Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tuna and Tomato Pasta, Stage 1: Denial

I've never been a fan of tuna. And by "never been a fan", I mean that most times the very thought of tuna makes me want to throw up. I have an ingenious reason for why this is--when my mom was pregnant with me and my twin sister, she had a strong aversion to tuna, which made her want to throw up. She also had strong cravings for baked potatoes and for milkshakes. Which, by that logic, is why to this day I hate tuna and love baked potatoes and milkshakes, right? Well, not really. I recognize that baked potatoes and milkshakes are not exactly obscure cravings, and I find that most people don't like the smell of tuna, which is really what puts me off.

Within the past few months, I gave tuna a semi-fair shot for the first time. It's all thanks to Noah--when my parents pull the whole "just try a little bit and see if you like it" thing I usually respond with "but I don't like it why do you keep trying to make me eat things I don't like?". But recently Noah did the same thing. "But Noah," I said, "I don't like tuna. You know that." But he didn't have to ask too many times before I agreed to at least try it. I believe my reaction was "I guess it's not quite as terrible as I thought it was." It helps that Noah rarely steers me wrong on the food front--he was the one who convinced me that not all hot dogs were disgusting, and that mustard can be okay in some preparations (not that I've actually touched the mustard in the fridge, and in fact this hasn't stopped me from pretending it's not mine). One tip that I have for people trying to get their kids/significant others/friends to like tuna is not to make tuna salad the first thing you try. While it may seem logical to throw them into the fire in that way, introducing someone to tuna through something that is composed entirely of tuna with virtually no other flavors to complement it is very daunting. When Noah left to move back to New York and left me all his food products, included in those food products were two cans of tuna*. The only thing I knew how to make with tuna was tuna salad, and I just didn't think I could stomach that. Luckily, just then I came upon a recipe for tuna and tomato pasta. It seemed perfect to me because the tomato flavor would balance out the tuna and would make the whole tuna-eating experience a lot easier.

Because of my extreme denial that I was eating tuna, the recipe that I linked to was really only the jumping-off point for the dish I made. My dish had two main considerations: 1) I needed the tuna to be a little more sneakily incorporated into the dish than the recipe seemed to want to do, and 2) I didn't have any of the ingredients on hand except for the two cans of tuna, the seasonings, and one 28-oz can of tomatoes, which would have to substitute for the fresh ones. Here's my, uh...recipe.

How to Make Tuna And Tomato Pasta If You "Don't Like" Tuna:
1. Start your pasta going first--the sauce takes only a couple minutes to throw together, so you'll have some downtime while the water boils and stuff. Choose an appealing-looking pasta--I chose campanelle because I'd never used them before, they looked like they'd hold sauce really well, and they were adorable.
2. At about the time your water is boiling and you're ready to dump the pasta in, heat up a little olive oil in a large pan or skillet. If you're like me, take 5 tries to open the cans of tuna, pondering the great mystery of why, with all your skills in the kitchen, you still can't seem to operate a can opener correctly. Once the oil is all sizzly, dump in your 2 cans of tuna. Immediately use your wooden scraper or other implement to mash the tuna into the tiniest possible pieces, so that when you eat the finished product the individual bites of tuna will be relatively small.
3. Let that tuna cook in there for awhile, basically until you get tired of waiting around. I found it took me about as long as it took the pasta to finish cooking, so like 5-8 minutes. It didn't change terribly noticeably during that time, which is why I say just kind of keep cooking it until you think "yeah, I guess that's good".
4. Dump in your tomatoes. How much of the can you use depends on just how much you want to hide that tuna. I dumped in part of the can, but that didn't look like enough, so I put in more and then discovered I'd actually used the entire 28-oz can. If you hadn't caught on by now to the fact that this isn't a meal you should be making if you're interested in a finely nuanced dish where all the flavors come out, it should be dawning on you right about here. This dish has two purposes: to satiate hunger, and to get protein from the tuna without noticing you're doing it.
5. "Chop" your tomatoes by repeatedly stabbing them with your scraper or other implement until they come apart. I would have bought diced tomatoes if I knew this was what I was using it for, but all I had were whole peeled ones. I used a combination of a scraper and the slotted spoon from the pasta to get the tomatoes into pieces. Stir this whole mixture around and let it do its thing for a few more minutes.
6. Season with whatever appropriate seasonings you have lying around. I used a lot of oregano, and then as an afterthought I put in some of a bottle I found in the cupboard that was labeled "Italian Seasoning", which was probably just more oregano, but I used it anyway. Stir around and you're good to go!

