Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Thanks for all of your kind words and support during my hiatus. I really appreciate it, along with your patience. While I still haven't found a concrete answer for what is ailing me, certain kinds of fat is definitely part of my problem. So, that means minimal amounts of dairy, no red meat (though I did sneak a piece of bacon), and avoiding hydrogenated oils and fake fats. Staying away from these types of foods seems to help my discomfort. I've had to change some cooking habits, but I don't mind a challenge.
It's been over a month since I last posted here (!), and I never intended to be away for so long. I've been pretty busy with Christmas, making cookies (I was able to eat a few--small amounts of homemade baked goods seem to be OK), a yule log cake (I'm showing it off above--again, a small slice), and a bunch of other things. It seems a little late to share those with you, though. Next December, I hope to have a wide variety of recipes to share as the holidays approach. But for now, It's time to taper off from the near constant doses of sweets and other rich foods.
I've wanted a juice extractor for quite a while, and now that I have a limited diet, it seemed like a good time to have one. I was very generously given two kinds of juicers for Christmas--an extractor and a specialty juice blender--so now I can make lots of juice and smoothies. Without a juice extractor, you could also purchase pre-made juices and mix them yourself, though that is liable to become expensive.
While juice extractors can also be very expensive, they are a healthier alternative to buying juice at the grocery store. Probably the best price for a quality juicer is the Jack Lalanne Power Juicer, sold for about $75.00 on Amazon.com. But according to reviews, this machine, and its upgraded model, the Jack Lalanne Power Juicer Pro ($149.99 on Amazon.com), are really no match in quality and price, respectively, for the Breville NJE200XL 700 Watt Compact Juice Fountain, $99.00 at Amazon.com and Best Buy Stores. Can you tell this is what I have? I did some research and this was the conclusion that I came to. I should also note that other high quality models are sold for $250-300 and up, which I really don't think is necessary, unless you are planning on opening a juice stand!
The Breville Compact works nicely and cleanup is fast. Since I haven't tried any other juicers (the $75 Jack Lalane would be my second choice), I really can't say how it works in relation to others, but I am very pleased with it. There is still some peeling and pit removal involved--basically, anything that you wouldn't eat doesn't go in the juicer), but you can put in whole, unpeeled carrots and apples, for instance. The chute has a vacuum power that is quite impressive.
Some good combinations that I have tried:
Mango and kiwi
Kiwi and cucumber
Carrot, apple, ginger
The juice that results from these concoctions is surprisingly sweet, so there is no need for sugar. You can also use the pulp from the fruits and vegetables to make a variety of other things, especially cakes and breads. And while I am consuming more of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables than I would otherwise, I still have to be sure to consume fiber.
And, in case you were wondering, I do still intend to cook treats and goodies and write about them here. I just got a new cookbook, called Gingerbread, that is full of delicious-looking, gingerbread-based desserts. While most of them are just perfect for a cold winter's day, there are some summer desserts, too. Gingerbread has inspired me to invent a ginger dessert of my own, which I hope will be good enough to feature here...
Friday, November 20, 2009
I'm sorry to announce that I don't have a recipe for you today. In fact, it may be a while before I can offer you much of anything. You see, it appears that I may have gallstones. Either that, or some other malady is plaguing my stomach and surrounding parts. It's very unfortunate, since my favorite thing to do is eat. Not that I do it constantly. It's just what I look forward to most in my day. So gang, it looks as though you'll be eating that asparagus gratin without me.
Who knows, by the time I recover, I may become a health and exercise nut, and this blog will have changed direction! Would you like that? No, neither would I. I'm pretty sure that won't be happening. As a respite from a constant stream of herbal teas and Netflix movies, I promise to stop in from time to share some kind of recipe with you. Most likely, it will be gallbladder friendly, so we'll all win. That sounds nice.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I've said before that Easter is a great holiday for food, and Thanksgiving is more set in stone when it comes to the menu, but there is something so cozy and comforting about a feast with family and friends in the fall. The sentiment surrounding the holiday--giving thanks for all that we have-- is just right, and it's never really been marred by rampant commercialism. I look forward to Thanksgiving every year, though it seems to have crept up on me this time. But I've still got two weeks left, so that gives me plenty of time to think about what I'm going to bring this year.
Usually, my Mom asks that I make a side with butternut squash. I'm considering keeping it simple this year, and serving my squash mashed, with an additional offering. We'll have to see what the second dish is. Something that's a bit less expected would be ideal, as long as it's not totally out of place. I'm not really one for flagrantly non-traditional dishes at Thanksgiving; it needs to adhere to the idea of a traditional harvest-time feast. Whatever tradition it follows is up to you, but I like an "honest American" type of cuisine.
