Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Dinner Week #8: Crock Pot Friends

I think my friend Liana knew that I was going to have a busy weekend when she commented on this blog and talked about her ham in a crockpot recipe, and it was serendipitous that for the past week, I've been swearing into the chest freezer because I can't find anything when I have a mountain-shaped half ham that keeps wedging into all the empty spaces everytime I move something from the freezer to search. While at a rehearsal on Saturday for a poetry reading, I was texting Liana about instructions, then texting my husband to buy some needed supplies, and Sunday dinner solved itself.
Liana's Crock Pot Ham
1 ham (used Farmer John smoked half ham, 99 cents per lb.)
1 can crushed pineapple
mustard (I used dijon, but maybe I'll try yellow next time)
brown sugar (I also added about half a jar of guava jelly)
cloves (she uses cloves, which Ken doesn't like, so I opted for the homemade guava jelly instead)

Put it in the crockpot (our ham didn't fit, so we had the extra top for breakfast, pan fried), put it on low and start it.
I let it cook for almost ten hours. By the time we were back from our poetry reading and discussion, the ham was a little palahē, so instead of slicing it, we just put it in a foil pan with the au jus on the side. Notch it up as another Sunday dinner that can be made without actually being in the kitchen!

I'd love to collect more crock pot friends so I can get more recipes.

The funny part about this recipe is Liana doesn't even like ham, but for $14 total for the ham, including all the stuff on it, not only was it a fast, semi-homemade meal, but pair it with Ken's saimin spinach salad, and I could come home at 5:30 and have Ken put the food on the table by 6. Not too shabby.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sunday Dinner Week #7: Mother Earth Dreams

I wish I had a picture of my mother in the 70's with her afro and hip huggers. She embraced the whole hippy movement- taking classes at the Richardson's YWCA like ceramics, driving her little baby blue semi-automatic Volkswagon beatle and knitting macrame bathing suits (the ones that when you're in the water, they sag on your butt like you've got too much sand in your pants). She especially loved to go to Thomas Square for their yearly craft fair. Somewhere in her house, she still may have those pinch pots. I totally don't understand the enjoyment that comes with crafting. It's all pretty stressful for me. My excuse is that I'm left handed, but it could be that I'm all thumbs. Still, some of her "Mother Earth News"iness did rub off on me. I am interested in small amounts of self-sustenance. I have a black thumb, but I still find the idea of growing one's own food romantic. I want to go out into my herb garden for fresh cuttings, eat tomatoes in tomato season, squash in the winter, harvest cucumbers to make namasu...put finger-sized nasubi in large plastic tubs held down by wood the way my tutu made mustard pickled eggplant. After all these years, though, I still don't have a garden, but I did manage to grow enough basil on my upstairs lanai to make pesto from the Moosewood Cookbook, a vegetarian, hippyish cookbook out of San Francisco with thick recycled paper pages and handwritten recipes with drawings.
Moosewood Cookbook Pesto (p.84)
3 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves - for me, that's the whole mixing container of my food processor
3-4 large cloves garlic
optional: 1/3 cup pine nuts or chopped walnuts, lightly toasted (I use roasted, unsalted mac nuts instead)
1/3 cup olive oil (extra virgin, the best you can afford)
1/3 cup parmesan (fresh grated or shaved - don't bother with the cylindrical green containers of parmesan dust)
optional: salt and pepper, to taste

1) Place the basil leaves and garlic in a blender or food processor and mince well.
2) Add the nuts, and continue to blend until the nuts are ground.
3) Drizzle in the olive oil, as you keep the machine running. (I like my pesto on the oily side, so add oil until the desired consistency)
When you have a smooth paste, transfer to a bowl, and stir in the parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, place room temperature pesto in a warmed serving bowl. Add hot pasta and toss thoroughly.

