Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Grad School Gourmet Cooks Dinner

I don’t have a lot of time to peruse the internet in search of good foodie blogs, but every week Saturday rolls around and I stare at my empty fridge wondering what to make for dinner. There’s always that one day where what’s in the fridge doesn’t sound appealing at all, but nothing else sounds good either.  On these occasions, I fantasize about my perfect go-to food blog.  It would be titled something like, “the Grad School Gourmet” and it would be full of quick, easy, cheap, one pot recipes proportioned for one or two people (or that keep a long time).  It would offer ways of spicing up left overs to make them more appealing after a week of eating the same thing.  It would have great tips about buying fresh fruits and vegetables and KEEPING them fresh.  It would offer advice about what’s available when with appropriate recipes so that the food I cook could mirror the type of local produce available for that particular season.  It would have suggestions for cheap, delicious wines.  Basically, it would offer tips, tricks, and recipes for satisfying my expensive palate on a tight budget. 

The more I think about it, the more I’m thinking I should probably START that blog myself, but I don’t know if I really have the know-how to be an expert on being a budget gourmet.  Most likely, someone has already gotten there before me and I just haven’t figured it out yet.  If you know of a great blog, send it my way in the comments.

I love to cook, but I generally cook from recipes.  When you’re cooking for one on a tight budget, there isn’t a lot of room for experimentation.  Failure means 20-30 bucks and a weeks worth of meals literally down the drain.  Tonight, however, I rolled up my sleeves, did a little (safe) experimentation, and I’m really proud of the recipe I created.  I call it:
Chef Elizabeth’s Moosey-Beardy Pasta Salad 
(because it's loosely based on two recipes: one from the Moosewood cookbook and one from James Beard.)
You need:
1 package orzo pasta (if you’re very adventurous, or like your pasta to taste like cardboard, you could use whole wheat or spelt orzo to make it healthier)
1 cucumber, peeled and  chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 large fresh tomato, diced
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 15 oz can chick peas
1 package feta
Optional: pitted kalamata olives, quartered

For the dressing:

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon of salt
Freshly ground black pepper (every recipe says “freshly ground” but I’ve done some actual taste testing and it REALLY does make a difference.  Invest in a good pepper grinder.)
A pinch of oregano

1.  Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing and set aside to get all delicious and flavorful

2.  Cook and drain the pasta according to the directions on the package. (note: orzo is a sticky little mofo so make sure you stir it once or twice.)

3. Chop up all your vegetables (while the pasta is cooking) and drain the chick peas.

4. Combine the pasta, vegetables, olives, and chick peas in a large sealable container.  Stir in the dressing.

5. Crumble in the feta cheese  

6. Seal up the container (or cover it with saran wrap) and put it in the fridge to cool for an hour or more.

7. Serve and enjoy all week long!  (Yields approx. 1 truckload of pasta salad)

Serving Suggestions:
(since we're imagining this is a post from my imaginary food blog, serving suggestions are critical!)

For vegetarians (or people who don't like to cook meat):
Serve with a green salad tossed with a pesto vinaigrette (equal parts pre-made pesto and red wine vinegar)

For Carnivores (and people who need fewer carbs)
serve as a side for chicken sauteed with lemon and rosemary.  Later in the week, try topping it with scallops cooked the same way.

Wine Recommendation:
Serve with a dry white wine.  I suggest Torrontes, an Argentinian grape that is generally both tasty and cheap.  Look for Uma-- it’s a wine seller out of Mendoza, Argentina and I’ve never had a dud bottle from them. Uma Torrontes runs about $8 here in Austin.

Happy Cooking and Happy Eating!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Singing All the Verses

I heard an interview with Bruce Springsteen recently.  He was talking about singing “This Land is Your Land” with Pete Seeger at Obama’s inauguration four years ago. There was some worry that the song would be too long, and someone suggested cutting the verse about standing on breadlines, thinking it might hit too close to home, after all, this was a celebration:

In the squares of the city, in the shadow of the steeple,
By the relief office I saw my people,
As they stood there hungry, I stood there wondering if,
This land was made for you and me.
--Woody Guthrie, This Land is Your Land

But Pete said, “No, we have to sing all the verses.” 

Pete Seeger was almost ninety years old when he sang “This Land is Your Land” at the inauguration.  He was over ninety years old when he marched with Occupy Wall Street protestors, singing and waving his cane in the air.  He’s been alive for almost a century and he’s still out on the streets singing all the verses.  That’s what I admire about Pete, he sings all the verses all the time.  He doesn't seem to get tired, and he's good at teaching his listeners the words so that we can sing along.   I’m not sure anyone could do what he has done, but I hope that if I’m still around when I’m ninety I can say that I tried. 

Sometimes listening to Pete’s songs makes me unbelievably sad.  Fourty, fifty years and we’re still making the same mistakes.  Pete’s still singing the same songs.  When I was little, my parents had a bootlegged copy of a concert Pete gave with Arlo Guthrie at Wolf Trap Farm Park in 1976, and I loved those tapes.  I have such clear memories of singing with Pete's voice from the back of our van.  It's still almost impossible to resist the urge to join in when he asks for harmony and starts shouting the words over the sound of the banjo, the band, and the audience already singing along. I can still sing most of the words to all the songs Pete and Arlo sang, and the frightening thing is, they’re still relevant.  Pointless war, hopeless mistreatment of the environment, disregard for human life, these are the themes that run through Pete Seeger’s music and Woody Guthrie’s words.  It takes an amazing amount of courage and perseverance to continue singing all the words when all the evidence points to the fact that people just aren’t listening.  Perhaps we’ve just not sung loud enough or long enough yet. 

I hold Pete Seeger up as an example of a person who practices what he preaches, who lives the way he would like others to live, who has amazing patience for teaching, and infinite capacity for learning.  So if you’ve been wondering why I constantly reference Pete Seeger in talking about justice and social change, it’s because of this: Pete Seeger sings all the verses.

 Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, and Shenandoah singing "This Land is Your Land" 

(This isn't the concert at Wolf Trap, but it's from that tour)