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The Meatrix I'm not a vegetarian but I dislike factory farming and I support small, family farms.


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Saturday, May 29, 2004

High Energy 
Cherry Scones (OK, from one of those Sticky Fingers mixes) are in the oven. Coffee is made (blend of Peet's Aged Sumatran and an Ethiopian Yergachafe from Whole Paycheck) and being drunk. Tools are out, aligned and ready. Materials are all lined up and ready to go. Time to install gutters and the best part is that before I install I have to remove! So I get to go break things and it's all OK.

I am only nervous about sealing the screws - the rest of the project is straightforward. A report on my progress will come later. If you never hear from me again I probably fell off the ladder.
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Friday, May 28, 2004

Low Energy 
It has been a rough week. I'm not really over the job loss and am already having to face up to the hard realities of living in the Bay Area with a mortgage and two kids and no income. I've gotten started on working on the house a bit. I tore down about a sixth of the gutters yesterday - mostly to get a look at the hanging system the weird previous owners had used which I clearly am just going to have to take and and which I can't reuse. Plus, because of the way they installed the metal roof on top of a shake roof and didn't leave any easy way to take parts of it off, I can't use a strap hanger for the new gutters. That means I have to attach to the fascia, but it isn't a real fascia - it is a stuccoed fascia and if water gets into it it could spread. So the plan is to predrill pilot holes, squeeze in a dollop of caulk, dip the screw in caulk and attach the hanger and then do my best to caulk the hanger around the edge - all of which means quadrupling the work. I'm planning on putting up vinyl gutters since I am doing it myself and don't have the ability to manage a 29 foot piece of extruded seamless aluminum all on my own.

Anyway, besides losing the job, the kids are getting teased and even bullied at school. Jan may lose her part time job and it is CERTAIN that the homeless clinic will be closed so she'll have to do something else anyway.

World Traveler

Job hunting is interesting though. I have found jobs that I could do (although they may be kind of low level) in places like Warsaw (did not require Polish oddly) and Baghdad and Ottawa and Vancouver and London and lots in Seattle and a few in Texas and one in DC. There was also a cool job in Madrid being in charge of Bloomberg's Spanish Bureau and deputising for being in charge of the European Bureau. But you had to speak fluent Spanish.

I'm probably going to apply for the job in London just for kicks.

In the meantime, the weekend will be spent guttering and cleaning and doing some other odd jobs.


Food? Is that what you said? What about the food? Not much actually. We are getting sublime, fantastic, delicious apricots in the organic box as well as in the stores. Asparagus seems to have petered out. Strawberries still coming both in the garden and box and stores. Cherry season is also here and we had about 5 pounds delivered picked that day in Brentwood by some friends and will probably head out there ourselves at some point to do the same thing. Cooking has been a low priority and about the only thing worth mentioning was a sort of Moroccan stew that I made. I put 5 pounds of chicken pieces in the crockpot with half a bottle of red wine and some mixed herbs and let it cook for five hours. Then I took it out, dumped it all in a pot on the stove, added two cans of crushed tomatoes with chilies and put it on to simmer on high. Then I added two jars of Trader Joe's Moroccan Tagine sauce and four finely chopped cloves of garlic. Let it keep cooking for about another hour on low and chopped up dried apricots, sweet red peppers from a jar. Served the chicken on rice with the apricots, red peppers and some slivered toasted almonds in bowls to toss on top. It was surprisingly good.
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Monday, May 24, 2004

Around The World In A Bowl Of Rice 
The fourth round of Is My Blog Burning (IMBB) is upon us and as of this morning there were 46 amazing entries. You can find them all here in Pim's witty and tres gourmand blog.
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Sunday, May 23, 2004

Asparagus Lemon Risotto 
I got very excited about this next chapter in the unfolding journey through the foods of the world that is IMBB (Is My Blog Burning?) The subject was Around the World in a Bowl of Rice and I had thought about my favorite basmati pilau with cardamom, cumin, coriander seeds and onion, or a soft, rich creamy rice pudding with raisins, or...

Then I got laid off (made redundant) on Tuesday and KABOOM! went my sunny mood.

