Good Times, Bad Times

And by “bad” times I mean “ok” times.

We’ll get the ok stuff out of the way first. I went to an event yesterday that I helped organize. It was part of my alma mater’s reunion festivities – a combined live and silent auction (I didn’t “win” anything, I’m sorry to say). It was a lot of fun! There was a beer ambassador table set up by Anheuser Busch (read more about their outreach programs here: http://www.anheuser-busch.com/Stock/2005AR_DomesticBeerOperations.pdf). Bully Hill, a Finger Lakes winery, also sent a rep and had a table set up (included in the offering was a very surprising Cab Franc – from a winery that focuses on sweet wines). Finally, there was a pop/food table set up as well. Of course, that’s all in addition to the tables practically groaning under the weight of the items up for auction. The event, at Rock City Park, was definitely a success for the school, and the alums that attended clearly had a good time! The problem, for me (and potentially only me), was that the main food options all had meat in them. There were finger-food sized wraps (with meat), pasta with meat sauce (on it), sausages (c’mon), and an assortment of cheese and veggies for dipping. While Bob chowed on an Italian sausage sandwich with a side of pasta, and god knows what else, I just sort of stared at my couple of cubes of swiss and my dinner roll. And the thing is, I remember discussing with the group that vegetarian options were a necessity. Was this really what they had in mind? I was really disappointed and as the evening wore on, increasingly hungry. Everything turned out fine. We made blueberry pancakes when we got home and had a late night breakfast feast. I don’t think we give dedicated vegans and true vegetarians enough credit for how tricky eating at events can be.

Now for the good times! Over the weekend a few of my girlfriends were in town (to reunite with our friend in the Peace Corps). One evening us girls went out for dinner at a local restaurant, the Bistro. This place is, like, Olean’s biggest secret. The food is excellent and the atmosphere is “tailored jeans” elegant. We happened to be there on a night when they were featuring a singer with acoustic guitar (who totally reminded me of Seu Jorge, but American – if that makes any sense), which really added to the experience in a positive way. I ended up ordering a special, seafood stuffed tilapia with mashed potatoes. Besides being absolutely excellent (succulent, lightly breaded, not greasy, flavorful…I could go on), the main course came with a small side of blanched veggies which were clearly very fresh. Oh it was so good. We also ordered their hummus for a starter, and got their fresh-made bread to dip as well. The meal reinforced my growing appreciation for fish dishes being robust as well as not-too-filling (a fine line that fish-and-chips crosses far too regularly). In fact, tonight we’re planning on having some steamed fish – a thought that I am looking forward to with relish.

Behold – the Power of Steam!

I read a recipe in the print version of The Nest the other day for ginger steamed cod (I can’t find the recipe online, otherwise I’d link to it – but here’s something similar from Martha Stewart). The basic idea is that you shred some ginger, layer it over some spinach (or some other type of leafy stuff) in the bottom of your bamboo steamer, and then place the cod on top and steam for 4-6 minutes (until kinda opaque). Here’s the thing – I have a bamboo steamer…that I have never used it because I’m ever-so-slightly afraid. I’m not AFRAID afraid (what’s the worst that can happen? I end up with something inedible. Yawn.) It’s more that since I’ve never steamed anything before, I keep putting off the big steam debut.

Yes, I bought a lovely two-tier bamboo steamer without a clear purpose in mind. I like adding to my kitchen arsenal, even if I don’t fully understand the tools at the point of purchase (there’s always the opportunity to research later). But I did know that steaming food is a healthy method of prep. According to Williams-Sonoma, steaming has multiple benefits such as preserving food shape, texture, and flavor. Additionally, since you don’t need to add oil, you reduce the fat content of the final meal. Yummier food that delights with look, feel and flavor, with less fat? Ok! <humming “Steam It” to the tune of “Beat It”>

My bamboo steamer has two tiers, as I already mentioned (proudly), which is ideal for steaming entire meals in one go. Items that take longer to cook go on the bottom, and items that cook quickly go on the top. The idea is that less steam reaches the top, and anyway, if that part cooks quicker, you can just remove it. Every single item I’ve ever read on steaming in a bamboo steamer specifies that the water level has to remain below the lowest basket bottom (no water in with the food, just steam, please), and to not let it all boil away. So it seems worth mentioning. I’d guess that you could severely dry your food (or ignite your bamboo) if you leave it go, and you’ll just end up boiling your food if you let it get too high. So for what it’s worth, be aware of the level of your water.

I delight at the idea that everything can be cooked all at once in a super efficient (and healthy!) way. Who wouldn’t? <humming “Steam On” to the tune of “Dream on”> So now I just have to figure out how to cook in it, and, more specifically, what to cook in it. This recipe that popped up on Yummly looks good: http://www.yummly.com/recipe/Ginger-Steamed-Salmon-Recipezaar, as does this one (also Yummly): http://www.yummly.com/recipe/Steamed-Fish-And-Vegetables-My-Recipes.  This one seems a little daring (because I think it means for you to cook an entire fish): http://www.yummly.com/recipe/Chinese-Steamed-Fish-In-Sauce-Recipezaar. This one seems ambitious, but like it will be absolutely heavenly (I’d use low-sodium soy sauce and go sparingly on the salt – I don’t think I need 53% of my sodium from one meal): http://www.yummly.com/recipe/Ginger_steamed-Fish-Recipezaar.

I think tonight is the night. Steam me up! (see what I did there?) I’ll let you all know how it goes…