City Gay and Country Gay

Monday, August 27, 2007

Zucchini bread -- or -- WTF is wrong with me?

Yes, it's zucchini time already and a friend who grows it in her backyard was kind enough to lend me some for my SECOND attempt at this Paula Deen (God bless her) recipe.

The first time I tried to make this bread was last fall. The recipe makes two loaves and BOTH of them collapsed in the middle. It was a scarring experience and I didn't try again until this last week.

After a lot of reading and a lot of soul-searching, I discovered my original problem was that I had used a zucchini that was way too big. The problem with giant zucchini is it contains a lot of moisture, making the foundation of the bread somewhat fragile and, as a result, causes collapsing.

So this time, after grating the zucchini, I squeezed it with my hands before putting it in the mixing bowl to eliminate the excess moisture. Problem is, I wasn't using a very big zucchini and eliminated TOO MUCH moisture, resulting in dry bread. I also ran out of sugar, which left me a quarter cup shy of what I needed, so the cinnamon/nutmeg combo was a little stronger than it should have been.

Despite all of my problems, I will say, this recipe is DELICIOUS when all the right measurements of ingredients are present, so I refuse to give up.

I will make this bread again (before next year even) and I WILL PREVAIL, GOD DAMNIT!

What other people eat: Volume 1

Awhile back, the New York Times published a Minimalist column with the headline "Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less."

Annoyingly, I didn't get a chance to read the story before it got stuck behind their paid-archive wall (I'm debating whether or not to pay five bucks for it), but I DID get a chance to read a follow-up story based on the hundreds of comments the column received. It was a collection of what other people do when they're crunched for time and hungry.

I have to admit, not a lot of the reader suggestions appealed to me, but I thought I'd try a couple out just out of curiousity. Also, it will give me some new ideas for when I REALLY don't feel like cooking. Currently, my ten minute meals go something like this: 1) Get two pieces of bread. 2) Spread peanut butter on one piece. 3) Spread strawberry jam on the other. 4) Combine the two pieces of bread to make a sandwich. 5) Pour glass of milk. 6) Enjoy.


I went ahead and made that strange concoction up there (*points to the picture*) and it was actually pretty decent. It's one of those very simple dishes that, if you like each of the ingredients, you'll like the dish. It's very fast and filling.

Overall, I'm not sure I'd eat it all the time or even remember to make it again (remember, the sodium benzoate), but I enjoyed it enough to pass along to my adoring readers in case you're in need of a quick protein fix.

The recipe/ingredient list is as follows:

Bean-and-tuna salad: Good, olive-oil packed tuna is a must here: Combine two cups of cannellini beans, drained, with a minced red onion, a can of tuna, olive oil and salt and pepper as needed. Chopped sage is great in this, as are rosemary and basil.

I picked basil since that's the plant I have in my window, used Genova Tonna tuna in olive oil and kosher salt instead of table salt (which I really recommend in a dish like this). I was thinking it could use a little bit of sweetness and crunch, so if I were to try it again, I'd add some chopped celery to it.

City Gay out!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Wanted: Personal Chef

Dear City Gay,

I apparently exhausted myself when I made shrimp fettuccine alfredo. I have fallen back into the hell of eating hot dogs and fast food during the last two weeks. The only thing I made today was coffee, and there was nothing exciting about brewing it. I could take a picture of my Jack in the Box cup that came with my meal tonight, but that would just make me feel worse about myself.

However, I do have an idea kicking around that I should be able to execute in the next couple of weeks. I hope that getting back into a routine at work will bring some sort of cooking routine, too.

Love always,
Country Gay

Sunday, August 19, 2007

More on olive oil

There was a piece in last week's New Yorker about the "adulterated" olive oil industry that was pretty interesting. I think a lot of people assume there's some question as to the purity of product in an industry like this. Here's some proof for the skeptics:

...Investigators discovered that seed and hazelnut oil had reached Riolio’s refinery by tanker truck and by train, as well as by ship, and they found stocks of hazelnut oil waiting in Rotterdam for delivery to Riolio and other olive-oil companies.

The investigators also discovered where Ribatti’s adulterated oil had gone: to some of the largest producers of Italian olive oil, among them NestlĂ©, Unilever, Bertolli, and Oleifici Fasanesi, who sold it to consumers as olive oil, and collected about twelve million dollars in E.U. subsidies intended to support the olive-oil industry. (These companies claimed that they had been swindled by Ribatti, and prosecutors were unable to prove complicity on their part.)