Regardless of your tastes, the possibilities are endless. I'm heavily leaning on making these biscuits, which, as I've mentioned before, are ridiculously good. But, as there are a lot of conflicting needs in my family (two vegetarians, one turkey hater, two vegetable haters, and three people who will pretty much eat it all--I'm a member of the last group), maybe a vegetable dish that everyone--except for one person--will enjoy could be just thing (maybe he'll try it, too). It's more of a spring dish, but it's very special and oh-so-good. It would also make a great Christmas dinner dish, as it's rich, cheesy, and something that should be eaten once, maybe twice a year, tops. But you'll want it more often. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens' Easy Menus for Dining Inn
Feel free to insert your favorite vegetable in place of the asparagus, maybe something that's in season for Thanksgiving. I'd recommend artichokes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, or turnips for fall. However, my version was inspired by another recipe for a gratin using leeks. I tried it this way, but the leeks were a little stringy. With the asparagus, it's got a pleasant crunch.
2 bunches tender asparagus, washed and trimmed
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons dried marjoram, or 3 tablespoons fresh, snipped
2 slices French or Italian bread, or 1 1/2 cups soft bread crumbs
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons butter, melted, plus more for the dish
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Run two or three slices of bread through a food processor to make larger-sized breadcrumbs that will crisp wonderfully in the oven.
Generously butter a 2 quart rectangular baking dish or gratin dish (something you can bring from the oven to the holiday table is ideal). Arrange the asparagus in the bottom of the dish, overlapping if necessary.
In a small bowl, combine the whipping cream and broth, pour over the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt pepper, and half of the marjoram. Carefully cover the dish with foil, and bake for 15 minutes. About halfway through, check the asparagus to make sure it is not cooking too quickly, as asparagus can vary greatly in thickness.
While the asparagus is baking, combine the remaining marjoram, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and melted butter in a small bowl. Remove the asparagus from the oven and remove the foil. The asparagus should be fork-tender, but not limp. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the asparagus. Bake the gratin uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes, checking halfway through. The cream will have thickened, and the bread crumbs and cheese will be browned.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Happy Halloween! I guess I can still get away with saying that, since today is El Dia de los Muertos.
Anyway, what I really wanted to show you is a picture of our Halloween pumpkin. It's supposed to be cat. I like the cartoonish quality of the cat (and the twinkle in its mouth).
Right now, I've got a few recipes in the works, so please bear with me during this slow period, so to speak. For this week, I am going to share with you two of my favorite marinades, which could be used for chicken or beef. Both marinades can be made the day before and poured over your choice of meat (or maybe even vegetables or tofu), and placed in the refrigerator over night (overnight might make the vegetables limp). You'll have a delicious and simple meal to come home to the next day. And with early evenings approaching, I think that will be a huge help.
Reprinted with notations from the New York Times Cookbook
1 tablespoon finely chopped or grated fresh ginger, or 1/2 tablespoon powdered ginger
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons sugar (raw/demerara/turbinado sugar recommended
1 cup of low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup sherry or white wine, even good quality Marsala can work in a pinch
Combine the ginger, garlic, onion, sugar, soy sauce and sherry. Pour the mixture over 2 pounds of chicken or sirloin beef that has been thinly sliced or cut into bite sized pieces. Let stand one to two hours or overnight. Grill or broil, on skewers and serve hot. This marinade is especially good for beef.
Indonesian Ginger Marinade
Adapted with notations from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and the Food Network
1 cup of honey (orange blossom preferred, rather than lavender, etc)
3/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
8-12 cloves of garlic, minced (1/4 cup)
1/2 cup peeled and grated fresh ginger root (go with fresh ginger, as it really makes the dish in this case)
Cook the honey, soy sauce, garlic and ginger root in a small saucepan over low heat until the honey is melted, about 5 to 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Arrange four or five bone-in chicken breasts or 2 1/2 pounds of sirloin or flank steak in a baking pan. Chicken should be placed skin-side down. Pour the sauce over the meat, cover with foil and marinate overnight.
The following day, beef can be grilled or broiled. For chicken, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for thirty minutes, then uncover the pan. Turn the breasts over, then continue to bake for 30 minutes longer.
This recipe is especially good with chicken, and I imagine that it would be delicious with salmon or a delicate white fish, too.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
It was recently reported that more than 1 billion people are starving (For more information, see The World Food Programme and this article from CCN).
Ways to help:
Donations of money and food always help, but giving your time and concern can go a long way, too.
Donate or volunteer for organizations that help those in need.
Go to Feeding America for information on food banks in your area.
Spread the word by telling others how the current economy has affected the less fortunate in ways we can't imagine.
Spend some time on Free Rice. Every correct answer gives someone 10 grains of rice.
Write to your local congressman or senator.
Currently, there are just under 7 billion people on earth. While nearly 1/6 of the population is going hungry, there are so many of us that could do something to help. We can all make a difference.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
With freezing temperatures, harsh winds and even snow in some parts of the country, I think the best days of fall may be gone already. It's a depressing thought, but I'm sure we'll get a few more crisp, sunny days before winter. Fortunately, I was able to take a trip to Washington, DC last weekend. Fall hasn't yet arrived there, and I just love the drive through the mountains at this time of year.