I'm eating it right now, and my verdict is that it did what I wanted it to do: I can taste the tuna a little bit, but it is heavily offset by the large amount of tomato I put in. It does not make me want to throw up. I have a rather large bowl, and I will eat all of it and will continue to do so for the next few days.

Of course, some of you are probably thinking, "but Florence! This is kind of cheating, isn't it? How will you ever experience the glories of tuna if you make dishes where you can't even taste it?" The answer, my friends, is baby steps. This is just one stage in the tuna journey. I'm sure I'll reach Acceptance eventually. But for now, a bowl of this is a big accomplishment.

What are your favorite tuna recipes? If I'm at the store and convince myself to actually buy more tuna (which would be an even bigger step), maybe I'll make them!

*When I told my sister that I was making tuna and tomato pasta despite my aversion to tuna, she said, "but if you don't like tuna, why not give it away? You don't have to eat it." My response: "no, no, I have to do this, I should broaden my horizons!". What I meant: "I don't have a lot of money and that tuna will bring me at least 3 meals and then I won't have to go grocery shopping in the next couple days." The fact that Noah left me all his food when he moved has probably halved the amount that I've had to go grocery shopping these past couple month, but now that stockpile is running pretty low. Pretty much all I have left is a bottle of clam juice, a can of red curry paste, that poor lonely jar of mustard, and about 5 different kinds of vinegar (we here at the FBTS homestead are serious about our vinegar).

Also, an additional safety note: daydreaming while washing out tuna cans is a Bad Idea! My mind was totally somewhere else while I was rinsing those cans earlier (I think I was thinking something along the lines of "I have a headache, I'm sleepy, why do I have to go to work tomorrow"), and I grabbed the tuna can on the unfriendly end (the part of the top that gets exposed when you used the can opener on it). The sharp edge of the top was like, "Hahahaha! I kill you! *slice*" and then I was bleeding. Cooking is dangerous, kids. Or at least, doing the recycling is.

Monday, September 27, 2010

soups and stews: the official beginning of fall

Hello again! As usual, much has happened in the world of FBTS since you last heard from us. Most important for this blog, Noah went back to New York in search of greener employment pastures (there's not too much around here in terms of full-time work), so we are cooking and eating separately. But we're still doing a lot of cooking and eating, of course! Here is what's going on over on my side of things.

To start with, I love cookbooks. Noah isn't so much of a fan, he prefers to make things off-the-cuff, but while I enjoy doing that too, for the most part I love picking through cookbooks and getting new inspiration. There will be days when large portions of my day are spent rummaging around in cookbooks and food blogs looking for new and delicious things to do! Those are the best kinds of days. :-) My cookbook library is steadily growing, with plenty of standbys as well as new and quirky additions (I recently picked up two childrens' cookbooks from Goodwill--I don't have any kids, but childrens' cookbooks appealed strongly to the five-year-old inside me).

A little while after I moved into the house where I live with three other young people (who also love food, so we're getting along great), I was flipping through a cookbook called Ethnic Cuisine, which Noah gave to me as a Christmas present a couple years back. All the recipes look great-in fact, as I flip through it now I find several more I want to tackle soon-but when I looked through it a few weeks ago I didn't even get past the first couple pages, because the first two recipes in the book looked so good. Here are my takes on a couple of her soup recipes. Check out the actual book for the real versions, because mine were sometimes altered significantly based on what I had lying around.

Turmeric Yogurt Soup (adapted from Ethnic Cuisine, by Lorraine Turner):
1/3 cup all-purpose flour (she suggests gram flour, but I didn't have any. You miss some of the deeper taste by using AP, but it's definitely doable)
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups plain yogurt
2 tbsp. vegetable oil (you can also use peanut oil, or, even better, ghee)
3 cups water

I didn't really garnish it with anything, she suggests oil, cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, and whole fresh red chilies.

1. Mix the flour, turmeric, chili powder, and salt together, then beat in the yogurt with a whisk (or fork) until there are no more lumps.
2. Heat the oil (or melt the ghee) in a heavy-bottom pan over medium-high heat. Mix in the yogurt mixture and then the water, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat way down and simmer for about 8 minutes (keep whisking it fairly frequently; I didn't hover over it whisking it and it still turned out fine), until the soup thickens slightly. Taste and season!

