one man's ceiling
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
  tarragon times 2
it's no secret that among the herb family i'm fond of tarragon. i add it to veggie soups, it works with fish, and when i remember it's a good twist to mix with basil in a pesto. but best of all i like it with chicken. i find it delicate enough that it doesn't overpower but light enough to give food a certain snap of both flavor and aroma.

tonight my zuska was out having a little get-together with her law school buds and i was feeling that dinner needed to be a low-key affair. the girls are great about trying pretty much everything we put in front of them but they are kids and the simple things are sometimes the best.

j likes my chicken salad, e will take anything that's starch. i was thinking that with the recent near-spring-like weather (sunny but not quite warm) i'd try with a simple cold plate, a picnic type offering with the commonality of tarragon. tonight was

bi-coastal chicken salad & honey mustard potato salad

for the chicken salad:

for the potato salad:
the following recipe presumes a cold kitchen with nothing prepped in advance. in all it took about an hour from start to finish and could have been served immediately but i chilled everything for a few hours before serving.

place the potatoes whole in a pot of water and begin to boil them to the tender spot
meanwhile, place the chicken breasts in a pot of water and turn the heat up to a low boil to poach
note: this is as good a time as any to make a fresh chicken stock, and if that's the case add a quartered onion, broken celery stalks, and garlic cloves into the chicken water. the chicken will take on some of the flavor and you'll have a fresh stock for the potatoes and for future use
double note: you can roast the chicken in the oven drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper instead for about the same amount of time, 20 minutes or so
okay, back to the recipe in progress
in one larger bowl chop and add the celery and onions
in another large bowl add the grapes, apples and cashews
then take a good hunk of fresh tarragon leaves (no stems) and chop them up like mad until you have 6 tablespoons (3 for each bowl)
what about dried tarragon? never for these recipes, dried works best when it can cook
after about 20 minutes the chicken should be cooked, so take it out and let it rest until it cools a little
check the potatoes. tender but not mushy? perfect. drain the water out and cover the pot with a towel to keep them warm-ish.
let's make a vinaigrette in the meantime. in a small bowl whisk the mustard and vinegar, slowly adding the olive oil to mix
remove the skin from the chicken and the chicken from the bone; chop into good mouth-sized chunks
add the chicken to the grapes and apples, sprinkle the tarragon on top, and mix the ingredients
if the chicken is cool enough, add the mayo, otherwise hold off
take the potatoes and cut into bite-sized chunks; warm is okay here, in fact, warmer is better
add the potatoes to the onions and celery and sprinkle the rest of the tarragon on top
drizzle a cup of stock over the potatoes and then give them a toss to mix
now add the vinaigrette and toss again. this should smell good as the heat from the spuds releases the various aromas
back to the chicken; is it cool enough? add the mayo and mix, then drizzle in the honey and mix again
salt and pepper these two dishes to taste and you're good to go

this particular night i laid out a small bed of torn lettuce on half the plate and spooned out some chicken salad on top of it. on the other side i doled out the potato salad. very simple and very spring-y. as expected, j asked for seconds of chicken salad (it's her favorite -- she requested i make it for her birthday last year) and e took more potato salad but neither had any problems eating both.

a final note on the chicken salad's name
the recipe (which is mine) is a cross between a waldorf salad (no chicken, mayo, raisins, apples, walnuts) and what is sometimes called a sonoma salad (chicken, mayo, apples, grapes, pecans). the difference between the two is, obviously, the coast (sonoma, california has the grape vineyards and the poultry farms but the waldorf astoria during the depression had to settle for raisins and nuts) and the twist i add is the tarragon and substitute with cashews. if i'm making the more traditional sonoma version it would have poppy seeds instead but i hold pretty tight to the cashews because i hate walnuts: they tear up the roof of my mouth and generally taste too bitter to me. and i have to be in the right mood for pecans. cashews are kid friendly, add the crunch without taking away from the subtlety of the rest of the ingredients, and i just like them, okay?