Fortunately, the guilt of making the promise and not fulfilling it; the lack of anything interesting to do with my life apart from hunt for work, desperately renovate the house in case we need to sell it and get in a few huge familial fights because of...well we won't go into that. Where was I? Oh yeah - I got over it and decided to do my Asparagus Lemon Risotto which is particularly interesting because you can make it in a rice cooker. No - it isn't THAT easy, but it doesn't need constant stirring. Note: I got the basic idea for how to do this from The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook, but I like this risotto better than the ones they listed and it works better for me than their recipes. Which is not to say that it is a bad cookbook - the EXACT opposite. If you have a rice cooker and want to do more with it than make plain steamed rice then get this cookbook ASAP!

You can make many other risottos using the same basic technique, but I really like the delicate spring taste of this one and plus where I am it is asparagus season.

Asparagus Lemon Risotto

You will need a bunch of asparagus (about 12 spears or 3/4 of a pound) and a fresh, clean lemon. Three cloves of garlic. Two cups of chicken stock and two cups of a nice crisp white wine (Pinot Grigio is good and put the rest in the fridge to have with your risotto). Four tablespoons of butter. One and a half cups of arborio rice (you can probably use one of the other short, fat risotto rices like carnaroli but I find arborio just fine). Parmesan or pecorino romano cheese to taste (up to 1/3 of a cup).

Cut off the tough woody ends of the asparagus and slice the rest up into one inch pieces. Carefully grate the zest of the lemon and put it aside. Squeeze out the juice of the lemon and put that aside too. Peel and finely chop the garlic.

Turn the rice cooker on and set it to start cooking - even though it is empty - and leave the lid off - this is important. Now add three tablespoons of the butter and as it starts to melt, add the garlic. About a minute later add the asparagus and stir thoroughly and let cook for another couple of minutes. Now add the rice and the lemon zest and stir thoroughly again to coat all the rice with butter and whatever juices have come off the garlic and asparagus. Keep cooking for another five minutes stirring occasionally. If the rice cooker turns itself off during this time just leave it off but wait out the five minutes and stir occasionally.

Now add the two cups of chicken broth and two cups of white wine and the lemon juice and stir once and at last put the lid on the rice cooker. Cook until it dings that it is done.

Carefully decant into a nice serving bowl and stir in the last tablespoon of butter and the cheese. Actually you can use other cheeses here rather than the classic parmesan or romano - but nothing overwhelming. A soft creamy goat cheese might be interesting to melt into the risotto.

Hope you all like it and don't be put off by risotto in the rice cooker - it works!
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Friday, May 14, 2004

How do they do it (local organic rotisserie chicken) 
How do they do it? There is a local restaurant/grocery that a few months back started selling hot rotisserie chickens. They come off the roaster at 1PM and 5PM. You can order them by phone and they'll reserve them for you. They cost $7.95 per chicken. Now I know that at places like Costco and the local supermarket you can probably get a whole rotisserie chicken for $5.95 or $4.95 or (food is just stupidly cheap in the US) even $3.95. But that's a maximally processed, water and phosphate injected, factory farmed monstrosity and even fresh off the grill doesn't really taste all that great. (Although I hear the Costco ones aren't bad).

The chicken at this local place is a free-range, organic, healthy bird that has been hand rubbed with spices and is roasted with half a lemon and fresh rosemary and garlic cloves in the cavity. It is very close to as good as roasting one at home and even closer if you time things right for the 1PM and 5PM windows.

Now here is the thing. At the very cheapest, I can buy an organic free-range chicken for $1.99 a pound (that's timing it for a sale). These chickens are a good 3.5 pounds. So they are making 95 cents less cooking, spice, labor, lemons and rosemary and packaging. How do they do it?

I know they can get the chicken for less than I can and so forth but it is still a ridiculous price.

Sometime we'll get sick of it, but for now we have a pretty standard fallback if we don't feel like cooking. Or for when we want to take a picnic to the outdoor Shakespeare festival. Or whenever. Even better, the grocery also sells very reasonable produce, breads, deli items and so on.
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Thursday, May 13, 2004

America's Best Home Cook... 
...isn't me (what a shock!) and officially isn't going to be me. Semi-finalists were supposed to be contacted by May 1st. The cook-offs themselves start this weekend. So my effort didn't make the cut.

Oh well, I had fun. And now I can let you all know what I made and give you the pictures...

The rules were that we had to use four out of the following five ingredients: 1. boneless beef (any cut) 2. mushrooms (fresh or dried, any type), 3. red bell peppers, 4. shallots, 5. fresh rosemary.

I used chateaubriand (the nicest steak cut available at the store that night that fitted what I had planned), crimin muchrooms, shallots and fresh rosemary from the garden.

