A tale of confusion in the kitchen
Have you ever read a recipe and wondered just what the hell they were asking you to get? I have. A lot. Especially since I started doing Cookbook of the Month. Two examples of this phenomenon really stood out to me, and if you’re following along with me each month, I thought you might like to know what I’ve learned.
Maybe I’m an idiot, but when I first started this whole journey, I had no idea what creme fraiche was. I expected to be able to get it in the store. I walked up to my dairy section, and I scanned every bottle of milk, every vaguely white container of cheese or cream substance, nothing. I thought, hey, maybe I was missing something. I was.
You can make it yourself. Joshua McFadden didn’t teach me that in Six Seasons. Maybe there are places in the country where you can get creme fraiche already made, but I live in a slightly rural community. What is available, however, are the ingredients to make it: heavy cream and buttermilk.
That’s all you need. According to Epicurious, it’s not unreasonable to do in your own kitchen. This is their recipe.
Labne is evidently a trending ingredient according to the 6/20/18 Bon Appetit foodcast, and Alison Roman both acknowledged its overuse and claimed to only use it like once in her cookbook, but is it true? Kinda. She has a few uses of Labne. What the hell is it anyway? Her cookbook didn’t tell me, and neither did the foodcast. There seems to be an assumption out there that due to its popularity, most foodies and chefs would know what it is. My suspicion is that this ingredient in particular hasn’t exited the inner circle of big food cities.
If you’re uncultured like me, Labne is a yogurt cheese for lack of a better term. I looked up a few recipes to find that you can also make this one at home. Just about everyone makes it the same way with a few tweaks to the flavorings at the end. The good news about Dining In is that you can generally substitute the Labne for full fat yogurt and just not go through the trouble. I decided it might be worth it for a fun experiment.
I’ll update you on my progress making these elusive ingredients by hand in early July. They both take at least half a day to do, and I want to give my labne a special Eating Normal spin. We need the weekend for that.
Are there any other ingredients some of your favorite recipes call for that you have to make yourself? Do you just substitute them?
We all start to panic when the pantry gets low and the veggies start to go a little nasty. Fear not! I am here to lend you a few <insert ingredient here> recipes to help you get through those last few days before you hit the grocery store. The below ideas are my go to’s both when I’m lazy and when I have ran out of shit to make. I noticed as I made this list that many of the ideas are based on ethnic foods. I’ve got no idea why. I was exposed to a lot of Chinese take out and Mexican restaurants as a child, so may that’s got something to do with that subject. Let’s walk right past that and take a look at how I empty my fridge.
Seriously, you can put everything but the kitchen sink in a fried rice so long as you have rice in the first place. I rely on this regularly when I have a few vegetables that need to GTFO of my fridge before the Arm and Hammer box in the back has to start doing work. You can find a lot of fried rice guides online, and a lot of them will tell you leftover white rice is preferable. Let's not fool around. You don’t have that, and you don't have time for that. No pot of rice survives a single meal in my house, and I’m only cooking for two.
The only other non-negotiable ingredient is egg. I scramble fry those bad boys after my vegetables that need a longer cook are most of the way through. Soft veggies like mushrooms go in after that. There are a lot of fried rice recipes out there to give you the technique that you just have to adapt to the state of your fridge.
Here are a few I suggest you look at to get an idea:
New York Times Fried Rice Recipe
Food Network Kitchen’s Fried Rice
If I have a package of wontons in the fridge, and I often do, this is a common way for me to clear out my veggies in a hurry. Chop the veggies real fine. Saute until softened. Allow them to cool, and then roll those bad boys into any shape you like so long as you close your wonton. You can fry them whole or steam them, whatever you prefer. I pair mine with a thai sweet chili sauce out of the bottle. I'm not proud. My husband just drowns them in soy. Either way, they make for a meal beside a bowl of rice, and you can rest easy knowing you let that head of broccoli turn rancid in your crisper drawer.