I was worried originally that my soup wasn't thick enough (it didn't look nearly as thick as the soup in the picture, but it thickens up after a little while, and significantly more in the fridge. I didn't garnish it at all, and ate it with bread to mop it all up. The tangy yogurt made for a very unique soup that was different from anything I'd ever had before (especially since I hadn't eaten much plain yogurt before this year; I'm switching over to organic plain yogurt with fruit instead of store-bought yogurt because I want fewer additives in my food).

Tunisian Garlic and Chickpea Soup (adapted from Ethnic Cuisine, by Lorraine Turner):
8 tbsp. olive oil (or appx.; I didn't measure)
12 garlic cloves, very finely chopped (I only used 8 because I ran out of garlic)
3 cups chickpeas, soaked overnight (I think I only used 2 cups because I ran out of chickpeas--clearly I was unprepared for this soup)
2 1/2 quarts water
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander (both of those are her measures, again I just put in "some" of each)
1 or 2 carrots, very finely chopped (smaller measures are what I had on hand)
1 or 2 onions, very finely chopped
4 or 6 celery stalks, very finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon (it doesn't say it's optional but it totally is; I skipped it)
4 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra sprigs to garnish (I forgot to add it, so I used it solely as a garnish)
salt and pepper

1.Heat half the oil in a large, heavy-bottom pan over low heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Add the chickpeas (drain them first), water, cumin, and ground coriander. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until tender (she says 2 1/2 hours, but it's really based on your stove. I'm pretty sure mine was done in a little over an hour, though I did use fewer than the stated ingredients).
2. While that's cooking, heat the rest of the oil in a separate pan. Add the carrots, onions, and celery, then cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.
3. Stir the vegetables into the pan of chickpeas. Transfer about half the soup to a food processor (or blender) and process until smooth. (This step shouldn't be skipped! It gives the soup a cool variation in texture.) Mix the puree back in with the rest of the soup, and add in the lemon juice little by little, tasting all the way, if you used it. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with cilantro!

This soup was a total winner in my book! It was hearty and filling, and even with reducing the ingredients it made enough soup to last me for days. I will definitely be making it again as we go into fall and winter.

The last recipe I wanted to share with you is actually a link to a recipe. While Noah's food niche tends to lean toward the Asian food side of cooking, I have always been interested in traditional Latin American recipes. It's hard to find these written down in many places, but I did find a gorgeous Ecuadorian food blog called Laylita's Recipes, and I want to cook practically everything she writes about! The blog appears to be defunct, because she hasn't updated in a long time, but paging through the back entries of the blog has given me a lot of great ideas. I hope to try lots of her recipes in the coming weeks! This week, I was going to make a large quantity of her menestra de porotos, or bean stew, to eat by myself; in an unexpected turn of events, though, Noah surprised me with a visit this week, so we got to try the recipe out together. :-) I loved it! It was a good, filling stew that is sure to turn into a staple winter meal for me. I served it with the fried egg on top, and avocado slices on the side--over rice, of course. Since then I've been eating the leftovers over pasta, and tonight for dinner I'm probably going to bake a couple potatoes and spoon more bean stew over those! Check out the link and try it for yourselves!

That's all for now! Until next time!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A perfect breakfast for a rainy day

Instead of waking up to my alarm this morning, I woke up to a nice big thunderstorm! While I love thunderstorms, my favorite way to experience them is when I have a nice long day off to stay in and watch the rain...which was not the case today. Like every weekday, I accompany Noah into town when he goes to work, hang out at the college library for a few hours, go to my own job, and then hang out at the public library for a while until Noah picks me up (such is the life of a couple with only one car, and I haven't fully learned to ride my new bike yet, so I can't get around that way, unfortunately). I didn't feel like having breakfast at home this morning because I was a bit slow and didn't want to rush through breakfast, so I decided to eat in Westminster.

My favorite place to eat breakfast in Westminster (possibly my favorite place to eat in general, except for this place), is the Heinz Bakery. I've been there 3 times so far, usually just to pick up a cinnamon doughnut for a snack. I have a serious love for cinnamon doughnuts, and Heinz makes a great one. Today, I decided to get one of their breakfast sandwiches as well. I got a bacon and egg sandwich, and paid extra to have tomato on it as well. It was delicious--the sunflower bread I chose to have it on was extremely tasty, different from your regular white or wheat options but not too jarring. The bacon and egg were nicely cooked, and I was glad I got tomato on it because it complemented everything really well. This place is clearly where most people in town go to meet and talk and have breakfast, and the people running the place seemed to know almost everyone, as well as what they usually got. The staff was warm and friendly, and the place has a nice atmosphere--sparsely decorated, but the emphasis is on good food and good people. I foresee many more breakfasts at Heinz in the years that I live here. :-D

