March 30, 2012

Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude:
Penne Pincher

Note: Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude is a weekly(ish) feature about food, food and more FOOD. No, I am not an expert, but I do enjoy talking about food prep, cooking food, eating food and making sweet love to food.  Okay, maybe not the "sweet love" part. After all, this is not meant to be an homage to 9 1/2 Weeks.

Recipe Index can be found here.
Brainbyte: I love, love this post on 7 Reasons I Hate Artificial Food Dyes.  Wherever I can, I avoid them. I discovered when Arun was a toddler that artificial food coloring makes him impulsive, emotional and highly-distracted.  The same kid who can eat a bowl of ice cream late at night and go straight to bed is a hot mess when he has artificial food colors.

Yesterday, I invited my friend Emily over for lunch (remember Emily?  The same friend I invited over for Black-Eyed Peas Curry?  The same night that I divvied up Hostessing and Horking Duties?  Yes, she came back!  Can you believe it?)  I wanted our lunch to be something easy because Emily has a new! baby! and I knew that I would not want to fiddle with cooking.  Indeed, I was going to want some cuddles from her little demi-desi of deliciousness.  Since I am done with birthin' babies,  I have to take my newborn snuggles where I can get them.

I decided to make Pasta alla Carbonara. The recipe is originally from a Big Time Food Star, but frankly, her recipe was a little pricey because it included Italian pancetta.  However, I discovered  that regular bacon is an acceptable and wallet-friendly substitution one time when my grocery store did not have pancetta .  Also, Big Time Food Star's recipe called for rigatoni pasta and romano cheese, but I did not have those things on hand.  However, I always have penne pasta and parmigiano-reggiano on hand.  Furthermore, buying a special cheese for ONE dish does not make financial sense for me.  I know that Serious Foodies would scoff at my Costco-sized bucket of dry-aged, grated cheese, but I meet their Scoff and raise them a Shrug.   At least it is not in a green can, right?  And by using regular bacon, pasta and the type of cheese that I already have hand, this dish is now affordable for me.

Anyway!  I love, love this dish.  It is so quick to whip up but is rich and satisfying with nice texture.  It feels fancy and is so darned pretty with the garnish of fresh parsley and a scattering of grated cheese.

Also, Big Time Food Star claims you can make this dish in 30 minutes or less.  Ahem.

Pasta alla Carbonara

1 pound penne pasta
2 tbs olive oil (or more, if needed, to keep everything from sticking!)
1/4 pound bacon, chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 large egg yolks
1/4 to 1/2 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped

1. Bring a large saucepot of water to boil. Add a tsp salt and the pasta. Cook to al dente.

2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and bacon. Brown the bacon 2 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes more. Add wine and stir well.

3. In a separate bowl, beat yolks, then add a 1/2 cup of the pasta water. (This tempers the eggs so you don't end up with scrambled eggs when you add them to the pasta!)

4. Drain pasta well and add it directly to the skillet with bacon and oil. Pour the egg mixture over the pasta. Mix rapidly to coat the pasta without scrambling the egg.

5. Remove pan from heat and add a big handful of cheese, lots of pepper, and a little salt. Continue to toss and turn the pasta until it soaks up egg mixture and thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Garnish with parsley and extra grated Romano.

March 27, 2012

Lemons Are Not So Bad, After All

The past month has been a stinky one.  I simply have not been feeling very well and last Friday, I gave up and called the doctor.  It does not seem to be anything important, we are just running some tests, etc in the meantime.  However, being slightly off one's game for this long really drags a person down.  And I am frustrated.  I am trying so hard to exercise and toward that goal, signed up for some 5Ks this spring.  I ran one on March 10th and it was just awful.  I have two more coming up in April (May is still open -- any recommendations for 5Ks in Kansas City??)    I am hoping to start feeling better soon.  Because dammit, I am trying to get in shape.

In the meantime, I have been one crabby mother.  I have two whirling dervishes who do not understand or care that I am not 100% right now.  But it is not their fault.

Yesterday, I felt we needed some whimsy in our afternoon so I declared that we were going to have a Lemonade Party.  They looked at me like I was a Crazy Woman (no offense taken, natch)

I dug through my cabinets and pulled out my woefully neglected martini set.  A sweet set that I obsessed over and lovingly purchased back when drinking Cosmos were all the rage.  I no longer drink martinis, but why could we not still use my lovely set?




Dahling, puh-leeze.....

All that lemonade and the poor boy could barely hold his head up.

I do not miss drinking martinis.

And I am far happier with my new method for putting my lovely set to such good use.

