Sunday, February 1, 2015

On Rejection

The fantastic Warren Ellis, on being asked if he ever faces rejection, and if he's ever considered giving up writing:

Every writer faces rejection. There are two practical things to take from rejection. 1) the entity doing the rejecting is either stupid or didn’t need your thing. 2) you’re not good enough yet.
These are practical takeaways. Look at the thing you sent, a month after you sent it, and see how many flaws you can find in it. You can do better. I can do better. You might not be ready yet. Also, maybe you sent it to the wrong place. Perhaps it didn’t fit their editorial tone. Perhaps the humans there are just bloody idiots. That’s fine. At no point are you being officially declared Someone Who Should Not Write. Even if, as happened to me, an important editor does in fact tell you that you should consider another career. If this is what you want and you have something to say, keep going. Keep learning. Keep trying again. 
There are undoubtedly still things in this life to submit to, but some random person telling you that you may not speak through art is definitely not one of them. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Moussaka

From the Time-Life Foods of the World, Middle Eastern Cooking. Somewhat time-consuming but totally worth it.

3 medium-sized eggplants, about 1 pound each, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices
salt
1 cup flour
1 to 2 cups olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 pounds lean ground lamb
3 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup canned tomato puree
1 teaspoon finely finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons freshly grated kefalotiri (or parmesan)

Sprinkle the eggplant slices lightly with salt, lay them side-by-side on paper towels, and weight them down with a large, heavy platter or casserole. Let them rest 20-30 minutes, then dry them thoroughly with fresh paper towels. Dip the slices in the cup of flourand shake them vigorously to remove the excess.

In a heavy 12-inch skillet, bring 1/2 cup of the olive oil almost to the smoking point over high heat. Add the eggplant a few slices at a time, and cook them, a minute or two on each side, regulating the heat so that they color quickly without burning. transfer to paper towels to drain and brown the remaining, adding more oil to the skillet as necessary.

Pour 1/2 more of the olive oil into the skillet, and heat it until a light haze forms above it. Add the onions and, stirring frequently, cook over moderate heat for 8-10 minutes , or until they are soft and lightly colored. Stir in the ground lamb and, mashing it with the back of a spoon to break up any lumps, cook until no traces of pink show. Add the fresh tomatoes, tomato puree, garlic, oregano, 1 teaspoon of the salt and the pepperand bring to a boil over high heat. Stirring frequently, cook briskly until most of the liquid in the pan evaporates and the mixture is thinck wnough to to hold its shape almost solidly in the spoon. Taste for seasoning, and turn off the heat.

Saltsa Besamel
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon butter
3 eggs
1/4 cup of flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat 1 1/2 cups of the milk and the butter in a small pan until bubbles begin to appear around the rim. Remove from the heat. In a heavy 2- to 3-quart saucepan, beat the eggs, the remaining 1/2 cup of milk, the flour, and salt together until smooth. Place this saucepan over moderate heat and, stirring constantly with a whisk or large spoon, slowly add the milk and melted butter mixture in a thin stream. Still stirring, cook until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens heavily. Set aside off the heat.

Preheat the oven to 325. To assemble the moussaka, spread half of the eggplant slices in overlapping rows in the bottom of a 14-by-9-by-3-inch baking dish. Sprinkle the slices evenly with 2 tablespoons of grated cheese and pour in the lamb and tomato mixture, spreading it into the corners of the dish with a rubber spatula. Arrange the rest of the eggplant on top and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of cheese. Pour the saltsa besamel evenly over the eggplant and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese. Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes, then increase the heat to 400 and bake for 15 minutes longer, or until the top is golden brown. Remove the dish from the oven and let the moussaka rest at room temperature for 5 or 10 minutes before serving it.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Low Iodine: Tomatoes

The low-iodine diet allows fresh fruit & vegetables in unlimited quantities. My prior scans have all been in March or April, not terrible for produce, but not the cornucopia of deliciousness that is late summer. Corn, peaches, peppers, cucumbers, and beautiful, ripe tomatoes all make sticking to this diet much easier. Here are two recipes for summer produce that punch up the flavor. The first is from Madhur Jaffrey's Quick and Easy Indian Cooking. Get the best quality tomatoes you can afford from the farmer's market. I like sun gold cherry tomatoes paired with green and yellow zucchini.

