Sunday, January 14, 2007

Day 14

What I ate today. . .
1/2 c. granola with handful of blueberries and whole milk, most of a grande chai, half of a short white mocha, another whole grande chai with whipped cream, a plain bagel with RF walnut-honey cream cheese, three slices of pizza hut pan pizza with mushrooms, a home-brewed chai with 1/2 c. 2%.

I notice today, more than some other days probably just because I’m thinking about it on purpose, that I feel bloated. I definitely know that I’m drinking too many starbucks during my shifts, but I am also addicted to drinks in general, which is why I started the nalgene thing. I carry a liter nalgene bottle of water with me everywhere I go. It started when I worked in the office, because the water cooler was at the other end of the hall and also because the water came out so cold that my sensitive teeth required warming before I could drink it. Anyway, I bring this nalegene to Starbucks with me as well, but we’re not allowed to keep drinks within customer eyesight. So the work table around the corner in the back — not at all handy, by the way, when thirst hits — has become a bit of a landmine of open mugs and cups filled with quickly cooling or melting beverages. In a pinch, there’s no guarantee that you can easily find your beverage and grasp it without knocking a few others over. My point is that I’ve stopped drinking as much at work simply because it requires chugging in order to finish a beverage before its lukewarm. Since I am spoiled enough to work at Starbucks, I now rarely finish a drink — even a 6 oz short — anymore. I just drink a bit of it, put it in the back, and dump it out later. Everyone does this. At first, I felt really bad about the waste of coffee and milk, but now that I’ve been there a while I have seen that this is the least of the wastefulness costing Starbucks money. . . . Anyway, so when I list drinks in my “What I ate” section, I am pretty much unsure of what exactly I consumed, most, part, a sip, etc. All I really know is that I have replaced the unthinking reach for the nalgene with some sort of caffeinated beverage, and that is probably pretty bad.

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I have a fondness for British chef Jamie Oliver. Okay, so I love him. It’s no secret, even from George. But I recently picked up his book at Barnes and Noble and couldn’t put it down. Italian food is also a weakness, so the combination of Jamie and Italy together was going to be a success. From the library, I also grabbed a new cookbook called “Biba’s Italy,” which I used to supplement my newest test menu from Jamie. Here’s my pre-planned Italian dinner party, totally vegetarian. . .

Baked Mushrooms Stuffed with Ricotta Serves 4
Excerpted from Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver (2006, Hyperion/New York), page 26
3-1/2 oz good crumbly ricotta cheese
zest of 1 lemon
1 fresh red chili, deseeded and finely chopped (to taste)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T finely chopped fresh oregano or marjoram leaves
a handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
4 handfuls of mushrooms, brushed clean
extra virgin olive oil
a handful of arugula or soft lefty herbs

Preheat your oven of 425 degrees. Put your ricotta into a bowl with the lemon zest, chili, and a little salt and pepper. Beat together with a wooden spoon,t hen fold in your chopped oregano or marjoram and the parmsan.
Carefully remove the stalks from your mushrooms and discard them (or keep them for making a pasta sauce), then toss the mushroom caps in a little oil, salt and pepper. Lay them upside down on a baking sheet so that they can be filled with small amounts of your fantastic ricotta mixture. Carefully spoon in the filling, sprinkle a little parmesan over the top, and bake in the preheated oven till golden — about 15 minutes. Great served on a bit plate, sprinkled with some dressed arugula leaves or soft leafy herbs.

