Friday, November 2, 2007

A History of Food: The Present Time

Since it is November and Thanksgiving is approaching, I thought I'd write about food, my history and my family’s history surrounding food: what we ate, how we ate, etc. I figured I’d work backwards from the present time to about 1920 when my great-grandmother was cooking for her family or perhaps even back to my great-great grandmothers. (I should finish up by November 11 which is Veteran’s Day when I’ll be featuring an article about my first cousin once-removed, Sgt. Kenneth Von Ronn who was killed in Iraq in 2005 at the age of 20.)

I am a self-admittedly good cook and my family and friends would probably say so as well. If it weren’t for my flat feet, I would have pursued a career in the hotel or food service industry since I have a passion for cooking. I cook dinner, usually from scratch roughly 5 to 6 times a week. While working full-time from home does help, it is a matter of necessity: the only thing my partner can make for dinner is reservations, but he is very good at it.

As I reach my mid-40s I am constantly aware of what I should and shouldn’t be eating. For me, it is either Cheerios or oatmeal each morning with low fat milk. Lunch is a sandwich of lean turkey breast with the occasional slice of low fat Swiss cheese snuck in. Lots of water, some diet soda, a glass of wine before dinner each night. Oh yeah, and lots of coffee. I drink a large 20 ounces mug in the morning and the rest of the pot, another 20 ounces is turned into a large ice coffee at 3:00 pm each day. And I like my coffee the way I like my men . . . [insert typical response here]. I usually say either “. . . weak and bitter” or “. . . ground up and in the freezer.” Hah!

You can also probably tell that I’m on a diet – no sugar in 8 weeks now, low fat, low fun.

Dinner is the big meal and I start cooking at around 5:30 – 6:00 pm and we eat at 6:30 pm. We always eat at the dining room table in the dining room. I was never raised eating in front of the television or in the kitchen or other rooms of the house.

When I say the “present time” in terms of food, I speak of 2000 up to today. I met my partner in 2000 and was able to entice him with my culinary skills. These are some of the basic dishes I make on a rotating basis each week (many of these recipes can be found or will be posted in the future on my cooking blog entitled And I Helped!):

Garlic Soup: in the fall and winter this is a weekly dish and can be made in 30 minutes or less. But you have to like garlic – I mean really like garlic. It is so easy – chop garlic, sauté in good olive oil, add a little paprika, saffron, chopped tomatoes, a large can of chicken broth, bring to a boil and stir in some beaten eggs and viola! Serve in a bowl with a good crusty piece of bread – maybe wine and cheese on the side. Amazing stuff especially when you are suffering a cold.

Bolognese Sauce: a 3 hour plus pasta sauce with ground beef and ground pork. The rule is: no green stuff – no basil, no parsley, no oregano. The people of Bologna don’t use it in their sauce. Usually I’ll throw in a few grilled chicken breasts or Italian sausage or even some braciole (thin pieces of flank steak rolled up with spices and Romano cheese in the middle). This is a weekend only dish, great for casual dinner parties and it freezes very well.

Chicken Stew: I’ve found an easy way to make this and my own homemade chicken stock. I buy the rotisserie chickens at Costco (or other supermarket here in Chicago like Jewel or Dominick’s) instead of raw fryers. With the fryers, you have lots of chicken fat and you have to skim the broth. We have a sandwich with some of the meat, them I break up the entire chicken, get all the stuff out on the bottom of the container, add water and boil for about an hour. For chicken stew, I add fresh or frozen vegetables, some rosemary and roasted garlic paste (see below), a can of low fat evaporated milk (it won’t curdle) and viola! Great with home-made biscuits. Oh how I miss biscuits!

Turkey Burgers: another low fat dish and made with the other man in my house – George Foreman! I love the George Foreman grill – I practically have worn it out in the past five years. I buy the ground turkey at Costco, add Italian breadcrumbs, an egg, chopped onion, salt, pepper, poultry seasoning and a tablespoon of olive oil. Grill 9 minutes and viola! Or is it voila?

Chicken Salad: not the wet, full of mayonnaise type but a big green salad with romaine lettuce or organic greens, tomatoes, Maytag blue cheese, grilled chicken breast and Brianna’s Real French Vinaigrette dressing. This dressing is the most amazing and made with canola oil and all natural ingredients. We devour this salad especially on summer nights.

Roast Vegetables: I make this more during the fall and winter – a big roasting pan filled with butternut squash, peppers, onions, whole mushrooms, garlic cloves, fennel bulbs (yes!) and potatoes. Add some olive oil and rosemary, roast for 45 minutes and viola! Goes great with roast beef.

Roasted Garlic Paste: when I buy the large container of peeled garlic at Costco, about 2 lbs worth, I know I could never finish it without having it spoil (unles there are vampires in the neighborhood that week). So I came up with the idea of roasting most of it in an aluminum foil packet with olive oil, salt and pepper for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees. When cool I place it in the food processor and puree it. Then place about 2 tablespoons on small squares of plastic wrap, twist into a ball and then in the freezer. It keeps for months and gets dropped into soups and stews.

For special occasions – well that will have to be another post soon. Let’s just say it includes Boneless Leg of Lamb on the Grill, Roast Crab Legs with Five Pepper Sauce, Paella, Basque Salad, Bread Pudding, Tiramisu, Figs with Prosciutto and Goat Cheese and Gingerbread Cookies!

Photo: My dining room here at home in Chicago, Illinois.

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