Thursday, March 31, 2011

Placeholder Post

First I wanted to do what I neglected to do in my last post.  I wanted to thank everyone for their sweet congrats and insightful comments regarding my anniversary.  TERP has the best readers, no doubt!

Second I want to apologize for the sparse recipes in the recent past and also for the upcoming weeks.  This spring is a busy time as I am working on my spring dance recital as well as taking a voice class.  Since classes are on consecutive nights, it doesn't leave me much time for cooking.  I'm relying on restaurants and takeout much more than I would like to be and it will be that way for a little while.  I'll cook once or twice a week and then eat leftovers for as long as they will last.  I'm often not in the mood to start creating new recipes, so it's back through the blog archives to use my old favorites and standbys. (This blog really does serve a purpose!)

I have promised myself that I will come up with at least one new recipe next week.  I figure I can do at least that much.  Stay tuned...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Spaghetti Al'Amatriciana - with a Turkey Twist!

I first discovered amatriciana sauce about 15-20 years ago when I was looking through an old Silver Palate cook book looking for some new ideas for pasta. 

I liked the amatriciana recipe as soon as I saw it.  I had never heard of the sauce before.  It was not as common in cookbooks and restaurants as it is now.  I liked that it was simple and had a mix of familiar flavors that all worked well together, but it wasn't your typical spaghetti and tomato sauce.  The recipe called for onions, garlic, wine, tomatoes, and Canadian bacon.  It had an unexpected sweet-smoky flavor beneath the typical flavor of tomatoes and onion and garlic.

As the years went on I started seeing more cooks and more recipes making amatriciana.  The Canadian bacon was unique to the Sliver Palate.  Most recipes I saw used bacon.  Then as pancetta became more popular and more readily available, I started seeing it with pancetta. 

These days true foodies know that authentic amatriciana sauce is only made with guanciale - cured pork cheeks.  From what I have been reading on the Internet, many foodies will dispute what goes into a true amatriciana.  Onions, wine, and garlic are all argued both for and against.  However, guanciale reigns supreme for true amatriciana.

I took amatriciana off my repetoire years ago.  Guanciale may be more common than it used to be, but it's still not easy to find without a special trip to an Italian market (Eataly may be too much of a trip for me, but Mario Batali did open another market locally.)  I could substitute bacon or pancetta or even that Canadian bacon, but as my husband still claims pork products irritate his widdle tum-tum, I don't use it. 

Why not use turkey bacon? You ask.  Well, I don't like turkey bacon too much.  I find most turkey bacon is this weird strip of pressed and formed meat.  It's just too highly processed and it never tastes close enough to the real thing.  Amatriciana recipes were officially retired.

Then one day I found these.

*Puts fingers in ears and waits while everyone screams "EWWWWWWWW WHAT IS THAT?"*

What are these?  Well, maybe I can help you guess.

Are you the kind of person who always wants to carve the turkey at Thanksgiving, or at least be close to the person who carves the turkey so that you can have a certain piece of the turkey all to yourself? A piece that there is only one of?

Do you eat that piece of turkey in private for fear of ridicule (or because you have another family member who secretly wants it and you want to claim it for himself)?

Do you sneak into the kitchen while the turkey is being carved and quickly grab a certain something while no one is looking before it makes it to the table?

I know for years when my mother made Thanksgiving dinner I would always ask her for the carcass for soup-making purposes.  Certain parts of that carcass never made it into the stock pot.

Do you not want to admit that something so loaded with fat is just so darned delicious?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. 

If you didn't, I'll clue you in.  I'm talking about the back end.  The tail.  The part that goes over the fence last.  THE BUTT.  Maybe they don't always want to admit it, but turkey butts have their loyal fans and the gods help any family that has two turkey butt lovers.

I openly loved my turkey tails as a kid, but my mostly fat-phobic family started to instill a sense of shame about it as I grew older, so I stopped openly asking for it at Thanksgiving and began eating it on the sly.  I found out as I grew older though that many tail lovers are coming out of the closet and now openly snack on the back end.  My brother has admitted to eating a tail or two.  I was even shocked when I found out my very calorie-conscious stepmother is an aficionado of the turkey tail.

