Wednesday, September 9, 2009

MY CULINARY NEMESIS

It's true, I have an enemy. There is one dish that I have longed to make, and yet it has defeated me over and over again. Three times, to be precise - and that is far longer than it usually takes me to at least get the basics of a dish down. First, it refused to thicken. Then, I made it too lemony. Then, it refused to thicken again. But THIS TIME... ohh, this time. I think I have it.

Yes, yes it is - it's Avgolemono.

Caddy-corner to our apartment is a Greek diner called Salonica. On the weekends, they serve avgolemono (creamy egg-lemon soup with orzo pasta), and my roommate Brian is more or less addicted to the stuff. Salonica's version is delightful - creamy, warm and bright, and perfect when soaked into a piece of bread. Some people might just accept that and move on, but I... I see it as a challenge.

There are a couple of things that I would change from this slightly rough first batch, which I based on a user recipe at Epicurious, here. I used water as the base, as I had no chicken stock. Definitely go for the chicken stock - it's well worth the added flavor. Or if you're veggie, boil up some garlic broth. Secondly, I think the whipping of the egg whites into soft peaks is unnecessary. I ended up with a soup that was downright foamy - somehow, it managed to be creamy at the same time, but even so, "foamy" isn't really what we're going for here. Just beat the eggs into submission, and you should be fine.

Avgolemono (adapted from a recipe by azzurri at Epicurious)

8 cups chicken stock or garlic broth
1 cup rice or orzo pasta (I like rice, but orzo is traditional)
4 eggs
Juice of 2 lemons, or to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional, but I LOVE the flavor and richness it adds)
Salt and cracked pepper to taste

Throw the rice in the chicken stock, and set it a-simmerin'. Let it go until the grains are completely cooked, and then turn off the heat. Meanwhile, beat together the eggs and the lemon juice until smooth and uniform.

Now comes the slightly tricky part. Scoop out one cup of hot liquid from the pot. We need to temper the eggs, so that they don't scramble, and instead provide a thickening agent for the soup. Slowly pour the hot broth into the egg mixture, beating the mixture constantly and vigorously. Then do it a second time, with another cup. If you did this right, you should have a yellowy-orange, uniform-looking liquid with no floating white bits. If you have floating white bits, congratulations! You've made egg-drop soup, which is not what this recipe is for.

Once you've tempered the eggs, do the whole thing in reverse - pour the egg mixture into the rest of the soup, stirring vigorously all the while. At this point, I added about a half-cup of heavy cream, to up the thickness and the flavor. And voila, you're done!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a bowl of this stuff to eat for lunch.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pasta with Potatoes and other things

Well, well, well! Look who crawled out of the gutter to make a post. There have been a few changes around Pedestal headquarters since I last posted: the Sugar Daddy is gone, replaced by Sugar Roommates (sweet as, and with money to boot!), and I'm living in a new location. Work is still the same, and I'll be heading back to classes in a few weeks, but until then, yours truly will endeavor to post regularly.

So at the nudging of one of my roommates (he's the blog called Brian, below and to your right), I've started cooking him lunch. I am additionally offering lunch to any and all takers, for a small grocery-cost fee. Today was the first day of making lunch for Brian, and I'd call it a qualified success. I made pasta with potatoes, loosely adapted from Deb's recipe here. Now, I woke up at 6am to do this, so I wasn't firing on all cylinders, but bless his cute little heart, Brian said it was "very tasty". So maybe I'll just keep on doing it.

Pasta with Potatoes

1lb whole wheat pasta
1lb fingerling potatoes (I really didn't weigh these. Just use some.)
1/2 bunch bitter greens
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

First things first - set some salted water on to boil, and preheat that oven to 350. Slice your potatoes thinly - maybe 1/4 inch. Dress them with two tablespoons of olive oil, some salt, and some cracked pepper. Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and toss them in the oven while you take care of the rest.