I didn't have enough pesto for the main dish this Sunday, so I channeled my mother, the original semi-homemade chef. I used the pesto to fry chicken breasts, then opened up some bottles of marinara sauce, took out turkey meatballs from the freezer and cooked it in the marinara. The trick to the pesto chicken is to slather the chicken with the pesto, then let the parmesan burn a bit crispy on the chicken and on the pan. The oil seals in the moisture of the chicken and the burnt bits add crunch and crispy goodness, but the best part is the smell - basil and garlic and cheese - mmmm.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Dinner Week #7: A Homemade Life

My life story can be tracked by the books I'm reading. This blog started with a book, Julie and Julia, then my friend Liana lent me this book, A Homemade Life: stories and recipes from my kitchen table by Molly Wizenberg, and it has become my new obsession. On page 2 of the introduction, I read something that just caught at my throat. It was like finding something that I didn't even realize I was looking for. I read and reread the passage, letting it wash over me with my own memories.
"When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone. Whether we know it or not, none of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables, and every meal we have ever eaten. Food is never just food. It's also a way of getting at something else: who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be."
It's so clear now, so obvious that what I've been really doing is finding life's answers through the kitchen, remembering those that have passed through the memories of their own tables, and trying to create the kitchen connection for my own boys. Who knew I was grieving? I continue to grieve for my grandmother whose Alzheimers stole all her recipes from her before we were ready. I'm losing the taste in my mouth of her pipi stew. How can I recreate something that my mouth is starting to forget? How will I know what's missing, or even what I've got right? When I enter my kitchen now, I consciously enter many kitchens. I may not get the taste right, but I can still tell the story of those kitchens, I can still search for who I am, who I have been, and who I want to be.

My family measures love through food, it's why we are fat, but I really don't remember what we ate. I am a child of the 70's and 80's. I come from a family of liberated women that worked hard outside of the home to support their families. Stay-at-home moms didn't exist except on the reruns of Leave it to Beaver, so dinner was a study in survival: planning ahead, opening some cans, and 30-minute or less one pot dinners. No matter how poor we were, my mother could make dinner out of whatever was in the refrigerator and freezer. She still can. Not me, but I did inherit other things, like "happy hour" from my Aunty Rose and Uncle Miles. Aunty Rose is my mother's older sister. My memory may be faulty, but I think when my parents got divorced, Saturday nights were spent at Aunty Rose's house. Aunty Rose was also my weekend home when I was in the Kamehameha dorms, and I lived with Aunty Rose when I was in college. We'd get home from work at about 7 or so, and while dinner was cooking, it was happy hour. I think my husband fell in love with me because I lived with Aunty Rose and there was always happy hour and dinner. She is the reason why Sunday dinner always has to start with pupu, even if it's as simple as salami, cheese, homegrown tomatoes and fresh mozzarella balls. Happy hour at Aunty Rose's usually consisted of scotch on the rocks or wine from the box. Uncle Miles would make my panty drink: white wine cooler with more soda than wine, and then he'd open up his magic blue plastic bags - goodies he bought for me from the Ala Moana farmer's market. Uncle knew all the vendors, and for me, he always bought boiled peanuts, ahi poke and char siu. I loved the saltiness of the peanuts, the way the peanut would pop in my mouth and all the brine would roll down my throat. His peanuts were never mushy, but freshly cooked, firm to the touch. My mouth is watering! The ahi poke wasn't drowned in shoyu like so many other poke. Instead, the fish would be lightly seasoned with Hawaiian salt, inamona, onions, ogo and a light sprinkling of oil, just enough to make it wet, but not soppy. Poke is about tasting the freshness of the fish, with the inamona and salt for seasoning, and the ogo for crunch. Now that Aunty and Uncle are on Moloka'i, maybe happy hour comes earlier in the evening, but I like to think that the tradition continues as the sun sets outside of Kawela. I really am not much of a drinker. In high school I found out that in large quantities I'm actually allergic to alcohol and I get hives, but I'm all for happy hour, even if it's pupu with diet coke. Enjoy and happy grinding!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Dinner Week #6 Gruyere challenge

I was watching my most favoritest channel - Food Network - and voila - the Barefoot Contessa making these juicy looking sliders - so in honor of her, tonight's dinner was sliders.

