Another Chance

May 31, 2011

   

From the same clipping as the dreaded potato chip salmon, I reluctantly tried the Easy Mexican Meatloaf.  I should be skeptical of the now defunct For Me, but there’s an appeal to this meatloaf – salsa.  Proving that salsa makes everything better, no, make that chipotle salsa makes everything better, this meatloaf is boss.  Almost creamy in texture and full of flavor, it’s how you want meatloaf to be, but rarely is.  Easy enough to recall – 1 lb. ground beef, 1 cup of breadcrumbs, salsa, onion, 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese, 1t hot sauce, and an egg – I was able to pass it on to a co-worker who then passed it on to her mother in California, confirming the success of the recipe.  Like the Couscous Salsa Chicken, salsa saves the day.

The Workhorse

May 26, 2011

My most beloved piece of cookery is also the smallest – my 2-cup LeCreuset crock.  It is perfect for the single serving meal, such as my fast favorite, sauteed greens with eggs, which goes from stove to table for even faster service.  The weighty bottom prevents burning, like when making oatmeal in a morning haze.   Unless I want bottom to burn, like with leftover rice to get that crunchy bottom.  It’s the best thing that I never knew I needed.

Swimming Upstream

May 24, 2011

   

From the files comes a recipe for Potato Chip-Crusted Salmon from an October 2005 For Me Magazine.  I like salmon, I like potato chips, maybe it’s like a no-fry fried chicken in baked salmon form.  Well, there’s a reason there’s no such thing as chicken fried salmon – so oily!  Salmon is baked in a covering of crushed kettle-cooked chips, lime zest, dill, and olive oil, looking alluring enough.  But it is unbearably greasy, leaving my mouth feeling chalky and coated.  For a fish that is practically half fat (but good fat!), adding an oily crust is too much.

Left with more than a pound of this dish that I didn’t like, the fish itself was not of particular quality on its own either.  Alone in a salad would have made me miserable.  I ventured on making the most of it.  First were the Corn and Salmon Pancakes from Judith Jones’ The Pleasures of Cooking for One.  Easy enough with all the ingredients in house – salmon, an egg, corn, flour, scallions, and dill – they were more like a thin pancake than a plump crab cake.  Nice, but only for one meal, as I was Cooking for One.  There was still a pound to go.

Enter Bon Appetit’s Salmon Sandwich on Ciabatta from the May 2010 issue.  Made with a Piment d’Espelette Mayonnaise – mayo, shallots, lemon juice, sherry vinegar, lime zest, and smoked paprika (a substitute for the more rarefied Piment d’Espelette) – it transformed my stink fish into the best fish salad.  Joined up with pepper-y arugula on a chewy ciabatta, I could have had sandwiches for days.  But I moved on…

I became intrigued with Panfried Salmon Potato Cakes in the cookbook from Vij’s, the incredible Indian restaurant in Vancouver.  Unlike Judith Jones’ salmon cakes, potato and sweet potato made these fluffy and light.  Coriander, jalapeno, onion, cilantro, and cumin completed them with fragrance and spice.  Absolutely fantastic – alone, with baby greens, with an egg on top, and in a sandwich.  From sad to success.

What To Do

May 19, 2011

All this financial introspection leads me up to a conundrum.  I have a small lump of money from a matured CD, and I want to make the most of it.  The most practical, least joyful thing to do would be to pay off some of my debt.  The Bali trip sunk me further than I like to be, but it so made life worth living.  Having this debt makes me uncomfortable, yet it is not unmanageable, as I have killed off larger amounts with my financial diet.  This lump, although small, is money that I forgot I had, it grew a little, and I want it to grow more for the future.

I could leave it in my savings account to build up that 9 months of expenses with a wee bit of interest, but that’s not very satisfying either.  I want return without much risk, which just isn’t possible in the era of near zero interest.

The most sensible thing to do would be to put it in my 401k so that it can grow tax free.  When I talked to the brokerage firm, they told me that I couldn’t deposit a chunk of money into the account, but that I could adjust my contribution for the duration until it reached the sum that I wanted to deposit, and then adjust back.  And maybe, if I was used to it, I will be able to afford to keep the adjustment at that higher rate.  An interesting idea that changed my notion of money – that it’s fluid, not just a solid lump sum.  Intriguing and painless, but somehow also unsatisfying, as I was interested in something new.

