Wednesday, January 28, 2009

oh hai, i can has tendonitis?

sad update from the department for prolific and overly verbose posting here at chinotto is my nemesis. i've been felled by a wicked case of tendonitis/tennis elbow. after working for about an hour on monday, i started getting some flashes of numbness in my left arm and slight twinges of pain. not good!

today, before they sent us home early from the wicked snowstorm, i adjusted the height of my arm rests on my chair (i usually angle them in at about a 25 degree angle and put them up fairly high so that my elbows are bent at a 90 angle and my wrists kind of hover over the keyboard, and there was instant relief! that means someone was fuxoring with my chair while i was away on friday (not good!) at least i can type typing is the worst. i'd rather hand write (that's a bald-faced lie.)

so, dear readers, you'll have to be rewarded for your faithful and dogged dedication to this little space with pictures of pasta instead of the promised book reviews, which are growing by the day and becoming quite the unwieldy and oppressive presence, skulking and squatting on my yellow sticky pad on my igoogle.

coming up with new meals can be a little taxing sometimes...i know what you're going to say, "you could always repeat" - but that's basically like saying to me, "you could just let your green bin get all stinky and gross" or, "you could just avoid using words like 'harridan' in disagreements with people if you want the stinging barb to land true" - it's just not the lagerfeld way.

that's not to say that you haven't seen repeats on here in the 2+ years i've been blogging...just that food captures my imagination to such an extent that repeating seems like a waste of a perfectly good culinary opportunity (not that i don't make exceptions for fried chicken, mac'n'cheese, steaks, eggplant parm, etc.)

to complicate things, there are also certain parameters i set for myself when i'm doing the menu planning. 1 meal (weeknight dodgeball night) is takeout (to help me maintain my sanity); 1 meal is leftovers; meals cooked earlier in the week (say, monday through thursday) should yield plentiful leftovers for varied lunches and not require *too* much cooking time; fridays and saturdays are for one-off/elaborate type meals (with fridays favoring quicker preparations); and sundays are for the big, elaborate, but still cozy family sunday supper meal. in addition, i try for meat twice a week, seafood once or twice a week, and veggie the rest of the time. that's a lot of variables to juggle!

with all of this though, i seem to have settled on a fairly predictable formula for a quick, weeknight pasta. take 1 part cured pork product (in this case, some leftover cacciatora i had lurking in my fridge, feel free to substitute proscuitto, chorizo, pancetta, etc. at will), 1 part greens, 1 part legume (usually chickpeas), add some of T's peppers, and pasta and pasta cooking water and voila! last night we had broccoli with the aforementioned cacciatora, chickpeas, T's peppers, and parm over penne. delicious!

tonight, i made a moroccan (it always takes me a minimum of 3 tries to spell that right - i always get confused what letter i'm doubling) butternut squash and chickpea stew, in my trusty enameled cast iron (from here on in, this pot will be referred to as the le creuset, even though the nomenclature is not technically correct and mine is a american-made imposter) dutch oven, served over couscous that we FINALLY got right. the key is NOT to take couscous and pour 1.5x the amount of boiling water over it, cover, and let sit and fluff with a fork. if you ever read another recipe that tells you to malign the couscous thusly, THROW IT AWAY.

no, the method that yields fluffy, distinct, tender grains of semolina goodness is this one documented here. my friends, STEAMING is the key! steaming and a little before and post dousing with water and salt and a final, gentle rub down with some olive oil. sure, it requires maybe 10% more effort, but the results are SO WORTH IT.

the recipe i used for the stew, i adapted from smitten kitchen. it was probably my most successful attempt at moroccan, ever. it was delicious. i ended up buying preserved lemons as i didn't have a chance to make them...the ones you buy are much different - less salty, small, middle eastern lemons floating in a saline bath flecked with nigella seeds. they have a faintly perfumey, rose-water type aroma which i was afraid would overpower the fears were irrational, you could barely taste it, and if i ever repeat the recipe, i'll bump up the preserved lemon quantities to a full one.

but before i give you the recipe, feast your eyes on THIS (it appeared in today's new york times "dining" section...tip of the hat to my dodgeball boyfriend for bringing it to my attention.)  ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present to you  the bacon explosion

in other news, i got into a verbal disagreement (conducted in a civil, polite, and genial manner) with some striking york cupe members on the grounds of my work this morning. i went up to one of them and said, "excuse me, are you a graduate student?" when she replied "yes" i said, "well, when i was a graduate assistant at york university, we were only paid based on 10 hours of work a week, is that still the case?" she nodded. then i said, "well then, don't you find the rhetoric being employed by the union that graduate assistants make below the poverty line a bit of a specious argument, considering the fact that you're not working anywhere near full time hours or even for a full year?" and she said that the union had taken that off the bargaining table and that now the fight was for benefits. but then she added this, "well, it's only for 10 hours a week, but york doesn't want us working any outside hours because they want us focusing on our studies, and writing papers, and publishing, so we're being asked to live off what we earn because we're discouraged from making additional income" [emphasis mine] [author's note: when i was at york as a grad assistant i was paid a little more than $1000/month, for 40 hours of work, most of which was photocopying ish for my professor]

ummmmmmmm...i could basically pilot the hindenburg through the holes and RANK ENTITLEMENT that underlies that argument. york "doesn't want" you working more hours? okay, about you get york to wipe your butt for you, too? how about you try getting off your butt and doing what YOU need to do to survive, like COUNTLESS other people in this great city dO, without the benefit of a graduate stipend? if you're a masters' student in the humanities, you're looking at 12 hours of class time a week. i'm going to be generous and DOUBLE the class time for prep (reading, writing, etc) (but you don't need it.) that still gives you 26 HOURS A WEEK YOU COULD BE WORKING A PART TIME JOB, you succubus! how about you get a work ethic, and THEN you've EARNED YOUR TIME ON THE PICKET LINE?!? heaven forbid you actually have to apply yourself and maximize your time so that you might actually contribute to the elevation of the rapidly degenerating canadian intellectual community.

crikey. and don't get me started on an the ndp. does a party that's so in DIRE need of an image and ideological overhaul, really need to step in on behalf of some 3000 and change striking workers who, if they were really deserving of the tenured positions they covet so, would have found such positions in other academic institutions? thanks for representing the wishes of your constituents, buddies. oh wait, i forgot, canadian politics DOESN'T DO THAT.

wow. i cranked out some maximum rent on a manky elbow. better give you guys what you want. i've posted the recipe below.



Squash and Chickpea Moroccan Stew
Adapted from Aida Mollencamp
Serves 6 to 8

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, small dice
4 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound butternut squash, large dice
3/4 pound red potatoes, large dice
2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups cooked chickpeas, drained
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juices
Pinch saffron threads (optional)
1/2 preserved lemon, finely chopped
1 cup brined green olives
Steamed couscous, for serving 
Toasted slivered almonds, for garnish
Plain yogurt, for garnish
Hot sauce of your choice (for serving)

Heat butter and olive oil in a 3- to 4-quart Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan with a tight fitting lid over medium heat. When oil shimmers, add onion, garlic, cumin, and cinnamon, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until spices are aromatic and onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add squash and potatoes, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, stir to coat, and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Add broth, chickpeas, tomatoes and their juices, lemon, olives, and saffron, if using. Bring mixture to a boil then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until squash is fork tender, about 10 minutes.

Serve over couscous garnished with cilantro, almonds, and yogurt.

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