You can imagine my joy when I was browsing the meat department at my local Shop Rite and discovered a package of turkey tails - SMOKED.

Yes, smoked turkey tails are my new best friend.  I bought that package right away not even knowing what I was going to do with them (other than the obvious act of simply chowing down on them as a midnight snack).  I put them in my freezer and pondered their purpose.

What I have discovered about smoked turkey tails is that they are the perfect substitute for bacon in recipes.  Like bacon they are rich and fatty, and they are also sweet and smoky.  I would even believe slices of smoked turkey tail would be great alongside eggs for breakfast.  They have much more flavor than turkey bacon and don't taste so artificial.

So I decided to use turkey tails to rescue the amatriciana recipe.

I rendered the meat then added the usual suspects of hot peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes and wine. 

I know there are plenty of chi chi recipes out there that use bucatini, but I stuck with spaghetti.  My store had no bucatini.  They did have artisinal perciatelli, and I can't tell the difference between bucatini and perciatelli, but they were way more money that I would want to pay for pasta!

Sorry for the rotten photo.  I should have put it on a nice plate and stuck it under the light box, but it was late and I was hungry and just wanted to eat and not fuss with photography.

My sauce was very thick.  I probably should have cut back on the tomatoes because you could eat this sauce with a fork.  I might have thrown another hot pepper in there for a bit more bite.  Many recipes call for sugar, but I'm trying not to use sugar in recipes unless I really feel it needs it.  The turkey was delicious, but the rendering and cooking did make the bits a slightly rubbery.  If I do this again, I will do a few tweaks like maybe just using one can of whole tomatoes instead of two cans of crushed. 

Sir Pickypants said his tum-tum was bothering him a bit the next day.  He said that maybe it was from the "sausage" I used in the pasta.  I said it wasn't sausage, it was smoked turkey.  He said, "Either way it was good." 

Two things to know about this recipe.  The first is it will take some time to cut your tails into little pieces.  You need to cut around the coccyx bone as well as the little bones (feather attachments) at the back.  Just factor in the time when you make the recipe.  Second is that you don't need to add salt to this, so don't worry that I left it out of the ingredient list.  The smoked tails provide all the salt you need.

Totally Inauthentic Spaghetti Al'Amatriciana

1 pound spaghetti
2 smoked turkey tails, cut into small bits
1 onion, finely diced
2 dried hot peppers, stemmed, seeded, and crushed into bits
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes
1 cup white wine
Pecorino cheese for topping (optional)

In a large saute pan or saucepan render the turkey until it has given off much of its fat and outer skin is a little crispy.  Drain off excess fat.

Cook onion in pan until soft. Add garlic and hot pepper flakes and cook until fragrant.  Add tomatoes and wine and simmer for another 30 minutes.

Cook spaghetti according to package directions.  Serve with sauce and pecorino cheese as desired.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

TERP-A-Versary #4 Happy Birthday to The Essential Rhubarb Pie

Can you believe it?  I made it to yet another blogiversary!  Can't believe I've been managing to come up with new topics and new recipes for that long!

Every time I hit a new anniversary, I get a little philosophical.  Why do I do this?  What do I get out of it?  What does anyone get out of this?  Am I just another mediocre, unimportant food blogger who has delusions about her own writing/cooking skills?  Does it matter to me if that's all that I am?

Years ago before the days of blogs and universal internet access, I remember reading the columns in the local paper and thinking about how I would love to write a food column.  I wanted  write a humorous food column - something that would elicit a chuckle or two from the reader and yet still tackle the joy of cooking something.  I wanted to build my recipes around a good story. 

I think I forgot about that dream for many years until I began blogging.  Originally I only had my non-food blog Shipwrecked & Comatose. Then I started hearing about this thing called a "food blog".  I realized that I had my chance to write about food for my own enjoyment.  I could write that column that I wanted to write years ago because there is now plenty of free space online to do so. 