I'm pretty sure that this is the kind of thing that everyone loves about fall, don't you? That, and richly flavored, sweetly spicy things, like pumpkin cookies (or maybe pumpkin bread, or pumpkin beer). It's easy to take solace in beautiful scenery and delicious baked-goods. Around this time of year, I have trouble avoiding the "pumpkin gobs" that they make at the grocery store bakery, usually right after Labor Day and until Thanksgiving. However, they're never very good, being dry and overly sweet. So, I decided to make my own, and I'm really glad I did, since I got all of the flavor and freshness the store ones were missing. No surprise there!
Makes about 36 cookies
I got this recipe from Very Best Baking, which is operated by Nestle. Not very creative of me, I'll admit, but they are the superior version of those "pumpkin gobs" I mentioned above. These might also be good with some butterscotch chips and no glaze, or a 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves. Nestle recommends adding chocolate chips or nuts as variations.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (one stick)
1 cup pure pumpkin puree, lightly packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease three or four baking sheets (cooking spray works just fine).
Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Beat sugar and butter in a large bowl with a mixer until well blended. Beat in pumpkin, egg, and vanilla extract; mix until smooth. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets.
Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until edges are firm. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then move to wire cooling racks. Allow to cool completely.
For the glaze, combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Frost the tops of the cooled cookies with the glaze.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
You probably already guessed this part, didn't you? I mean, it was pretty obvious. And anyway, that's what you do with leftovers: make soup out of them. One thing that I noticed last night, when I was telling you about the potato pancakes, was that I gave a little misrepresentation. This four day meal isn't just made from a four pound chicken and eight potatoes. It's also made from an entire bag of onions, or just about. So I hope you liked onions, because I've been shoving them down your throat all week!
Three dried bay leaves
Six ounces (about half a bag) egg noodles
Two cups of roasted chicken, a mixture of white and dark meat, picked through to remove unsavory bits.
Fresh minced chives, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Add the homemade stock and stir. Add salt and pepper. Allow to heat about 2 minutes, then add one container of chicken broth. Add the rind and bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and add the egg noodles and cook according to package directions.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Now it's time to use the mashed potatoes from day one. This is one of my favorite recipes ever. My mom has been making these ever since I can remember (she also designed part of the front cover of the cook book it came from).It's probably one of the first things I ever attempted to make on my own. I doubt that first batch turned out well, but I think I've finally gotten the hang of them now. The trick, I find, is to make sure the skillet or griddle is hot, and be patient about flipping the cakes. The recipe is also easily doubled. I prefer to eat mine with sour cream, but you could also use applesauce. Last night, I served my potato pancakes with chicken sausages, but they are also delicious with some broiled salmon, or maybe some soup.
Reprinted from Young Stirs: The Pittsburgh Kids Cookbook (out of print)
One and one half cups of leftover mashed potatoes
One egg, slightly beaten
One small onion, finely chopped
Half a teaspoon salt
One tablespoon flour
One teaspoon baking powder
Dash of pepper
One to 3 tablespoons butter
Mix potatoes, egg, onion, salt and pepper in a medium size bowl. Add the flour and baking powder and mix well.
Melt one tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet. Place heaping spoonfuls in a heated skillet and gently flatten on top. Brown on both sides, two or three minutes on both sides. Gently flatten the cakes when turned. Make sure not to crowd the skillet, and add more butter as necessary to keep the cakes from burning. When the pancakes are done, place on a paper towel lined plate and add another batch to the skillet.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Today's post includes two recipes, though you certainly don't have to prepare them both in the same day. Just be sure to hang onto the bones if you want to make stock.
The first recipe is for the enchiladas. Please note that the portions I include for all of the meals is for up to four people, but it is more likely to satisfy two people, with a lunch portion for the next day. Any leftovers will be used for the following means, of course.
Chicken and Bean Enchiladas
Loosely adapted from Liz Pearson at Everyday with Rachael Ray
Makes six enchiladas
Three tablespoons vegetable oil
One medium onion, finely chopped
One and one half to 3 tablespoons flour
Three quarters of a cup of water
One 14 or 16 once can of crushed tomatoes, drained and pureed in a food processor
One 16 ounce can of black beans or refried beans (if using black beans, drain and mash)
Two tablespoons tomato paste
One and 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
One and 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
Three quarters of a teaspoon of salt
Two cups shredded roast chicken
One cup shredded taco cheese (sharp cheddar, pepper jack, or even muenster cheese--about 1/2 pound)
Six flour tortillas
In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons flour and cook for 2 additional minutes. As the flour begins to very lightly brown, immediately whisk in the water. Add the tomatoes, beans, chili powder, cumin and salt; mix well. Simmer for five minutes and set aside. If the sauce is too thin, add more flour; if too thick, add water in tablespoons. A little thickness is desirable.
Preheat the broiler. Spray a large glass baking dish with cooking spray. Working with one enchilada at a time, place some chicken in a tortilla shell, then top with a small spoonful of the of the enchilada sauce. Carefully (it's hot!) roll up the enchilada tightly, with the seam of the roll at the bottom of the pan. Continue this step with the remaining chicken. Top the enchiladas with most of the remaining sauce, then sprinkle with cheese. Broil the enchiladas until the cheese is golden, about 5 minutes. Check on the enchiladas half way through the broiling time. When the cheese is golden, turn off the broiler and allow the enchiladas to warm completely inside of the broiler, about 5 minutes.
