Thursday, May 03, 2007

The perfect PMS dinner

Sometimes you just have to serve melted cheese for dinner. This is an especially fine idea when you are PMSing your brains out and can't stop the salt monster. So tonight I put guilt aside and made some fantastic cheesy goo for dinner:
Food to make a PMSing woman happy--salt, fat and alcohol.

Since it is Tres de Mayo and Brian is going out of town on the Cinco, I decided that this (and my insane PMS this month) was a good excuse to make a recipe for Queso Fundido with Roasted Poblano Vinagrette. That's a fancy name for a the rectangular pan of gooey cheese sauce that is pictured above. This is a Bobby Flay recipe that I saw posted somewhere (can't remember where) when the Super Bowl was approaching and people were talking about what to feed the masses in front of the TV. Mr. Flay suggested this as a dip, not as a fine family dinner, but we were a happy crowd of chip chomping, cheese scooping maniacs (I made a separate little pan for the kids with cheddar cheese on top and no poblano vinagrette). And since Momma is a little on edge today, having a dinner in which not one word of complaint was uttered was worth the nutritional vacuum.

I know they say that salt, alcohol and caffine (which I have also had a great deal of today) make PMS worse, and maybe after this cycle is over, I'll try to be better next month. But once the monster is there, chomping on your brain, making you bitchy about the stupidest things, I find that feeding the monster and feeling happy is much better than attempting to be virtuous and getting meaner.

I feel a little ill right now from excessive cheese consumption, but I think that it'll have subsided in time for me consume a bar of bittersweet chocolate I have stashed away while watching some crap TV later tonight (because really, after salt and alcohol, one must complete the PMS trinity with chocolate, preferably eaten in front of the TV. No PBS allowed unless it is a soppy costume drama.)

Queso Fundido with Roasted Poblano Vinaigrette
from Bobby Flay

Cheese Goo
3 T butter
3 T flour
3 cups whole milk
8 oz monterey jack cheese, grated
1/4 t salt
fresh ground pepper
6 oz goat cheese, crumbled
3 T chopped fresh cilantro
Roasted Poblano Vinaigrette (see recipe below)
a whole lot of Tortilla chips for scooping

Make the cheese goo:
1) Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook for a minute. Gradually whisk in milk and cook until thickened. Remove from heat, add grated monterey jack cheese, and stir until melted. Season with salt and pepper.

2) Preheat the broiler. Scrape the mixture into a 9 inch ovenproof pan and sprinkle the goat cheese over the top. Put the pan under the broiler until the goat cheese is golden brown on top. Remove from the oven, drizzle with poblano vinaigrette and sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Serve hot with chips.

Roasted Poblano Vinaigrette
2 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded
1/4 C red wine vinegar
3 cloves peeled garlic
1/4 C canola oil
salt and pepper

Place the peppers, vinegar, garlic and oil in a blender and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The much maligned prune

I don't understand the American aversion to prunes. I think that they have become so linked to constipation that people don't realize how wonderful they are; instead they seem to raise the "eeewww" reaction as often as that other much-abused produce item, the beet (of which I am also a champion). Those of us with a bit of eastern European culinary indoctrination swoon at the idea of prune-filled pastries. If you ever want to buy me a punzki in Hamtramck, please get me prune-filled.

I'm going to do a little celebration of the prune, starting with a pretty conventional usage, in a muffin. Still to come in this prune fest: a chevre prune salad, prune stuffed pork loin and possibly a chicken dish cooked with olives and prunes.
These muffins are from Dorrie Greenspan's latest book Baking: From My Home to Yours. I've tried 4 recipes from this book and this one is the best of them. I also tried the lemon cream tart--excessively unctuous, pumpkin muffins--not pumpkiny or spicy enough for me, and a cookie called a chocolate chunker--which was overwhelmingly rich. All three were OK, but not recipes I'd make again.

But these muffins are fantastic. I want them for breakfast; I want one at tea time (especially with Earl Grey tea because the bergamot in the tea brings out the lemon in the muffin) and I sometimes have another muffin instead of dessert. Greenspan calls them "Great Grains Muffins" which is accurate in terms of ingredients, with the oats, cornmeal and whole wheat flour, but a little inaccurate in terms of the taste that you get. When I think Great Grains, I picture something darker and more bran-muffin-like than these. These muffins don't look like they are good for you. There is only 1/3 C of cornmeal in the recipe, and yet the corn flavor is quite prominent. I've made a few tweaks (added lemon zest, replaced some butter with canola oil, used white whole wheat flour instead of regular whole wheat) and I prefer to call them "Lemon Prune Muffins". They are good plain, but my favorite way to eat them is with a chunk of sharp cheddar cheese and, if you really want to go over the top, butter and marmalade.

Lemon Prune Muffins
adapted from Dorrie Greenspan's Great Grains Muffins in Baking: from my home to yours

1 C all purpose flour
1/3 C white whole wheat flour
1/3 C yellow cornmeal
1/3 C old-fashioned oats
1/4 C sugar
2 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
finely grated zest of one lemon
1 C buttermilk
1/3 C maple syrup
2 large eggs
4 T butter melted and cooled
4 T canola oil
3/4 C prunes, cut into quarters

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (or 375 degrees if you use a convection oven). Spray a muffin tin with non-stick spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients. In another bowl whisk together the wet ingredients.

Pour wet into dry and stir gently. When about 1/2 combined, add the prunes and continue stirring until there are no more dry spots. Divide the batter into the muffin cups and bake for 18-20 minutes until the tops are golden. Cool for 5 minutes and then carefully remove muffins and put on a rack to cool.