March 23, 2012

Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude:
Pavlov's Blog

Note: Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude is a weekly(ish) feature about food, food and more FOOD. No, I am not an expert, but I do enjoy talking about food prep, cooking food, eating food and making sweet love to food.  Okay, maybe not the "sweet love" part. After all, this is not meant to be an homage to 9 1/2 Weeks.

Recipe Index can be found here.
Brain Byte: I love, love real maple syrup and refuse to buy the "other stuff". Christie's Corner articles goes into detail about the painstaking process of harvesting and processing maple syrup. Yum!

And now.... today's topic. Are there certain foods that you crave so hard, you salivate just thinking about them? Foods that you turn to when you are having a hard time or just need a little pick-me-up??  I have a few things that just the thought of makes my stomach hurt with yearning.

1. Chips n' salsa
For me, chips n' salsa is the ultimate comfort food.  You can keep your ice cream.   When I am sad, my heart needs a spicy, mouth-burning tomato-based salsa loaded with jalapeƱos, onions and cilantro.  The perfect vehicle is a thin tortilla chip that is not too greasy.

2. Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds are a serious business, serious enough that the thought of being stranded without seeds in Pakistan or even in Olathe, Kansas during a snowstorm would bring me to tears.  No joking.  I have been frustrated with my sunflower seed supply lately -- the quality has been atrocious, so I gave them up for about a month.  Last week,  I bought a bag of Davids and Dakota, hoping the quality went back up.  Fortunately, it seems they are back on track (I think it has to do with the seasonal nature of sunflowers).

3. Buffalo Sauce
That title is not a typo.  I love buffalo sauce.  Period.  The smell of it alone will leave me with drool dribbling down  my chin.  The mere thought of the smell will leave me with drool dribbling down my chin. *reaches for a tissue*  I will eat anything with buffalo sauce....chicken tenders, chicken wings,  healthy wraps with fancy lettuces, unhealthy french fries, veggies, cardboard.  My very favorite is Frank's.  But I am not super picky.  *drools again*

4. Pani Puri
Hmmm, I have already spoken of my deep, abiding affection for pani puri -- little, fried hollow balls filled with a spicy sour water of perfection.  It's a Holy water, if you will.   Worthy of an apatheist like me.

5. Pad Prik Kai
I learned this dish last summer and hands down, when I have had a bad day, this is my go-to meal. It certainly helps that I always have the ingredients on hand, so it makes for a great last-minute dinner option. It has a great crunch to it with the peppers and water chestnuts.  Bonus? If I am having a particularly craptastic day, I can dollop even more chili-garlic sauce on my individual serving in consideration of little Anjali's tastebuds (Sidenote: I wonder what will be my daughter's comfort food??)

What are the foods that set you into a Pavlovian state?

March 16, 2012

Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude:
American Girl Dhal

Note: Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude is a weekly(ish) feature about food, food and more FOOD. No, I am not an expert, but I do enjoy talking about food prep, cooking food, eating food and making sweet love to food.  Okay, maybe not the "sweet love" part. After all, this is not meant to be an homage to 9 1/2 Weeks.

Recipe Index can be found here.

A mainstay of Indian cooking is dhal (also spelled "daal" or "dal".  Welcome to the wonderful, wild world of transliteration!) When the term "dhal" is used, it is commonly referring to lentils or split-peas.  They come in many varieties and some of the more common ones are channa (light yellow), masoor (pinkish red), thoor (golden), urad (creamy white) or mung (not a split pea - it is round and yellow).

Mostly, I am not a huge fan of dhal.  In college, I hung out with two different groups of Sri Lankans and they all made a dhal that I really enjoyed.  I never figured out if it was a Sri Lankan Thing or just that my friends had amazing recipes.  Sadly, I failed to actually GET their recipes.  I tried over the years to make dhal and eventually gave up.  When I discovered Maya Kaimal's cookbooks (Curried Favors and Savoring the Spice Coast of India: Fresh Flavors from Kerala), I decided to give dhal another try.  I used the recipe from Curried Favors and quite simply, learned How to Stop Worrying and Love the Dhal.

Over the years, I slightly modified Kaimal's recipe.  For one, her original recipe required two pots.  When I am cooking for guests, I simply do not have enough burners to dedicate to making a dhal.  Also, I know many folks swear by pressure cookers, but I have never had a problem making this without a pressure cooker. In fact, I do not even own a pressure cooker -- in 1992 while making the beef base for biryani in a pressure cooker, the safety valve blew out.  That event scarred me for life when it comes to pressure cookers.  *shudder*

This dish is full of flavor and is so satisfying.  Also, it sits well so it can be made ahead of time.  Even better, it freezes well for reheating (Manoj is eating leftovers from last Saturday for his dinner tonight since we are out of town.  And he is not complaining, either.)   If you wanted to go White People on this and make a soup out of it, water it down and make it go even further!