And this...

In February, 2006, federal marshals seized about sixty-one thousand litres of what was supposedly extra-virgin olive oil and twenty-six thousand litres of a lower-grade olive oil from a New Jersey warehouse. Some of the oil, which consisted almost entirely of soybean oil, was destined for a company called Krinos Foods, a member of the North American Olive Oil Association.

Battle Caprese: Olive oil vs. balsamic vinegar

Hey Country Gay,

Long time, no blog. My latest experiment in the kitchen flies right in the face of your tomato hatred. Sorry about that.

To me, a good quality Insalata Caprese is one of the most balanced dishes in all of the land. I've purchased a few pre-made versions lately from different store deli aisles and noticed them putting a spin on my most favoritest of salads. Instead of the classic use of olive oil, they're dousing their red, white and green in brown instead of yellow. Balsamic vinegar instead of olive oil, I mean.

I haven't been able to formulate an opinion on the substitution (until now) because it's not exactly fair to formulate one based on the grocery store deli-made version of a classic Italian salad that should be served fresh. I decided to take the matter into my own hands and settle the battle once in for all in the City Gay Kitchen.

To start, I restocked my olive oil and balsamic vinegar supply with a couple of new bottles of "decent" quality. There are a LOT of oil and vinegar purists out there, but those people are either filthy rich or filthy insane about their dressing of choice. I grabbed a bottle of "flavorful" (there's also a "delicate") Masserie diSant’eramo olive oil -- about ten bucks for 8.5 oz -- and a bottle of Monari Federzoni balsamic vinegar -- about eight and some change for the same size.

I know even that sometimes seems like a lot to spend on glorified condiments, but it really does make all the difference in flavor to spend a little more.

We (Gus was my helper again) sliced up some fresh mozzarella and tomato and pulled a few leaves from my new basil plant.

It's worth noting here that the popularity of big round slices of mozzarella must be skyrocketing because it comes pre-packaged that way now in a tub full of water. I opted instead for the traditional big ball of cheese and that suited me just fine. We served up two healthy servings of those three ingredients, sprinkled some salt and pepper on each and then splashed a little vinegar on one and a little olive oil on the other.

So let's start with the traditional:

I'll start off first by saying that the Masserie diSant’eramo olive oil has a great flavor for the price. Up until a few months ago, I was totally ignorant to what a good, quality olive oil tastes like. But I stopped by our O & Co. here in the city (they're a worldwide company with ten locations in North America) and got schooled on what real olive oil tastes like. I won't go into the whole spiel, but I will say that olive oil is very similar to wine in that there are all sorts of price points and flavor profiles, so you should understand what kind of quality you're getting at each price point.

A good way to size up your olive oil is to pour a little on a spoon and taste it by itself first. If you're not experiencing flavor in its lone state, that's essentially what it's doing for your dish -- nothing.

The Masserie has a very soft, buttery taste and feel to it, but it also has a tiny subtle kick of spice in the after taste (you'll feel it at the back of your throat). For ten bucks, I'm not sure you'll get an oil as complex as this. If anybody knows of any inexpensive kick ass brands, give City Gay a heads up.

But enough about the oil. The dish itself was quite good, but it actually lacked something. Gus put her finger on it right away (not literally thank God) and pointed out that the tomatoes were fairly flavorless. I'll say this for all the world: Hot House tomatoes you find in grocery stores routinely disappoint me. Farmers markets are really the way to go for good tomatoes. Had the tomatoes been meaty and sweet, this would have been nearly the perfect salad.

Now onto the balsamic:

Let's get the big pink (gay) elephant out of the room right away. That's not a pretty dish. There's something slightly vile about covering beautiful, fresh ingredients with a muddy-colored substance. Alright, there, I said it.

But how did it taste? Gus used phrases like "flavor explosion" (because I asked her for a sound byte) and she asked if that could be her salad after the taste test was done. I will say, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the flavor. But one thing I realized right away is the purpose of the olive oil in a traditional Caprese is to soften up the acidity of the tomato. Balsamic just adds to the acidity and does overwhelm the senses, but in a good way sort of.

Again, had the tomato been up to snuff, I think I would have preferred the traditional use of oil in the salad because I like how you can enjoy each ingredient as a separate entity, but they create such a harmonic balance together. The balsamic is overwhelming and the tomato and mozzarella end up serving more as texture than as flavors. Still, I won't deny enjoying it.