not recommended: holding this chicken salad between your knees (see five easy pieces at wikipedia for the reference)
Thursday, March 22, 2007
  all-my-by-my-self fish-in-a-parchment

i came at this from a couple different directions. first, my girls like fish a lot more than i do and i was feeling like i owed them some. second, i found a recipe for pan-seared tuna that looked excellent for me and zuska but i wasn't so sure about for the girls; also, the recipe included udon noodles, which i'm currently off until easter. third, recently recipes have been showing up everywhere in my consciousness showing things cooked in parchment pouches.

so, putting all this together we get the meal i made last night. i winged the whole dang thing and it would up very edible (or eatable, as gets said in our house). and a word about the name: the girls used to say "all-my-by-my-self" when they were younger to indicate when they did something they were proud of on their own. hence

all-my-by-my-self fish-in-a-parchment preheat the oven to 400 degrees
pour the frozen edamame in a bowl of hot water and let sit
in another small bowl mix the butter and mint
salt one side of the fish and flip it
on the unsalted side spread the mint butter on the fish then set in the refrigerator to chill a bit while you get the rest of the things ready
in the center of each parchment divide the zucchini equally into six servings
drain the edamame and divide into six serving into the parchment on top of the zucchini
season the veggies with salt and pepper, about a teaspoon divided across all the servings
remove the fish from the fridge and cut into six equal sized pieces; alternately, you could chop into 2 inch sized chunks like stew meat
place equal amounts of the fish atop the veggies in the parchment, mint butter side up
pour equal amounts of lemon juice over each of the servings, about 2 or 3 teaspoons for each
draw up the corners of the parchment and twist; tie the parchment pouch closed with string
lightly oil a shallow baking dish and place the parchment pouches in the dish; be sure they have room around each and are not touching
pour in enough water to line the bottom of the pan and place the pan in the lowest rack of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes
serve at the table in it's pouch to be cut at the table or carefully slide the contents onto a plate

timing can be tricky. the swordfish steaks i got were nearly an inch thick but the tuna i was contemplating was thinner and would have taken slightly less time. about 20 minutes in you will need to open a pouch and test the fish for flakiness. is you need to cook a bit longer you can close the test pouch up and cook without affecting the outcome. if you need to test more than once use a different pouch the second time.

cooking in parchment steams the fish with the lemon juice and vegetable moisture and keeps the smell and flavors contained. the mint butter adds a subtle flavor to the fish and then falls nicely onto the veggies for a nice seasoning as well.

because i made six pouches but suspected we wouldn't eat more than four i froze the two remaining pouches in a freezer storage bag for future consumption. i'm hoping it goes well down the line when we need a quick something to eat and don't have a lot of prep time. i'll report back if there were problems.

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  all hail king ding dong, still strong at 40!
dateline: america

hostess ding dongs, those little hockey pucks of chocolate cake-y goodness filled with white creamy stuff and topped with a thin, hard shell of yummy waxy chocolate officially celebrated its 40th birthday.

originally presented to the public on march 18, 1967, these vitamin-fortified nuggets of joy, individually wrapped in a square of micro thin aluminum foil were an instant hit in peanuts and banana splits lunch boxes across the northamerican continent. for a time they replaced the twinkie as the snack of choice until partisan factions broke out among the snack food eating populace. to this day you can still hear arguments from both camps denouncing the other.

those of us fortunate enough to be there the day the ding dong was unveiled remember distinctly how perfectly smooth the foil wrapper was along the top of the cake, showing every slight ripple in the chocolate coating's texture. only in retrospect does foil seem the most obvious choice; the snack was released during the height of the space missions, the mirrored surface serving as an homage to the moon as viewed by lunar orbiters.

according to the official hostess propaganda the ding dong was named after the chiming bell heard in the first commercial. how can this be? how can you name a snack for a commercial for a snack where the name is featured in the product for which the bells are ringing? say what? that's crazy? dingy? ding dong!

ah, the zen of snack food, the yin and yang of it all. stay to the white but remain true to the black; stay to the black but remain true to the white. does the chocolate shell exist to enclose the cake, or does the cake fill the void created by the shell? is it an encapsulated earth, a magma of cream surrounded by a mantle of cake and topped with a chocolate crust protected by an atmosphere of foil?