If you're lucky, the timing worked out and your pasta-water is now boiling. Throw in the pasta; whole-wheat takes a minute or two longer, but when it's cooked to al-dente, there's nothing more delicious. While that's going, heat up the olive oil in a skillet. This will be your sauce; you don't have to use 1/4 cup, use what you feel comfortable with. Mince the garlic and cook it a bit in the olive oil to give it flavor. Don't scorch the garlic, though! That makes the universe sad.

After a minute or two, turn the heat off. Now sit back and chill for a bit, because you're waiting on the pasta to finish. When it does, keep that water! Throw the bitter greens in and blanch them for a minute or so. (I had meant to use dandelion greens for Brian this morning, but there weren't any left. So I sauteed an onion with the garlic instead, which made for a sweet and tasty alternative.) Then drain the whole mess, throw in the potatoes (they're done now - you timed it perfectly, right?) and the olive oil, and CONSUME. Or, y'know, save. For lunch.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Western European Makes Pirogi

So, I've got a lot of catching up to do... I've been busy, and I've been bad about blogging. Well, let's see if we can't fix that, shall we?

(This post written for Monday, 6/1)

Tonight for dinner, I had intended to make cabbage pirogi. Cabbage is in season in my part of the world right now, and I've actually become a big fan of the stuff. It fills out stews and soups nicely, and the Bohemian in me is addicted to the flavor. So I picked up some Napa cabbage, and figured I was ready to go. Unfortunately, when I got home, I realized that my Napa cabbage was covered with small black flecks. Everything that I could find online indicated that this was either a result of a) bad handling and/or storage, as it turns out Napa is kind of fragile, or b) a fungal infection.

I decided not to eat it.

So instead, I figured I'd go for farmer's-cheese-filled pirogi. Farmer's cheese is the somewhat more accurate name for that ricotta that I've been making, with whole milk and something acidic. I didn't have lemons, only limes, but a lot of people argue that limes, with their greater acidity, are the better choice anyway. I used an entire half-gallon of whole milk this time, and came up with a whole lotta delicious ricotta.

While my cheese drained in the sink, I chopped up and sauteed two shallots and two cloves of garlic. I love shallots, more than I can possibly say. They have a darker, milder flavor than onions, and make for an interesting substitution. Between them and leeks, I hardly even buy onions anymore. When they were softened, I mashed the garlic-shallot mixture into the cheese with a fork, and voila: filling for pirogi.

At this point, I needed dough for the wrappers. Thankfully, Deb of SmittenKitchen is pretty into pirogi (and dumplings of all kinds, it would appear). She's got a great recipe for pirogi dough over on her site, which I followed to the letter, and it turned out wonderfully. Well, okay - I did make some changes. But it still turned out great.

Pirogi Dough

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water

In a large bowl, mound the flour up and make a well in the center. Add all the other ingredients to the well, and with a fork, begin whisking them together. As you do this, flour should begin to incorporate itself into the mixture. Keep this process going, nice and slow - it will end up taking maybe 20 minutes to incorporate all the flour that the liquid will handle. Once you have a soft dough, dump it out on a floured surface and knead it, adding flour as necessary to keep it from sticking. Keep this up for about 8 minutes, and you'll wind up with a very soft dough. Throw some plastic wrap over it, and let it sit for 30 minutes.

At this point, roll the dough out as thin as you can get it (or, if you're one of those people who likes doing things the easy way, send it through a pasta roller). Cut out circles with a fancy cutting implement - I call mine a "drinking glass". Place about a tablespoon of filling in each circle. Using your finger, wet the edges of the dough circle, and then pinch them together to seal the pirogi in a half-moon shape.

Once you've used up all your filling or all your dough or just got sick of doing this really tedious thing that you could buy at a store instead, set some water on to boil, and set out a skillet. Plop the pierogis in the boiling water. After a minute or two, they'll start to float; once they do, let them cook until tender, say 15 to 18 minutes. In the meantime, splash a little oil into that skillet and cook up some slices of onion (or, y'know, shallots or leeks). Keep it over a low heat and let them caramelize and crisp around the edges. Once the pirogis are done, take them out of the water with a slotted spoon and toss them in the skillet. Stir fry them up with the onions until they're a little bit browned. Then serve them, with a nice fat dollop of sour cream on top.