I don’t follow a recipe for these. This is all me. I sweat out the veggies, let them cool, and then roll them into the wonton. While I’m making my wonton pouches, I heat up some oil at about medium high heat. I never measure the temperature. When I’m done, I drop a few into the oil. Make sure not to overcrowd the pan. They don’t need very long. 2-3 minutes. They’ll start to float once they’re cooked.
I have a lot of rice and soba noodles stored in my pantry for when the stir fry is called to serve. Like fried rice, I just dump whatever I have in and pray. It cooks a lot like fried rice, except you add the noodles after you’ve cooked them to whatever veggies and meat you have going in the wok. Again, no recipe ideas here. You can live it up.
A common one that we use is tofu stirfry. I’ll fry my little cubes and set them off to the side, then do some veggies like onion, broccoli, garlic, peppers, etc in the wok. I soak my rice noodles during this cooking process and add them to the veggies once I feel they’ve cooked. I only add my perspective sauce once the noodles are in the wok. Cook it down so the sauce combines with everything, top with fried tofu bits, and serve.
The tortilla is an incredible vehicle. It can become a chip, a taco, a burrito, a quesadilla. It is a food item upon which whole cultures have developed, and I can’t really blame them for it. The tortilla gets a lot of use in my home as part of my fridge cleaning repertoire. I totally bastardize the concept of the quesadilla using whatever cheese I have in my fridge to again move veggies like broccoli, spinach, and the like out of my drawers. I’m sure I’d offend someone’s abuela with what I do, but it works.
I turn to the quesadilla more often than the burrito because it's just more time efficient for me, but there’s nothing stopping you from making a pot of beans or rice or both to turn that quesadilla into a burrito, or dare I say it, a quesorito. All of the same ingredients can be rolled into a burrito as can be cooked into a quesadilla. I may actually do a ‘burrito rolling’ article since I graduated from the school of Taco Bell in high school. I learned some mad tortilla tricks in that bad boy.
You know best what you’ve got in your fridge. These are just three ideas I tend to employ at least once a week to help me utilize every ingredient I purchase on the weekend trip to the grocery store. We all have some fall back recipes, but maybe one of these ideas can help you with those problem ingredients you sometimes forget about in the crisper drawer. Happy cooking!
So I was listening to the Bon Appetit foodcast like I regularly do, and they had a former employee, now cookbook author, on their June 20th podcast to discuss her cookbook, Dining In. Voted the best cookbook of 2017 by a multitude of media outlets, the book rocketed her to stardom, and apparently, made her one of the first chefs to use viral marketing for a cookbook.
Her Salted Butter and Chocolate Chunk Shortbread cookies are something of a phenomenon on instagram. (seriously, just look her up. Everyone is making them) According to the podcast, she does her best to comment on every picture churned out by budding American cooks across the country that are helping themselves to her cookbook that promises she will never make us cook something in more than one pan unless absolutely necessary. Thanks, Alison. Can I call you that?
Needless to say, I ordered Dining In literally while listening to the podcast. It’s our July cookbook of the month to explore together. If you follow the Eating Normal facebook page before July 4th, you might get a copy yourself! I’m giving away a second copy to the people that follow the page as a thank you to the folks that are helping me build a fun hobby.
I have selected the following four recipes to definitely cook this month, but I may dive into more before I give you my final verdict on Dining In. Will it live up to the hype and accolades? Find out with me. Pick it up for yourself, or pray you’re lucky enough to get my second copy.
Dishes to Try this Month:
The beaches of Delaware are home to more than a few local chain restaurants serving tourists and townies alike. Arenas is among them, spreading inland into the less touristy locations. Milford is home to one such location, and my husband and I are frequent visitors. There is much to this inland food stop located just a block off of the main downtown drag.
It’s the kind of place you can fall back on, and we all need that when we aren’t interested in cooking. I fall into this trap more often than I care to admit, but it helps to know I have a place nearby to back me up when I am bitten by the laziness bug. Not only can we eat well, there’s a lot to do there.
Every Friday is trivia night. Although we have never participated, we nearly always wound up eating there on a Friday night after work. It gets very busy. We often have to wait for a seat. Even the bar is full. The building is lively and people are happy. Families come to take part in the festivities. Star Wars trivia night was perhaps the greatest example of this. Parents brought their kids to do trivia while they had a few beers in a nearby corner. I loved it.
