Thursday, February 9, 2012

Peas and Pasta

The other day in Mycology class we were studying powdery mildews on hazelnut leaves, this naturally lead to a conversation about Nutella, which somehow ended up in my professor telling stories about  various Italian pasta dishes (my professor is Italian). He said chickpeas and pasta were a staple at his house growing up. This was a surprisingly new concept for me. In my head, I always called them garbanzo beans, which means I mentally lump them together with pinto or black beans, and something about beans and pasta together just never occurred to me before.  Joe (my prof.) said it's just like peas and pasta - chickpeas, fava beans, really anything in the pea family goes great with pasta, not to mention peas or beans are cheap for the amount of nutrients they contain. So I had to go home and try it.  I followed Joe's vague directions of pasta with lots of garlic, olive oil, and chickpeas, plus I added some onions, tomatoes, broccoli, and ground beef.  Joe was right, chickpeas and pasta are fabulous together.

Chocolate Salad Dressing

Two weekends ago I flew to California to interview at UC Berekeley for graduate school.  It was a whole big interview weekend that included a couple different options for touring the area. I opted for a food tour of Berkeley. Traveling from Seattle, which is currently in the throes of winter with little more to offer than kale and potatoes -- Berkeley felt like the future; I had traveled to summer in a strange and wonderful place with citrus in January! A woman at the farmers market was handing out blood-orange samples, which blew my mind and I decided I had to buy some.  Then there were mangoes; voluptuous, curvaceous, and sticky with ripe juices. I brought back as many as I could fit in my carry-on bag.

Somehow I got inspired to make a fruit salad with my mangoes and blood oranges. I whipped up a dressing with equal parts olive oil and canola oil (wishing in retrospect I had used camelina oil instead), raspberry vinegar, dutch cocoa powder, cinnamon, paprika, and salt.  I cut up the fruit, dressed it, and then sprinkled toasted coriander seeds on top. Best. Salad. Ever. I could definitely get used to living in Berkeley...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Cast Iron Love Affair...

After destroying a high-end non-stick Scanpan, I started researching the original, indestructible, non-stick pan: cast iron. I started, as I often do, chatting with a salesperson at City Kitchens. He informed me that most, if not all of the modern non-stick surfaces are intended to be used with vegetable fats and repeated use with animal fat can actually degrade the non-stick surface. Considering that I cook daily with bacon grease, modern non-stick surfaces are clearly not for me.

So, cast iron. Something about the Lodge brand pans has never impressed me. They're bulky, pre-seasoned with who-knows-what, and their rough texture just doesn't seems very conducive to optimal non-stick. However Lodge is one of the few (American made) cast iron cookware companies that still exists... so I turned to eBay to find some quality old-fashioned cast iron from the early 1900's.

Griswold and Wagner were two American cast iron producers around the turn of the century. They were eventually bought in the 1950's and now you can apparently still find "Wagner" pans that are now made in China.  Both Wagner and Griswold pans gained a reputation of being high quality pans - they're light weight and forged in a way that maximizes non-stickness. Interestingly, Griswold pans are hot collectors items while Wagner pans go relatively unnoticed in the antique market.  This means it was relatively easy for me to find a prime-condition 10inch Wagner pan for about $30 (Whereas the exact same pan with a "Griswold" stamp might have cost at least $100... economics is silly).

As soon as I got my Wagner pan in the mail, I threw it in the oven to cook off the seasoning so that I could re-season it with bacon grease.  What is brilliant about this is that every morning when I cook bacon, I'm doing something good for my pan - whereas before I was just slowly killing my Scanpan with bacon.  It's funny how much better I feel about life knowing I'm being good to my cast iron pan and in return my cast iron pan is good to me.

The first thing I made was poutine. I fried french fries in my cast iron pan. Then poured off the excess grease, spread the french fries on the bottom of the pan, covered them with gravy and Golden Glen Farms cheese curds and then I put the whole thing in the oven until the cheese melted.

This pan made the best french fries I've ever had.  Needless to say, I'm totally head over heals in love with cast iron.