Sliders, Ina Garten, 2009
2 lbs. ground beef (80% lean) - [lucky me, it's been on sale at Sack n Save]
1 T. good Dijon mustard
3 T. good olive oil, plus extra for brushing the grill
1 T. chopped thyme leaves
3 t. chopped garlic
1 t. kosher salt
6 oz. grated Gruyere ($12.99/lb on SALE at Safeway, thus the Gruyere challenge)
12 small Brioche buns (used 3.99/dozen round dinner rolls at Sack n Save)
4 oz. baby arugula (don't ignore this - keep looking for arugula)
3 medium tomatoes, sliced in 1/8-inch-thick rounds
2 small red onions, sliced in 1/8-inch-thick rounds
Ketchup, for serving
Build a charcoal fire or heat a gas grill. Place the ground beef in a large bowl and the mustard, olive oil, thyme, garlic, salt, and pepper. Mix gently with a fork to combine, taking care not to compress the ingredients (Rubber slipper style - wash your hands and get your hands in the bowl). Shape the meat into 12 (2-inch) patties of equal size and thickness.

When the grill is medium-hot, brush the grill grate with oil to keep the sliders from sticking. Place the sliders on the grill and cook for 4 minutes. Turn the sliders over with a spatula and cook for another 4 to 6 minutes, until medium-rare, or cook longer if you prefer the sliders well done. For the last 2 minutes of cooking time, place 1/2-ounce Gruyere on the top of each burger and close the grill lid. Remove the sliders to a platter and cover with foil. Slice the buns in half crosswise and toast the halves cut side down on the grill. Top with arugula, tomato and red onion.

So why the Gruyere challenge? Since I was doubling the recipe, I didn't want to buy 1 pound of gruyere at $12.99/lb. when I only needed 12 ounces, so I bought 1/2 lb. of gruyere and 1/2 lb. fontina, because fontina is sometimes substituted for gruyere. I wanted to see if gruyere was worth the price tag, or would the fontina do. The result? The majority liked the gruyere better because it didn't overpower the burger like a bleu cheese would, but there was a strong presence of the gruyere nonetheless. Eaten raw, the gruyere is a drier, smellier cheese with an earthy taste and a saltiness to it. Fontina is a smoother, creamier cheese. It doesn't add anything to the slider, or make its presence known. The gruyere and the arugula also make a nice pairing of salty and peppery. Yum!

Until next week, happy grinding.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sunday Dinner Week #5: Awaiting Felicia

One of Ken's jobs at UH is to be the point man whenever there are natural disasters looming. When something is coming, then civil defense calls Ken in, so in the days before Hurricane Felicia, then tropical storm, then tropical depression Felicia passed by, Ken was at the daily 1:30 briefings at civil defense, so when Sunday came around, with Felicia passing above us on Monday evening, we had gasoline for our Honda generator, our cars were fully gassed and the water containers filled. Our propane tanks were set to go and all lamps tested.

On my part, I did what any rubber slipper contessa would do: I ignored the mugginess in my house and planned my own hurricane proof dinner. If a hurricane is coming, you need to have something substantial that can be made in large batches and put into gallon ziplocs so that the meal can be heated up in one pot on our one propane burner in case we lose electricity. It can't be susceptible to spoilage like chicken, mayonnaise dishes. (Actually, I lied because we have so much camping equipment that we have a couple of propane rice cookers -20 cup capacity-, a small propane one-burner camp stove, a large two-burner camp stove, a cuter, more portable red two-burner camp stove from Bass Pro and Ken's handy dandy wok burner with large woks to make enough fried rice to feed everyone on our street - plus a cheap charcoal grill and a bigger stainless steel grill) Damn - no wonder our garage is always a mess. Who needs so much equipment?!

Anywho, Sunday dinner was Portuguese bean soup. While the ham hocks are cooking for the first three hours, there's time to do last minute preparations and head to the store for essentials like medications and toilet paper. I actually had everything in the freezer (ham hocks, portuguese sausage, cut up ham) which freed up some space in our chest freezer for the 2L bottles of water that Pono was in charge of freezing "just in case." When ham is on sale at Sack n Save, Ken buys several and pays a little extra to have the butchers cut the ham into ham steaks and with the rest of the ham, they cut it into chunks which are perfect for Portuguese bean soup.