PS-Did I mention that the whole sandwich (with tomato as an extra), cinnamon doughnut, and glass of water came out to $4.25 total? That might be the best part. :-)

Heinz Bakery
42 West Main Street,
Westminster, MD 21157-4816

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

things I didn't know about garlic

Garlic, I'm sure most of us will agree, is a pretty awesome food. Not only is it delicious, but it has some pretty spectacular health benefits, so much so that it can be used medicinally as well as being eaten. Like regular medicines, though, it can have side effects, which still occur when you're just eating it as part of a delicious meal, particularly when you eat it raw.

Such was the case with the seemingly innocuous pasta salad that Noah and I made a few days ago. It was your standard pasta salad, with farfalle and fresh tomatoes and fresh, raw garlic. Not aware of the potential side effects of eating raw garlic, I was completely unsuspecting. I ate for a little while, munching through some raw garlic, and then all of a sudden I was hit with an instantaneous wave of nausea. Like, "wow, I'm going to throw up in approximately 30 seconds"-type nausea. So I waited (near the bathroom, just in case) and after a couple minutes it just disappeared. This confused me, but Noah was coming down with a cold at that point, and my body acts pretty weird when it's getting sick, so I thought maybe I was getting it too. Also I remember being pretty ravenous when I was eating, so I thought it was possible that I had eaten too fast.

Then, a few minutes ago, we settled down to have some leftovers for dinner, and I immediately decided to finish the pasta salad. I didn't think I would have any problems, but soon after I started eating it, boom--unhappy tummies. Since I had the sense to stop eating right when I noticed it, it just went away a few seconds later, which is when I decided to search "garlic nausea" on Google. Turns out feeling nauseous after eating raw garlic is totally something that happens! I never knew. At least it's not garlic in general--I don't know if I could get by without using garlic in my cooking. ;-)

Have you guys ever had problems with eating garlic? Do you know of any other foods that have "side effects"?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Pride goeth before a fall

Everyone has to fail in the kitchen sometimes. Even the most experienced cooks and bakers, and especially the novice ones, should expect to make a lot of mistakes and have results that end up pretty much inedible. I am an extremely novice cook, so I should have expected that my first try at a pie dough would not go over so well. But I'd been thinking about making Celery and Onion Pies, from a baking book we got at Goodwill, for days. I'd spent much more time imagining the perfect result that was going to come out of the oven than I spent actually making sure I knew how to make pie dough. I entered the kitchen this morning with a feeling I can only describe as "hubris". And at first things went really well. The filling, which was a super-easy mixture of celery, onion, garlic, salt, and a little milk and flour, went spectacularly. I had remembered to put my dough ingredients in the fridge so they would be nice and cold when I made the dough. I sifted the flour and salt, rubbed the butter in with my fingers, and mixed it until it looked approximately like dough is supposed to when the butter is mixed in. Then the recipe didn't call for nearly enough water to make a dough, so I had to put some more water in, and a little more flour to balance it out. I slapped it onto one of our counters to roll it out, and here's where I ran into problems.

At the same time as my dough got progressively warmer because our kitchen does not circulate air at all, I used too much flour to roll out the dough. The addition of the water made the dough just slightly sticky, so to ease it in rolling out I added a little bit of flour. I started rolling out the dough, but after just a little while the steadily warming dough started to tear and get too thin. I added more flour. I rolled it out. Every now and then, more flour found its way onto the counter and the dough. By the time I'd managed to roll out a sufficient quantity of dough, everything was probably pretty heavily floured. Did I mention that I used an empty bottle of Arrogant Bastard ale in lieu of a rolling pin? Because I totally did.

Then it was time for Mistake #2. I neglected to check to see if the muffin tin I was going to use to bake these pies in was actually the right size for the job. Turns out it was way too big. In the pretty pictures that accompany the recipe in the cookbook, the pies come up to the top of the pan, but mine only made it about halfway. Next time I make this I'll definitely just make bigger and fewer pies. Determined not to accept complete and total failure, I managed to slap the pies together and throw them in the oven.

The recipe calls for 15-20 minutes in the oven, but after that time they just weren't looking right. I left them in for a little while longer, and then called my mom, who was currently helping my sister pack up her stuff for her imminent move. "Mom," I said, "I have these pies in the oven that turned out really badly, and here's my question: I know what the pies are supposed to look like when you do them right, but how do I know whether I should leave these in the oven for longer or whether they're as done as they're going to get?" I described them to her (as "the dough looks about like it did when I rolled it out, except drier", and she counseled me to admit defeat and take them out.

