Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Peanut Butter and Dill Pickles

We all have things we eat when we're alone, right?

I discovered I was not alone in this when I came across the delightful book, ""Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone," edited by Jenni-Ferrari-Adler. 

Food lovers--all favorites of mine--as diverse as Laurie Colwin, Nora Ephron, M.F.K. Fisher, and Marcella Hazan contributed--along with writers who don't normally write about food, Ann Patchett, for example. (Love Patchett's novel "Bel Canto")

To quote the jacket:, the book is "part solace, part celebration, part handbook..It offers a wealth of company, inspiration, and humor--and finally, recipes that offer no division or subtraction." 

So, what do you eat when you're alone?

One of my favorites is a toasted peanut butter and dill pickle sandwich.

Today was crazy: way too much to do in that crucial 8-12 zone, so I skipped breakfast and had a tiny bit of leftover paella at my desk at around 11 am. After a meeting at Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation 2-4 pm, I walked home, hungry and in the mood for a toasted peanut butter and dill pickle sandwich.

I know I slammed Richard Nixon's combination of cottage cheese and ketchup previously. Maybe a toasted peanut butter and dill pickle sandwich.is just as weird or gross to some. But at least I don't eat it every day.

Actually, a  toasted peanut butter and dill pickle sandwich is the perfect combination of a little carb, a little protein, a little sweetness, a little piquancy. It's a quick, easy meal made with ingredients you probably always have on hand.

Start with good whole wheat bread. I like natural peanut butter. Tip: Store it upside down in your pantry. You won't have to stir it as much when you open it.

You can use any kind of dill pickles, but the ones specially sliced thin for sandwiches are perfect.

Next, toast the sandwich, just enough to make the bread crunchy and the peanut butter soft. Careful though: you don't want the pickles to get too hot.

That's what we're having. What do you have when you're alone?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Greek Yogurt, Organic Cottage Cheese, Richard Nixon, and Paella--but not at the same time

First task of the day: Figure out who chaired/co-chaired nine of the biggest non-profit fundraisers in Knoxville last year, collect contact information for those people, and try to schedule a photo shoot on the same day at the same time in the same place for all of them. It's going to be a great feature for Knoxville Magazine called "Dressed to the Nines," but it's a logistic nightmare. You can't go into a task like that without a good breakfast.

The ingredients: peach, plum, Greek yogurt, and honey.

It looks prettier on the plate.

I nibbled on little bits of it between (and sometimes during) the emails and phone calls required to set up a photo shoot involving around 20 people.

Lunchtime already?

I still have all those cucumbers, so a light lunch of cottage cheese and cucumbers sounded good. I headed to the The Market at Union and Gay, figuring that was the most likely source, and cottage cheese is even healthier when you walk a few blocks to buy it. The Market does not have cottage cheese, but good news: there's a little brown paper sack labeled "Suggestions" at the check-out counter.

Not wanting to go home empty handed, I bought some obviously homemade chicken salad.

On the way home, as I walked past Just Ripe on Union Avenue, it occurred to me they might have cottage cheese, so I stopped in. Yes! They have Kalona Super Natural Organic Reduced Fat Cottage Cheese.

I served the cottage cheese with chopped cucumbers, a plop of chicken salad, and a flat bread cracker torn in half.

I have an uneasy relationship with cottage cheese. It's so bland I can only eat it if it's accompanied by something I like and seasoned with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and some red pepper flakes.

 My other problem with cottage cheese is that it reminds me of Richard Nixon. Many years ago, I read somewhere that his lunch every day was cottage cheese and ketchup. First of all, that's just gross. Second, I can't imagine eating the same lunch every day. The image of Nixon in the Oval Office eating cottage cheese and ketchup comes to me every time I eat the stuff. It's amazing I can eat it at all.

This cottage cheese was rich and thick with a hint of citrus. It may be the best cottage cheese I've ever had. The chicken salad was simple: mostly chicken and some celery, not too mayonnaisy. If you like a chunky chicken salad, you'll like this. I like mine a little smoother.

After a long afternon of grading papers, I met Bill at Sangria's on Market Square. Our appetite for paella was whetted by the Spanish feast served at Paella at the Park, the Knox Heritage Summer Supper we attended at Park Place Saturday night. Sangria's paella takes 40-45 minutes to prepare, so be prepared to wait or do as we did: call in advance and have your paella delivered to the table as soon as you arrive.

We ordered the vegetarian paella for two.

It came with little loaves of bread and light olive oil and herbs.