Truth be told I didn't actually add the beans, but in a hurricane situation, nobody wants to be gassy, so the cabbage was enough gas-causing material for one dish. If you buy fresh watercress, that makes up for not having the beans. I like the watercress more on the raw side, so put the hot rice in the bowl, then place the watercress and pour the hot soup over it so that it quickly blanches. Add a little salad and splurge on some Punalu'u taro dinner rolls! Happy grinding and see you next week.

Next week: holding onto summer with some make your own sliders and jello shots

Sunday Dinner Week #4 1/2

Sorry I've been absent. Although we continued to cook, I have been sick and with school starting, it was all I could do to shower and brush my teeth before heading off to work, much less ironing my clothes, so I've been silent.

Sunday Dinner #5 actually doesn't count since we were in California. Luckily, our boys didn't make it to the finals so Sunday was a free day which we gladly spent at Knott's Berry Farm. Seriously, let's talk about rides first. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE roller coasters. I'm like a little kid, I drag my family around the parks. My grandparents always used to end any trip they were on by flying to Vegas. If I had my choice, we would end any of our trips in California. I love Disneyland, but one day needs to be reserved for getting down and dirty at Knott's Berry Farm. Disneyland is clean, wholesome goodness. Besides Tower of Terror, there is really no ride that puts butterflies in my stomach. Disneyland is good, clean fun, but Knotts is HOTSEXYDIRTY "I'm gonna die!" fun. The first photo is my NEW favorite ride, the Silver Bullet - it's a suspended coaster, which means take your rubber slippers off and let your legs dangle. It climbs to a height of 146 feet and soars back down an initial drop of 109 feet. You spiral, corkscrew, fly into a cobra roll, and experience overbanked curves. The cool part is that at the end, my head was still not quite focused. The corkscrews do something funky to your equilibrium, but when the ride came to a halting stop, my head went back into focus. COOL!

Next on the must ride list is the Xcelerator The cars you ride in look like '57 Chevy's, but from blast off, you reach a speed of 83 mph in 2.3 screaming seconds straight up a 205 foot ascent and down 90 degrees. There's always a super long line to be in the front cars, but I tell you what, even if you're in the back, when you're coming down that first drop, you have a perfect glimpse of death, and nobody is blocking your view, plus you got on the ride much faster than the guys waiting for the front seat.
My first love, though is the wooden roller coaster, Ghost Rider. Wooden roller coasters are dinosaurs. You need to give up the smoothness of a metal coaster and jump on the bone-jarring, glasses and hat losing wooden coaster. Wooden coasters throw you around, bruise your ribs, and leave no doubt that you are ALIVE! This is 4,533 feet of wood, and the ride takes about 2 minutes. That's damn long for a coaster! Most of these modern wonders go so fast that you're done in half a minute. 2 minutes is long to be shaken and stirred which is why it is FABULOUS - about when you're hoping it's over, PSYCH, it's not.
If you're really daring, go on Supreme Scream It's just a tower, no flips, turns, corkscrews, just you and a seat with a little yellow harness traveling 254 feet straight up, and then whoomp, it stops at the top and then your heart starts pumping because you know this baby can only go in one direction, and fast, then AAAGHHH - as Ken describes it, for a half a second, you forget you're harnessed in, and you think you're going to die - 50mph straight down, almost to the bottom, then a little back and forth in the middle to resettle your faculties, and it's over - 45 seconds of your life flashing before you. Pono finally got up the courage to ride (the other boys ride these things like nothing, but Pono is the scaredy cat) and he says, "I was a bit terrified as Dad could tell by the way I screamed." Not his favorite, but he can at least say he went.

Ok, I digress. Dinner on the road on Sunday still needs to be a family affair. No J in the Box or Arches. Find a family-style place where people can try different dishes. A good example would be any Chinese restaurant, Bucco de Beppo or while at Knott's we went to Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner. Everyone gets their wonderful little rolls with butter and the assortment of Knott's jellies. Chicken dinner comes with mash and gravy, plus either soup or rhubarb, plus salad, plus corn or cabbage and ham, plus dessert (boysenberry pie, or apple pie). I like the sour taste of rhubarb, so I love that. The fried chicken is most likely fried in lard. They probably buy the lard by the drums, because the skin on these babies are so crispy and the inside meat is juicy, not dry. That kind of texture and flavor can't be good for us. Yummo!