Talking to my sister on the phone later, I told her I was disappointed that the pies hadn't turned out well, but that I'd had a lot of fun making them. I love getting messy (I'm secretly a five-year-old), and this allowed me to get flour all over myself and the kitchen, including the countertops, sink, floor, table, dishes, and refrigerator door handle. Plus, since the filling actually did turn out to be delicious, I was just going to scrape it out and use it over pasta or rice as a delicious snack.

"Well," she told me, "I think you can call that a win."

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Caribbean Kitchen; or, A Good Way to Beat Rush Hour

A couple days ago, Noah and I were driving home after picking up our CSA share when we ran into some big traffic problems. An accident had closed off Route 140, pretty much the only way into Westminster from the Baltimore area, and everywhere else was severely clogged with rush-hour traffic. After driving on Route 26 for a little while, we decided we'd had enough and we would stop at the first interesting-looking restaurant we could find on Route 26. Soon enough, when we spotted a small yellow building called Caribbean Kitchen, were immediately intrigued.

Caribbean Kitchen is exactly the kind of restaurant I like to visit. It's small, friendly, unassuming, and the prices are as reasonable as the food is delicious. We shared an excellent jerk chicken meal, which came with the chicken and sides of rice and peas, plantains, and cabbage. The cabbage wasn't all that exciting, but it complemented everything else well. And I love plantains, so this was very exciting for me! The chicken was pretty spicy, but not as spicy as the person who took our order made it sound (maybe people in the area don't have as much of a tolerance for heat as we do?). It did come with a sauce on the side which had a nice kick, though.

As we left, the person at the front asked how we liked our meal and mentioned that she was surprised we had enjoyed the spicy chicken. "Oh, it wasn't that spicy", we demurred. "Really?", she said. "Well, next time you come, I'll make it real spicy for you." I can't wait!

Caribbean Kitchen
8139 Liberty Road,
Windsor Mill, MD 21244-3043

(410) 496-6222

PS-Today we're experiencing another good kind of food--the down-home church dinner! There's a Methodist church next door to our apartment that's serving an all-you-can-eat dinner tonight. How can we not check it out?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th of July!

FBTS wishes you a very happy 4th of July. :-) I love a good holiday as much as the next person, but the 4th of July is my least favorite holiday. Mainly because of the fireworks--I dislike loud noises, and things with a negative environmental impact. But, like most people, we did eat traditional 4th of July food: burgers, with a delicious improvised pasta salad on the side. Yum. :-D

Monday, June 28, 2010

summer food

Well, summer is officially here in Maryland, as evidenced by the crushing heat and humidity that makes me want to do nothing but sit in bed reading with the fans on and watch Food Network. Neither Noah nor I are particularly summer people, and the fact that neither of us wants to move, combined with my near-constant state of dehydration (I become extremely easily dehydrated, so summer is very difficult for me) makes us highly unmotivated to step into the kitchen and cook. It's a shame, because we're getting a lovely share from our CSA, and we're visiting local produce markets as often as possible, so we have plenty to cook with.

As we were sitting around yesterday moaning about the fact that we (as usual) didn't feel like cooking dinner, it occurred to me: the CrockPot. My parents were given a CrockPot as a gift recently from one of my dad's parishoners (he's a minister), and since my family already has one they gave it to us. It was definitely a lifesaver--we just cut up some veggies, and a few hours of blissfully not being in the kitchen later, we had a delicious stew. Bonus points: it was filling (most summer foods that we feel like preparing end up being things like salads, and since both Noah and I have crazy high metabolisms we need to eat more than that), and it made the whole apartment smell delicous with very little work. :-)

In other food-related news, Noah and I have started a little herb garden on our living room window. We've been interested in growing our own food since before we were a couple (possibly sparked by reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle together on a long train trip while in Italy a few years back), and a good way to dip your toes into growing your own food is with herbs. We have a parsley plant that was given to us by our CSA, and at the farmer's market we purchased a sage plant and a basil plant. We definitely love them. :-D

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

we (the people, not the blog) have moved!

We the writers of FBTS have just moved into the most adorable apartment that has ever existed. Ever. It's in here:

More updates once we finish unpacking and are moved in enough to make interesting food!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Happy Pi Day from FBTS! We didn't have any pie, unfortunately, but we hope you did.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Want to know what FBTS has been up to while my camera was down? Take a look:

We made dumplings!