Baked Semolina Gnocchi Roman-Style Serves 4 to 6
Excerpted from Biba’s Italy by Biba Caggiano (2006, Artisan/New York), page 28
4 c. whole milk
2 tsp salt
1/2 lb semolina flour (about 1-1/2 c.)
5 T unsalted butter, melted, plus softened butter to grease baking pan
1 c. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 large eggs, lightly beaten in a small bowl
oil to grease the sheet pan

In a medium-size heavy pot over medium heat, bring milk to a gentle boil. Add the salt and reduce the heat to medium low. As soon as the milk begins to simmer, start pouring in the semolina flour by the handful in a thin stream, very slowly, stirring constantly with a long wooden spoon to prevent lumps from forming. When all the flour has been incorporated, keep cooking and stirring with the wooden spoon, reaching all the way to the bottom of the pan, for about 10 minutes. The semolina is cooked when it sticks heavily to the spoon and comes away clean from the sides of the pan.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in half of the melted butter, half of the Parmigiano, and both eggs. Mix for a couple of minutes, until everything is well incorporated.
Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet. With a spatula, spread the semolina mixture 1/2” thick on the sheet. Dip the spatula in cold water and smooth the top with it. Place in the refrigerator and chill, uncovered, for a couple of hours or until firm. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a deep 10 by 12” baking dish.
With a 2”-round cookie cutter (or a small glass), cut the cooled semolina into rounds. Arrange the round sin the buttered baking dish, slightly overlapping one another. Brush the rounds with the remaining 2-1/2 T butter and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup Parmigiano. (The dish can be prepared up to this point a few days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Bake on the middle rack of the oven until the gnocchi have a golden color, 10-15 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

(Note: After you cut the chilled semolina into rounds, you will have a nice amount of semolina scraps. Cut the scraps into fairly equal pieces and toss them in a skillet with butter, Parmagiano and sage. The look of this improvisation will be very homey, but its taste will be delicious and satisfying.)

I personally (me, Christine) will be serving a huge side of homemade marinara alongside this winner. I make it by sautéing two minced cloves of garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil with half a diced white or yellow onion until golden. Then add a 32-ounce can of seeded, diced tomatoes, unsalted if you can find them. Add juice and all, plus one small can of tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a teaspoon of dried oregano or basil, as you like, plus a teaspoon of dried parsley. Let simmer for as long as you have time. I like at least an hour, so it cooks down really nice and the flavors combine.

Pan-Fried Zucchini with Vinegar and Chili Pepper Serves 4
Excerpted from Biba’s Italy by Biba Caggiano (2006, Artisan/New York), page 54
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
1-1/2 lbs zucchini, the smallest you can find, washed, dried, ends trimmed, and cut into 1/4” thick rounds
salt to taste
1 small red peperoncino, finely shredded, or crushed red pepper flakes to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not yet smoking, add the garlic and cook until golden brown on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes. Discard the garlic. Add the zucchini without crowding (fry in two batches if needed) and cook, stirring and turning the zucchini until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and the peperoncino or pepper flakes. Add the vinegar and stir until almost all evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the parsley, taste, and adjust the seasoning. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Young Sara’s Torte Serves 8
Excerpted from Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver (2006, Hyperion/New York), page 300
1 cup unsalted butter, melted, plus a little for the pan
3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs, preferably organic
2 cups sugar
zest and juice of one lemon
1-1/4 oz package active dried yeast
3-1/2 oz pinenuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 12” springform pan and line it with a disc of waxed paper. Sprinkle the waxed paper with a little of the flour. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then mix the yeast with the melted butter. Add this to the eggs, with the sugar, remaining flour, and the lemon zest and juice. Mix together well and pour into the cake pan. Scatter the pinenuts over the top and bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes or until golden.

Doesn’t this sound like an awesome Italian meal? I’m excited to try it, but I’ll need to find semolina. I have a hard time finding certain ingredients in the grocery stores. I used to be able to find semolina easily in the pasta aisle, but it’s no longer stocked. I’m going to look for a specialty foods store in my area and see whether I can stock up.

Overall update. . .
I feel generally the same, aside from intense urges to kill George while he's chowing down on pepperoni pizza. I weigh the same, which is no surprise as I am still drinking everything in sight during my Starbucks shifts. It's getting harder to plan menus that seem attractive to me. Appealing to George with some of the recipes that I think might actually taste okay is even more difficult. He's sticking to his ratings system as a crutch, which is what we developed that for anyway. But if I don't find new recipes that he likes to eat soon, we'll be stuck with lots of spaghetti and marinara!

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