My main purpose in creating the blog was twofold.  First I wanted to talk about food, one of my favorite topics, without having to bore the non-foodies who read my other blog.  The other was to archive my recipe ideas and archive good recipes I found elsewhere.  All too often I would come up with a recipe and people would ask, "How did you make that?" and because I never wrote things down, I could never really replicate.  In fact, I started this blog making my recipes non-recipes where I would just write down, "I did this, then added that..." 

Eventually I realized a good food blog has an actual recipe.  I still believe in the philosophy that "a recipe is just a story about food," though and I think the endless anecdotes about food and my life around it is one of the major elements of this blog (along with geek references and bad puns).  If I were to say what my blog is about, what its theme is, I would have to say it's simply that I want to tell a story -and that story happens to include dinner!

Still it's hard sometimes to feel confident as a blogger.  So many blogs I read are by professional (or at least part-time professional) food writers or serious food competitors or folks with a much more glamourous life than I have.  I'm not working my own farm - or even elaborate garden - in the country and I'm not a city person who travels the globe finding every exotic dish out there.  I feel rather ordinary at times.  What am I doing that thousands of other hobbyist home cooks aren't doing?  Everyone is a critic too.  So many bloggers and forum participants have all kinds of ideas on what makes a bad food blog.  Bad photos? Check! Boring recipes? Check! Bad writing? Hard to say.  That's a subjective topic and I am often told I'm a good writer - by my very biased friends and family!  Is what I'm doing really worth anything?

But I think this post is starting to feel more like a pity party than a celebration.  That's not what this post is meant to be about.  When I started TERP I wasn't sure if anyone would actually read it.  Then some people did start reading it.  I saw how many people were reading other blogs. I could get two visitors while other blogs had fifty.  I wasn't sure what I was or wasn't doing to make people like me.  Why couldn't I be one of the cool kids?  Over the years I had a revelation.

There is a quote I picked up from a fairly obscure off-Broadway (brief run on Broadway) musical that I like to use.  "I'd rather be 9 people's favorite thing than 100 people's 9th favorite thing."  I look at some of the seriously popular blogs out there.  I see the pressure they must be under to keep their huge audiences happy.  I see the hundreds of comments they receive on every post that they have to stay on top of.  I find myself eschewing those blogs these days.  Recently I found a recipe I liked and wanted to use on Smitten Kitchen and was going to comment on the blog, but I would have been one of 500 commenters.  Would what I have to say really matter?  I would be just another blogger who dropped by to look at a recipe.   I haven't read The Pioneer Woman in months.  I don't even have it on my reading list anymore.  Occasionally I do get a response in the comments to my comment on one of the more widely read blog and it tickles me to death when one of them likes my comment enough to pop over here and say hello.  I don't expect it.

Flying under the radar has its advantages too.  I don't get featured in any stories about the Top 10 Worst Food Blogs Ever. I don't receive hate mail from Rachael Ray fans.  On the down side I don't get freebies from food companies.  I always wish some food company could make me an offer that I could give products away to readers.  That would be a nice thing to do!

I'm really happy that I have the readers I have.  My readership is small, but I love you all for your loyalty.  Some of you have been commenting here for nearly all four years that I have been up.  That's what really keeps this blog going. 

In the end I can't write a blog based on what other people think a blog should be.  It's my blog.  It is what it is - bad photos and all.  If I'm not writing it for me and only for me, then I need to stop blogging.

I believe I got exactly what I wanted from this blog: A place to log my recipe ideas and to just blather about whatever food topic is in my brain.  I also got something I didn't expect at first, but it definitely the best thing about having this blog.  This blog brought me friends.  Truly my newfound foodie friends over the years are the best thing about blogging!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bringing Back Casual Friday

You know these kinds of posts. It's Friday night. I'm home to cook, but I want a nice, easy leisurely dinner with no complex recipes.
What was on tap this Friday?

Remember that homemade pesto from my "garden" that I froze last fall? Well it seems I promptly forgot about it. I decided it was time to trot it out.

I defrosted 6 cubes of frozen pesto and then added them to some cream for a pesto cream sauce (I never said "Lowfat Friday").