Noah was gone for about 2 weeks this winter to visit Israel and Turkey, so I was by myself. During the last week I made myself these delicious marinated veggie sandwiches!

Uhh...making broccoli! (And taking badly-lit photos of it!)

Making brownies! (Taking pictures while the batter is being mixed is the prettiest part.)

Making...something with meat! (Probably chili...)

Also making lots of hummus, baking large quantities of homemade bread, experimenting with homemade bagels, becoming addicted to some Vietnamese restaurants, and being happy.

Currently half of us (the Florence half) have given up meat for Lent, so we make a lot of stir-frys around here. And sometimes we compromise by making meat sauce and vegetarian sauce, and then something like rice or pasta to put it on. Lent is going pretty well; unlike last year (when I craved every meat item in sight) I'm really only craving bacon. It helps that I eat mostly vegetarian anyway, so I don't miss much when I go vegetarian. Except barbecue, but Noah and I have a system in place: if Noah goes for barbecue when it's Lent, I get to share in the joy by having him bring me back a side (because there are lots of sides that don't include meat).

Also, half of us (the Florence half, again) got accepted to grad school, so FBTS will be an East Coast blog in a couple months!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Chili beans, Texas-style

I tend to value authenticity in my cooking. If I want to cook adobo, I'll look for a Filipino recipe. If I want to make rendang, I'll look for an Indonesian (or Malaysian, I suppose) recipe. If I want to make chili, I'll look for a Texan recipe. I know there are a lot of versions of chili, but Texans seem pretty adamant: no tomatoes, no beans. Usually, I can agree with that--we made a great pot of all-beef chili a few weeks ago. But now it's Lent, and Florence isn't eating meat, so chili beans it is! (There are no pictures because my camera is out of batteries, and I haven't quite mastered the clunky uploading setup yet).

Chili Beans, adapted from Homesick Texan

1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound (~2 cups) dried pinto beans
4 dried Anaheim chiles
2 ancho chiles (dried poblanos)
1 chipotle chile, dried or canned
Dark chile powder
Oregano (preferably Mexican)
Cocoa powder
Hot chile powder (Cayenne powder and Korean pepper powder are good options)
Cornstarch (since I have no masa harina)

Core and seed the dried chiles (especially the chipotle) and toast them in a cast-iron skillet. Open a window or get a fan, since the chiles will smoke and it will burn your nose and throat. When they're blistered or you can't stand the smoke anymore, fill the skillet with water and cover it for 20-30 minutes.

While the chiles are soaking, brown the diced onions in a Dutch oven in bacon grease or neutral oil (not olive). When they're turning reddish-brown, add the garlic and turn down the heat so nothing burns. Drain the chiles (discard the water) and purée them in a food processor with enough fresh water to make it smooth. Add the chile purée to the onions and garlic, and turn the heat back up. Sauté it all together for a couple minutes, then add the beans and four cups of water, or enough to cover the beans by 1-2 cm. Season with about four tablespoons of dark chile powder, one or two tablespoons of oregano, and two tablespoons of hot chile powder to start. Don't add salt yet, since the beans will take longer to cook if you do.

Bring the beans to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning, and add a tablespoon or so of cocoa powder. It sounds weird, but it's not sweet and it will give the chili a great depth of flavor. Cover the pot again and simmer until the beans are as tender as you want, probably 1-2 hours. Add salt if necessary, although I didn't have to. Scoop out 1/2 cup of stew broth and mix with 2 tablespoons cornstarch until smooth, then set aside. Turn up the heat on the beans and boil until the water is about level with the beans, then turn off the heat. Stir the water/cornstarch mixture into the chili beans--the stew will thicken as it cools down.

Serve with rice, or (more authentically) cornbread!

Monday, February 15, 2010

BBQ addendum

Florence has reminded me that I forgot about C. Withers! This place is in the restaurant strip on Broadway near 36th, and is relatively new--I think it opened last year. They are really cheap: $5 gets you a sandwich and two sides. I think the smoked cabbage is amazing. The mac and cheese was recommended to me, but it was overcooked and not very flavorful. The burnt ends were good but not amazing--I'll probably try the brisket or something else next time I go back. The $5 special is for lunch and possibly also for dinner (hopefully we'll find out tomorrow when we go back for Mardi Gras dinner).

Edit: The $5 special is Sundays only, and they are only open 12-3pm on Sundays. Still a great special, though. They do have an every-day special of $5 for three smoked wings (although we got four) and two sides, which is also an excellent deal.