the secret was the foil. the foil was the secret. without the foil all you had was... a snack cake. ah, but with the foil, what a world! if you carefully unwrapped the ding dong and then proceeded to flatten out the foil you would end up with a perfect sheet of aluminum, as thin as silver leaf. with a little work you could use that foil to wrap ordinary household objects and create unearthly art. wrap a barbie doll and create a scary robot straight out of agerman expressionist silent movie! carefully tear it into half and use the pieces to cover your teeth, a gangsta grill 20 years ahead of its time! paint your finger nails with clear nail polish and attach bits of the foil, trim with scissors when dry and marvel at the glam rock of it all!

now-a-days kids don't get no foil. now you get hermetically sealed little plastic pillow bags with your ding dong sitting on a cardboard insert that looks like the stuff they use to keep a man's dress shirt stiff. nothing you can do with that. no imagination, just a snack cake with a shelf life longer than the memories it will never engender.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007
  greek to me 3a: fried zucchini & cucumber yogurt dip
this was a side dish that became the main vegetable for din-din last night. yeah, a fried veggie isn't always (ever) the best choice, but i'm gonna justify it by saying the dip had cucumber in it.

for the zucchini:
for the dip:

(yeah, there's a lot of olive oil going around)

start with the batter...
make sure the egg and water are at room temperature, probably easiest to crack the egg into the water and let them sit
start with the egg and water in a large bowl, lightly mix them, adding the oil and the garlic
add the flour slowly so it doesn't turn into one bog ball of gooey glue. if it's too thick and looks more like bread dough add water a couple tablespoons at a time until it's more batter-esque
add the salt and pepper and let the mixture sit for at least 30 minutes

now go with the dip...
grate the cucumber into a colander lined with cheesecloth; weight it down with a plate and something heavy to extract the water for at least 15 minutes
(slice the zucchini now if you haven't done so yet)
pick up the cucumber in the cheesecloth and squeeze out all the water you can, then dump it in a blender
add the garlic, yogurt, red wine vinegar to the blend and set it to puree
drizzle the olive oil in while the blender is going
when it's nice and smooth pour it into a serving bowl, grate some pepper on it and refrigerate until ready to serve

ready to fry some zukes...
heat the oil in a deep skillet or (as i prefer) a wok -- less splatter all over the stove that way!
tumble the zucchini into the batter and give it a good mix with the old hands; they won't be totally batter-covered, just dabbled and streaked
fry the zucchini disks in batches making sure not to crowd them.
once they start to brown flip them to brown both sides evenly, about 5 minutes
transfer them to paper towels to drain and set them aside to stay warm

they should be served when the last batch finishes their frying, so timing is everything. if you want them table ready to start (or serve with) a dinner then you need to start your first batch about 30 minutes before plating.

kid tested and approved. you've never seen kids eat this much zucchini.
there will be no zucchini leftover, but there will be dip which will stand for another day or two in the fridge and can be used with carrot stix or even an interesting dressing for a salad.
hey, why not top some kefta with it? probably a little more drizzle-able than the other sauce i tried
you could use half as much zucchini and replace the other half with disks of equal-sized japanese eggplant
probably my favorite thing all week.

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  zucchini moussaka
a.k.a. noodleless greek lasagna, a.k.a. zucchini casserole with meat sauce and cheese sauce. it looked and sounded good, but explaining it to the girls in advance was a bit hard. never use the word bechamel when explaining a topping, kids think it sounds like chemicals or something.

of the three dinners for "greek week" that i made this week, this was my least favorite. the spices were a bit too mellow (read: bland) for my palate and i didn't like the bechamel recipe that was provided. i get that the top is supposed to be both cheesy and crusty and not melt into the rest of the dish, but just wasn't my favorite thing. plus, it was a lot more time consuming to make than i would have liked on a weeknight, and a lot of prep in three different directions.

here's the easy-sounding part: layer sauteed zucchini with meat sauce, top with bechamel, bake in the oven. easy.