I added some  thawed frozen broccoli (that vegetable guilt) as well as some roasted cherry tomatoes.  Roasting cherry tomatoes makes them way more palatable this time of year when good tomatoes are a distant dream.  Oddly enough, brilliant blogger Bellini Valli had the same idea recently (and I refer you to her blog for directions on how to do it).  Lastly I tossed it with gnocchi. Yes, they were frozen gnocchi and not homemade. I just said it was Casual Friday.

Comfort food perfection and so easy!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Classic Repost - Some Thoughts of "Foodieism" and Obesity

I recently deleted my MySpace account. I spent some time taking my favorite posts and reposting them as "classics" on Shipwrecked & Comatose's new location here on Blogger. Before deleting the account I made one last run through that blog and tried to find any other blogs I felt were worth saving or taking a second look at.

There was one that caught my eye that I hadn't saved elsewhere yet. It was a blog that had been on my mind since I read a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly. Many bloggers were in an uproar over it. The article, as much as I could figure out behind the three-dollar words and overbearing tone, is that "foodies" are just glorified, elitist gluttons who use their love of food and cooking to lord over the common folk and rape the planet.

Foodies, according to the author, will eat anything and everything to somehow prove themselves, and justify their lifestyle. If that means eating a tortured house cat, so be it. Foodies delight in watching slaughter because they need to prove to vegetarians that they know where their food comes from. Foodies don't understand how real people eat. They can afford to eat the way they do and shove that knowledge down everyone else's throats.

I think I can join my fellow bloggers in taking exception to much of that. We all love to eat. We all love to cook. I think the blogging community can agree that most citizens of the developed world would be much healthier if we all ate more fresh food and less processed crap did our own cooking. Beyond that, I don't think we all feel the need to eat everything and anything just to prove that we are willing to do so.

We all have our limits and our preferences. I'm not willing to eat an animal that is acknowledged in our culture to be a house pet (unless the circumstances were really dire). I acknowledge that it may be hypocritical, but is it any less hypocritical than saying you will only eat meat from a kosher animal? We all have our reasons for drawing the line at certain animals. I am willing to acknowledge that there are places in this world where house pets are a silly luxury and it would be a waste to not eat an edible animal that would otherwise compete with you for food sources. On one hand, I have not eaten veal since I was in high school. On the other hand, I have developed an unfortunate taste for foie gras in recent years. Some folks will go to great lengths to taste new and exciting animals. I personally don't care if I never try certain ones. All of us are different.

Then there are foods that I simply don't like. I say I'm not really a foodie because I'm picky. I may be pickier than most, but that doesn't mean every food lover in the world loves every food. Most of us have limits on what we don't like. I hate foods that foodies stereotypically love like seafood, olives, and blue cheeses. I may be extreme, but I'm not alone. I don't have to enjoy everything and neither does any other food lover.

However, there is a dark side to the whole foodie movement. This is the side that I can't deny. This is where the accusations of elitism ring true with me. I understand them well. When I found this old blog, I knew I had to repost it because it does address that one critique that I can't help agreeing with.

Sometimes phrases like "local and seasonal", "sustainable", and "slow food" make me want to tear my hair out and commit uncharacteristic acts of violence.

Why should I feel that way? After all, the whole "localandseasonal" movement is supposed to be aimed at people like me. Isn't the revered localandseasonal all about us liberal treehuggers? Shouldn't I be supporting it with every ounce of my being?

The thing is I'm not just a treehugger. I'm also a champion of the downtrodden and a believer in open access, and that's where localandseasonal rubs me the wrong way.

It all started with a newspaper headline.

Kevin and I dream of one day getting ourselves out of this hellhole known as NY and retiring to the country. One of our dream destinations is Chincoteague of course. Because we like to dream of the place as our final home, as well as our favorite place for vacation, Kevin subscribes to the local paper, The Chincoteague Beacon. It helps us keep tabs of what's happening down there.

The headliner for this week's issue was that Accomack County, VA is the fattest county in Virginia. It is the Number One county for obesity.