I thought of putting it into a long forgotten stagnating Roth, which could use a jumpstart.  I met with the financial advisor of my account who wasn’t that interested unless I moved all of my scattered accounts to him to make it worth his while.  He did tell me that the funds that I had in my Roth could be put to better us in other funds, and that I would have to choose it – yet another decision to be made.  I left more confused than ever.

My one crazy idea was to buy stock in rare earth minerals.  A total gamble, I am fascinated by them as they are in so many products from computers to green tech to military tech.  It’s a limited resource that seems as un-PC as oil and coal.  Risky, and a little sexy, like a new pair of sparkly shoes.

Speaking with a friend about my dilemma, she didn’t think I needed any more professional or non-professional advice.  No one knows my money and money tolerance than I do.  It’s a matter of putting it into action, which is the hardest part.

Chino Latino

May 17, 2011

     

From a February 13, 2008 New York Times comes Short Ribs with Coffee and Chilies.  One word – awesome.  Another word – easy.  It’s hard to believe that something this delicious requires so little work.  The biggest effort was in finding the dried pasilla and chipotle chilies at a Mexican grocery store.  Short ribs are browned in a dutch oven, then removed.  In the same pot, sautee onions, garlic and crushed chilis until soft.  Add a cup of coffee and red wine, then the ribs.  Braise for 3 hours, and those big bone yield tender, tasty meat while the onions melt away into a thickened sauce.  Heavenly and rich, spicy and sweet.

   

To cut the richness, as I don’t own a defibrilator at home, I paired it with a Cucumber Carrot Salad from a June 1994 Gourmet.  Also a random pull from the files, the cucumber salad which is based on green papaya salad, reminds me more of Korean pickles, seasoned with lime, garlic, and fish sauce.  With this recipe, I incorporate Cook’s Illustrated’s technique for cucumber salads which is to draw as much water out of the cucumbers so that it absorbs the dressing and retains some crunch.  This is achieved by salting the cucumber slices and letting it drain with a Ziploc bag of water on top of it over a colander for an hour.  I think it helps.

The short ribs and pickles complement each other perfectly in a sandwich on a brioche roll, another lush touch gilding the fattening lily.

A more reserved, but no less delicious, is paired in a taco.  Kogi truck, look out.

My Money Scripts

May 12, 2011

Reading the NY Times article about “Money Beliefs and Financial Behaviors:  Development of the Klotz Money Script Inventory”, a new study on money attitude and habits, I am starting to think that I have financial schizophrenia.  In the study, there are four categories of “money scripts” – money avoidance, money worship, money status, and money vigilance.  Money avoidance is distancing oneself from money, essentially a state of denial.  Money vigilance is a reluctance to spend money at the expense of enjoying it.  The other two scripts – money worship and money status – tie in high self worth to wealth.  Worship is distinguished by overspending to impress others; status by anxiety over net worth.

With my financial bulimia, I feel like I am both money avoidance and money vigilance.  Monday through Friday, I practice money vigilance starting with paying my bills and getting money out for the week which I spend sparingly.  Over the weekend, I’m in money avoidance spending to my heart’s content, or until the cash runs out.  The binge and the purge, or starvation and gluttony.  How can I run both scripts?  Or have I always been avoider, which has led me to being vigilant?  The purpose of the study is to help people deal with financial change, which I am trying to do, albeit, oddly.

A Winner Indeed

May 10, 2011

     

I was skeptical when a friend gave me a recipe for Salsa Couscous Chicken, the million dollar Pillsbury Bake-Off Winner.  From 1998.  The clincher to the recipe is a jar of Old El Paso Salsa.  I’m sure that at the time it was culinary genius, a shortcut unheard of since Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup.  But in this day and age of Rachael Ray and Real Simple, this little trick is old hat.  Needless to say, these shortly stewed skinless, boneless chicken thighs (another recent innovation) with raisins and almonds were really good and really quick.  Reminiscent of a tagine that I like to make, I added 1/2 can of garbanzo beans to the Mexican mix made Morrocan by cinnamon and cumin.  In regards to the name brand salsa, the cheaper the better, as any subtlety of a fancy salsa will be lost when cooked down to a stew.  It won me over.

