a batch of simple tomato sauce and a nice, thick bechamel, and we tried again. I soaked the noodles for a while, figuring that they’d need some extra moistness for the thing to actually work, which was probably a good thing. C and I layered it up, and I popped it in the oven for 20 minutes.
We cooked it in a loaf pan again, which is happily one noodle long and wide, but this time I got smart and put in a sheet of baker’s parchment first (I LOVE THIS STUFF). That way, I figured, I could just lift the whole thing out and cut it on a cutting board, instead of rooting around in the pan with a knife. It worked a treat, and also seemed to keep the bottom of the lasagna from getting soggy. I watched it carefully, and yanked it when the top noodle started to dry up.
The results were pretty good–a lasagna that actually felt kind of light. It was super tasty, and the boy ate his whole slice, which I thought was a pretty remarkable accomplishment. “Awesome, Dad,” he said, giving me the thumbs up. The girl simply pouted and went to the fridge for yesterday’s leftovers. Nuts. One of these days I’m going to go two-for-two with something Italian. O said she just didn’t like the tomato sauce, so I’m trying to figure whether it’s the tomatoes? Or the onion and garlic? Because, um, that’s about it. I suggested to her that maybe we’d do carbonara one night, and she asked what that was. “Spaghetti with eggs and bacon, basically,” I said. And cheese, I might or might not have left out. She’s intrigued.
And then the boy came up with the best idea ever. “Instead of doing a regular mac’n’cheese this week, why don’t we do a mac’n’cheese lasagna? You could do the flat noodles with layers of that “B” sauce and the cheese in between.” Bechamel sauce, kiddo. And you’re right. You certainly could. And it would be pretty amazing stuff, too. We will try that. Oh yes, we will try that.