Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On Asparagus and Your Stinking Tinkles

Yes, I said tinkles.  Remember when you used to say you had to "tinkle" instead of saying you had to "pee?"  Well I'm bringing the word back.  Anyway, I digress.

I wanted to talk about asparagus making your tinkles smell funny.  It's not a culinary conundrum, per se, but it's one of those cool "Did you know..." factoids that you can bring up at a cocktail party.  (If you're cool with discussing bodily functions at cocktail parties, which I'm always up for.)

So asparagus makes your tinkles smell funny, but you may not know this because that's how your DNA was written.  Yeah, I know!  Keep reading.  Asparagus has a fancy sounding amino acid in it called methionine.  Methionine contains sulfur, and I think we all know what sulfur smells like.  (And tastes like, if you went to my summer camp in the mid 80's. Thanks for that learning experience of sulfur water, Camp Crucis.)  So when the methionine leaves your body, it gives off that potent sulfuric smell.  But here's the crazy thing- not everyone can smell it!  Only about a quarter of the population (of the entire planet, because asparagus is eaten everywhere) can actually detect the smell, but it's still there, plain as day and they're blissfully unaware.  The rest of us have to experience the asparagus aftermath, which I consider a hidden talent, genetically encoded into my DNA. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Another oldie but goodie... let's talk veggies and the Golden Girls!

In honor of the departed Bea and Rue, I've decided to pay homage to our favorite girls and talk vegetables.

Dear Tricia, Why do you blanch things? What's the point?

Good question, fancy pants. A lot of home cooks don't blanch veggies when they're getting down and dirty in the kitchen. To start off with, let me explain what blanching is, for all of the readers out there who think I'm talking about the promiscuous Golden Girl.
Blanching is when you take vegetables (most commonly green ones) and you cook them in salted, boiling water for about 10 seconds. Then you take them out and "shock" them by putting them in a bowl of cold water. The ice water stops the cooking process. Fun, right? Well what's the point in it, you ask? In restaurants, this is super convenient because you've already started cooking the veggies, and when an order comes in, the cook can just finish them off in a saute pan with some butter in it. It's a big time saver when there are 30 tickets up, and your chef is screaming at you "Just get the %$!& plates out, you %&!@& &*$%!" (Welcome to my life. It's like working on a pirate ship.)
At home, the big reason why you'd want to blanch your veggies is because it keeps their color. Anytime you cook vegetables (or fruit, for that matter,) they start to oxidize, which is fancy-terms for turn brown. Blanching them keeps their color so that when you finish cooking your green beans, they stay bright and colorful as a rainbow... a green bean rainbow.
The most convenient reason to blanch at home is if you're having a dinner party or cooking for a large group. When you have your veggies blanched ahead of time, you can just slowly reheat them in a saute pan and take them right to the plate when its time to serve dinner.
So, some things to remember when you're blanching:

1. Make sure your water is salted. It adds flavor. (Please refer to my post on pasta for more details and other hilarity.)
2. Have your ice water ready. If you take out the veggies and have to wait to get your bowl of ice water, then you're not blanching. You're just unprepared.
3. If a recipe you're following says to blanch for longer than 10 seconds, like some will tell you 5 minutes, go ahead and follow the recipe. But then send the author of the recipe an email that says "That's not blanching: that's just boiling a pot of green beans for a while and then sticking them in ice water."
4. Be happy about your new vocabulary. You're becoming more and more like me every day!

Now, if we could only find a cooking method that shares the same name with Bea Arthur... That would really make my day.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

My Swiss Chard is a Bed Hog!

Dear Tricia,
My swiss chard is taking over my garden! Any recipe ideas?

Holy hell, yes. Chard is one of those delicious leafy greens that can be successfully thrown into just about anything but a bowl of Fruity Pebbles. And that's so awesome that you have a garden! I wish I could garden but I am doomed to killing most plants and flowers. I only know how to make them taste delicious. Side note: I once visited a friend when I lived in Austin, who had the most gorgeous garden, filled with tons of chard, cucumbers, jalapenos, tomatoes... It was awesome. I stood there picking hot tomatoes, warmed by the sun, and eating them straight off the vine. I had revelation. I envisioned myself joining a co-op, harvesting my fruitful crops of veggies, making organic meals 3 times a day, living off the earth... and then I looked down and saw the massive amounts of bug bites that had instantly populated my legs, and went back inside to make a grilled cheese sandwich.

Anything that you like spinach in, you'll like Chard in. Let's talk prep: swiss chard is a little bit thicker and waxier than spinach, so I recommend steaming it first: First, you'll need to rinse the chard, and cut the big stem from the middle of it. Chop the green leafy parts into small pieces and set those aside. Then get a pan really hot. No, seriously, like.... really scorching hot. (This is not the time to have happy hour while cooking if you're accident prone. Read: me.) Let your pan get hot, and have a lid and a small glass of water ready. Then, put that pile of green leafy deliciousness in the pan, put about a 1/4 cup of water in with it, and close the lid quickly.

This should be really loud if you got your pan hot enough. If you didn't, then this will be a slow, anticlimactic process. Don't blame me- I gave you sound advice.

The water will instantly started steaming the chard- and it will make your abundant pile of greens shrink down to a much smaller-looking amount. Go ahead and stir it one or twice, but you want to keep the lid on most of the time. Also, throw in a bit of salt and pepper. Nicely done.

The chard is done when all of the water has evaporated, and the greens are darker and much softer. You can eat the chard just like this if you want (or if you're on a cleanse from all of those martinis you had in February). I like to put a little bit of sesame oil or tamari in with it, stir it around and eat it like so. You can also make a quiche- you can make anything into a quiche, actually. Quiches are Leftover City.

There is a very basic quiche ratio: 1 cup of milk to 6 eggs. Just beat those guys together with some salt and pepper, and pour over a frozen pie crust with your lovely steamed swiss chard on it. Add a handful of cheddar cheese and maybe some bacon in that sucker and pop it in the oven at 375 for about 40 minutes or until its not jiggly anymore. Done. Seriously, like the easiest thing to make. And if I read one more food blog romantically droning on and on about the minuscule details of some one's amazing Quiche Lorraine, I'm going to puke. It's not rocket science, bloggers.

Anytime you use steamed chard to turn into a lasagna or a quiche, make sure you squeeze all of the moisture out of it with a paper towel first. (AFTER it's cooled. Let me make that mistake for you.) Otherwise, the water leaks out and makes a mess. And I'm pretty sure your goal was to make something edible and not watery when you wrote me, right?

Swiss Chard is one of those really awesome super-foods. It has at least 13 different known types of antioxidants (those help keep the Cancer away), plus it also has this really unique thing called Syringic acid (scary word, but its not related to syringes, or anything you'd ever see on Intervention) which helps regulate your blood sugar. Bonus!
You commonly see it in the grocery store with white or red stems, but there's also a variety called Rainbow Chard, where the stems look just like they sound. Its my favorite- not because it tastes better or anything, but just because we can all use some more rainbows in our diet.