We also had to use three other ingredients of our choice and any ingredients at all from a 'pantry' list.

If you read the original entry you will see that I also handicapped myself by starting the night before the entries were due in.

This is the plated result.

Photo of Chateaubriand and cilantro sauce with rosemary garlic mushrooms copyright 2004 Owen Linderholm

I thought it not only looked good, but that the official recipe which follows was also good.

Chateaubriand and cilantro sauce with rosemary garlic mushrooms

Makes 4 generous servings

2lb Chateaubriand – about 1½ inches thick.
1 lemon
2 tsp coarse salt (kosher or sea salt)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch cilantro
8 medium to large cloves of garlic
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
5 tbsp olive oil
½ lb mushrooms (regular button or crimini)
½ stick (4 tbsp) butter
2 tbsp fresh rosemary
3 medium to large shallots

1.Take half a stick of butter out of the refrigerator to thaw.
2.Grate off the zest of the lemon.
3.Slice the chateaubriand in half through the thinnest part, like slicing an english muffin, turning it into two pieces of meat that are ¾ of an inch thick. Then cut each piece into half so you have four pieces of meat that are ¾ of an inch thick.
4.Sprinkle one teaspoon of coarse sea or kosher salt and the teaspoon of freshly ground pepper all over the meat. Then sprinkle the lemon zest evenly over the meat.
5.Place all the meat flat between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound each piece of meat through the plastic with a heavy object like tenderizing hammer or a rolling pin for about ten seconds per piece until it is about ½ an inch thick. Put the meat aside and let it rest.
6.Thoroughly wash the cilantro and trim just the roots off. You need the stalks as well as the leaves. Cut the bunch of cilantro in half or thirds and put it in the blender. Peel six of the cloves of garlic and add them to the blender. Add the juice of the lemon and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Add 3 tbsp of olive oil and the other 1 tsp of salt. Blend it all thoroughly together to a smooth green paste.
7.Carefully wipe the mushrooms clean with a paper towel and remove their stalks.
8.Finely chop the remaining two cloves of garlic and two tbsp of fresh rosemary.
9.Using a fork thoroughly mash the butter, garlic and rosemary together.
10.Put a small amount (1/6 of a tsp) of the rosemary garlic butter in each mushroom cap and then carefully spread the rest evenly over the meat.
11.Chop three shallots coarsely.
12.Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large cast iron skillet or non-stick frying pan. You may need two pans or to cook the meat in two batches. When it gets hot, swirl the oil in the pan, then place the shallots and mushrooms around the edge and the meat in the middle.
13.Cook for five minutes, stirring the shallots a little but try not to disturb the mushrooms or meat.
14.Turn the steaks over and cook for a further two minutes for medium. For rare, reduce the time on both sides by up to a minute, and for well done increase the time by up to a minute on both sides.
15.Serve with the browned shallots on top of the meat and a tablespoon of cilantro sauce on top of it all and the mushrooms on the side. Put more of the cilantro sauce in a bowl in case anyone wants more.
16.Accompany with a green salad or grilled tomatoes and pasta. The pasta can be made with a simple marinara sauce or just olive oil and parmesan. Alternatively, use the rest of the cilantro sauce as a sauce for the pasta and mix it in thoroughly.

And here are some pictures of stages along the way.

Cilantro sauce ingredients that go into the blender and end up like the sauce on the steak in the first picture.
Photo of cilantro sauce ingredients copyright 2004 Owen Linderholm

Rosemary garlic butter ready for spreading inside mushroom caps.
Photo of rosemary garlic butter copyright 2004 Owen Linderholm

Stuffed crimini mushrooms ready for cooking.
Photo of stuffed crimini mushrooms copyright 2004 Owen Linderholm

Steak and mushrooms and shallots cooking in the pan. I cooked it both ways shown - in a non-stick pan and in my trusty cast iron skillet. To my complete shock, the non-stick pan way came out better (although there wasn't much difference really).
Photo of Chateaubriand with rosemary garlic mushrooms cooking copyright 2004 Owen Linderholm

The steak and mushrooms cooked. It's a little smoky - I like to cook steak on high heat. Note the slightly caramelized shallots.
Photo of Chateaubriand with rosemary garlic mushrooms just finished cooking copyright 2004 Owen Linderholm
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Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Baked fried chicken revisited 
OK, I know I've written about this before, but I have improved a little on the method and have found a few spices that work even a little better and most importantly, I have a picture so you can SEE how good this is.

