Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Repertoires and other musings

Long time, no entry. Oops.

I haven’t been cooking much recently—a busy schedule and a lack of foresight are the obstacles that seem to get standing in my way. Twice in a row now—twice!—I’ve gone to grocery store with out a list of any kind. I haven’t really given any forethought to what I want to make—which is good sometimes, for spontaneity’s sake but can also be bad (especially when it results in the strange mess of veggies that I sautéed last night and ate over whole wheat bread).

I am not a very spontaneous person. I like to plan things, to know where I stand, whether in the kitchen or out of it. I like the simplicity and straightforward nature of following a recipe. I’m not fond of tweaking, at least not at first. But what really restricts me when it comes to cooking is something else I lack: a repertoire.

I only seriously started cooking for myself about a year and a half ago. Before that I would half-heartedly make cookies and spend several days each summer churning out cups of pesto for the winter’s freezer, but that was really the extent of my interest. I don’t really have a basis for my cooking—there are very few dishes that I can make off the top of my head without a recipe. Sometimes I think this is a good thing—it means I’ll be constantly trying new things. But on a cold and tired Monday evening, when all I have is a handful of okra, tomatoes, onion, and frozen asparagus spears (I have more than that, I promise, but I wasn’t in the mood for it or it didn’t lend itself to the veggies)—it would’ve been nice to have a fall back.

I won’t lie—I’m certainly getting there. I have a tomato sauce recipe under my belt that is both rich and creamy and ridiculously easy to make (I stole the recipe from Orangette, who in turn took it from the talented Marcella Hazan). I have my sautéed fallback—a wonderful, easy dinner that consists of whatever I have lying around sautéed in olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper, oregano, and parsley. I often put it over pasta, but bread, salad greens, or by itself works just as well. But that’s really it.

So. It seems clear to me that my next step is to work on my repertoire—be on the lookout in the coming weeks and months as I try to build one! We’ll see how successful this will be. At the moment, I’ve been eyeing recipes for frittatas, salad dressings, and quick chicken or turkey dishes. But I also want to experiment much much more with soups and pasta dishes, explore the world of quinoa, and maybe even branch out into baking desserts and breads. I’m also narrowing down my interests in cuisines—after several attempts to be fascinated by French cooking, I find that it just doesn’t resonate with me. I think Italian and Indian are those that most catch my interest. But we’ll see. I’m hoping that my horizons expand beyond my expectations. Any suggestions or help would be much appreciated—leave words of wisdom in the comments!

Friday, October 5, 2007

My Stomach Overfloweth with Grease (or: what not to eat, by Queasy)

As you can probably tell by Cheesy’s last post, she has quite the penchant for those food carts. And for good reason too—they’re cheap, readily available, and they always smell so tempting. Being a tad snobbish, I have always stubbornly walked past them, mostly due my mother’s incessant talk of the value of “real” food that has been ingrained into my conscious meal choices. But food is food, right? Are not all eggs valued equal? Should not a hungry woman indulge every once in awhile? What’s in a bad egg? All important questions to ponder.

On the subject of eggs, I have been craving them for weeks. Too lazy / too hassled to cook, I have been tempted by the wafting smell of breakfast carts along Market Street ever since I began my new job. I held out for over three months before I had enough. An egg sandwich for $1.25? I couldn’t believe my eyes. If the price was right, how bad could it be?

Indeed, it certainly looked wonderful. Two eggs on a huge hoagie roll, with ketchup on top. I could go on forever about the value of ketchup and hot sauce (which I recently discovered after moving to Philadelphia), but that is a topic for another post. I was hungry, so it probably tasted better than it actually was. Delightful nonetheless. I vowed to never neglect eggs again!

Less than one hour later, the stomach pains began, which curbed my appetite for the rest of the day (but rest assured, did not stop me from eating lunch). I was annoyed, to say the least. What could it have been? Ketchup, eggs, a roll…what went wrong?? Perhaps I DID get a bad egg. More likely, it was probably the grease that did me in. As I have grown older, I have sadly learned that my stomach is not as…supple…as it used to be. Gone are the days of yore when I could eat an entire bag of Doritos and still eat dinner without an issue. I still love the smell of those food trucks, but I will not be returning to purchase a $1.25 egg sandwich any time soon.

Regretfully yours,


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Upheaval, Distress, and Street Food

Hello, poor readers. This blog of ours has been neglected of late, hasn’t it? We do apologize, but life has gotten in the way recently. (What do you mean, life got in the way? How does life get in the way of eating??) Well, life doesn’t get in the way of eating, but it certainly gets in the way of cooking.

Cheesy and Queesy have been having quite a time, indeed. One of us has been traveling all over the East Coast on the weekends and she has her own tales of foods good and bad. I have just been dealing with apartment woes. Remember the new apartment that I waxed poetic about a couple of entries ago? The one with the spacious and sunny kitchen? Well, it did not turn into the long-term home that I hoped it would be. What with badly cooked fish and crazy roommates, Cheesy is on the move again, this time to a tiny studio in a big high rise in the Art Museum area of Philadelphia.

Due to the high level of discomfort in that apartment, I have not spent much time in the kitchen, which saddens me to no end. You see, when I’m really upset, I don’t eat that much because my stomach hurts. But when some of that stress has abated but I’m still troubled in spirit, I eat. I would have loved to sit down with a bowl of pasta tossed with a little olive oil and the last of summer’s fresh tomatoes and soft, slightly melted mozzarella cheese. Or made a large pot of soup and read while it simmered gently on the stove. Instead, I’ve been studiously avoiding the awkward apartment and, when I’m actually there, keeping to my room (which is no where near the kitchen).

So, there have been very few chances to play with new or old recipes. But I have been exploring the exciting world of……street food!

Philadelphia—especially the area around the University of Pennsylvania’s campus where I work—is absolutely teeming with food trucks and vendors. My favorite so far is the Mexi-Philly burrito truck, located on Spruce somewhere between 36th and 38th. This truck offers several different kinds of burritos, including tofu, eggplant, and roasted pepper. But my favorite by far is the $2.25 bean burrito that is both tasty and filling. For so little money, you get a nice sized burrito with refried and blacks beans, rice, cheese, and your choice of fresh salsa inside it. If you’re not up for a burrito, right next door is the crepe truck that offers both sweet and savory crepes for about $5. There is a myriad other cuisines offered, from Chinese to Middle Eastern (there are several great falafel trucks) to your normal hoagies, hot dogs, and fries. And, as always, there’s the inevitable and invaluable Wawa!

Eating cheaply has always been a challenge for me. But, through self-imposed exile from my own kitchen, I think I’m starting to learn the art.