Sunday, 25 September 2011

Omelets or Post-Ska-Show-Life-Saver

Here's a funny story: one gray, mucky Saturday, I felt too tired to do much around the house, and my boyfriend and I had tickets to go see the Real McKenzies and the Planet Smashers that very night. We figured we'd do some grocery shopping the next day, so we just enjoyed our day of farniente, went to our show, danced our hearts out because the bands are absolutely amazing (we discovered an awesome British band called Random Hand; check them out, they will blow your socks off!)... and woke up the next morning ravenously hungry to an almost empty fridge... Curses were mumbled as we made some coffee and tried to figure out what to do to get some food in our alcohol-shocked system. We were out of milk, so muffins and scones were not an option, we had finished the bagels and the bread, we had one lonely mango in the fruit bowl... I looked bleak.

And then, I saw eggs, cherry tomatoes and a small block of cheddar in the fridge. Saved!

Omelets are an amazing morning-after breakfast, as they are easy and quick to prepare,  they will soak up any alcohol left in your belly, and give you energy to get up and do all the important things you need to take care of (you can even make them upon returning from your nightlife adventures, before you pass out into a Jack and Coke stupor). Obviously, they are very versatile, so lazy folks rejoice, as this recipe can be used not only for breakfast, but also for lunch and dinner, when you can't be bothered to spend more than 10 minutes in the kitchen. Unless you want to go very fancy additions, omelets are also cheap, making them a favorite dish of students and broke musicians everywhere.

Allow me a hippie moment to strongly suggest that you encourage free-range and organic farming, and make sure you buy eggs laid by happy hens who run around a bit. They are not really more expensive than the other eggs, and you'll sleep better at night. Oh! And avoid those prepackaged egg mixes like the plague!

The following recipe serves one, so my advice is to not crowd your pan, and make your helpings one at the time if you are not cooking just for yourself. Omelets are good fresh, and in a morning-after haze, social conventions are not as strict as usual. I use a small frying pan (cast iron is great!) and a firm spatula, to fold the omelet over and serve it. Make sure you slice anything you want to add to you omelet before you turn the heat on under your pan, to avoid frustrating accidents and messy results. If you want, you can grate the cheese directly on the omelet as it cooks, but whenever you grate it, use the small holes on a box grater. Big lumps of cheese won't melt well in your eggs.

Here is the basic omelet recipe from Jamie Oliver's "Food Revolution", followed by a few of my favorite ideas to pimp up your omelets. The version I cooked post-ska show was the tomato and basil omelet; I can never get enough of that combination of flavors.

3 large eggs
Sea salt and ground pepper
1 small nub of butter
1 small handful grated Cheddar cheese

Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl with a pinch of salt and pepper, and beat well with a fork. Put a small frying pan on medium-low heat and let it get hot. Add a small pat of butter to the pan; when it has melted and is bubbling, add the eggs and move the pan around so that they spread out evenly. When the omelet begins to cook and firm up, but still has a bit of raw eggs on top, sprinkle the cheese. Using a spatula, ease around the edges of the omelet, then fold it over in half. When it starts to turn golden brown underneath, remove the pan from the heat and slide the omelet on to a plate.

Tomato and basil: Pick the leaves off 2 or 3 sprigs of fresh basil and roughly tear them. Cut a handful of cherry tomatoes in half and add it to a hot frying pan with a bit of butter and a drizzle of olive oil. Fry and toss around for about a minute, then lower the heat to medium and add the basil leaves. Add the eggs and proceed with the recipe.

Mushroom: Roughly chop 2 or 3 nice Portobello mushrooms and add to a hot frying pan with a bit of butter and a drizzle of olive oil. Fry and toss around until golden. Turn the heat down to medium, add the eggs and proceed with the recipe. Not a bad idea to switch the Cheddar for Swiss cheese in this variation.

Hangover: Finely slice 1/2 fresh red chile. Squeeze the meat out of 1 good-quality sausage and crumble it into a hot frying pan, with a tiny drizzle of olive oil. Fry until golden, turn the heat down to medium and add 1/2 teaspoon of crushed fennel seeds, the chile and the eggs. Proceed with the recipe.