Man, I'm really hungry.

An Egypt post!


So there I was, telling my mother the story of my ill-fated Egyptian border crossing, when she realized that hey, this is an Egypt story! And hey, I should convince my crazy-ass daughter to post it on her blog! So here you go, as told to my mother - the story of my border crossing from Israel to Egypt. It starts in Taba, Egypt. The full trip started with a bus ride from Jerusalem, but you might just have to hear me tell that one in person.

Lynn
: Well when you're in - let's say Egypt - sometimes you have to pay a little extra
me: oh, well, of course
in egypt that's just how things work
12:27 PM Lynn: But you can't pay anything to influence contract decision, government decisions, etc.
me: i didn't figure they'd be down with that in the states, though
Lynn: They say it's a fine line - thus teh record keeping.
me: gotcha
Lynn: But I think they're also realistic in that you can be put in very difficult positions to conduct legitimate business
12:28 PM me: right, fair enough
i guess i wasn't thinking in terms of international business
haha
'cuz yeah - it's the only way to get anything done in egypt
if i've learned anything, it is that
also, pay close attention to who is a border guard and who is not
but that's a different story
12:29 PM :-P
Lynn: One I porbably haven't heard all the details on...
me: haha yeah
well, it's not all that bad
the border crossing at taba is really confusing
it looks like a damn resort hotel
12:30 PM and there are buildings and roadways and such, and none of this barricaded "you must go this way" business like you've got in most places
Lynn: No that doesn't sound typical
me: so yeah, they don't railroad you anywhere, but there are DEFINITELY tracks
and if you start going somewhere you're not supposed to, all of a sudden fifteen men in white uniforms show up and start yelling at you
i know this from experience
12:31 PM and then when i came out the other side, well, i wasn't sure i was quite out the other side
Lynn: Oh Lord -
me: because, well, resort hotel, right?
so i'm keeping my head down
i'm exhausted
i just spent four hours getting shitty sleep on a bus from jerusalem, and five hours getting shitty sleep in a backwater bus station on top of my bags, and an hour and a half hanging out in the open-air reception area of the egyptian consulate
i do NOT want to be fucked with at this point
12:32 PM so i think i'm out of the border crossing, and i'm walking down the sidewalk when i hear something that sounds an awful lot like a thick Arabic accent saying "Taxi?"
and I ignore it
and keep walking, without looking up
because I'm used to this bullshit by now
"Taxi?"
12:33 PM I shake my head no, and keep walking
more insistently now: "Taxi!"
I lift my head, but don't look at the guy - he's standing maybe 20 feet away
12:34 PM and I roll my eyes, give a half smile while still looking straight ahead, and in an EXTREMELY exasperated voice, I say, "No!" and shake my head
and then I hear, "Taxi! Taxi!"
and I think to myself, wait, that doesn't sound like "Taxi"...
that actually sounds an awful lot like "Passport!", now that I think about it
12:35 PM and I look up, and it's a border guard, shouting at me and demanding my passport
Lynn: OMG
me: at which point I promptly shit myself, turn bright red, and grovel
a lot
while handing him my passport
and trying to explain in English that he will understand why I walked away from him
because he is asking me repeatedly why I did so
12:36 PM even though he doesn't speak English and can't understand my response
so, he hands me back my passport with an undeniably disgusted look on his face, and goes back over to his folding chair with his buddies by the side of the road, where they're all smoking cigarettes
12:37 PM (I don't think I can really be blamed for the confusion, frankly)
Lynn: And then...
12:38 PM Are you in or out?
me: hahahaha
well, that's what I thought to myself
because i had no idea!
12:39 PM so, um, I kept my head up and kept walking, and kept a really close eye out for border guards
and then arrived in an area full of a whole bunch of skeevy taxi drivers
turns out i had underestimated the skeeviness of taxi drivers in the middle of Egyptian nowhere
and they are quite distinguishable from only slightly-skeevy border guards
so yeah
i made it through
hahaha
12:40 PM Lynn: Well going this summer will be a non-event then
me: seriously
the border crossing is NUTS
and is not the way to get to cairo in my book
seriously, just fly from Tel Aviv or Aqaba
/shudder
but it's a story for the grandkids, anyway
hahaha
12:41 PM and that's not even counting the six-hour ride through the desert
Lynn: True - you'll be one adventurous granny someday
me: yup
i really should at least write up the story of GETTING to cairo
because it was outrageous
12:42 PM i mean, i can't even hardly believe i made it there
Lynn: No duh
me: after six hours of driving through the desert, i got dropped off at ramesses station, in the middle of downtown cairo
i had to borrow the cab driver's cell phone to call lisy
and here i am with everything i own in the world slung across my shoulders
12:43 PM and i've got to figure out how to get on the metro and get to her neighborhood
NUTS, i say
Lynn: Were you freaked out?
Cuz' I would be
me: well, at that point i was kind of too tired to be freaked out
and i was a little numb to the fact that i was in totally outrageous situations
12:44 PM Lynn: I guess you get past caring at some point
me: with little to no fallback help
haha
i had basically realized that so long as i keep moving and keep trying, things work out
Lynn: Profound statement that
me: heh yeah
12:45 PM it's when i got scared, sat down, and stalled out that things had any real potential of getting bad
and my backup plan was to tell someone to take me to the museum
and then explain that i was a friend of wahied helmy-shahat
in my broke-ass arabic
12:46 PM Lynn: That's a lot more than some people would have...
me: hehehe
Lynn: So how can I copy what you just wrote and add it to your blog
me: /snicker
tell you what, i'll post this conversation, word for word
12:47 PM hell, i'll do it right now
Lynn: Really?
me: yep