Photo of Baked Fried Chicken copyright 2004 Owen Linderholm

Baked Fried Paprika Spiced Chicken

First get about a quarter of a loaf of old dried out bread. Break it up into small chunks (I put it in a paper bag and smash it a few times with something very hard and heavy like my head) and blend it in the blender to make breadcrumbs. Then mix in about two tablespoons of herbs de provence, a tablespoon of garlic powder, a tablespoon of salt and a tablespoon of ground pepper. Remove the skin if you can from the chicken pieces (I don't bother to do this on wings). Then cut deep slashes to the bone in each piece of chicken. Put the chicken pieces in a bowl and sprinkle two teaspoons of smoked paprika all over them and rub it in thoroughly. You'll have to wash your hands afterward - wouldn't want to get any of that spiced smoked paprika in your eye if you rubbed it inadvertently...I mean wouldn't want to get any raw, salmonella laden chicken juices in your eye. Dump on one cup of buttermilk. Mix it in thoroughly so each piece is coated, even into the slashes. Let it sit in the fridge for an hour.

Turn the oven on to 400 degrees. Get out enough baking sheets to hold the chicken. Put a little oil on each of them to thinly coat the bottom. Put the breadcrumb mixture in a bowl. One at a time take each piece of chicken and roll it in the crumb mixture until coated thoroughly, then put them on the tray in a single layer. Drizzle or spray a small amount of oil on top of each piece. Bake for 15 minutes until the bottom is turning brown. Turn each piece over and bake for another 15 to twenty minutes. Check for doneness. If not done, turn again and bake for another ten minutes. Repeat until done.

Superb hot. Good cold.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Bush could have stopped the deaths in Iraq... 
[Warning - politics ahead...]

Abu Musab Zarqawi is widely regarded as masterminding most of the bombings and terrorist-caused deaths in Iraq. He also claimed responsibility for the beheading of Nick Berg, the poor, decent civilian who was executed yesterday.

Bush and his National Security Council turned down the chance to capture this terrorist and destroy his main operations not once, not twice, but THREE times as long ago as two years ago. It was apparently more important to go forward with the invasion of Iraq than go after a known, proven high-up member of Al-Qaeda. That policy has come back to haunt them and it is typical of how the whole war on terror and now the war in Iraq have been mismanaged, mishandled and just plain bungled.

Details here.
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Sunday, May 09, 2004

IMBB 4th Edition: Rice! 
The very interesting IMBB (Is My Blog Burning?) cooking project is upon us again. The last time was cake and this time it is 'Around the world in a bowl of rice'.

I will, of course, take part and so you can expect to see more news about this on May 23rd.
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Thursday, May 06, 2004

Fava bean hummus 
In common with other food bloggers, I have been getting fava beans lately in my box of organic veggies.

I actually have saved them up for a couple of weeks since I wanted to make a large batch of fava bean hummus for our party. This is what I mostly do with the beans when I am not just cooking them for dinner plain.

Photo of Fava Bean Hummus copyright 2004 Owen Linderholm

Fava Bean Hummus

Shell about three pounds of fava beans. This should leave you with a couple of cups of actual beans. Boil them for about twenty minutes in water and then rapidly cool with cold water. Peel all the larger ones (anything bigger than about 1/2 inch in the longest dimension) by squeezing one end hard and popping the bean out of the skin. Smaller ones can be left whole. Puree in a blender with a head of green garlic, half a cup of olive oil, half a cup of lemon juice and about half a cup of sesame tahini. Add salt to taste and serve with bread or crudites.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Organic boxes are CHEAPER... 
...not just than buying the same veggies at a grocery store but than buying the non-organic equivalent at a grocery store!

So you have absolutely no excuse whatsoever if you actually do cook your own food.

I know some singles say they can't eat it all - mostly what they really mean is that they don't cook at home often enough to use the veggies, but I know many singles who share with a friend. And yes, it can be a stretch to use all of something you get a LOT of and don't like that much. But it STILL works out cheaper.

And all of the above ignores the incontrovertible fact that CSA vegetable boxes provide fresher, higher-quality produce than you will ever get from a store. I have NEVER EVER eaten better strawberries or tomatoes than I get every Spring and Summer from Terra Firma - and that includes homegrown - they are professionals after all.