Spicy Tomato Dhal

1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 tbs minced garlic
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 cup masoor dhal
2.5 cups water
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp salt
2 tbs cilantro

1. Heat oil in saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add cumin seeds, mustard seeds and crushed red pepper. When the seeds begin to pop, add the onions and garlic.  Fry for 5 minutes until the onion is soft.

2. Add the tomatoes and cook until they are soft.

3. Add the dhal, turmeric and water. Let it come to a boil, and then let it simmer for 30 minutes.  If it begins to stick, just add a bit of water here and there, if needed.

4. Mash the dhal a bit with a potato masher or back of a spoon.  Garnish with cilantro and serve!

March 15, 2012

Intestinal Fortitude:
The Recipes Index

I have been blogging since 2004 and it only took me 7.5 years to realize "Hey, Cagey!  You should totally organize your recipes."


Despite what this index may indicate, I swear upon my mother's uterus that I am actually a White Girl of White heritage with White People DNA and all that other White Gobbledegook required for a White Person to be considered White.

I just like to eat well. Sue me.

The Prologue
Raita (Yogurt dip for the kabobs)
Chai-Inspired Spiced Iced Tea
Creamy Mexicorn Dip
Feta Cheese Dip
Garlic Seasoning Mix (my riff on Tastefully Simple's Garlic Garlic)
Honey Limeade
Vera's Bourbon Slushie

The Main Chapters
Andrea's Slow-Cooker Thai Chicken
Avocado Chicken Salad
Black-Eyed Peas Curry With Coconut and Spinach
Chicken, Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Bake
Egg Curry
Filipino Braised Chicken With Coconut and Spinach
Indian Kidney Bean Soup (Rajma soup)
Indian-Style Scallops
Pakistani Beef Kabobs (Chapli, Seekh and Boti)
Pakistani Stir-fried Chicken (Karahi Chicken)
Pancake Muffins
Pasta alla Carbonara
Pumpkin Curry (Pumpkin Erisheri)
Sri Lankan Mushroom Curry
Thai Chicken with Red Chili Sauce (Pad Prik Kai)
Thai Garlic Pepper Chicken (Kai Kratium )

The Holiday Appendix
Ghosts in the Graveyard
Graham Cracker Christmas Crack
Great-Aunt Joan's Weird, Whipped Cream Cranberry Salad
Romanian Kifli (a rolled Christmas cookie made)

March 8, 2012

If It Were Their Son

Over the years, I have been fairly outspoken about gays, lesbians and their rights to marriage.  And at one point, I thought I had said everything I needed to say in this post, Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Since then, I have not written much about the topic here, although anyone who follows me on Twitter and Facebook knows I am still vocal on the topic. However, something keeps coming up which pokes at the blogger in me.

It is the part where a person's homophobia is defended by throwing in the bit "Oh, I'm sure if one of their children were gay, they would come to accept it." As if it provides a mitigating factor and all should be forgiven.  Oh sure, Henry the Homophobe hates the gays right now, but he can turn on a dime if it suits his purposes. See! Henry's a nice guy after all!  To be sure I suppose one could argue that it would seem our society has come such great strides if, in this day and age, parents are so quick to accept their child's homosexual status. It was not that long ago when there was a time that children were disowned if they came out of the closet to their parents.

Except, herein lies the rub: the person's homophobia continues unchecked until they they are personally touched by it.

Am I the only one who sees the hypocrisy in that?

Yes, it is true that when a stereotype becomes an actual presence in someone's life, often those prejudices and hatreds go away, but why does it actually have to have enter one's life before it goes away?  Is it not enough that all the gays and lesbians fighting for equal rights are already sons and daughters to other people?

Change does not just "happen" in a vacuum, it is actively made by our words and our actions.  It is not enough to simply sit and around wait until a situation personally affects our lives before we take a stand.

I have always told my children they can marry who they love, without definition. As such, when our neighbors Ken and Evan moved next door to us last fall, my children did not blink an eye.  What my children do not realize is that our neighbors are denied many basic rights that my own husband and I freely enjoy -- the right to inheritance, the right to share a tax status, the right to family insurance, the right to adopt a child together,  the right to share a name without cumbersome legal hassles. I have not begun to explain all of this to my children since I just want them to take it for granted that marriages can come in a variety of combinations. For now, anyway. Admittedly, I am reasonably hopeful (and confident) the technicalities that limit my neighbors' marriage will be moot by the time my children are even able to fully comprehend the intricate legal and emotional subtleties of marriage.  The qualities that truly make it a special institution in our country.  The very institution in which any legal, tax-paying adult in our country should have the right to partake.