I also threw a small handful of chopped scallions to our omelets, along with the tomatoes, to give the flavor a bit more bite. Use your imagination and whatever is left in your fridge to give your omelet that personal touch and turn it into a quick feast. If you are serving it the morning-after, don't forget the huge mug of black coffee and a big glass of orange juice!

P.S. My flipping-of-the-omelet went slightly awry, so this picture shows the genuinely messy, but delicious, breakfast we enjoyed! Presentation is not that relevant when it's just you and a half-asleep significant other...

Monday, 19 September 2011

Baked Cauliflower in Tomato and Olive Sauce... or BRAAAAIIIIINNNNNS!

I love a good psychobilly show! The double-bass, the crazy distorted guitars, the hours of retro hair-styling... awesome! I had been eying this dish in a Jamie Oliver book for a while, and given it's looks, I thought I'd save it for a Halloween party, but seeing the Brains open for the Nekromantix last might made me feel like going: "Braiiiiins! BRAAAAAIIIINS!". Or actually, "cauliflower baked in tomato and olive sauce that really looks like cooked brains!". Not that I know first-hand what cooked brains looks like, but hey, this little Mediterranean veggie-dish is delicious and healthy. I wanted it to look even more like something a zombie would like, so I served the cauliflower with tagliatelle dripping in the cooking sauce. Keep this recipe preciously; it might be the only way you'll be able to distract zombies long enough to escape when they try to take over the world!

1 red onion, peeled and sliced
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large head of cauliflower, outer leaves removed and stalk chopped
Olive oil
1 handful of Kalamata olives, pitted
4 anchovy fillets, drained and sliced (optional)
1 handful fresh parsley, leaves and stalks chopped
2 (14 ounce) cans chopped tomatoes
Red wine vinegar

Get a pan large enough for the whole head of cauliflower to fit into. Throw in the onion, garlic, chopped cauliflower stalk and a glug of olive oil to the pan and fry slowly for 10 minutes, until softened and lightly colored. Add the olives, anchovies (if using) and parsley stalks and fry for another couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes and a bit of water to the pan, with a good swig of red wine vinegar. Stir everything together, breaking the tomatoes down with a spoon to make sure there are no big lumps and bring to a boil. Take the cauliflower and gently push it down into the sauce. Half the cauliflower should be in the sauce, half above it. Drizzle with olive oil, put the lid on and it tick over low heat for 50 minutes. To serve, carefully remove the cauliflower and then transfer the sauce to a serving platter, and place the cauliflower on the middle.

Obviously, veganizing this dish is easy as pie: don't use anchovies! I didn't because my boyfriend finds them too salty, and the sauce is tasty enough without them.

To give my dish the ultimate zombie-meal look, I prepared the pasta just before the cauliflower was ready, transferred them to a serving plate, added a ladle of sauce, placed the cauliflower on top and drizzled in more sauce. Let your guests carve their helpings and feed!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Punk Housewife Philosophy or Living Cheap and Healthy