here's the reality: make a meat sauce that has to reduce because it's very watery and you want it thick; saute zucchini while the sauce is cooking down, because you have a LOT of time for the sauce to cook down; then carefully time your bechamel to be ready the minute you're going to pop the dish in the oven because it will settle into a glue very quickly. at least with this recipe.

the fam loved it, loved it, loved it. ate so much there was nothing leftover. you've never seen kids eat so much zucchini in one sitting. but because the recipe requires three sets of instructions -- meat sauce, bechamel, assembly -- i'm going to make this a "by request" post unless there is a huge outpouring of comments. that isn't me trying to get people to post comments, just me conserving some energy.

fortunately there was another meal during greek week so it didn't end on a sour note. but that's for another post.

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Monday, March 12, 2007
  greek to me 101
lately i've been coming across cookbooks themed around various cultures and i've just sorta dived in. a couple weeks ago it was indian home cooking and foods from arab nations, this week it's modern greek. i think it has to do with wanting to open up our menu outside the tried-and-true and maybe brighten up some of the late winter (such as it is) blahs.

i've got 3 different things running this week, but it started off well last night with a think called arni sto harti which is a lamb stew cooked in parchment. i have to admit, growing up the few times my mo attempted lamb was usually around easter, like most meats cooked to a salty leather, and entirely inedible without sides and sauces. in this case it was mashed potatoes (because roasted potatoes were never heard of in my family) with LOTS of butter and the lamb was served with LOTS of bright green mint jelly.

naturally I only liked it for the jelly, the remaining jar would be for my own personal use in peanut butter sandwiches as no one liked mint jelly without lamb. weird.

since then i've had lamb primarily in middle eastern dishes, ground with mint leaves and grilled as kefta or in patties served with yogurt sauces. so doing lamb in solid stew chunks had me a little worried.

worries totally unfounded.

here's the result which can serve six, or easily four who enjoyed it as they did last night. damn easy to prep.

arni sto harti - lamb stew in parchment
preheat oven to 350 degrees
in a large bowl combine the lamb, potato, onions, peas and tomatoes and mix
drizzle olive oil and wine/wine vinegar and mix again
spoon meat mixture equally into the center of 12 by 12 inch squares of parchment
sprinkle oregano on top of meat mixture; season with salt and pepper
top each pile with a slice of cheese
gather corners, then edges of the parchment and twist to create a little bundle
tie the parchment closed with a piece of string
place the parchment sacks in a lightly greased baking dish
pour a thin layer of water into the dish, enough to just cover the bottom of the dish
put it in the oven for 1.5 hours
put each parchment sack on a plate and cut open at the table, eat right out of the parchment

easy to prep, easy to clean up after
kid approved!
great tastes! can probably be applied to beef! swap russets with asparagus! or carrots! or chicken and green beans! fish and leeks! ideas abound!

seriously, i thought this was the riskiest thing i'd put on the table this week and it turned out just perfect. late-winter blahs all gone go bye-bye!

now, let's see what happens next...

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Saturday, March 10, 2007
  question of the week: is corn edible?
or, as is said in our house, eat-able?

seriously, now, let's think about this. if you swallow a coin (as my brothers often did when they were small) you could count on them coming out the other end just as undigested as can be. seems only natural that anything we pass through our digestive tracts in roughly the same shape as it started is probably something we weren't designed to eat.

you would think, eh?

but we all know about corn. it just keeps coming to mind when i think about what we, as humans, really should be eating. after all, corn is what's fed to beef and pork to fatten them for market, but on their own these are not food these animals would seek out on their own. corn is also the leading cause of illness in cattle, it's what requires them to be fed a diet of antibiotics, it's the feed that separates it from grass-fed (i.e. naturally raised) beef. if it's not good for cows why is it considered good for us?

okay, bad analogy. chocolate is bad for dogs but for humans... well, it can be pretty bad for some humans as well. topic for another day.

the questions is remains: should we be eating corn?