Okay, phew. That's a lot of steps, but it's a pretty easy meal, I promise. This should help on a weeknight, especially if you plan to make the following recipe for stock. If you're used to eating chicken soup from a can, or full fat and sodium chicken broth, homemade chicken stock may come off as a little flavorless. However, it gives you, the cook, the opportunity to flavor the broth in a variety of ways, maybe with garlic, onions, tomato, or any other vegetables you like. I often like to add a splash of dry white wine and a lot of onions.
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living
Makes about 1 quart, enough for one large pot of soup
Before beginning to make the stock, remove about 21/2 cups of the remaining chicken, or what is left on the chicken. Place in the refrigerator.
Chicken bones, rinsed with excess fat removed.
One tablespoon canola oil
Four to six onions, peeled and quartered
Fresh herbs, preferably a poultry mix
Two or 3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
6 black peppercorns
Three quarters of a cup dry white wine
12 plus cups cold water
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Place the onions in a large roasting pan, and place the chicken bones on top. Drizzle with the oil and toss to combine. Place the pan in the oven and roast about 30-40 minutes. The bones should be golden brown in color.
Transfer the bones and onions to a large stock pot and add the cold water. The water should cover the bones. Add a splash of water to the roasting pan and scrape up the browned bits and add to the pan. Add the herbs to the water; if desired, place the herbs in a cheesecloth bundle tied with kitchen twine; however, the stock will be drained when finished cooking. Simmer gently over medium heat for 2 to three hours. Stir occasionally and continue adding water to cover the bones as necessary.
When the stock is done cooking, strain through a colander into a large bowl or container (the colander should fit inside the bowl). Allow the bones and onions to drain completely before discarding. Strain the stock once again through a large fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth into a container for storing. Allow the stock to cool, stirring occasionally. Cover the stock and place in the refrigerator. When completely chilled, remove fat from the top (this step can be completed the next day). Keep the stock in the refrigerator for up to a week, or 3 months in the freezer.
Monday, October 5, 2009
One of the best things about roast chicken, other than pure deliciousness, is the many ways that one small bird can be used to make dinner. Last night, I prepared a 3.8 pound chicken, roasted with butter, rosemary and onion. For sides, I made mashed potatoes and braised spinach (the mashed potatoes will come into play again later in the week). For the next four days, I am going to show you how to make four meals from one small chicken and eight baking potatoes, plus a few other things.
Unfortunately, I didn't even think to take a picture of my beautiful roasted chicken until after we had carved it up. So, just imagine a nicely roasted chicken with-extra browned skin, the surface lightly scattered with rosemary sprigs, cracked black pepper and pink Himalayan sea salt.
Buttery Roast Chicken
I followed a basic recipe from the New York Times Cookbook, and made some inventive changes of my own. Adding butter to the top of the chicken gives the skin a rich, brown color, while placing frozen butter under the skin allows the chicken to be basted with butter as it cooks.
One 3 to 4 lb chicken
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
One small onion, peeled and cut into quarters
Four or 5 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons softened butter
4 tablespoons frozen butter, cut into small pieces
An hour before starting to cook the chicken, pluck any remaining feathers, remove giblets and rinse the inside and outside; pat dry with a paper towel. Trim excess fat and neck; set aside for chicken stock, if desired. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper, set the chicken aside and bring to room temperature for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the onion and most of the rosemary inside the cavity of the chicken. Remove the rest of the rosemary from the stem, reserve. Using fingers, gently lift the skin from the top of the chicken. Slide the frozen butter inside and distribute evenly. Rub the softened butter over the skin of the chicken, and sprinkle with the reserved rosemary.
Bake the chicken for 18 to 20 minutes per pound, about 1 1/4 hours. Every 20 minutes to half an hour, baste the chicken with the pan juices. Towards the end of the cooking time, begin to check for doneness by moving the leg of chicken up and down. If it moves easily, the chicken is done.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I hate to be a whiner, but things have been going a little slowly for me, food-wise. Over the past week, I made a yellow cake with chocolate icing, cinnamon sugar dusted doughnuts,spicy braised beef, and Welsh rabbit. Everything was good, but not enough for me to want to share it with you. I certainly don't want to waste anyone's time with a so-so recipe.
Today I have a recipe for you that offers tastes of bacony goodness in every bite. While it's nothing too exciting or different (this bacon trend has been going on for a few years now, hasn't it?) This recipe is a cinch to make, so the next time you have a few extra slices of bacon, try baking a batch of these.
Whole Wheat Bacon Biscuits
From The New York Times Cookbook, with additional instructions.
When making this recipe, it is best to use your favorite kind of bacon, since the flavor really comes through.
Makes 12-14 biscuits
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup crumbled, crisp cooked bacon (about 4 slices)
3/4 cup milk, approximately
To make the bacon:
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the bacon on a baking sheet. When the oven is hot enough, slide the pan into the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. You can continue to work on the biscuits while the bacon cooks. When is cooked, carefully remove the pan from the oven, as there will be hot grease on the baking sheet. Remove the bacon with tongs or a spatula and place on a paper towel lined plate. Wait for it to cool before crumbling.