Friday, May 29, 2009

Crispy Onions are as Good as Mark Bittman Says

Last night, I wanted a quick late lunch before I met up with a friend at the bar. I wanted something that wouldn't require a whole lot of attention, as I was feeling lazy, and I also recalled that I had most of an onion in a plastic bag in the fridge. Then I thought of this.

I have about half a bag of lentils, and a giant bag of rice that I'm slowly using, and I recalled the article by Mark Bittman saying that the finest topping for these two grains was crispy burnt onions. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it was, and it was delicious. The Bitten post tells you pretty much everything you need to know, but I'll give you my take on it here.

Lentils and Rice with Crispy Onions

1/4 cup lentils
1/4 cup rice
1/2 onion
Salt

Okay, so this really isn't hard. 1:1 ratio of lentils to rice. Boil the lentils, covered mostly or entirely, for about 15 minutes. Then throw in the rice and continue cooking, adding water as needed, for about 20 minutes until the lentils are mushy and the rice is done. While the rice is cooking, make your crispy onions. Mark Bittman recommends a splash of oil; I used butter. I salted them, and cooked them over a slightly-higher-than-I-was-comfortable-with heat. They browned and shriveled, and began to give off an amazing smell. They started to crinkle, and the edges slowly blackened. At this point, they got a touch smoky - not too bad, but I did turn on the hood fan. After about 10 minutes (Mark says 15 to 20; I guess I wussed out), I scooped them on top of my lentils and rice. The edges were crunchy, the outer skin crispy, and the insides sweet and juicy and soft. Their sweet tanginess complimented the soft, cozy, stick-to-your-ribs taste of the grains perfectly. I highly recommend it. Just be sure to LET THEM COOL before you start eating. I have poor self-control.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mac n' Blue Has Me Green

Short update: last night I made mac n' blue cheese. It was delicious, but I think I ate too much of it, as I was feeling a little sick until this morning. Perhaps man was not meant to eat that much blue cheese in a single sitting. You are warned.

This dish is so astoundingly easy I'm amazed I don't make it all the time.

