Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Notes on cooking

Four plantains yielded nine
mofongo patties. Here's one of 'em.
I've been cooking for myself for a couple of decades now. I'm no one's idea of a great chef, but I get by. With few exceptions, I stay comfortably inside my area of expertise (basically, Asian food, plus various kinds of vegetarian stew and goulash) and all is well.

One nice thing about sticking to what you know is that you learn how the recipes work, so you can improvise if need be. To wit, on Monday night, I finally got around to using the plantains in my refrigerator. I'd bought them to make mofongo, a Puerto Rican dish. It's straightforward: You boil them, mash them up with some garlic, salt and pepper, form them into balls and fry them. Very tasty. (And yes, I realize they're neither Asian nor goulash.) 

Unfortunately, I added too much stock during the mashing stage, so the plantains were too goopy to fry properly. What to do? Well, if you want to wring moisture out of something, baking works nicely. And if I pan-fried the goop beforehand and let it absorb some oil, I figured it would taste about the same in the end. 

So it did. Fried the goop, spooned it into some muffin pans I happened to have, baked for 10 minutes at 425 degrees, and voilà. I actually like this approach better, because deep-frying uses so much oil. It's messy, and the plantains suck it up like crazy. I think this will be the new SOP.

The plantains were four for $1, and it looks like I'll get three meals out of them. That's about as cheap as it gets. Which brings me to Good and Cheap, the free downloadable cookbook aimed at people in SNAP, aka food stamps. You should try it! Apparently it's reaching its target audience (NPR says it's been downloaded more than 200,000 times), and it should. It's a fine cookbook, and very practical.

I've liked the GandC recipes I've made, and I was delighted to find I'd already stumbled on my own onto many of author Leanne Brown's helpful hints for shopping and eating. (Though I have to say, I don't feel anywhere as nearly as strongly as she does about freshly ground pepper.) Fundamentally I agree with her basic attitude: If you do it right, you can eat within fairly tight time and money budgets and still eat very well. 

Don't know that I'd give my own cooking the honor of that "very," but I'm getting there. 

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