Yes, it is true that I was not personally touched by gay marriage until last fall.  However, I was not silent before Ken, Evan and their children became our neighbors and even better, our friends.

And now, I can never be silent.

March 6, 2012

Literally Literary: Current Reads

"Literally Literary" is a feature in which I write about books, reading and more books. My hope is the post title will provide a subtle hint that I am posting about BOOKS. For those of you where the topic of books results in narcoleptic fits thereby causing you to faceplant onto your keyboard, this will allow you to just click away from the horror that is the written word. Also, I simply adore the word "literally", it is literally my favorite adverb. Bonus points if pronounced with a Rob Lowe/Parks n' Recreation affectation.

Special Note: All posts contain non-affiliate links - I do not have an Amazonian Fancy Pants Affiliate Thingie.

Not-So-Special Note: My Reading Resolutions for 2012 can be found in this post.

I have already updated my Reading Resolutions for 2012 -- I decided upon Persepolis for my graphic novel selection and I added two bloggers who are releasing books - Kelle Hampton's Bloom and Jenny Lawson's Let's Pretend This Never Happened (in general, I will continue to add blogger releases to the list simply because I want to support bloggers wherever I can).

In the meantime......

So, I did read Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis.  And..... I had mixed feelings on it.  In regard to the graphic novel aspect of it, I really enjoyed the style of the art and the font choices.  But, I think I have read way too many books set during the 70s and 80s in Iran.  In short, the story itself did not hold much suspense for me since so many of the experiences during that time period are similar to each other.  That said, I will still read the 2nd book because I always appreciate seeing what happens to survivors of the Iran revolution when they become adults.  Furthermore, those stories are always unique and rarely follow similar paths.  Also, I will definitely be recommending Persepolis to my own kids when they get a little older.  The story is not too graphic, but does an excellent job of portraying the oppression and horror that was Iran in the 70s and 80s.  I do want to read another graphic novel and Maus was another one highly recommended.  However, I have also read a ton about the Holocaust.  I would like my next graphic novel choice to be on a subject that I have no experience with (again, open for suggestions!)

I also recently read Jane Austen's Emma (Note: I have linked to the superbly formatted Kindle edition of Austen's complete works -- for a mere $1.99, what a bargain!)  I have read Pride and Prejudice over and over, and recently had begun Sense and Sensibility.  When my book club selected Emma, I was SO excited and promptly dropped Sense and Sensibility to read Emma instead.  Sheesh.  What a disappointment! It wasn't horrible, but Emma lacked the intrigue and beautiful writing that Pride and Prejudice has.  Furthermore, I watched the 1996 movie version of Emma and realize now what a shoddy job they did adapting that movie from the book.  Sad for me because I used to LOVE that movie.  Disappointment all around.

I'm currently reading Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. I love how Cain dispels the common thinking that introverts are shy, retired sorts of hermits. In fact, when I tell folks that I am an introvert, I often get a "No, you're not!". Actually, I am an introvert, I am just not shy. I do like to be around people and can be pretty sociable. But I also need alone time because being around people exhausts me. One of the most stressful bits about being married with children is that I rarely get time to myself. When the kids are in school, my idea of a "good time" is coming home and sitting in the house ALONE.  Cain's Quiet also does a nice job of exploring our nation's history with the rise of placing a greater importance on the quality associated with extroverts.  And she examines why the these qualities are viewed as being advantageous to one's success.  Since I really struggled with my personality as a child, I am hoping that reading this book will help me find ways to help my own little introvert -- Anjali.  It kills me inside when I see her struggling with the same things that I did.

I also read Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women edited by Nura Maznavi.  Whoa.  I was pretty shocked by a lot of this, quite frankly.  My Muslim Community in Lawrence KS and here in Kansas City was SO conservative -  I see that now.  And their viewpoints greatly influenced me.  When I first began this book, I found myself reading with a very judgmental eye (as in "well, SHE certainly is not a good Muslim")  However, by the end of the book, I had a very different reaction and began to understand how a Muslim girl could still be a bit more liberal in her lifestyle while maintaining that she was a good Muslim.  After all the Christians have managed, why not the Muslims??  Yes....Definitely, this anthology had much to offer in the way of food for thought.  I finished it 2 weeks and am STILL thinking about it.  I am pestering Lucky Fatima to start a discussion and I cannot WAIT to see others' viewpoints on this!