Mac n' [Cheese of Choice Here]

1/2 lb pasta
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 1/2 - 2 cups milk
1 cup cheese, any kind that melts well will do, crumbled or grated

Set your pasta on to cook in some well-salted water. I'm sure Italian purists will be furious with me, but I don't wait for my water to boil before I throw the pasta in; it seems to take less time this way, but I've never actually pulled out my stopwatch. Just make sure you stir it once in a while until it starts boiling, otherwise the pasta might stick to the pot.

While that's going, make a bechamel sauce. This will keep the cheese nice and melty and creamy, and will keep your mac n' gouda (or whatever) delicious after reheating. (Don't you hate reheated Kraft? I know I do.) To make a bechamel, melt the butter in a non-stick saucepan over medium heat until it gets foamy. Then add the flour, and stir to combine (use a whisk if you're concerned about it being lumpy; I was just making myself a quick snack). Cook the flour for a minute or two. This gets rid of that dry, dusty taste that raw flour has. Once the flour has cooked for a bit, begin adding the milk, slowly. It's best to use slightly warm or room-temperature milk, but if you know me at all, you know I don't have the patience for that sort of thing. I always use cold milk straight out of the fridge, and it just takes a bit longer.

Add the milk a bit at a time, and stir - or better, whisk - together with the flour mixture. Soon, the whole mess should start to thicken up. When it does, add a little more milk, and continue the process until you have a nice thick sauce. I really just eyeball this. Be sure to leave it a little thinner than you'd like, because you'll be adding cheese momentarily, and that will thicken it up.

Once you have a satisfactory sauce, take the pan off the heat. Whisk in your grated or crumbled cheese a handful at a time, waiting for it to completely melt before adding more. The amount you feel like adding may vary - just keep tasting until it seems right. If you need to re-warm the sauce a little bit to get everything to melt, do so over very low heat. Once you have your sauce, add cracked pepper to taste. I find that the cheese is usually salty enough on its own, but if you like Dead Sea cuisine, go for it. Then, drain your pasta, and toss it with the sauce, and you're done!

Makes 2 servings - unless you're really hungry, or really like cheese, or are named Megan.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Asparagus Pizza

And so, I am back. I made some tasty dishes last week, but nothing too remarkable. There was a strawberry salad that I made for a picnic with the Sugar Daddy, with mint leaves and a honey-lemon vinaigrette dressing, but that's the most spectacular thing.

Last night, however, I was on my own for dinner - we were going to the Pub for trivia night, and sadly my current food policy prohibits my traditional fish and chips. (Not the beer, though, thank God.) I wasn't entirely sure what I would make for dinner, but I saw this as a pretty good opportunity, as I had some asparagus in my fridge that needed to be used. (Asparagus has been in season now for a couple weeks, by the way! If you're interested in eating seasonally, like I am, check out this page at Epicurious.com. It will tell you month-by-month what's in season for your state or any other state you like, and that way, you can find local ingredients at their freshest.)

And then, while I was at work perusing my RSS feed reader, what should arrive but this little gem? Mark Bittman, of Edward Schneider, a frequent contributor to the Bitten blog, frequents farmers' markets and focuses on seasonality; he got a bit tired of all the asparagus, as it's been around for a while now, and wasn't sure what to do with it. And then, he had one of those moments that people like me adore: when you see a few ingredients laid out in front of you, and a flash of inspiration hits and you build the perfect dinner in your head. Asparagus pizza! Brilliant!

I modified his plan slightly - I only used ricotta cheese, and I added thinly-sliced garlic to my pizza toppings (seriously. EVERYTHING.). It turned out extremely well - I'd recommend the garlic, but not my ricotta-only strategy. It doesn't melt as well as, say, mozzarella, and you get a drier pizza with toppings that tend to fall off a little. Still, it turned out quite delicious.

Asparagus Pizza (compiled from Mark Bittman's Bitten blog and www.smittenkitchen.com)

SmittenKitchen's Really Simple Pizza Dough

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast (I used a whole package. It won't hurt anything.)
1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in the water and olive oil, and stir the mixture into ball-like form.