BBQ in KC, post LC's

Wow, that's a lot of acronyms. To decode: Barbecue in Kansas City, post LC's (yeah, that's just their name).

LC's Bar-BQ was shut down on Friday by the health department. Since I considered them the best barbecue in Kansas City (and not just for their amazing fries), I suppose I have to re-evaluate. Here's my list of current top barbecue in this city.

1*. I have to include LC's up here still, just because it's (or it was) so damn good. The burnt ends are big chunks of meat, not the bits and pieces you get at most places. Their sauce is great--it's thin, spicy, and not sweet. I have no idea how they make the fries, but if and when they reopen, it's worth a trip just to have the fries. They're thick, square-cut, and extra crispy--triple-fried, maybe? Come back soon, LC's!

1. Oklahoma Joe's--The titleholder by default, since nothing but LC's ever really came close. Their fries and sauce are overrated (then again, this is true of most places), but their meat, beans, slaw, and pretty much everything else are fantastic. The Carolina Style is my favorite: pulled pork with slaw on a bun.

2. Woodyard BBQ--it's in a weird spot out on Merriam, but it's pretty cheap and really good. The pulled pork is in a light sauce (no tomato, more chilies and something else I haven't identified yet), and they have all-you-can-eat burnt ends chili on Thursday nights. Woodyard also sells wood if you want to smoke your own.

3. Arthur Bryant's--the original (or one of the originals, at least), and it's delicious. The sauce is a bit sweet for me, but the fries are fantastic (skin-on, hand-cut) and the meat is all good. The pulled pork is not in their usual sauce--I don't think it's tomato-based, and it's much lighter than most of their sauces. The sandwiches here feed two people (so $11 isn't so bad for a sandwich a fries), so don't overdose.

4. BB's Lawnside Barbecue--make sure to go for lunch, or in the summer if you're going for dinner. It's at 86th and Troost, which is not where I want my car to be parked after dark. They do have music at night as a compensating factor, but I wouldn't do it. The food is good--they have some intriguing Cajun appetizers, although I have no idea how authentic they are. The boudin balls were pretty tasty, though. The burnt ends are very good--they're chopped like most places in town do, and not too fatty at all.

The above four locations are all fantastic, and you can't really go wrong at any of them. It depends what you're in the mood for. Gas-station "ambience" and don't mind standing in line for 30-45 minutes? Oklahoma Joe's. Lard-cooked fries (so I've heard) and super-chewy burnt ends? Arthur Bryant. Something off the beaten path? Woodyard or BB's.

Honorable mention: Jack Stack. It's a bit expensive unless you're having a special occasion and/or want barbecue at a real restaurant, but their beans really are amazing--probably the best in town.

Places to avoid
Gates BBQ. Gates used to be a great place--last year I was convinced they had the best burnt ends in town. They were chewy, crispy, and very well-rendered. Almost no fat on them (burnt ends come from a pretty fatty cut, so that's not easy), and their sauce was, and still is, great. It's spicy, not too thick, and not sweet at all. I went back a couple weeks ago for burnt ends, and I'm pretty sure my sandwich was half-meat and half-beef fat. The sauce was still fine, but the fries are completely unremarkable (I'm pretty sure they're frozen, and not the good kind of frozen). I've read a few reviews that agree with me on the burnt ends front. I may go back to try their brisket, but I probably won't bother when there are so many other places I know will be good.

Smokestack BBQ. The table service is weird, the sauce is bad, and the meat and fries are nothing special. I've heard people like this place, but I don't know why.

Rosedale BBQ. I believe this is one of the oldest BBQ shops in Kansas City, so I hope it used to be better than it is now. My pork sandwich was dry and didn't taste like anything, and I think the fries were frozen. Skip it--there are better options, even if Rosedale is really cheap.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

new to the FBTS bookshelf

Oh dear, it seems the long hiatus continues. Every now and then asriel and I will take some good pictures, and we're always making great recipes, but somehow there's a gap between doing those things and actually going onto the blog and posting about them. However, there have been good things going on in the world of FBTS, even though this post isn't about our cooking adventures. Instead, it's about one of my other favorite things: books.

I work a full-time retail job, and when there are no customers around I read pretty voraciously. In fact, I'm in and out of the public library so often that I'm sure they are extremely familiar with my face now, and are used to me coming in 3 times a week and checking out about 5 books each time. And, of course, because of my interest in food and cooking, I went through a stage where I was pretty much cleaning the library out of their stock of food-related books. It got to the point where my coworker would come in, look at what I was reading, and say "that's another food book, isn't it?". When I looked back on all the food books I read, I began to think, "wow, this would make a great blog post!".

