Thursday, July 12, 2012

Convenience versus Homemade

I had every intention of making the crust by hand. But just in case, I picked up one from the refrigerated section of Copp’s on my way home from work with the rest of the staples I needed for the week.

After all, the recipe I was planning to make, Summer Squash and Ricotta Galette, featured a light flaky crust made with olive oil. I had read the directions a few days earlier and it looked pretty simple. I barely ever bought those store-bought crusts. Eating them made me think about all the trans fats and preservatives I was sure were inside making it so flaky. But still, I had a bit of headache, the heat had eased a little, but I was still hot, and convenience won out.

squash galette assembled
Squash galette assembled
After that, the rest was easy. All I had to do was cut up some summer squash (I used two instead of one and one zucchini as the recipe called for) and add it to some crushed garlic and olive oil. In another bowl, I combined the ricotta, egg and spices. To assemble, you put the ricotta mixture on top of the crust and top with the squash. Instead of combining my own ingredients, waiting for them to meld together and rolling them out, I simply rolled out the store-bought crust and could fill it immediately.

squash galette fresh from the oven
Squash galette fresh from the oven
I will definitely add this recipe to my rotation. But after eating it all week for more than a few lunches and dinners, and even one breakfast when I found my milk had inexplicably gone sour more than a week in advance of its expiration date, I have to say next time I’m going back to homemade.  The store-bought crust tastes fine, but it’s almost too perfect. I’m almost missing the imperfections of a homemade crust. I imagine they would go better with the fillings.

The perfectly flaky store-bought crust seems almost too perfect for this rustic dish. Plus, the crust is so flaky it keeps peeling right off the bottom, leaving flat cardboard pastry-colored pieces on my plate, which I haven’t been eating, but scraping into the trash can. I may have saved a few calories this way, but the homemade crust definitely would have been more enjoyable.

I’m not surprised, but it’s a good reminder that homemade does win out most of the time. It takes a little more effort, but somehow it’s worth it. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Yin and Yang Cooking

bahn pho noodles
Banh Pho Noodles
As I mentioned a few posts ago, I’ve been reading a book about the Chinese way of eating and cooking, Why the Chinese Don't Count Calories by Lorraine Clissold. I have to admit I didn’t have time to read the whole book before I had to return it to the library today. I skimmed the last few chapters, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t continued to inspire me.

It inspired me to visit one of Madison’s Asian grocery stores, Viet Hoa Market. Someone at work had mentioned it and when I passed it on my way from dinner with friends I had to stop. Inside I found everything I could ever want to make an authentic Asian meal, if only I knew how to read Chinese.

peanut sauce
Peanut Sauce
Peanut noodles with carrot and cucumber
Peanut noodles with carrot and cucumber
I perused the exotic meats and frozen fish, marveled at the produce, and picked up nearly every box of tea I passed. I ended up purchasing a hodgepodge of items including some coconut flavoring for my coffee, a tea ball, chrysanthemum tea, some noodles and some sesame cookies that had been delivered from a bakery in Chicago’s Chinatown.

Because I don’t usually cook Asian cuisine, it took a little research to figure out what kind of noodles I bought. They were banh pho, a type of rice noodle used in Vietnam for soups. I decided to make some peanut sauce and use them that way because I knew it would be a good complement to the carrot and cucumber I had recently received from Two Onion farm.

The dish seemed to be a perfect way to put a few Clissold’s secrets into practice: Bring yin and yang into your kitchen and Balance the flavors. Basically these two secrets discuss how the Chinese vary ingredients and cooking methods and eat foods with varying tastes and textures together.

Peanut sauce is a good example because it contains peanut butter (sweet) and curry paste (hot) and does not need to be cooked. I served it with the noodles, which needed to be soaked before they were cooked, and raw carrots (crunchy) and thinly sliced raw cucumber (slimy/soft). All in all, it was a combination of a lot of textures, tastes, and heat/cool.

The dish was perfect for a day when the mercury rose to more than 100 degrees and when it feels more like southeast Asian than Wisconsin. Although I had to return the book today, I did copy a  few of the other recipes, so I’m looking forward to trying out more of her secrets as CSA season continues.