Dump the mixture out onto a surface. (I found that the dough was oily enough not to need flour, but flour the countertop if your dough is sticky.) Knead it for a couple of minutes - just enough to develop a little gluten, but you don't want a super-elastic dough. If you're having trouble getting everything to become, or stay, a homogeneous lump, Deb at SmittenKitchen recommends upending the bowl over the whole mess and walking away for five minutes. When you come back, your dough should be much better-behaved.

Oil the bowl you mixed the dough in. You won't need much, and the bowl should be relatively clean. Turn the dough-ball in the oil to coat it, and then cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled in bulk, about an hour for me. (While my dough was rising, I made my Ricotta Cheese, recipe below.)

Once the dough is doubled, dump it out on the counter again and, with flat hands, press the gas out of it. Then fold it (don't clump it or knead it) into a sort of ball-ish-shape, throw the plastic wrap back over it, and let it sit for 20 minutes. (I chopped my veggies while the dough was resting.)

Ricotta Cheese (based on Daniel Meyer's efforts over at Bitten)

1 quart whole milk
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
Juice from 1 lemon

Pour the whole milk and salt into a saucepan over high heat. When the milk begins to simmer, turn the heat down and pour in the lemon juice. Like magic, curds will form and float to the top of the liquid in the pan. Give it three minutes or so, and then scoop the curds out with a slotted spoon. (I had a colander standing ready, lined with paper towels. Once I got toward the end of the curds, I just poured the whole mess through the colander - three layers of paper towels held up ok.) Drain the ricotta in the paper towels, pressing out all of the liquid and letting it dry for about an hour and a half. Voila!

Making the pizza

8 (or so) asparagus stalks, trimmed
3 cloves garlic
1/4 large onion
Ricotta cheese

Cut the asparagus stalks in half lengthwise, and then into 1 to 1 1/2 inch lengths. Slice the garlic cloves as thinly as possible, and do the same with the onion.

Once the pizza dough has rested (see above), preheat your oven to its hottest setting. Roll out the dough - I think pizzas look better when they're blobby and not round, but maybe I'm just sublimating my own inadequacies. Crumble the ricotta cheese all over the pizza. (Mark Bittman leaves the ricotta cheese off during the baking, and uses mozzarella for his base, adding the ricotta at the end - I'll try it his way sometime and let you know how it turns out.) Top the pizza with the vegetables, keeping it light so the crust can puff up. Then bake and serve! The pizza should bake for about 10 minutes, until the crust browns and blisters slightly. Mmm-mmm, good.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Return and a Reboot

Hello, everyone! I return!

I know, I know. I never finished my stories about the Middle East. Suffice it to say, I saw many things, I went to Cairo, I slept on buses and in bus stations and in the same clothes for two days, I barely dodged super-sketchy cab drivers, and it was the trip of my dreams. Someday I'll write about how phenomenally stupid of an idea it was to just up and go to Cairo (did you know that from the border crossing to Cairo is six hours by cab through literal wasteland? I do now!), but today is not that day. I'm back to writing, due to popular demand. But now, I'll be talking about something ELSE that you all seem to love hearing me ramble about: food.

Yes, I'm turning this into a food blog, sort of anyway, because I love talking about food, thinking about food, cooking, and bragging about what I've cooked. This will necessitate the acquisition of a camera in the very near future, so that I can post pictures of the deliciousness, but until then you'll have to settle for my loving and perhaps slightly exaggerated descriptions. My plan these days is not to eat anything that I have not made myself. Currently this excludes pasta, even though I know how to make it and have done so in the past, and bread, because bread is a pain (har har har). I do plan to start making more complex artisan breads, but let's save that for when I don't have classes and homework to deal with. The goal here is that when I want something quick and easy, I will turn to raw foods (fruits and veggies) for snacking; also that I will go to the farmers' market for my groceries. I tend to shop very healthy, but I also buy processed foods like chips and ice cream sometimes because they're there, you know? This plan will also mean that I learn how to cook lots more stuff, and that you'll get to hear all about it. Blogging it will help keep me honest, too, because nobody ever lies to anybody on the Internet. That, and I know my mommy reads this.