if not, maybe we should take a long, hard look at just how much corn we are consuming daily. yes, we are consuming corn daily. in corn flour, corn starch, corn syrup, corn chips. it's in our preservatives at maltodextrin and dextrose. it's in candy and soda but in places you wouldn't even think to look, like the spice rack. we even have it added to our auto fuels, which means we're breathing in corn fumes as part of the exhaust.

oh, you believed ethanol was a clean burning fuel? clean compared to gas and oil, sure, but it's still there! you think ethanol is the solution to high gas prices? corn is political. there are several reasons why the government continues to subsidize corn growing in this country, not the least of which is that it can be used as a weapon against countries like mexico and venezuela by undercutting their staple export crop -- corn -- thereby keeping them from enjoying the same economic successes here.

but we were talking about eating corn. and eating is never about politics, is it?

with a food source so prominent in a culture it makes me wonder what would happen if that crop were to suddenly disappear. would the united states collapse if corn crops became sterile and died out within a couple of years?

perhaps that wouldn't be such a bad thing.


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  someone's in the kitchen...
i wake up to the smell of... what is that smell? something slightly burnt, some sort of sugary-starch that's burnt to the bottom of a pan is what it is. it's a bit like parsnips hanging in the air, or maybe some sort of sausage made with something other than beef or pork. or chicken.

where it would be nice to wake up to the idea that someone was making me breakfast it's rarely what i would want to eat. part of it is a case of familiarity; my in laws eat differently than i like or am used to. they don't necessarily eat terribly or unusual foods... i just can't explain it.

during the weekdays i'm up with the famberly and get them revved with (lately) fruit smoothies that have yogurt, apple and orange juice as a base and a mix of frozen fruit, but always red grapes and blueberries. j. also gets a bagel half (she prefers the bottom) with cream cheese and apple butter (my influence). e. supplements her smoothie with either oatmeal or shredded wheat (called fweets in our house) or at the very least a handful of nuts. i consider it a victory if i can get zuska to down her smoothie because for the longest time she could never eat first thing in the morning. i'll usually take the other half of the bagel and a smoothie and that'll hold me until i can get my green tea at work.

weekends are something else. i like to try at least one of those days to make a traditional egg-n-breakfast-meat breakfast. i like french toast. i like doing an egg scramble. i like breakfast burritos and the girls are slowly accepting them but zuska thinks they're alien. what i'd really like is to have a nice traditional huevos rancheros -- a set of corn tortillas topped with chili relleno or spicy black beans, fried eggs, cheese, salsa, the works. i eat lots of things that the famberly thinks is odd: eggs with ketchup~

interlude: i was asked to make breakfast for everyone about an hour ago. i forgot where i was going with the odd things i eat. give me a second while i rethink this post...

yeah, so odd breakfast things i will eat: cold pizza, cold leftover spaghetti with sauce, most leftovers in general, leftovers wrapped in a tortilla, cold spaghetti with sauce wrapped in a tortilla, last-night's nachos, quesadillas with salsa... basically, anything that looks good to me at other times of the day. i don't think of breakfast as being this rigid thing where it's eggs or cold cereal toasted breads, any more than lunch has to be about sandwiches and dinner about some roasted meats.

there's a lot of emphasis on breakfast being the most important meal of the day, breaking the fast and getting the body moving, but i feel way too heavy to work in the mornings if i eat an egg-based breakfast. sure, i feel full, and have enough energy to get me through to the afternoon, but more evidence suggests that we should be eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day and a big breakfast runs counter to that.

at my healthiest (which isn't now, and was long before i had a famberly of my own) i grazed more. i didn't always graze as healthily as i could or should have but i also didn't over eat when it came to meals. and when the in laws are around there's this sense of meals coming heavy and one on top of the other. zuska's dad started making a chicken cacciatore for tonight's dinner long before we got up, which is fine except that he just announce "another hour and it should be good". unless i misunderstood, that means he'll have dinner ready anytime starting after 1 pm and it's just now noon and we just finished breakfast. i know that there are errands between now and then, and that the dinner can simmer for quite a bit, but i'm pretty sure that by the time dinner rolls around i'm not going to be fully hungry. and politeness being what it is when one has company over (company that's cooking dinner) i'm going to have to eat before i'm hungry.