So, from now on I don't want to hear excuses. Admit you can't or won't for no good reason or sign up. Check with The CSA Center to find one near you.
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A trifle... 
...a mere nothing, a bagatelle. NOT! On the contrary, the trifle is the quintessential English dessert. On a warm summer evening there is nothing, literally nothing to beat a good trifle. Now I have had trifles that don't deserve the name - abominations with ingredients like chocolate, toffee and caramel. Fine desserts one and all but emphatically not trifles. A real trifle has a soaked sponge cake of some kind, jam, fruit, a custard and whipped cream. Sticking to those basic precepts can still generate a giddy array of sensuous delights. But I usually keep it even more strict, even more real, even more true to my roots in Surrey. You may use only sherry for soaking the sponge. Your fruits and jam may only involve berries. Leeway may be taken with the custard even though the true aficionado knows that a trifle should only really be made with Bird's custard powder.

Photo of Sherry Trifle halfway through construction copyright 2004 Owen Linderholm
The best trifle I ever made was completely from scratch. I made vanilla-orange sponge cake. I made a raspberry syrup reduction. I used a delicious amontillado sherry. I only used fresh organic raspberries. I made a vanilla creme anglais from scratch with organic eggs. It took me between four and five hours.

The trifle I made for the Kerry dinner was a simpler affair. I was after all making it for about forty people.

Sherry Trifle

You will need a large bowl - preferably glass so people can see the delectable insides of your trifle. Note also that trifle is best made well ahead of time and allowed to get cold.

You will need a tin of Bird's custard powder (or the time and ability to make an english egg custard from scratch). You will need two packages of lady fingers (about 50 ladyfingers in all). You will need a jar of jam - I used d'Arbo blackberry and blackcurrant (although the jar and information doesn't show it, this also has blackcurrant in it). You will need lots of berries - say four pints. I used organic blackberries and strawberries. You will need five pints of milk and some sugar. You will need about half a bottle of medium to dry sherry (I prefer amontillado). You will need a pint of heavy whipping cream.

First, make the custard using the milk and sugar according to the directions (two tablespoons of custard powder and two tablespoons of sugar per pint of milk I believe). Mix a very small amount of cold milk with the sugar and powder until it is a smooth paste and set it aside. Heat the rest of the milk to almost boiling and stir the custard mixture in whisking them together thoroughly and stirring constantly, especially off the bottom, to avoid lumps. Let the pan JUST return to boiling, take it off the heat and set it aside to cool.

Next, get about half the ladyfingers and carefully smear a thin layer of jam on one side of them and layer them into the bottom of the bowl. Then sprinkle half the sherry (a quarter bottle) onto the ladyfingers so they start to soak it up. Now put half the berries in a layer on top of that. Cut up any that are bigger than a single bite. Now, when the custard is cool enough to put a finger in comfortably, pour half of it on top of the berries. Now repeat the process with the other half of the ingredients and stick the bowl in the fridge until you are ready to eat it. It can keep as long as 24 hours this way. The final piece is to whip the cream and put it on top of everything right before serving.

The above recipe makes enough for fifteen to twenty people in a normal serving or for about six people if they aren't watched very carefully and return for seconds and thirds and...

Note that it also isn't a dessert for children. I made a version using a diluted blackcurrant syrup instead of sherry for the kids and that was pretty popular, too.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Mid Preparation 
OK, the trifle(s) are made. One (larger) has half a bottle of sherry in it for adults and the other (smaller) has blackcurrant syrup diluted used instead of sherry. Both are made with lady fingers smeared with blackberry and blackcurrant jam and with fresh blackberries and strawberries (organic of course) and with a total of a gallon of vanilla custard.

The baked fried chicken is made - this time with buttermilk, herbes de provence, sea salt and hot smoked paprika.

The lamb legs are butterflied and marinating. Two with two cups of red wine, half a head of garlic minced, three tablespoons ground coriander, two tablespoons of herbes de provence, a tablespoon of sweet smoked paprika and some sea salt and ground black pepper. The third is marinating in a mix of spicy mustard, local wildflower honey and rubbed sage.

Pasta salad with nicoise olives, greek feta, sweet 100 cherry tomatoes, the finely chopped top of a green garlic, chopped cucumber and two large handfuls of fresh oregano, lavender and sorrel from the herb garden.

The fava bean hummus is made with fresh boiled fava beans, tahini, lemon juice, two heads of green garlic, a fresh spring onion and lots of olive oil - also salt.

Next up the pizzetas and then start things going for the grill.
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