Broiled Tomatoes

2 servings

2 very large, ripe tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garam masala (I use Penzey's)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Juice of half a lemon
Olive oil

Cut the tomatoes in half crosswise and set on a baking sheet. Mix the salt, pepper, and spices together, then sprinkle over the cut sides of the tomatoes. Squeeze the lemon juice over the tomato halves, and rub the spices in. Drizzle with a little olive oil, and place the baking sheet under the broiler. Broil for 3-4 minutes, watching carefully, until the tops of the tomatoes are browned. Delicious served hot or at room temperature.

Zucchini with Cherry Tomatoes

1 - 1 1/2 pounds of mixed zucchini, thinly sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
kosher salt & fresh ground pepper
1/2 lemon
Small bunch fresh basil, chiffonade
2 tablespoons olive oil

Set a large saute pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and cook until slightly softened. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Add the zucchini and tomatoes and lower the heat to medium. Cook the vegetables until brown in places, stirring frequently. Taste and add salt and fresh pepper. Turn out into a serving dish, squeeze the lemon over it and sprinkle with basil. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Tomatoes and onions, farmer's market, St-Remy-de-Provence

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Low Iodine: Ac-cen-tu-ate the Positive...

On a very restrictive diet, it's easy to fixate on what you can't have, on all the verboten treats and favorites you've given up. Right now, I'm turning my frown upside-down, finding the silver lining in the cloud, making a silk purse out of the sow's ear, ac-cent-tu-ate-ing the positive...OK, I'm out of cliches. Sometimes, it's good to get jolted out of your cooking rut, is all. I'm pulling cookbooks out that have languished for a couple of years, learning to bake decent bread, and refocusing on canning and preserving.  I'm cooking again and feeling more confident, after giving up on it and myself for a couple of years.

All the cookbook searching is paying off, yielding recipes that I will continue making post-scan. Last night's dinner was a riff on Swiss Steak, that old cafeteria favorite, using Moroccan/Middle Eastern spicing from the cuisines I've been researching. I had made it before, using a recipe from my trusty Fannie Farmer cookbook (12th edition, 1979). Onions, garlic, stewed tomatoes...it was OK.  This time, inspired by a box of couscous, I thought of adding warm spices like coriander & cinnamon, and a splash of honey to round the flavors. It was delicious, and the kids scarfed it up and asked for seconds. It's earned a spot in the dinner rotation.

Heather's low-iodine Swiss Steak

1 1/2 lb. cubed steak
1 medium onion, cut in half then sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t. kosher salt, or to taste
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t ground ginger
1/4 t ground coriander
2 t honey
2 15-oz cans whole tomatoes, no salt added, crushed & juice reserved
1/4 c. red wine
flour & kosher salt for dredging meat
1 T Olive oil or canola oil
Chopped parsley or cilantro for garnish

Heat oil in a large skillet or electric frying pan over medium heat. Lightly salt the cubed steak, let stand for a minute, then dredge in flour. Add steaks to the pan, and let sit undisturbed for at least 4 minutes. Turn and brown on the other side.

Remove meat from the pan to a large plate. Lower heat to medium-low, and add onions. Cook until softened slightly, then add garlic and stir until it becomes fragrant. Sprinkle in cinnamon, coriander, and ginger, stir to coat the onions in the spices. Pour in red wine and honey and let simmer for a couple of minutes. Add tomatoes and their juice, and mix everything together. Add the steaks back into the pan, nestling them in the sauce and scooping some of the tomato mixture on each. Turn heat to low, cover the pan, and let everything simmer gently until the meat is fork-tender, about 30-40 minutes. Stir the sauce, turn meat over once, and watch it carefully to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. Taste for seasoning, and add more kosher salt and pepper if needed.