We cleaned our plates.

And we still took lots home. That pan of paella could easily have served four, maybe more. The definition of "serving size" in this country is out of control. But that's a topic for another day.

That's what we're having. And we'll be having some more tomorrow.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cucumbers and Rosemary

Cucumbers and Rosemary

These two things don’t go together, do they? I’m picky about what goes together and what doesn’t. You’ll know this if you’ve ever watched me order a custom hand-tossed salad at Trio Cafe on Market Square. If there’s a line of customers waiting, I do everyone a favor and order a chicken salad sandwich.

 My cucumber “problem” began when my friend Justin Fee, the photographer who shoots the “Local Flavors” feature I write for Knoxville Magazine, asked me if I wanted some cucumbers. “Sure!” I said. He showed up with a full bag. Here’s what’s left—only about half of them.

Sliced cucumbers with some dill-flavored cream cheese made a nice snack one afternoon last week, and marinated cucumbers keep well in the fridge, so I made a batch of those. Then I went searching for recipes.

This Asian Cucumber Ribbon Salad was a great find--the cucumber ribbons were easy and pretty. I used a vegetable peeler instead of a mandoline and simply created ribbons until I got down to the core. It looked like I was leaving a lot of cucumber on the cutting board, but trust me, it was all seeds. 

I modified the recipe a bit—using two homegrown cucumbers in place of the English ones, using plain rice vinegar in place of seasoned rice vinegar and omitting the sugar. I added a splash of apple cider vinegar, red pepper flakes, and toasted sesame seeds.

It was a great accompaniment to Schezuan Eggplant and Clean-Out-the Vegetable Bin Stir Fry (squash, sugar snap peas, red peppers, onions, and bean sprouts). Here's the eggplant.

I livened up the veggies by deglazing the pan with a mixture of soy sauce, freshly grated ginger, white wine, and red curry paste.

I don’t really have a rosemary problem; I just have a lot of it. Earlier in the year I asked my friend Melynda Whetsel to please, please help me find something maintenance-free for our “garden” in the mews at Kendrick Place.

I love what she came up with: seven rosemary plants (three in each long planter, one in the middle pot.). It’s easy, smells fabulous, and supplies me (heck—it could supply all of downtown) all the rosemary I need.

 All I have to do is buy a couple of hanging pots from Stanley's Greenhouse  every spring—and I’ve finished my “gardening” for the year.

I thought it’d be fun to see if I could find a way to combine the pile of cucumbers and the wall of rosemary. Mint, yes. Dill, yes. But rosemary?

Here’s what I found: Cucumber Rosemary Spa Water. I added lots more rosemary because I like bold flavors, and water, while good for you, is not exactly flavorful.  

Pretty, isn't it? I served it topped off with a little club soda in a champagne flute garnished with a rosemary sprig. Very refreshing! Bill liked it, too. I’m glad I’m married to a man who will drink Cucumber Rosemary Spa Water--without even being asked. He poured his into a mug, though, and didn't garnish.

With it I had a Fiber Bar, a brand new offering from one of my favorite vendors from Market Square Farmers' Market, Little Red Hen Breads. Fiber Bars are made with milled wheat berries and are full of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, oats, nuts, and raisins. Half of one makes a great snack. Here's a whole one.

That’s what we’re having.   

Open-Faced Egg and Tomato Sandwiches

My sudden desire for an egg and tomato sandwich for brunch prompted a three block walk to the Market at Union and Gay for eggs. I used the last of them making mini sweet potato madeleines yesterday.

We don't eat a lot of fried eggs, but with cooking spray and a non-stick pan, they can't be that bad for you, can they? And when you put them with fresh tomatoes and whole wheat bread...yum! 

This lovely tomato came from the Market Square Farmers' Market; the pepper jack cheese came from the Murray's Cheese Shop at Kroger in Bearden.

The bread and eggs came from the Market at Union and Gay. The tiny guitar-shaped cast iron skillet (perfect for keeping the eggs from rolling off the counter) was a gift from my friend Mark Kelly, Marketing Manager for Lodge Manufacturing.
These red grapes, which also came from the Market, will make a good side dish.

The only items which came from OOD (Out Of Downtown) are the Murray's Cheese and the mayonnaise. I'm picky about mayo. Can't find any of my preferred types downtown yet.
Brunch is served.

Toasted whole wheat bread, a tiny bit of mayo, two tomatoes slices, a fried egg over medium, and melted pepper jack cheese.

That's what we're having.