The Arenas in Milford has a standard bar food menu: burgers, wings, and the like. Nothing here is particularly out of the ordinary. If you don’t look hard at the menu, you won’t see the hidden gems or the healthy options. Their main menu is large, but not unwieldy. The options fill diet needs for pescetarians and vegetarians like me. It definitely makes the menu look bloated, but the benefits of that outweigh the negatives ten to one. It’s good to have vegetarian options that don’t make your vegetarian friend HATE your restaurant choice. No iceberg lettuce, please.
There is, however, a particular item on the menu that I will order every visit without fail, likely to the frustration of my husband who just wants to eat something else: Mac and cheese bites. I know what you’re thinking: “Oh my god, mysterious blogger, every bar has mac and cheese bites.”
You would be right, but those mac and cheese bites are not Arena’s mac and cheese bites. Does your local dive shape their fried mac and cheese into a triangle? Do they serve that delicious cheddar mac with a side of SRIRACHA RANCH? No. They do not. That sriracha ranch totally makes the mac and cheese bites pop with just enough spice to cut through the fatiness and the oil on normally gets from this bar food classic. I could eat them forever. You may as well call me Nibbler, because there are few things I like more than a good appetizer.
It’s places like Arena’s that have helped me to understand what the local community is really eating and really likes to eat. When I go in there, I see a variety of food and a variety of beer. Both of those are very good things for me. They encourage drinking locally, featuring brews from 16 Mile Brewing, Mispillion River Brewing, and Dogfish head just to name a few. There may even be more on the list since my last visit!
Arena’s first opened in Rehoboth in 1990 and has expanded since to seven total locations in Delaware. It absolutely is a staple of the local community. You can check out their main website for further information about their locations, or you can find them on facebook.
Arena’s Milford Facebook
Over dinner with my husband and one of his coworkers, we came to a discussion of the casserole. He told us that two of his other coworkers near our age -- we are millenials -- had no idea what a casserole is. What the hell is happening over here on the East Coast? Does anyone make green bean casserole for Thanksgiving out here? Has this former star of the American Kitchen died? God, I hope so.
When I talk about a casserole, I talk about one of those things mixed together and put in what is referred to as a casserole dish using a canned soup as one of the binding agents. We aren’t talking about a baked mac and cheese or a shepherd's pie. It’s the questionable dish your weird aunt brings to dinner.
I have plenty of memories of the casserole, mostly of the green bean casserole. It was my mortal enemy at Thanksgiving, covered in cream of mushroom soup and prepackaged French’s onion bits. I wanted and still want nothing to do with it. I have gone through adulthood thinking that this experience was synonymous with the millennial childhood, but apparently not! I, for one, am glad for it. It means the age of the casserole is gone, but why?
The last time I had a casserole was my mother-in-law’s recipe, one that she made on rare occasions for my husband. It’s a chicken alfredo type baked casserole, the whole reason that my husband so adamantly defends the honor of the casserole. He was shocked that his coworkers had no idea what one was, and he seemed more surprised when I told him I was glad the casserole is gone. For the record, I wouldn’t call my mama-in-law’s dish a casserole. It’s more akin to a baked mac and cheese.
I blame the simultaneous growth of food media and the changing landscape of dinner time. We are all more aware of what we put into our body and how we do it. When was the last time you saw someone on Food Network walk you through a casserole recipe? For that matter, when was the last time you sat down for a family meal that wasn’t a holiday gathering?
It’s no longer popular or fashionable to show up with a casserole for a potluck. I guarantee you, I would walk right past it if someone showed up with one for a work potluck. I’ll much sooner eat something you bring to me in a crockpot because I can trust that workhorse. I wouldn’t come to a potluck with a casserole, that’s for sure. I’m that weirdo who will show up with an obnoxious baked good: cookie, cake, or otherwise.
What I want to know is if this is another regional thing. Do you see casseroles still where you live? Are these East Coast kids luckier than they think they are? (They are, we already know the answer to that question)
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