My Financial Eating Disorder

May 5, 2011

I have been on my financial diet for 2 1/2 years and I’m beginning to feel that I have the equivalent to an eating disorder of the pocketbook.  In an effort to pay down my credit card debt and to sustain growth for the future, both short and long term, I have put myself on a $150 cash budget every week, and socking away $75 into savings every week.  For the most part it works pretty well.  I have been able to pay a good majority of my debt and save comfortably.  I have to be careful with my money, which usually means one or two meals out a week ( a social life buzzkill), but great vacations once or twice a year.

My disorder comes as a binge and purge.  I save all week long, calculating down to less than $20 a day, if I can, so that I can spend with reckless abandon at the end of the week.  Flea market, farmer’s market, if I want flowers, foccacia, and donuts, I’m free to spend.  Like, that’s weird, right?  Or maybe I’m a very advanced case of the marshmallow test – staving off impulse for the bigger pay off.  Whichever it is, I’m feeling a bit nuts over the whole thing.

Recently, I did Ron Leiber’s 31 Steps to a Financial Tuneup in an attempt to re-evaluate my diet, to assuage my financial dysmorphia.  I am doing everything right, I just need to squeeze more juice out of the lemon, as bitter and sour as it is.  Let’s face it, I like to spend, that’s how I got in trouble in the first place.  But if I want to move forward, go on exotic vacations, and be able to retire, I have to stick to the diet, even though it makes me unhappy at times.  Like the principles of weight loss – burn more calories than you take in – financial gain is simple, but not easy – save more, spend less.

Sometimes you win, sometimes…

May 3, 2011

 

…you lose.  A page from a May 2001 Bon Appetit, had a winner and a loser, both of which came down to the wholeness of the food.  First, the winner was Baba Ghanouj.  The simplicity of roasted eggplant and garlic, good olive oil and freshly toasted cumin is all that is necessary for good baba ghanouj.  But it is slow.  An hour to roast, more than an hour (or in my case, overnight) to cool, toast the cumin, and then finally, puree.  Nothing complicated, just time consuming, the basis for good, honest food.

   

In the same story, Cooking For Health, there is a recipe for Vegetarian Cassoulet.  Okay, I know buyer beware of the recipe that substitutes veggie breakfast links and garden burgers for pork and duck, but I didn’t think that I would dislike it as much as I did.  All I could taste were chemicals amongst the tomato and beans.  In a slow cooked casserole, the meat substitutes seemed to breakdown into artificial, freezer burned bites.  It bummed me out.  Even reheated in ramekins, sprinkled with breadcrumbs and cheese, it failed to be redeemed.  No fake-o food for me in the future.

Spring is here, and summer is near!

April 28, 2011

With the temperature rising, I am declaratively listing what I’m looking forward to:

-more produce at the farmer’s market – move aside potatoes and onions, the greens are coming, starting with ramps, lettuces, and asparagus

-flowers in bloom -walking the streets, every day gets prettier

-no socks – feet, finally liberated from the tyranny of boots

-Summer Fridays – I am counting the weeks until half day Fridays.  Fine dining for lunch, afternoon adventures, found time.

-longer days – it’s light out when I get up, and light out when I leave work

-barbecues – accepting invites

-strawberries, watermelon, peaches, and cherries – there is no other time to eat them

-stoop sales and the Brooklyn Flea outdoors again – I love the discoveries on my Saturday shuffles

With the upside, there inevitably comes a downside:

-crowds everywhere, especially the farmer’s market

-allergies

-the subjugation to other people’s feet and their ill-fitting shoes and band-aids

-working through Summer Fridays

-shorter nights and earlier, brighter mornings

-mosquitos

-unbearable heat and humidity that makes me long for the chill of winter

-it goes by all too quickly