Serve over plain couscous prepared with kosher salt & olive oil, and a sprinkle of chopped cilantro

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Low Iodine: Bread, no circus

My thyroid doctor always sends a helpful list of forbidden foods with my appointment list and instructions for the radioactive iodine scan, and it very confusingly says that fresh bread from the bakery is OK, despite the fact that fresh bread from the bakery often contains salt of unknown provenance, and/or dairy of some kind. In the past I've made my own pita & foccacia, and purchased salt- and dairy-free bread from Trader Joe's. This time, I've opted to bake my own loaves using the no knead bread popularized by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. Friends had been raving about how easy this bread is to make, and how good the results are, for years but I dismissed even this simple recipe as too complicated for my already maximally complicated life.

Well, it really is that easy. The instructions: Flour, instant yeast, kosher salt, and water get dumped in a bowl, mixed together, covered and left to sit on the counter for 12-18 hours. After that time, the results are dumped on a floured board, folded over a couple of times, rested for 15 minutes, then shaped into a ball and left to sit for another two. Preheat a dutch oven at 450 for 30 minutes, throw the bread in, and bake covered for 30 minutes, then uncovered for 30 more.

That's it. The result isn't the best bread you've ever tasted, but it's a reasonable facsimile. I mix the dough before I go to bed, knock it down when I get home from work the next day, then bake it after dinner. It's great toasted and brushed with good olive oil, kosher salt & garlic powder, or straight up with some homemade jam and unsalted peanut butter. I'll probably continue baking it even after the low-iodine diet is done.

Pretty!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Low Iodine: Hooray for Hummus!

I went low-iodine shopping at Whole Foods today, mostly for the usual salt-free chips, lots of vegetables, decent olive oil & balsamic vinegar, tahine, salt-free garbanzo beans...blah. Just for kicks I cruised down the prepared food aisle where the dips & spreads are, looking at forbidden goodies - or so I thought. I picked up a container of Cava Mezze hummus & read the ingredients: pureed chickpeas with tahine, lemon juice, fresh garlic, and kosher salt...wait, what? Kosher salt? That means I can eat it! How amazing to find something quick and flavorful that I don't have to make myself.

All of their products specify kosher salt, which I can trust to have no added iodine. Hummus, tabbouli, and a tub of fiery harrissa came home with me. Thank you, Cava Mezze Foods. You made my day, week, and month while I'm on this crazy diet.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Low Iodine: The Night Before

Low-iodine diets starts tomorrow, in preparation for the radioactive iodine whole-body scan on September 14th. I've been cleaning out the fridge/cabinets of stuff I can't eat, and will be shopping for lots of good tomatoes, peaches, corn, and other summer delights. To review, here's a list of what I can't eat for a month:
  • iodized salt or sea salt
  • Dairy products (milk, butter, yogurt, ice cream, cheese)
  • Vitamins (most multis add iodine)
  • Food and meds that contain Red dye FD&C #3
  • Egg yolks, whole eggs, or food containing them
  • Seafood (fish, shellfish, molluscs, seaweed, kelp)
  • Foods that contain the additives: carragen, agar-agar, algin, alginates
  • Cured and corned meats
  • Breads with iodate dough conditioners
  • Chocolate (milk added)
  • Soy and soy products (soy sauce, tofu, soy milk)
  • Potato skins
  • Some beans (pinto, navy beans, lima beans, red kidney beans,)
  • Restaurant food, since I can't be certain what's in any of it
  • Processed foods, since there is no reliable way of knowing what kind of salt is used

One of the first things I will be making this week is a batch of Taratoor Sauce, the sesame/garlic condiment I first encountered at local chain Lebanese Taverna. 

Taratoor 

1 C. tahine sauce (stir before measuring)
3/4 C. lemon juice
2 T. water, plus more for thinning the sauce
2-3 cloves crushed fresh garlic
1/2 t. kosher salt
 1/8 t. ground cumin
1 t. minced parsley

Put all ingredients except parsley in a food processor, and pulse a few times until combined. Scrape it out into a bowl and stir in the parsley. Adjust the thickness with cold water until it reaches the desired consistency.

Will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. Stir before using.