Now, a bit of philosophy.
I am a very strong believer in home-cooked food for several reasons:
a) You know exactly what you put in your mouth! I am perfectly grossed out by processed food ingredients lists. If you can't pronounce it, should you be eating it? I don't think so. I confess I sometimes bring a frozen lunch to work, usually when I burnt the previous night's dinner or if I had company who was too ravenous to leave me anything to put in a Tupperware. But I do not make a habit of it. I like being healthy.
b) You save a lot of money! Pre-made food and restaurant food is expensive stuff, and the quality of it is usually very average. The tastes are generally bland, so you drown it in salt, just so it doesn't taste like cardboard. Again, bad for your health. Cooking fresh stuff with spices will make flavorful dishes for a fraction of what you'll pay at a food-court. And it will actually taste good. Nothing frustrates me more than paying hard-earned cash for crappy food. When you live on a budget, making your own food is a surprisingly satisfying way to save some dough.
c) As far as food goes, nothing is more satisfying than eating a meal you made from scratch. Sure, it's messy, chopping veggies is boring, and cleaning pesto-gunk out of the food processor sucks. But when you sit in front of a plate full of hand-made yumminess, you know it's worth all the burns and cuts. Sharing that food with loved ones triples the satisfaction factor. Trust me. And since practice makes perfect, you can quickly end up too snob to eat anything you haven't made yourself.
d) Do-It-Yourself, maaaaan! Home cooking is so punk rock and bad-ass! Don't let anyone tell you different! You are in charge, and no soulless corporation will have it's dirty hands in your plate. Neh!
My disclaimer about meat:
As A. Whitney Brown once said: "I am not a vegetarian because I love animals; I am a vegetarian because I hate plants." Seriously, I know it can seem politically incorrect to eat meat these days, but I am a conscientious omnivore. That means that when I want to cook meat, I buy it from my local butcher, who only stocks organic meat that isn't injected with antibiotics, hormones, food-colorings and other unspeakable horrors. Sure, the stuff is more expensive than what I could get at a supermarket, but the tastes and textures are much better, and it encourages local economy and free-range, organic farming. Good causes, in my opinion, as the mass meat-farming industry is a gigantic problem that simply shames me. I cannot bring myself to endorse such a barbaric business. But, you can argue, I still eat meat! Yes, I do. I am not proud of some aspects of it, but I do believe in encouraging free-range farming, and I do believe our bodies are built to be omnivorous. I apologize for those offended by that reasoning, and I would like to point out that I often include a veganized version of some dishes, and that I cook a lot of vegetarian and vegan stuff as well; all of which is just as tasty and healthy as the traditional version. Maybe one day I'll decide to banish animal-products from my kitchen and life entirely, but right now, you will find cheese, fish and the occasional steak in my repertoire, along with tofu, chickpeas and soy milk. There should be a little to make everyone happy.

Maybe I have been blessed with a good metabolism. Maybe it's sheer, dumb luck that I enjoy walking, dancing and biking just for fun. And maybe when I hit 40, I will have a drastic change of mind, work out every day and only eat raw vegetables (unlikely, but never say never). However, right here, right now, I am an advocate of enjoying life intelligently. That means, eating what you want in reasonably-sized portions and being moderate about fat and sugar. And most importantly, learn to enjoy food! Treat it like a pleasure, not a threat to your waistline! It may be my Franco-Italian background, but women should have a few curves here and there. Stick-figures look unhealthy. I am not saying one should eat fettuccine Alfredo every night; but depriving oneself is not a sane way to stay fit. Many recipes I'll share are low-fat (yes, they will be labeled!), and they are just as awesome and satisfying as the others. So please, throw away the psychotic "Skinny Bitch" franchise and get your hands on a copy of "French Women Don't Get Fat". Live a little, but avoid over-indulgence. If you feel like eating a burger for lunch, go ahead; just eat a light dinner like a veggie soup or some steamed fish! Maintaining a healthy weight is as much about using your brain as it is about getting off your couch.

The "O" Word:
The word in question being "organic", of course. Now anyone with a handful of braincells know that it's an umbrella term, generally meaning something along the lines of "grown without pesticides, GMO-free, hasn't been massively dosed with various strange chemicals with unknown side-effects, etc.". But one has to watch out, as the word is oh-so fashionable right now, and can be used as a clever marketing trap. Check the label to make sure it is certified organic by a reliable organism before you shell out a few hard-earned bucks. You can start exploring the issue here: Yes, I know it's a government web-site, but use all the available tools to make sure you feed yourself and your loved ones/household pests with stuff that won't make anyone sick.
I approach cooking the way a mad scientist looks at their crazy experiment: it's fun and it's fascinating! I love to learn and experiment, so if you have requests or comments, please feel very free to write! I don't claim to be an expert and know better: this is just me, going crazy in my kitchen and getting vaguely hypnotized by the whirling of the food processor. My advice is only based on personal experience, so be punk-rock and think for yourself if you think I am mistaken.