After the bacon has been removed from the oven, increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees F.
If you have not already begun to do so, in a medium to large sized bowl, mix together the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in the shortening. I used my hands to do this step,pinching the mixture together until pea sized clumps formed.
Add the crumbled bacon, stir. Adding the milk in gradual splashes, stir in the milk, just enough to form a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly flowered surface and knead for about thirty seconds, or until the dough is no longer sticky. Be sure not to overwork the dough.
Roll out the dough to 1/2 inch thickness, and cut into 2 inch rounds, using a round cookie cutter or drinking glass. Place the rounds onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Some dreams are best left as dreams. A few years ago I read about a restaurant that specialized in buffalo dishes. They raise their own grass fed buffalo (actually bison) on the premises. No, it's not like a seafood restaurant where you select which lobster you want to have killed. The turnaround time for buffalo is a little longer. I assume though, that if a particular buffalo looks especially tasty to you, you can make advanced arrangements.
I really wanted to try this place, so I was excited when I finally had the opportunity. As we neared the buffalo ranch, I had visions of a sort of Ponderosa hidden in the hills of Pennsylvania. I expected to be met by Little Joe and Hoss. I thought there would be lots of "howdy partners" and silver stars for polishing off a giant slab of buffalo steak.
In the interest of avoiding a law suit for the publisher of Sugar & Spice, I won't mention the real name of this establishment. After all, I am only a "Guest Contributor." And let me say from the start that buffalo (American Bison actually) is a delicious and supposedly healthy meat that I can highly recommend. It's so good that it's very difficult to destroy it, even with completely incompetent cooking. I know this for sure because the... let's call it the "Buffalo Ranch"... tried their best to incinerate this meat. In fact, they seemed to do everything in their power to destroy the entire dining experience. But the Great American Bison is apparently unbeatable.
Upon arrival in the gravel parking lot, instead of Hoss Cartwright on a horse, we were greeted by a cowboy on a riding mower. Well, he didn't actually greet us. He seemed to be more interested in singing along, loudly and off-key, to the country tunes on his ipod. But he was dressed in cowboy hat and open Hawaiian shirt. The 3 cars in the lot (including our own) should have given us some idea of what awaited inside. There was one other party already seated. The word "party" here is not meant to imply any sort of celebration or, for that matter, even happiness. The three diners scurried for the door as if they had been trapped inside waiting for some other unsuspecting fool to come along.
Inside, the solitary employee drummed his fingers on the counter as we perused the hand written poster board "menu." By then I had already decided to make this a quick lunch. I ruled out the $23 buffalo steak and instead opted for the $7 Buffalo Roast Sandwich. The waiter/cook/busboy attendant impatiently asked what condiments I would like. I told him I had never eaten a Buffalo Roast before and therefore was unsure of the optimal combination of condiments. "I like it with American cheese, pickles, mayo, ketchup, onions and tomatoes," he hastily explained. Wondering why he seemed to be in such a hurry, I scanned the room for a sign posting closing times. It seemed that we had the whole place to ourselves for the next 5 hours. My wife broke the awkward and confused silence by telling him to "just put pickles on mine." Yes, I added, "just pickles will be fine." The young man closed his eyes briefly and rapidly shook his head in apparent disbelief. "OK," he said. "It'll be about 10 minutes."
We adjourned to the dining area where what had to be an 84 inch projection screen was blaring an episode of the television show "COPS!" I have often wondered why people are entertained by watching the suffering of other human beings. Now I would have a chance to find out...while eating buffalo roast. In what seemed to be only several seconds, the waiter brought our sandwiches. Dry, store brand hamburger buns with some meat that seemed to be cooked to nearly resemble beef jerky. A very dry meal. Even so, the buffalo itself was quite good.
The waiter took a seat at the next table, watching COPS with great interest. I scanned the room. It was decorated with an "American basement" theme. Junk in piles around the perimeter of the room. Some of the piles were covered with tarps or old bedspreads. There was a large poster on one wall that read "Drink all your beer. There's thirsty kids in India!" We ate quickly.
After consuming the meat, leaving the bread and pickle on the plate, I stood and began to formulate an exit strategy. The waiter watched me suspiciously. I noticed a tray of plastic-wrapped pie slices. Apparently we would be offered these "desserts." There was a display of buffalo-related items at one end of the room. As I moved toward the exhibit the waiter hurried to the corner, apparently concerned that I might try to pilfer a valuable buffalo tooth or a buffalo souvenir pen. Like chess men we countered each others movements around the room until there was a sudden flash of light. It was the lawn mower cowboy coming in for a drink. I made a dive for the door. I heard my wife just behind me yelling "Gangway!" My last memory of the place was the feel of her foot on my back.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
At the start of the week, I expected to have at least two good recipes to share with you. But some things didn’t really go as planned. I made corn muffins that were so-so, and a really disastrous cake with olive oil, rosemary, lemon and cornmeal. I guess I should have known that with such a long descriptive, it would never live up to expectations. It tasted ok, but it completely fell apart, even though the toothpick test proclaimed it to be done. I’ve never seen anything like it.