Thanks to HBO, I became hooked on the the Song of Fire and Ice series.  While watching the 1st season of the Game of Thrones, I began reading Book 1 of the series.  Unfortunately, all of the suspense was lost while reading the book because I already knew what happened and reading Game of Thrones was some slow going.  However, I am reading Clash of Kings now and am finding the scenario to be very different.  I can hardly put this thing down because I want to know what happens next!  SO GOOD.

So.... that's what a small bit of what I have been reading.......

March 2, 2012

Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude:
Pizza Night

Note: Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude is a weekly(ish) feature about food, food and more FOOD. No, I am not an expert, but I do enjoy talking about food prep, cooking food, eating food and making sweet love to food.

Okay, maybe not the "sweet love" part. After all, this is not meant to be an homage to 9 1/2 Weeks.

Brain Bytes:  Today's linkage is an interesting, slightly amusing article mostly composed of ads from over the years that demonstrate the sexualizing and gendering of various food products. (Obviously, there is much in this article leaning heavily on the meat products. Ahem.)

I am going to begin to include interesting food links in these posts.  Often, a link speaks on its own and does not necessitate my own pithy commentary, right?  This new little feature is inspired by Daniel Koontz's Casual Kitchen, who not only provided our Inaugural Brain Byte, but also happens to be one of my very favorite food blogs.
Note: Gentle Reader, this post was NOT sponsored by Papa Murphy's and instead, was sponsored by my deep, abiding affection for YOU..... you little rascal you. 

Like many folks, I love me some pizza. Like many folks, I have very specific needs when it comes to pizza.

It needs to be a thin crust with a bit of sauce, handfuls of cheese, some pepperoni. Maybe some mushrooms. If I am feeling wild n' crazy.

And that is it.

Oh sure, I'll eat FancyPants Pizza with frilly, chichi toppings.  And.....okay, okay... if I am in Chicago I certainly would not turn down a stop at Giordano's. Still.... overall, I don't enjoy a thick, doughy, greasy slice of pizza. I hate to mention names, but there are certain chains from which I will only eat under duress (coughPizza Hutcough)

There you have it -- when I am craving pizza, all I really need is  a slice of  thin pizza with pepperoni.... if you will,  a little triangle-shaped magic carpet ride.  Frankly, one of the very best parts of my trip to Italy in 2003 was the fact that I did not have to special order my pizza, it already came exactly the way I love. And this is where I learned about the D.O.C (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) - a regulated designation for pizza that deems it worth enough to be officially called "Neopolitan". (And a special shout-out to Amalah who introduced me to the wonders of Two Amys's DOC pizza in Tenleytown where we met for lunch a few times. Oh, how I still remember the Neopolitan magic that Two Amys was able to conjure- still one of my favorite Stateside Pizza Experiences. Ever. )

Currently, Manoj and I are on a huge Papa Murphy's kick. While Daddio Murph will probably never achieve a DOC designation, their ingredients are actually fresh.  Additionally, I really appreciate the TakeN'Bake bit -- no waiting for it be delivered or schlepping it home while it cools down in its box.  When your husband has a tendency to never, ever (EVER) come home when he says he will come home, I like that I am able to just pop it in the oven when I actually see the whites of his eyes pulling into our driveway. Oddly enough, one of the disadvantages of pizza made from scratch with fresh ingredients is that it does not sit well for very long.

Yes, I did look into making pizza from scratch, but honestly?  I could not justify it since there was virtually no cost savings involved (when I priced it out, I could not see where I would make a pizza for under the $9 I pay at Papa Murphy's). However, a part of me felt guilty that my kids were not getting to partake in that fun tradition of Making Pizza. After all, I still have fond memories of making Chef Boyardee pizzas with my mom and sister and here I am trying to create the Perfect Childhood for my own precious progeny, right?

Well..... Papa Murphy kicked it up a notch and introduced a mini-pizza kit called the Mini Murph.  The Conundrum for Creating the Perfect Childhood? SOLVED. At $3 a pop, it was an easy decision and Team Chaos LOVES getting to choose their very own pizza (no splitting a pizza with a sibling.  Because OH MY GAWD, the Sheer Horror that is Sharing With One's Sibling.GAWD. )

Besides, making a pizza from scratch would defeat one of the very best parts of Pizza Night: Taking a break from cooking.

I think the smile says it all.

What is your all-time favorite pizza?  Are you a die-hard when it comes to making your own?