In the end, for me, good olive oil still wins the battle. For Gus, I think balsamic vinegar has a new life-long fan.

Now if I could only find a place here that makes good Caprese pizza, my life would be complete.

- City Gay

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Pasta with a woman who smells naturally of roses

Dear City Gay,

Here is my first recipe/meal from the country. When I have a hankering for pasta, or when I'm at an Italian restaurant, I often go for the fettuccine alfredo. I know it is less than healthy, but I can't help loving the richness and creaminess of a good alfredo.

I've stolen my recipe from a Barnes and Noble cookbook that contains recipes that only require four ingredients. In my fast-paced country gay life, I don't have time for a lot of ingredients in recipes, but I also want to be able to do more than open up a jar of alfredo sauce when I make pasta. With the few ingredients in the recipe (heavy cream, butter, parmesan cheese, and pasta), I can make a fast dinner without needing to rely on fast food.

The sauce is quite easy. One only needs to melt 1/4 cup of butter then add one cup of heavy cream. When the cream and butter comes to a boil, reduce and simmer for five minutes stirring constantly. This is where I learned how tricky it can be to stir boiling milk and take pictures at the same time. (You are lucky, City Gay, to have Gus be your hand model in pictures!)

After simmering for five minutes, stir in 2/3 cup of parmesan cheese, add salt and pepper to taste, and turn off the heat. In the meantime, of course, you by now have boiling water and can add your pasta. I used non-dried fettuccine to make the cooking go faster, but you do whatever you want. I did have a problem here. I started boiling water too soon, and by the time I got to it, the water had boiled down. However, I pulled through, and the pasta was done in only five minutes.

One could stop there, drain the pasta, and mix in the sauce and serve. I decided to add a bit of shrimp to shake it up a bit. Again to save time, I bought pre-cooked shrimp, and tossed it with a bit of lemon juice and wine while warming it up before adding it to the alfredo sauce. To plate the dish, simply toss the pasta and sauce together and then serve with grated parmesan cheese.

Part of the reason for cooking alfredo tonight was to try a bottle of wine I bought while wandering through Oregon wine country last week. I stopped at the Montazi vineyard where I tried several wines, but the one that I bought was the Maysara Roseena, an Oregon rose wine. I don't often go for pink wines, even though they are du jour, but I couldn't resist the cold, fruity, crispness. According to the label, roseena is an "ancient Persian term for 'a woman who smells naturally of roses.'" I don't know much about how women smell, and usually women who smell like roses are old, but I thought this pink wine would be a nice complement to a shrimp alfredo sauce.

The fettuccine was creamy and rich, and the extra parmesan added an earthy flavor that made me want to gnaw on chunks of parmesan cheese. The wine's sweetness helped tone down the richness of the pasta, and after two servings of pasta, and two glasses of wine, I feel like I could probably bathe in both.

One downside to this recipe is that it is kind of a pain to make when the house is hot. Standing over the stove for 15 minutes doesn't sound like much, but I was pouring sweat, which I hope didn't make it into the sauce.

(Brad stole the camera for a self portrait.)

So, City Gay, if you feel like having a pasta that is fat enough to clog your arteries immediately, go with the homemade alfredo. And, in your search for good wines, I found it's good to not snub the pinks. Pink wines help create la vie en rose.

Fish and chips and vinegar... vinegar... vinegar...

Dear City Gay,

While Brad the Gay Gnome wasn't able to go to the coast with me, he was there in spirit, and if all goes well, he will soon make an appearance in a post later tonight or tomorrow. He even has an interesting addition to his wardrobe to add a little something to his appearances.

When a family trip was planned earlier in the year to go to the Oregon Coast, I began dreaming about eating nothing but clam chowder. I did eat my share during the week, but none of it was documented. I'm still figuring out how to not be too conspicuous while taking pictures in restaurants. Both times I took snapshots at meals, my family stared at me like I was a freak. However, they have been doing this since my grandma put lipstick on me when I was little, so I didn't think too much of it.