I guess it goes to show that a few good ingredients prepared in a simple, classic way is often the way to go. The recipe that follows isn’t pure genius by any means, but it is satisfying and enjoyable. And it won’t collapse, I promise.
Roasted Asparagus and Pecorino
Use the best ingredients that are available to you, especially fresh lemons for the juice and good quality parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese, and your favorite olive oil. You can serve this dish cold or warm. Just make sure to leave the dressing off the asparagus until ready to serve. Top with the cheese last.
2 pounds asparagus, trimmed
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, divided
¾ freshly cracked black pepper, divided
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about two lemons)
2 ounces shaved fresh pecorino Romano cheese
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place asparagus on a large sheet pan (you may need to use two). Drizzle with one tablespoon olive oil, and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Toss well. Bake at 450 degrees for 8 minutes, tossing half way through the cook time. When the asparagus are done roasting, they should be crisp but tender. Allow the asparagus to cool slightly, if serving warm.
While the oven is preheating, combine 4 tablespoons olive oil with the remaining half teaspoons of salt and pepper and 4 tablespoons lemon juice. Stir with a whisk. When ready to serve the asparagus, drizzle the lemon juice and olive oil mixture and toss. Top with the pecorino Romano and serve immediately.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
I have a hard time getting up in the mornings. This has been going on since middle school, I think. In the mornings before work, my morning routine is really just a flurry of movement, since I tend to get up at the last possible second. I often barely have time to eat breakfast. However, I can’t, can’t go without breakfast. And you shouldn’t, either. In order to save my sanity and some money, I’ve started baking some healthy zucchini muffins. You can tell they're healthy because they look so unappealing in pictures. I put them in the freezer after they cool completely, and I can just pop one or two of these muffins in some Tupperware on rushed mornings. On slower mornings, I’ll defrost one in the microwave and eat it with some fruit. Either way, it’s a guarantee that I have something that will keep me satisfied until lunch.
Zucchini Breakfast Muffins
I developed this recipe from one that I found for dessert-type zucchini muffins or bread on the blog Smitten Kitchen. I’ve tried to make these a little more nutritious without being too dry. One bonus of this mixture is that is sticks together nicely, so it’s easy to get the batter into the muffin cups without much mess. I’ve often thought they would be extra-good and really colorful with half shredded carrots and half zucchini.
1 cup vegetable oil
¾ cup demerara or raw sugar
2 cups grated zucchini, with half the skin peeled off for less texture
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup wheat germ
½ chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. Alternately, you may grease and flour to 8x4 inch loaf pans for loaves of zucchini bread.
In a large bowl of a mixer, or with a whisk, beat the eggs. Mix in the oil and sugar, then the grated zucchini and vanilla.
In a separate, medium to large bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, salt, wheat germ, nuts, and raisins.
Mix this thoroughly into the wet ingredients. Divide the batter into the muffin cups or pans.
Bake the muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean. If baking loaves, expect to have them bake 50 to 70 minutes.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
The cravings are never the same thing, but they’re always really strong and persistent. Once, while I was in high school, it was for a big glass of cold milk. I hate drinking milk. However, these cravings must have their purpose, because I invariably feel better after consuming whatever I’m yearning for. In the 7th grade, I was so sick that I couldn’t keep anything -–even water—-down. I asked my dad to buy a can of that really sour, pulpy lemonade, the kind you make from concentrate. It did the trick.
This time around, Sean is my lucky errand boy. For two days straight, I sent him to the grocery store to buy frozen pizza. I couldn’t get enough of it. Then I realized that what I was really craving was tomatoes. Cooked ones, specifically. Interestingly, I had recently read (where? I can’t remember) that cooked tomatoes provide the human body with more lycopene than uncooked ones. Maybe my body is in need of some lycopene. It’s worth a shot.
Since I’m feeling a lot better today, I started cooking again this evening (don’t worry, I washed my hands). I had been planning on waiting for slightly cooler weather to make these, but I couldn’t resist. Molly Wizenburg makes them sound so mouthwateringly delicious in her book, A Homemade Life, that it’s no wonder I’ve been craving them.
Making slow-roasted tomatoes is a cinch. If you (or a good tomato-sitter) are able to stay home for four to six hours—-which is a given when you’re sick—-then all should be well. Two hundred degrees Fahrenheit on an oven isn’t too high, so unless it’s a really hot day, it shouldn’t make much of a difference.
In place of coriander, I used Himalayan pink sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Enjoy these in any way you might with fresh or canned tomatoes.
Monday, August 24, 2009
I love making (and eating!) birthday cakes. Unless it’s mine, that is. It’s really fun to think of a cake that’s just perfect for the birthday boy/girl in question. It’s also a good time to show off, or try something fancy.