How can that be? I wondered. If I lived in that area, I believe I'd be so very healthy. There are beaches for swimming. There are horse farms for riding. There are quiet streets for biking, tails for hiking, and lovely estuaries for kayaking. The area is surrounded by farms. Chincoteague hosted not one, but two farmer's markets the week I was there. There is also a large farm-fresh produce market on the island and several small vegetable stands. There is fresh seafood for sale everywhere. If you're willing to stick a net in the water, you can pull out some fresh seafood yourself. How can people be anything but healthy in such a place?

Perhaps I should back up and think about a few things for a moment.

I remember during my first trip to Chincoteague, my mother made the observation that many of the locals were missing teeth. She thought it was a pretty good indication of the economic situation of the area. In today's messed-up world of health care, good dental care is somehow a luxury and not a necessity. Even people with health insurance don't always have dental coverage. It's not something I'm used to, having grown up in a wealthy NYC suburb where some quality time with the orthodontist is as much a rite of passage as a bar mitzvah or one's first car, and cavities are few and far between.

When I go down to Virginia, I often visit relatives in Ocean City first. When I drive the back roads from Ocean City to Chincoteague, I see some of the worst poverty imaginable. I see homes that don't look as if they could possibly be habitable, but still have a car in the driveway or a flag on the porch, or other random signs of life. The area is definitely depressed.

I often personally find it hard to be politically correct with my eating habits. I have a two nearby farmer's markets that take place near my home on weekends. There is one near my office during the week. I still have trouble making time to get to them. I spend my weekends in the rural areas of Sussex County NJ where farmstands abound in summer, yet I don't always have a chance to stop by and buy something (although I find it funny that I drive to NJ to buy "local"). I don't belong to a CSA because I'm not sure it would be economical for me to buy all of that farm bounty for a two-person household(and also none of the CSAs in the area deliver through the farm markets where I shop). I am supposed to be the kind of person who wants to, and should be able to buy all of the fresh local produce she wants, but often I don't. It's often just not convenient, and it's also not always cheap.

Imagine if I lived in the kind of poverty I often see on vacation. If I can't always make it to the farmer's market because the one job I work gets in the way, how can someone working two or three jobs do it? What if you don't have a car and the farm markets or stands are not in walking distance, or accessible to public transportation? How about the cost? A dollar can buy me a cheap mac-and-cheese kit that feeds at least two people. That same dollar won't buy me two apples at the farmer's market.

Then there is the exercise thing. How many of the people living in these shacks have the leisure time or energy to walk? The roads are great for bike riding? Great. How will they buy the bicycles, or the kayaks to explore those estuaries? Can they afford the fishing equipment and the licenses to fish? Do they have hours to spend at the beach to perfect their body boarding skills? (You also have to pay a permit fee to park at Assateague for the beach.)

Remember the 80s when Satan Reagan said that poor people obviously weren't going hungry because they were fat? They're not fat because they're eating too much. They're fat because they're eating too much of the only food they can afford. It's low quality nutrition combined with lack of safe and plentiful opportunities for exercise. I should never have questioned why a place as beautiful as Accomack County, where opportunities to be healthy are plentiful, has the nighest obesity rate in Virginia. It's obvious. There is just so much poverty. The links between poverty and obesity sometimes seem to be ignored by both the localandseasonal proponents and the "let them eat more cake" crowd who thinks they're not hungry because they're fat.

This is why I join those who call people like Alice Waters elitist. Don't preach about good health to the choir when the people who most need fresh food have no access to it, and couldn't afford to eat in your restaurant. Michael Pollan can kiss my fat, cellulite-riddled butt with his plea to grow your own food. If you can't afford your own land, the seeds and equipment to sow it, and the apparatus and chemicals needed to keep the vermin from eating your crops before you do, that's pretty useless advice. (I do like his advice to avoid eating anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. Thanks for telling me I shouldn't eat tofu, Mike!)

In the end I'm not surprised that Accomack has the highest obesity rate of any county in Virginia. I would like to know if anyone else is surprised and if anyone is going to do anything about it.