One gray morning, we headed to The Newport Aquarium where I stared at the shrimp and thought about how they would taste fried. I stared at this for awhile, but I didn't think about how it would taste:

Adjacent to the aquarium is the Rogue Brewery, which makes ales with "the finest hops and barley malt [and] free range coastal waters." Walking through a silo (perfect for howling like a wolf with a 2-year-old), one is immediately hit with the smell of brewing beer. For some the scent is intoxicating, for me it was a little nauseating. While I heartily enjoy drinking beer, the brewing smell is too bitter and sweet for my senses. The brewery's restaurant is sparse, but what it lacks in decor, it makes up with a nice selection of ale and coastal pub food. Because I'm weird, I opted for the Desolation I.P.A, a beer from Portland, rather than a locally brewed beverage. Some I.P.A.'s come off too strong, but this had a pretty moderate taste and went down smoothly with my fish and chips. The small cup of coleslaw that came with my lunch was bland and lacked the kick I enjoy in a nice slaw, but the fish was nicely fried, and the fish inside the breading was moist without being gushy.

(You'll have to ignore my dad's lumpy arm in the background, which makes the food less appetizing.)

After gorging myself on chowder and fish and chips, I moved to my other favorite seafood: fried shrimp. We ate at a restaurant connected to the Surftides hotel, where I ate enough shrimp and sourdough bread to make my stomach explode. The shrimp was tasty, though the breading was a bit too crispy, which caused some damage to the roof of my mouth. It's a small price to pay, I guess. I also had a piece of chocolate peanut butter pie to go, which made for a ridiculously rich breakfast the next morning. I wish I had photographed it before snarfing it because the chocolate ganache topping was good enough that I could have just eaten that without the peanut butter cream or the chocolate cookie crust.

Another staple for visitors to the Oregon Coast is Mo's, a restaurant with six locations that serves about 200 gallons of chowder a day. I ate plenty of chowder here, but I also indulged in fried shrimp and fries I ordered for dinner during our last night in Lincoln City. (Fried shrimp two nights in a row! Settle down, Country Gay!) The shrimp was meaty and crisp, just the way God intended shrimp to be eaten... or something.

The seafood extravaganza that is a trip to the coast has inspired my meal for tonight, a shrimp fettuccine alfredo, which Brad and I should be documenting for your viewing pleasure.

Keep on truckin',
Country Gay

Friday, August 10, 2007

Cheap wine for poor snobs: 2004 Michele Chiarlo - Barbera D'Asti

Welcome back, Country Gay!

Let's get this party started up again with some fermented grape juice, shall we?

I'm constantly on the lookout for great deals on delicious wine because I'm always poor and slightly alcoholic.

My goal, usually, is to keep the price to ten dollars and score a label I've never tried. When it comes to preference, I'll always seek out a dry, earthy European red with just a hint of fruit to make it "accessible." It could very well be in my head, but I feel like I can taste the history of the grape in those wines, you know?

Anyway, I HATE really sweet wines for the most part, but occasionally I'll have one that isn't offensive, so I'm never going to say never when it comes to wine. I do LOVE wine that's versatile enough for sipping amongst friends or pairing with any damned thing I feel like cooking.

So that's easy enough on ten bucks, right? Not usually. Usually I end up with a bottle of sludge that I drink anyway because, again, slightly alcoholic.

But tonight I got LUCKY! (not the dirty kind of lucky. yet.)

Michele Chiarlo - Barbera D'Asti 2004

Now the grocery store I hit up tonight (QFC) claims this is a $17 bottle of wine, but gave it to me for $10.99 out of the kindness of their hearts and because I have a QFC Advantage Card. But after a bit of Internet research, I discovered it's typically ten bucks anyway, so I'VE GOT YOUR NUMBER QFC!!!

But that doesn't detract from the fact that this is a fantastic bottle of wine for the price. Barbera, by the way, is a varietal of grape from Italy and Asti is the city within the Piedmont region of Italy in which these particular grapes were grown.

I found this wine to be an awesome sipping wine and went well with our salmon dinner tonight, but I've read it's real strength is when it's paired with strong flavors such as a hearty marinara sauce (it is from Italy after all). Order a bottle of Barbera instead of Chianti in Little Italy and I bet you'll sound less of an ignorant American for your efforts. Not talking about you, Country Gay. The others.

Wine Spectator apparently rated it an 86, but those numbers never mean anything to me anyway. I just want it to taste good and cost about the same as two value meals at Wendy's.

So, if you can't find it in any of your local stores, give a try because the wine and the site both kick major tokhes.

- City Gay out

More chowder, please

Dear City Gay,

You have obviously been busy in my absence, and I'm sure our four readers are extremely appreciative. I'm not quite back to the country, but I am back in Idaho. I should regroup with Brad the Gay Gnome tomorrow evening, and we can continue our country cooking extravaganza.

I did document a couple of my meals during my trip, so look forward to that.