i guess that's the sticking point, that whether i'm at their place or they're at our place, meals around the in laws means my eating schedule gets thoroughly thrown off.

that smell i woke up to? carrots, in need of deglazing from the bottom of the pot. because zuska didn't have any wine, and because zuska's dad is an emeril lasagge zealot, he insisted on using brandy to deglaze the pan. because that's what emeril says to do; alcohol is required. long ago i learned that one could deglaze a pan using stock with excellent results and not add to the calories in a meal. far be it for me to suggest that emeril isn't the be-all and end-all in the kitchen. i'm sure it will be fine with the brandy, i just wouldn't get all bent out of shape about it.

so that's where my conflicting sides sit this morning. on the one hand i can be very fluid when it comes to improvising when i'm comfortable with my surroundings; when my surroundings become uncomfortable i get agitated. i don't need to be in control, but i need to feel like i still have some control. and with in laws in the kitchen i feel very out of control.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007
  sad leftovers & strange dips
so due to the hecticedness of our lives here tonight was a leftover night. and if i hadn't called for a leftover night we'd have only been contribution to the gluttony of the fridge while at the same time wasting a lot of perfectly good food.

the girls were about to fight over the remain shepherd's pie until i suggested they split it and supplement with some noodles and sauce. yeah, it's a bit starchy, and they'll probably be groggy or crabby (or both) in the morning from a carb headache, but they ate well and got enough protein and were more willing to deal with leftovers than they have been in the past, so i let the starches win.

zuska arrived after they ate and she had some leftover chili. chili is usually best the next (or two) after it's cooked once the flavors have really had a chance to blend.

i had a quesadilla. then i had some salami with cheese. what i really wanted was some of that sauce with some pasta but, duh, i gave that up for lent. nothing seemed really exciting once i realized what i wasn't having, thus the boring lite veggie-less dinner.

i should be eating better. honestly.

meanwhile, over at slashfood there's a bit about a recipe for a dip overheard from the dick van dyke show. the dip involved avocado, peanut butter and mustard. there's some speculation that the dip was a fabrication (it was a comedy show after all) but also a shout-out to any and all who would be willing to make, taste and report back.

uh, not quite.

but it reminded me of a recipe book i have (somewhere, damn it!) called OLEMALUMA
(Bottoms Up!): The Amateur Bartenders Hawaiian Friend, Exotic and Plain Mixed Drinks and Canapes From the Entire Pacific Area and The Orient by South Seas Scotty. It's from a pre-war era, where the islands were exotic and still relatively untouristed.

among the classic (and not-so-classic) beverages there's a short little recipe that has always seemed strangely compelling to me. I also found it in an 1930's edition of The Joy of Cooking, which leads me to believe it isn't as odd as it seems to me
  • Toast rounds of bread on one side.
  • Spread the untoasted sides with peanut butter
  • Cover them with very thin strips of bacon and broil them under a quick flame until the bacon is crisp
okay, that's pretty straightforward, and yet i can't quite wrap my mind around peanut butter and bacon. it's a little like some sort of doggie treat. and i'm the guy who makes himself peanut butter and potato chip sandwiches -- crispy and salty with the peanut butter-y, just not bacon-y. and a quick look on google shows that the paenut butter, bacon and banana sandwich isn't uncommon. not as compelling!

but given some of the recipes i've seen from between the wars in the US -- depression era recipes are, well, truly depressing -- it seems entirely plausible for there to be a recipe for an avocado, peanut butter and bacon dip.

now, if i only had the nerve (and the arteries) to try it.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
  post-post: pizza related factoid
according to the lid of e's snapple green tea...
"real fact" #187

there are over 61,000 pizzerias in the US
i'm not saying they're all crap, but that is a lot of crappy pizza out there. divide by a current population of 301,320,146... that's one pizzeria for every 4,000 people. compare that with 7100 "omnipresent" starbucks, which comes to a 1:42,439 ratio.

or micky d's at 1:23,178. (fill your snack hole, indeed!)

like i said, a lot
of pizza out there.