The last birthday cake that I made was for Sean’s birthday. Since he is always eating Snickers Bars, I decided to find a recipe that would work for his taste buds and my baking skills. The result is a cake that is very rich, and perhaps even gratuitously sweet, but it was a hit at the birthday party. The cake has a good, rich chocolate flavor that compliments the caramel and peanuts of the candy. In the end, it was the chocolate icing that could benefit from some adjustment. Possibly a light ganache, applied sparingly over the top of the cake, and in between layers, would be adequate for this cake. However, this was to be Sean’s birthday cake, and so a sweet, fluffy , over-the-top icing was in order. Regardless of what you choose, whoever you make this cake for will know that you love them.
My recipe for Snickers Birthday Cake is a very loose adaptation of a recipe I found on Epicurious.com. If you wanted to make a show-stopping cake in a hurry, you could use a boxed German chocolate cake mix with canned icing. Just add Snickers. The cake recipe here calls for two nine inch cakes or three eight inch layers. I used the chocolate cake recipe from Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook, 1990 edition, as shown below. However, any good chocolate cake recipe would do. The frosting recipe was something that I found online (maybe cooks.com or allrecipes.com ?) while looking for an eggless butter cream.
Snickers Birthday Cake
Makes two nine inch layers or three eight inch layers
2 cups cake flower, sifted
2 Teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
½ cup plus two teaspoons cocoa powder, preferably dark
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup plus two tablespoons vegetable shortening
½ cup warm water (warmed on stove or in microwave)
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons whipping cream
10 ounces chocolate, finely chopped
10 ounces Snickers Bars, chopped into small pieces (I used the small, one bite ones that are an ounce each).
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two nine inch or three eight inch cake pans, and line the bottom with circles of parchment paper that have been cut approximately 1/8 inch smaller than the pans.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cocoa and sugar together. Add the shortening, water, milk, eggs and vanilla. Blend on very low speed until the ingredients are just moistened. Mix three minutes on medium speed , scraping down to fully mix ingredients. Scraping time should not be included in the three minutes.
Pour the mixture into the prepared two nine inch cake pans. Bake until the cakes bounce back when gently pushed in the middles. This will take about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool the pans on a cake rack for ten minutes before removing them from the pans. Allow to cool completely before applying the frosting or Snickers.
While the cake layers are baking, melt the chocolate in a double boiler or microwave. Set aside and allow to cool, but do not let the chocolate harden. Chop the Snickers Bars and set aside.
In a small bowl of an electric mixer, mix butter and sugar until well-blended; reduce the speed and mix for three minutes. Add vanilla, cream and chocolate. Beat an additional one minute, or until the chocolate is blended.
Place about 1 1/2 cups of frosting in a bowl. Add the Snickers pieces and gently mix. Refrigerate if not immediately using.
When icing the cake, spread the Snickers frosting mixture on the top of one cake that has been placed on a serving platter or cake stand. Place the second layer over top, and cover top and sides of the cake with the non-Snickered icing.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Blowing my diet today on one of these little guys. Please excuse the picture, as it was taken from my cell phone. My boss's boss got them from the Macy's/former Kauffmann's Bakery in downtown Pittsburgh. I didn't really have a choice in the matter of eating it or not. Basically, it's a sugar-thumbprint cookie with sprinkles/jimmys, and a huge dollop of very yummy icing on top. The icing on this particular cookie is mint-chocolate flavored. They are surprisingly delicious. This came as something of a surprise to me, since I tend to dislike desserts that promote what I call "gratuitous sweetness". Of course, I am the one who suggested that you all make a s'more pie, so I can't be too smug.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
I know I have been neglectful of my little blog of late. I could shower you with excuses, but I won't. I'm sure you all understand. I'll be back in action soon, with new recipies, like Snickers cake (!), delicious things with blueberries, and stuffed zucchini. Yes, I have been eating well during my hiatus, even though I am supposed to be on a diet of sorts (my first one ever).
What I wanted to talk about today is some of the most memorable meals I have ever had. Possibly it's the diet, but lately I am rather nostalgic for meals long past. I could mention home-cooked meals of my childhood, some favorite food memories being a cold, dreary night repaired by my mother's porcupine meathballs and and a creamy mashed potato dish with Ritz crackers on top, followed by some brownies; or a warm summer's day, with steaks on the grill, fresh corn on the cob, and glasses of ice-cold coke. I'm sure there were vegetables served, but as you can see, I have no recollection of them. This memories are special not simply because of gustatory pleasures, but because they are ideal representations of my childhood. But some memorable meals are special because they really can't ever be reproduced in the kitchen, hard as we might try.
One such occassion was during study abroad in college. We were visiting Rome during fall break, and a friend of a friend of a friend of my friend was kind enough to treat us to a lavish, exquistite meal in his restaurant, free of charge (I know!). If I can find the name and location of the restaurant, I will certainly let you all know, because the town (just outside of Rome) is worth a visit by itself.
One reason why this particular meal was so memorable is that it gave me a first opportunity to try some foods that I never had before. It was a tasting menu, served family style, with lots of bread and wine. I believe the meal consisted of this:
Melon and Prosciutto with Parmesan
Mussels (in a garlic sauce)
Hardboiled Quails Eggs with Sundried Tomatoes
Green Tomatoes with Fresh Bufala Mozzarella
Raw, Marinated Salmon with Lemon Wedges and Cracked Black Pepper
Risotto with Eel
Penne with Sausage and Black Truffle
Pastry Trio (one chocolate, one lemon and one vanilla), served with a candy trellis and a dollop of whipped cream.