Anyway, tonight was a bit of an experiment. I like making soups; I'm comfortable with soups, especially stews that contain lots of root vegetables. I also can hack together a stir-fry or fried rice in a few short minutes. I've realized this, and have decided to start pushing my comfort zone. Tonight, Sugar Daddy (the boyfriend, Ben - this new nickname was sarcastically requested by him, and I'm perpetuating it just to get on his nerves) and I came up to his apartment in Logan Square to watch the basketball game. Because I'm not eating processed foods, I decided to whip together something from whatever he had in the fridge. Being as how he lives with another twentysomething (soon-to-be-ex-) bachelor, that turned out to be Not Much.

"Okay," I thought to myself, "I've managed with less."

I checked the freezer and found a gallon bag of frozen beef. (Seriously?) SD started the process of thawing it enough to scrape off a few chunks for me to use. I let the big strong man handle prying it apart with a spoon, and set about dealing with vegetables. I found a big bag of broccoli, and a plan began to take shape: Chinese food. Broccoli beef! It's one of SD's favorite dishes, and I've always loved the way broccoli soaks up sauce. Deee-licious. Matt, SD's roommate, is Korean, and keeps all the basics around: soy sauce, rice. We also had a range of white wine, unopened thank-you gifts from a bunch of party guests a month or so back.

While SD dealt with the beef and hollered at the game, I chopped up an organic leek that I'd left in the fridge a while ago. These organic leeks were particularly filthy and took some very careful cleaning. I also got out a bunch of broccoli and rinsed it down. Finally, I chopped up a couple cloves of garlic. I put garlic in everything - you really can't go wrong.

When I had a few beef chunks separated from the cancerous, rock-solid mass, I sliced them thin (way easier when it's frozen, BTDubs) and threw them in hot oil in a skillet. I kept the heat a little on the low side, since the meat was still fairly frozen. Still, they browned on one side pretty quickly. I flipped them, and dumped in the leeks and the broccoli. The broccoli began to cook down nicely once I stirred it up and coated it with the oil. I let this mess sizzle for a while until the meat looked barely pink, and then I threw in the garlic. It's better to do this later in the process, so that the garlic doesn't burn, and the flavor is stronger.

At this point, I had to freehand a sauce. I had looked up a number of recipes, but for things like this, I don't really have the patience to actually use them. So I poured about a half-cup of soy sauce into the skillet, followed by maybe a cup of white wine (I dunno, I just make this stuff up as I go). I didn't add any salt - soy sauce is PLENTY salty on its own. I also added some cracked black pepper, and then let it simmer for a bit. The mixture smelled fantastic, and tasted a little sweet, but mostly sour - the soy sauce and wine mixed fairly well, but I threw in a pinch of sugar to help it out. I let the sauce reduce down a bit on its own, and then I added a bit of cornstarch to thicken it up. This isn't something that I usually do, but I wanted a quick, thick sauce here - something that would stick to rice and not be too soupy. After a few minutes, things thickened up beautifully, and hey presto, takeout-caliber broccoli beef. Served over white rice, it ended up being pretty tasty - I sit here feeling the satisfaction of a delicious meal, and then periodically remembering that I cooked it. Which makes me smile.

Side note: I'll be food-blogging a lot on here, but for those of you that like to hear about my Middle East adventures, Ben and I will be heading to Cairo at the end of August. I'll certainly be blogging it, and maybe I'll even have pictures for you this time (what with the whole "hopefully getting a camera" thing). If we're lucky, perhaps I can even convince Sugah to do a little joint blogging. That way, you can get a different perspective, from someone who hasn't had fedora-and-whip-and-pyramid fantasies since the age of eight.

See you all tomorrow!