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Friday, January 14, 2011

Tools: Ice Water

Better than sliced bread:

It was lunch time, and the refrigerator was full of leftovers. The only leftover not in attendance: chicken mole. Did I ever want some, oh about two seconds ago. I thought about it for a few minutes, wondering where it could have gone... Oh yes, I ate it. I ate it crudely wrapped in a flour tortilla, and drenched (inappropriately) in the spicy, watery salsa they give you by the gallon at "Mexican" restaurants in all 50 states. But, just in case I was mistaken, and there was a paper and aluminum take-out container smashed in the back corner of the bottom shelf, waiting to be rescued, I took the time to look around. That's when I found the hidden oasis of "fresh" vegetables forgotten on the bottom shelf.

I say forgotten because, I hate to brag, but Monday was my birthday. And here you thought I was being relentlessly lazy not posting all week; don't you feel silly? The truth of the matter is that I've been eating, and cooking all kinds of wonderful things thanks to that auspicious day of my birth. I just haven't made myself sit down to write about them all, yet. I guess now would be the perfect time...

It all started with eggs, over easy, and beautiful crispy bacon, nearly burned - that's just how I like it. Then there was a bucket of popcorn, which was (in retrospect) probably a culinary low point; half of it ended up in my purse anyway. But who doesn't like popcorn at a movie, especially a cute animated movie that makes your cheeks hurt from smiling? Later there was sushi, to make up for the aforementioned corn, with at least four types of maki: tempura sweet potato with plum sauce and toasted coconut, white tail with pickled ginger and toasted almonds, crab rolled in Old Bay (yes Old Bay) and spicy sauce. Then, there was the mole and an insipid little bed of "guacamole" salad with pink rice that I cooed over until my cheeks were sore again. Take-out just brings back so many memories! There was a cake too, and not just any cake: chocolate rum with rum buttercream. It has become sort of a tradition in our house since I moved back to buy a cake from my very favorite French bakery here. My Mom goes out of her way to choose, or request, a different cake each year. Here's a picture to really get your juices flowing. Did I say that is chocolate rum butter cream?

So, in the rush we all forgot the little cart of vegetables we had picked up the weekend before. By the time I stumbled upon them, Thursday at lunchtime, they were peckish, wilted things: three hearts of romaine and a bag of celery. Although I was disappointed not to find anymore chicken mole, the turkey burger on the top shelf was starting to look very promising. As I ran the lettuce under the faucet, darting my hands in and out of the frigid water, I couldn't help but think: "it is so convenient to have ice cold water straight from the tap!" While my fingers regained feeling, I took a moment to think of a couple other easy uses for this seasonly cold tap water. When I was done, I cut up my now revived and crispy lettuce, and had a delightful, and winter vegetable friendly, turkey taco salad (see below).

Ice Water

  1. Use it to make wilted vegetables crispy: put cleaned vegetables in a large bowl of ice water for 30 minutes, and then drain. OR Rinse the veggies in ice water (2-3 minutes) and store in the fridge in a zip-lock bag until ready for use.
  2. Use it in pie crusts: keep your ingredients as cold as possible when you're making pie crust. The colder the crust, the more manageable it will be and the flakier the final product.
  3. Use it to boil your potatoes: always start your potatoes in cold water. This allows for more even heat penetration from the exterior to the interior of the potato. Not ready to cook them? Keep your potatoes from turning brown by keeping them in ice water (not for longer than a hour).
  4. Use it to keep cooked green vegetables green: douse your blanched or steamed green beans, broccoli, snap peas, edamame etc in ice water to keep them bright green and crispy. This stops the cooking process immediately and keeps your veggies dark green.
  5. Use it to make your boiled eggs easier to peel: drain the cooking water from your boiled eggs and add them to a bowl of ice water, and allow to sit for 15-20 minutes. If necessary, drain the water and add fresh cold water. Then, peel as usual.
  6. Use it to make your Jell-O set faster: the colder the water, the faster the Jell-O will set up. If you're in a rush, add ice cubes in place of the cold water and stir vigorously.
  7. Use it to help remove stains on fabric: soak stains in ice water to keep them from spreading or setting into the fabric permanently before you throw them in the wash.

  1. Use it to steep tea: unless you have "cold brew" tea, a regular tea bag will not steep effectively in cold water. Hot water is a must here.
  2. Be afraid to make old-fashioned ice cubes: if you have an ice tray on hand, you can add fresh fruit (think raspberries, strawberries), slices of lemon or lime or fresh herbs like mint to the cubes before freezing.
Notes: This salad is really so easy, and so versatile, I hate to post it. I feel embarrassed by its simplicity. But, when I was at school it was this sort of dish, winged or reforged out of seemingly useless leftovers, that my roommates loved to watch appear, as if by magic, on our counter. Plus who doesn't hate finding a bag of tortilla chips with only crumbs to show for itself, or slicing up a grainy tomato you paid two dollars for at the local grocer in the middle of winter? With this salad, it won't ever bother you again.

Easy Turkey Taco Salad:
1 turkey, chicken or beef patty (precooked)
lettuce, 1-2 hearts
1/4 cup salsa
2 tablespoons sour cream, to serve
crushed tortilla chips, a few handfuls

1. Wash, dry and chop the lettuce. Slice your turkey (or other) burger into strips and set on top of the lettuce.
2. Sprinkle the salad with your tortilla chips and top with salsa and sour cream. Serve immediately. No dressing required!

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