Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Thanks for the memories

One of the things I've found that directly influences my choices and inspiration of food is my own history with it.  And part of that history includes all manner of comfort foods and guilty pleasures.  I'm sure we all have various things we grew up eating or enjoying that we realized were not good for us, and yet from time to time, we crave them.

Mine included Vienna sausages.  I remember eating them with cheddar cheese slices and Saltines.  Perfect kid lunch. :-)

And in my house, that also included the lovely Potted Meat, and typically the Libby's and not the "higher quality" Hormel.  

I realize too that a lot of it had to do with economics at the time.  We grew up on the lower end of middle class, and beyond that, my parents even later in life when things were better still clung to a pretty rigid means of money saving.  I remember eating a lot of bologna and hot dogs.  And around our way, we didn't get hot dog buns.  We would use a knife to score the hot dogs down the middle so they would split open in half, and then we'd put two flattened out between two pieces of bread.  

I also remember odd things like scrambled eggs with fried bologna.  And lets not forget Spam.  I remember eating that stuff straight out of the can and also fried.  

My father was a big fan of frying things, and any time Mom was away, we knew it was either Pizza for dinner or some manner of fried foods including things like Spam, potatoes, and such.

Something else I remember was that we ate a lot of canned vegetables.  Spinach, corn, mixed vegetable, asparagus.  I never realized why I disliked vegetables so much until I started eating them fresh or even frozen.  I remember the mental disconnect the first time I tried something fresh and noticed they weren't olive green and salty.  :-)

But I have lots of good memories of things too.  I still almost cough every time I think of eating Nestle's Quik straight from the can with a spoon, and accidentally inhaling a little in the process.  I remember the taste of semi-sweet Tollhouse morsels, and how Mom would get mad when she needed them to find that the bag was half empty. :-)  And I remember the tart taste of baking cherries right off the tree in the side yard and the taste of the pies later.  

Another odd little food memory was that we'd go out to a breakfast buffet at a hotel near the airport with family friends, and I remember how I could never understand why the eggs tasted so much better there than they did at home.  And learning later, of course, that the eggs at the hotel were cooked in clarified butter. :-)

I also remember the taste of the real original Coca-Cola as it came in the 32oz screw-top glass bottles.  My Dad would go through bunches of those, and I was privileged from time to time to enjoy a little bit here and there.

Heh.  I also remember coffee at an early age.  My parents drank Nescafe (*twitch*), and my Dad had a habit of trying to get ready and drink his coffee, and it didn't typically work, so he'd end up having some left over as he's walking out the door, and somewhere along the line, he took to tipping his mug into my morning milk glass.  So from time to time, I started the day with coffee flavored milk. :-)

Lots of little things like that color my current perspectives on food and flavor both in positive and negative light.  But it's neat to look back and see where some of it comes from.

What are your fondest food memories as a kid?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Game of Squash

One of the wonderful things about fall and winter are the abundance of squash varieties.  Baking a good acorn or butternut is a wonderful way to enjoy the late bounty.

Having taken an interest in Pinch My Salt for her plan to bake through the Bread Baker's Apprentice, I stumbled on a recipe she posted for making Spaghetti Squash Gratin.

Given all things, I was very intrigued.  And I had heard of spaghetti squash, but I had yet to appreciate it.  

So off I set to pull the materials together.  And I thought it would make a really nice side dish to some baked salmon.  I had just gotten a deal on a nice Sockeye fillet, and portioned it out.

I cleaned and then microwaved the squash for about 12 minutes which softened things up.  I was then able to use a fork to pull it apart into threads.  It's so cool how it ends up resembling pasta (and a lower cal alternative if you really have to have your spaghetti mouth-feel).

Threw the rest together, popped it into a new casserole baking dish I received for Christmas (yay family that knows I love to cook!)   

Tossed it in the oven at 450 for about 20 mins, and it came out wonderfully.

Along with the Salmon, I realized that while it was good together, it wasn't my favorite way to go and I think I will pair it with something else.  It did turn out pretty light and flavorful, and I enjoyed it unto itself quite a bit.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Chicken Casino-Name-In-Vegas

So as much as I enjoy cooking, I of course love to eat out as well.  Whether it's a burger at the greasy spoon, or something a little more classy, I enjoy eating and getting ideas for my own cooking.

One dish I always appreciate when I go out is called Chicken Bellagio from Cheesecake Factory.  It is a breaded chicken breast pan fried, placed on top of angel hair pasta and a garlic basil pesto sauce, and then topped in strips of prosciutto and the whole thing covered in fresh arugula.
The chicken melts in your mouth, and the basil pesto is amazing.

So naturally, I need to make it at home from time to time. :-)  It's a pretty quick fix.

A pair of chicken breasts, bread crumbs, an egg (scrambled), flour, angel hair pasta for two, a cup of heavy cream, about a quarter cup of basil pesto, half a cup of shredded parmigiana, prosciutto, and washed arugula. Salt and pepper for the sauce, and oregano and parsley for the breading.

Pound out the chicken breasts one at a time in between two pieces of plastic wrap until flattened out evenly.  Coat the breast in flour (cover all the wet spots), and then dip in the egg, and then into the bread crumbs mixed with the herbs.  Press the crumbs in evenly.  Fry on each side until golden brown.

To prepare the sauce, I decided to go with an garlic basil pesto alfredo sauce.  It's a little thicker, but I find that its less greasy and more yummy.  I've talked about making this sauce before.  Basically bring the cream to a low boil, stirring constantly and incorporate the basil pesto (which you premade while it was fresh in season, and then froze, yes?).  Salt and pepper to taste, and as it begins to thicken, add the parm and stir vigorously to incorporate it.  Continue to stir until it thickens more, and then remove from the heat.

Pile a small nest of the cooked aldente angel hair pasta on the plate, pour a bit of the sauce over it, place the breast directly on top of it, top with a little more sauce, tear up a slice of prosciutto and layer over the chicken, and then top the whole thing with a small handful of arugula.  

Yum.  :-)