I was impressed with your eggies in a bat, even if they came out a bit charred. This does open a whole new avenue for egg in bread combinations. You are a true trendsetter, City Gay.

Until next time,

Country Gay

Friday, August 3, 2007

No food. Just beer and women.

City Gay is going country this weekend, so we'll be quiet here for a few days. I'll be camping in a field with 500 of my closest lesbian friends and four toilets. It's some big softball tournament (I don't play) that they call LCP. I'm not sure anyone knows what LCP stands for, but I think I've got the first letter nailed down.

I'm thinking my culinary experiences there will be of little interest to anyone, but I can tell you that there's a case full of this waiting for me:

Camping and I don't mix. I'm also not best friends with softball. In other words, please pray for me.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Soda: Evil-doer?

Country Gay's on vacation this week, so I'll just write to the other four of you who read this.

That joke's only funny when it's an exaggeration.

So, after reading this article about the harmful effects of the preservative sodium benzoate commonly found in sodas, I think I may break the hold the carbonated sugar has on my soul. I did, for several months, live a soda-free lifestyle. But something happened and I can't remember what because I think sodium benzoate is erasing my memory.

Getting back to the article, there's strong evidence that sodium benzoate damages vital portions of your DNA and could lead to Parkinson's or cirrhosis of the liver.

The problem - more usually associated with ageing and alcohol abuse - can eventually lead to cirrhosis of the liver and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's.

But here's my hang-up. I frequently abuse alcohol anyway and I'm most certainly ageing, so... what's there to lose exactly? But I suppose the point is that it makes it happen faster and I've been drinking soda since I was wee, so I think it's time I cut it out.

"These chemicals have the ability to cause severe damage to DNA in the mitochondria to the point that they totally inactivate it: they knock it out altogether.

"The mitochondria consumes the oxygen to give you energy and if you damage it - as happens in a number if diseased states - then the cell starts to malfunction very seriously. And there is a whole array of diseases that are now being tied to damage to this DNA - Parkinson's and quite a lot of neuro-degenerative diseases, but above all the whole process of ageing."

I'll just stick with coffee for my caffeine intake because I hear it improves your skin. I also hear it won't work if you don't exercise, so I'm screwed any way you look at it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The sinister side of eggs

Country Gay -

Last year after seeing Natalie Portman eat an "egg in a basket" (which we lovingly dubbed "eggie in a basket" and not to be confused with "toad in the hole") in the film V for Vendetta, we went on an eggie-in-a-basket binge.

Eggies in baskets were all we ate for dinner two weeks in a row. Yes, we're that shallow as to radically change our diet based on what a beautiful girl eats in a movie. But then we lost focus and accidentally forgot about them until this week.

In the spirit of whatever we're doing on this blog, I decided to switch it up a little and make ... wait for it ... BAT IN A BASKET. Not an actual bat, you bumpkin! An egg... in the shape of a bat. Really, the idea was to cut a fun shape into the bread, and the bat was the only cookie cutter we own, so I ran with it.

And it was a miserable failure of an idea.

Here's where I believe I went wrong: Bats are associated with darkness and, to some extent, evil. Yes, even Batman himself has a bit of a dark side. My friend Deb's nickname is Batman. So if A equals B and B equals C, guess where that gets us? Deb ruined my dish!

The only alternate conclusion is that the bat shape was not big enough to hold the large egg.

But here, take a look at these photos and see how it all went down. I think it's imperative to note that the hands in these photos are NOT MINE. They are Gus' hands and, guess what else? Her other nickname is Robin. This is not a coincidence!


The victims in this experiment. Salt and pepper were also involved:

I still think this is a brilliant idea, I just need a chubbier bat next time:

The trick to successfully grilled bread is to put a a thin even coating of butter on the bread itself and then an assload more of it in the pan.

Here's where everything started going wrong (i.e. See Batman's sidekick's hands purposely tipping the egg from my bat hole? Not that bat hole, you sick freak.):

Unfortunately, we also learned too late that gas heat needs to be TURNED DOWN when the pan reaches temperature or you're bat is charred. Also, my basket has an egg goiter:

Not cute! But don't you love how I slathered jam on the extricated bat? The very jam I purchased in Friday Harbor! But guess what else? Bat in the hole was still delicious!

One thing I continue to struggle with is getting the egg cooked right because I like the runny yoke, but achieving runny yoke in a bread hole usually seems to result in runny egg white and that is mostly nauseating. Any ideas?

Love you long time,

City Gay