Of course, I waited a long time to write the actual post. And I didn't actually write down which books I read, or anything about them while I was reading them. So last week, when I thought about writing this post, I came up with a list of just a few books (which I am about 85% sure is not the complete list of food books I read these past few months), and some scattered memories of what I thought about those books. So here you have it: what to add to your booklist if you're as into food as I am. :-)

I first read Bill Buford's Heat during my time in Italy (where I met asriel, incidentally). Since there were limits on how much I could pack for a several-month trip abroad, I wasn't able to bring many English-language books with me, and for a person who reads as much as I do the lack of reading material felt almost physically painful. Luckily, there was a small selection of books in English on a shelf in the campus center where I was studying, and Heat was one of those books. I remember enjoying it very much when I first read it, and when it came to mind earlier this year I decided to read it again. It's still a very good book, one that really captures the insanity and adventure of working in a restaurant (not to mention one manned by the infamous Mario Batali). What you really get from this book is a sense of the people you're meeting--sure, some of these characters seem larger than life, but the story is told in such a way that you believe it. Buford is a good storyteller in that way; the way he describes the personalities in the kitchens where he works, and in the way he describes life in those kitchens, you feel the whirlwind sense of pressure and excitement which he felt during those same experiences. Upon re-reading this book (with significantly more cooking experience under my belt than I had when I first read it) I was struck with both an appreciation for how things are done in large kitchens, and a sense of gratitude that I don't have to work in one. :-P

Cooking for Mr. Latte, by Amanda Hesser, was one of those books where I liked the book but not the author. I don't know, something about Amanda Hesser made her seem like the kind of person with whom I would have trouble connecting. I want to say that it's because she's an elitist, but that's not quite it--I've never known anyone's differing tastes to get in the way of my ability to relate to them. I was just never sure I liked the way she looked down on non-foodie Mr. Latte's (as he is called for most of the book) less refined culinary tastes. Being someone who recognizes a time and a place for both fancy, well-put-together food and simple, unrefined food (and even fast food, every so often), I felt like Hesser would look down on me as well. She was like a friend who you get along with really well on most counts, but then she'll say something that'll really put you off. But what can be said for her is that she tells a good story, and she makes what sounds like some great food. Her tales from the world of a food writer, her misadventures in the world of relationships, and especially her anecdotes of what happens when those two worlds collide, make for a funny and well-written read. Just don't offer to take her to Panera afterwards.

I don't remember The Saucier's Apprentice, by Bob Spitz, being a bad book or even a nondescript one--in fact, I remember enjoying it. Unfortunately, it's difficult for me to conjure up a good review of the book, since I'm afraid it was near the end of a long line of food books, and I think I was a little overwhelmed by this point. However, other peoples' reviews were pretty bad across the board, and sadly only leads me to remember what I didn't like about the book. First things first: Bob Spitz complains in this book. A lot. His whole mission is to go on a tour of all these international cooking schools, where he hopes to glean some kind of enlightenment about cooking and about life. However, he spends only a short time at each place he goes, and he rarely seems satisfied by what he finds. Additionally, one wonders when reading this book if Spitz was setting himself up for disappointment. His expectations seemed to be such that they couldn't be fulfilled within the parameters he set for them, and you were left feeling like very little of what he saw was given a truly fair chance. It's difficult to be truly sympathetic to his appraisals of these cooking schools, when you feel as though his opinion was not very well-informed. However, I did take note of many of the recipes he included in the book, which were very good. And when Spitz did manage to get past his whininess, every now and then he offered up a very worthwhile insight. Not one to put at the top of your list.

The real gem of this whole collection is without a doubt Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires. If each of these books was like a person you know, Ruth Reichl could be my best friend. Reichl and Hesser are both food writers, but while Hesser makes me feel like I would be uncomfortable eating in a restaurant with her, when I read Reichl's account of her attempts to dine out in disguise to avoid the special treatment food critics are given, I kind of wish she'd asked me to come (despite the fact that she doesn't actually know me). Reichl's book has humor and heart, and she creates a picture of the food world as someplace you'd want to be, even when she has bad experiences. I could read this warm, affectionate, and quirky book over and over.

Those are the most recent additions to my foodie reading list, and there are certain to be more--I've just put several new food books on hold. :-)