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Monday, March 05, 2007
  delivery pizza, tightwad pizza & something in between

what a strange and wondrous thing this pizza. it is nothing more than a thin slab of bread, spread with a simple tomato sauce, topped with cheese, spices and whatever meat or vegetable you prefer. simple, inexpensive, potentially elegant, satisfying.

so why are there so many bad delivery and frozen pizza's in the world?

and by the world i mean the united states.

yea, though i once walked in the valley of domino's ignorance and pizza hut bliss i have long since found my way out of that darkness and into the light. granted, the reason a lot of people have pizza delivered it's because of either poor planning or laziness, as it was once for me. but since i have learned that often one simple trip to the store with no other purpose than to stock up on "emergency" supplies can yield many happy meals.

in actuality, i was looking to be more frugal in general when i met zuska. no, it was by necessity that i be more frugal because i had changed careers and was making much less than i used to. in doing so i discovered the amy dacyczyn, the frugal zealot, founder of the tightwad gazette. in her collected articles taken from her zine she shared her world of ditching the convention of it taking two incomes to raise a large family. in turning every assumption on its head and reexamining the economics she discovered that with only a little education and a lot of forethought you could do quite well on a single income and that a lot (but not all) of the notions that life was so expensive it required a double income to survive may have more to do with rampant consumerism than any true economic factor.

*whew* i need to think in shorter sentences.

there is much wisdom in her ideas, much i kinda smirk about, and some i would do if i could convince certain loved ones to go along with. in the struggle of compromises one must choose battles but when it comes to food the choices are easy: home cooked often are cheaper and most definitely better tasting and more satisfying than prepared foods.

to wit: the pizza.

over the years we have become conditioned to the notion that it is a "deal" to get a 16 inch plain cheese pizza delivered to our door for $9.99, plus tax and tip. and on the face of it it does seem like a deal to spend a hamilton to feed 2 to 4 people, depending on the size and appetites of the people at hand. but with a little planning you can make yourself TWO sausage, mushroom and onion pizzas with extra cheese for $10 (tax but no tip!), and if you're really frugal you can make them for even half of that.

for a while zuska and i were of the mind that if she were willing to make the dough by hand (something i truly suck at) that we could make our own frozen pizza crusts ready for impulse pizza nights. they were square and uneven -- i prefer to think of them as rustica -- and were absolutely perfect. but they were work, and setting aside a day to pre-make pizza crusts seemed like a chore after a while. no fun, easy to drift back into old ways...

then i was in a trader joe's (all hail TJ's!) and saw something that helped reframe the problem for me. they carried four different types of plain cheese pizza -- a simple margherita, a three cheese, a four cheese and, in a different part of the store, a non-frozen thick-crust, all of them under $4. after trying them it baffled me that there could be so many unsatisfying, ridiculous excuses for pizza in the freezer section of stores. ya got yer tombstone and di giorno and all the rest and they've got a long list of unappetizing chemical preservatives...

but this TJ's pizza's got all these ingredients that are, incredibly, food products! and they're prepared in wood fired ovens! for the additional cost of a couple of mushrooms, and the scrounged sausage or ham from the fridge, it was still possible to have something that didn't taste like cardboard, was hot from the oven, and didn't feed a corporate entity with questionable political donations.

thus, the chez zuska compromise pizza.

fridays are movie night, a night we all want to unwind and do nothing. i certainly don't mind cooking, but it's gotta be easy. and once a month or so it's pizza night. j. likes plain cheese on her half pizza, e. wants ham, pineapple, onion and cheese on hers, and zuska and i do the mushroom-sausage-onion-cheese dealio on our pizza. we did this last week and the cost was under $11 for both pizzas. and it took less time than ordering out. and if i'd been thinking ahead i'd have doubled the ingredients and pre-made a future pizza night's dinner.

well, maybe next time.
recipes and musings on food -- and anything else for that matter -- from a guy with a sticky brain who likes food. perhaps he likes food too much.

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