I have somehow trapped myself into liking expensive coffee. I used to drink Maxwell House and be perfectly happy with that. I drink it black. I don’t need Starbucks, don’t really like it all that much either. But I have saved thousands over the years drinking cheap coffee. In the past 2 years or so, I began drinking Alterra coffee, a local coffee roaster and not just any Alterra, it’s a mix of french roast and Nicaraguan something or other. I have to buy the 2 and mix them together. I grind fresh beans every damn time I make it. It’s cheaper than going to Starbucks, but still.

What I would like to know is why all the super duper plastic this stuff comes in? It’s supposed to be organic but it comes in unrecyclable, unrecycled, uncompostable bags. Why? I reuse plastic bags for many things, like my dog’s poop (the plastic bags that cereal comes in are really excellent storage bags) but it’s impossible to use these for much of anything. They smell like coffee which precludes putting say, cookies in them, and they aren’t flexible enough to be able to pick up dog poop with.

Sorry Francis Lam

I really love how Francis Lam writes. I think his recipes are easy to follow, enjoyable to read and generally something I’d like. So when I read his recipe for Italian sweet and sour cauliflower, I thought gotta try it. I love sweet and sour, cauliflower and Italian.

So not anything I will ever make again. I ate it but wasn’t that happy about it.

Crustillantes, or something like that.

On menus in France you will occasionally find something called croustillantes, generally it is an accompaniment or side. It can be all sorts of things, sweet or savory, but the word essentially means “crispy things.” The last time I was in Paris, having dejuner with my sisters and my friends Michael and Terry in the unprepossessing La Tartine on the rue de Rivoli, I had a very fine salad topped with 3 or 4 melted cheese-covered croustillantes. The salad was great (and I returned to La Tartine many times in the course of the month I was there) but the croutillantes were outstanding. Toasts covered with cheese, drizzled with honey and topped with sesame seeds.

In my re-creation they are grilled left-over French bread, smeared with left over boucherelle (or maybe boucheron, they taste the same to me) cheese that I processed with cream cheese. I didn’t have enough to use the cheese by itself and, really, the cream cheese made it smooth and spreadable when the crumbly goat cheese is, well, too crumbly. 

Croustillantes are easy because you can make the toasts days before, or really, whenever you have leftover bread, put the cheese on them hours beforehand. And then broil them right when you need them. I served these with fig jam this time. But I made quince jelly last fall that was AMAZING with them.

Grilled chicken

This turned out to be awesome. I like the grill pan thing because you don’t lose the smaller vegetables. I grilled the chicken skin side down (salt, pepper, garlic powder [love that stuff], oregano and something, maybe sage) right over the flames until the skin sorta charred then I put the grill plate on the grill, threw the vegetables (green and red bell peppers, onions and crimini mushrooms which I had tossed with olive oil and a dab of balsamic vinegar, onto the plate and put the chicken skin side up on top of all of it.

The grill pan, by the way, from Sur La Table is a million times better than the hideously expensive one I bought at Williams-Sonoma. The SLT pan came with 2 other sized pans for considerably less than the one single, overly-complicated (read: hard to clean), poorly shaped pan that warps over high heat that I got for much more money at WS.

Oh, and, Pepperidge Farm Baked Natural, etc.

Last night when I was sufficiently hungry I tried these again and it occurred to me to look at the ingredient list. To see, you know, all the naturalness. As well as the soy sauce content since they taste like crunchy soy sauce.

Uh, yeah, not all that “natural.” The multi-grain part is pretty far down on the list and there’s no soy sauce, although there is soy lecithin which I am imagining is not what I taste that tastes like soy sauce. I enjoy the “contains 2% OR LESS cheese powder,” so there may be none at all. For that matter they could put contains 100% or less M&Ms because there is certainly less than 100% of M&Ms in them.

The soy sauce is a mystery but they still taste filthy. I made grilled chicken for dinner, details tomorrow.

Pepperidge Farm Baked Naturals Cracker Chips

Yesterday Loralyn came over to watch the West Wing (though this did not occur because I do not know how to use a DVD player) and we ended up just talking. But in the mood for cheese and crackers I walked over to the store and bought a bunch of different kinds of crackers. These, the Pepperidge Farm “Baked Naturals,” (whatever that means) Simply Cheddar, multi-grain cracker chips were disgusting.

I have no idea what exactly “natural” means here, it is just like any other cracker/chip sorta thing. I get the multigrain idea since there were some different textures and black seedy type things going on. But the most remarkable thing was the “cheddar” of which there was nothing discernable at all. Instead there was the distinct flavor of soy sauce.

I gave one to Loralyn to try without telling her what it was. She said, “Oh! Soy sauce!” Maybe soy sauce makes things natural.

My suggestion would be to avoid them. Stick to those little fish crackers if you have to buy a Pepperidge farm product.

Champagne chicken

I had about a quarter of a bottle of leftover champagne. It makes the best sauce for chicken. Using my rockin’ Le Crueset nonstick pan on raging high, I sauteed 2 chicken breasts (salt, pepper, sage, thyme), in a little olive oil, skin side down for 4 or 5 minutes, flipped them over when they were brown, turned the burner to medium and sauteed another 4 or 5 minutes. I took them out of the pan at that point, set them aside covered, added some very thinly sliced onions and deglazed the pan with the champagne. I then added about 2 tsp of dijon mustard and let it reduce for a few minutes, swirled in a TB of butter and put the chicken in to hotten up a little. It was awesome.

Mom’s meatloaf

Meatloaf is a touchy subject and your mother’s meatloaf is either the stuff of dreams or nightmares. My own mother’s meatloaf is the best. There is none better. I have loved it all my life and when, as a child, it ended up in my lunch bag as cold meatloaf sandwiches, I was in heaven. (Cold, it must also have yellow mustard on it.) As an adult, while I rarely eat like this, occasionally I treat myself and make it. Though I make it without the bacon strips on top as she made it. Not that I don’t like that but, Jesus, it’s fattening enough without it. Horseradish, onions, green peppers and ketchup are, in and of themselves utterly delicious. My mother’s recipe adds dry mustard and sage into the mix of bread crumbs (I use soda crackers) and egg binder. I’m not sure if the egg needs to be there but I put it in. My mother nestles pepper strips in between the bacon strips that lay across the top. I prefer to put the chopped peppers right into the damn thing. Then I cover it all with ketchup.

The hard part is not eating all of it in one sitting. This time I saved half for lunch.