Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Holy Trinities

August 29

You'll notice I've blasphemed by pluralizing in my title, but I'm not talking about that holy trinity. The path to cooking salvation includes many deities, and I'm going to cover just a few here.

In New Orleans, so many recipes begin with the sautéing of chopped onion, celery and bell pepper that the three became known as the holy trinity in the cuisine of that very Catholic city. There are a great many other elements to New Orleans cooking, including local seafood, local coffee, a roux the color of chocolate, ground sassafras root known as filé (feelay), ham stock, turtle eggs, and on and on -- but everybody in New Orleans knows the holy trinity, intimately.

Other cooking styles require other basic ingredients, and interestingly they come in threes as often as not. To cook Italian, you must have this three on hand: Olive oil, Parmagiano Reggiano cheese, and garlic. A tomato also helps (canned is allowed, or in paste form). Other cheeses can be added, juice of a lemon is often added at serving time, and of course either red or white wine often enhances the dish. But everything from salad to meat requires a nodding acquaintance with the holy trinity of Italian food.

Basic food can be made to seem Asian with the addition of this three -- Toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, and grated fresh ginger root. I have added this trinity to slaw, to stove-top-rice-based casseroles, to vegetables and meats with equal success. A real specialist in Chinese, Japanese, or Thai cooking would suggest a range of other additions, but if you have the Asian trinity in the mix, you're getting there. Garlic and honey add something to Chinese; cilantro and lime at the finish make Thai. I know there's more to it than that, but I'm talking basics.

When I want to make a dish with a Mexican flair, I add some cumin, some Monterey Jack cheese, and I might squeeze a fresh lime over all. It's not a holy trinity, and it's more of a finish than a basic, and I don't know if it's really Mexican, but it will pass. It's not take-out, and the amounts are up to you.

God bless good cooking!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Yogurt, Better than Ice Cream

August 18

It's blasphemy, even to me to consider yogurt to be better than ice cream. But if you're watching your caloric intake, and your carbs as well, and thinking about your general health, and you have figured out a couple of ways to make yogurt actually taste good, then you must admit that at least in some ways it's a little bit better than ice cream.

We all know it has health benefits. Because of its additional cultures, it is more healthful than a commensurate amount of milk. Yogurt cultures are composed of unique living microorganisms which make it easier to digest than milk, and it is an excellent source of calcium and it also offers benefits to the immune system.

I make my own with a yogurt maker I bought for a dollar at a yard sale a couple of years ago. I had one of these devices that I had discarded and when I saw that the new ones cost upwards of $30 I began scouring yard sales until I found just what I wanted. It has five milk-glass cups in it and has served me very well for three or four years.

Making yogurt is easy and you get a wonderful product. I use 2 per cent milk and the yogurt comes out creamy, soft, and a little tart to the taste. To it I add articificial sweetener which cannot be detected -- I use less than a teaspoon to 3/4 Cup size glass -- and add a drop of vanilla extract and a drop of almond extract. This can be used as a sauce for blueberries or any fruit you like, or eaten as is.

It's hard to stop eating it, and I often hear myself saying out loud when I have a spoon of it, "This is better than ice cream!"

Of course, I don't eat much ice cream these days anyway.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cole Slaw To Die For

August 15

One of my 93-year-old mother's favorite foods is cole slaw. Never a cook, as far as I know she never tried to make it, but when it's served at the nursing home, she lights up like a Christmas tree.

I've taken to making batches of it to take to her for snacks, and she eats it with gusto. In the process, I've gotten a bit hooked on the stuff myself. I've got a couple of ways to make it.

The basic is made by shredding about a quarter of a head of cabbage. Carrots grated on the shredder can be added, as well as one paper thin slice of onion. Chop all pretty well together and add the dressing, which is made of a couple of tablespoons of a prepared mayonnaise, maybe half a teaspoon of some sweetener (of course the original recipe was sugar, but I find that Splenda cannot be detected. I also like to try a little agave nectar, which is a diabetic health food sugar substitute available at any health food store). To this about a teaspoon of white wine vinegar and dash of salt.

Today I had a few pears off Mama's old La Compte pear tree that I had to dispose of before they spoil on me, so I chopped up a small one and added it to the slaw. I had a box of raisins so about half a dozen of them went in. If I had had Craisins I would have used them instead.

Coleslaw with pears is a delicious variation. You have my word on it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Teaching Men To Cook

August 11

First, I've discovered that because this blog is misnamed, many people find it when they are searching for recipes for "fair food," meaning food that is served at fairs. Why anyone would want to cook such food I cannot fathom, so I must tell any new readers that that is not what I write about.

But I have a few male readers who want to know the principles of cooking. They say to me, give me a recipe, give me a shopping list, give me some good equipment, and set me on the road to cooking. One of them wrote me a very clever comment on this blog asking for just such information. Another writes his own blog and seems to want the same kind of straight and simple directions for cooking.

For one thing, I think both these guys have a little A.D.D. The blogwriter openly owns it. Their minds, therefore, don't work like mine does: Just think it through before you start, and organize as you go. They need a roadmap. They insist on specifics. They can work with a recipe, but it had better not leave anything out, for example, at what time in the proceedings you set the water to boil, when does the pasta go in in relation to the garlic in the sauce, and how many dishes, bowls, spoons, pots and pans am I going to need?

This is so admirable to me, a cook of forty-something years. I try to turn back the clock to when I didn't know how to make anything but fudge. What did I do? How did I equip myself to get to the level I now enjoy?

I remember this vividly: I was a bride who had never made anything but fudge. My mother hardly cooked at all, but was great with a can opener. I said to myself, I know I can learn this, and I bought a basic cookbook and decided to make everything in it, recipe by recipe. I learned in the process that I loved it. By the end of a year I had mastered the basics.

But these are working guys, youthful and seething with testosterone. They are not obedient little beginning housewives. They want to achieve, and they want it fast. They are willing to tackle any challenge -- if they are given clear instructions including lists and timetables.

I'll do it. Just post some questions to let me know what it is you want to make, and I'll tell you what I know.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Drinking Breakfast...and Lunch

August 1, 2007

Sometimes a quick lunch is all that's called for. Mine was a smoothie made of about half a cup of tofu, half an old banana (I can't eat overripe ones, but they work fine for smoothies) about 1/4 cup of orange juice, a dash of non-fat dry milk solids, and 1/4 cup of blueberries. Quick and delicious. Let's see if it holds me through dinner.

When I'm watching my diet (which is almost always, but this being the beginning of the month it's a perfect time), I sometimes make what The Snowbird Diet calls a Banana Blend for breakfast. This book pre-dates the Smoothie trend, but is clearly an early incarnation. With the extra dry milk it can be a bit gluey in texture, so you may want to pour it over ice.

Banana Blend

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup non-fat dry milk
1 banana
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (vanilla or almond extract make a nice substitute)
4 ice cubes, crushed

Combine first four ingredients. Blend for 30 seconds, or until smooth. Add ice cubes and blend an additional 15 seconds. Makes two 1-cup servings at 96 calories each. A piece of whole-wheat toast would not be amiss.

What to do with the extra tofu? Check my earlier post, "The Inscrutable Tofu," by typing the name in the little search rectangle in the upper left hand corner of the blog.