Espresso and Biscotti
I'm not writing all of this to show off. Reading down the menu, I am shocked that I remember all of this, as I ate this meal nearly six years ago. The other thing I noticed is that I am much more familiar with many of these items today; for instance, I was not even aware that I was eating a risotto at the time, but I make them frequently, now. This was also the first time I had ever eaten mussels. Since then, I order them in restaurants all the time. And I would love to have the chance to make something with truffles. With the exception of the candy trellis, this meal has really shaped how I eat and cook.
I imagine that other people attempt to mimic memorable dining experiences, too. For instance, my fiance, Sean, says that his favorite dinner took place at the beach, when he was in middle school. His parents bought a bushel of whole, fresh crabs and cooked them at the beach house they were staying at. Sitting in the dining room, listening to the waves and cracking the fresh crab over newspaper, the family was utterly content. Now, when I suggest that we go out to dinner to celebrate something, Sean frequently requests going somewhere for crab.
Such memories and stories really get me motivated to start cooking and recreating. What are some of your best food memories?
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Mr. Ed’s is an interesting place. It’s part store, part museum and part pure experience. Mr. Ed himself is apparently a little “different.” They say he’s a very flamboyant and outgoing older guy. I don’t really know though. I saw him only once. He was standing near the store one day watering marigolds. He never looked up as I passed. He was wearing earrings. Any other time I’ve visited the place, Mr. Ed is out. The place is called something like Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Store. Ed loves elephants. He sells huge sacks of peanuts. They’re priced at only 15 cents a pound, if you want a 50 pound sack. A peanut now and then is good, but 50 pounds? I don’t have an actual elephant. But then neither does Ed. There are no real elephants in the place, but loads of elephant statues, pins, pens, pictures, walking sticks, fly swatters. I’m sure he has elephant earrings in there somewhere. Ed will buy and display anything even remotely related to elephants.
The store is kind of a rambling place. Ed has a unique style in all he does. He has an addition on his building that consists of a truck body bolted to a hole in the wall. The cab is still attached to the truck. Today an employee was furiously shoveling gravel under the truck cab trying to keep it level. I guess Orrtanna, PA doesn’t have a building inspector.
You enter Mr. Ed’s via an enclosed porch. The porch is stocked with out-of-date items or simply candy that nobody wants. It’s sort of an “aisle of misfit candy.” This is my favorite part of the store. The museum part I don’t get at all, but the misfit candy buys can be incredible. I once bought an entire case of Fisherman’s Friend Throat Lozenges for $3.00. Sure they were expired, but they still worked. They were even more expired when I used the last one four years later, but how much can you really expect from a throat lozenge anyway?
Today they had something really different. They were selling 1 kg bags of Drogistendrops for only $1! I never heard of Drogistendrops either, but they were one dollar! They had a very European look to them. I’m proud to say that I limited my purchase to only one bag. I figured I would try some in the car and then go back in for 5 more bags. But I think one bag of this should do it for me. The taste is very distinct. It’s kind of shocking in fact. Describing any flavor is tricky, but I’d say there is a definite licorice aspect. The first thing that strikes the tongue is a sort of menthol/pepper sensation. Then the licorice kicks in. Then there’s a taste reminiscent of the odor of a spray marketed in the 1960’s by the Fuller Brush Company. The spray was very effective at killing houseflies, but had to be pulled from the market when it came to the attention of the Food and Drug Administration. In the end, after consuming Drogistendrops, you have the feeling that you’ve just taken some sort of medicine that will do absolutely nothing for you.
Curious about what I had ingested, I tried to look Drogistendrops up on the internet. I couldn’t find them directly, but I did learn that “Drogist” essentially means “Druggist.” It seems that this flavor is marketed in various European products that are intended to ease throat pain. One site referred to the flavor as “A blessing for your throat.” This was very timely since one of my daughters is currently complaining of a sore throat. Drogistendrop “tablets’ come in both black and white. Daughter debated for some time as to which color to try. After being assured that it made no real difference, she popped a white Drogistendrop into her mouth. A brief but clearly recognizable look of shock crossed her face before she spit the tablet out into her hand. Her description of the flavor included words like “awful,” “horrible” and “crap.” I don’t know. I’ve eaten several now and they’re kind of growing on me. And I don’t even have a sore throat---yet. I’ve still got about .97 kg of these on hand, so give me a call the next time your throat’s feeling a bit off.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Y 1. Venison
Y 54. Paneer
Y 55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
Y 56. Spaetzle*
N 57. Dirty gin martini (never the gin kind)
Y 58. Beer above 8% ABV
Poutine (French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy!)
N 60. Carob chips
Y 61. S’mores*
N 62. Sweetbreads
N 64. Currywurst (might be good)
Y 65. Durian
N 66. Frogs’ legs (I want to try these)
Y 67. Beignets*, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
N 68. Haggis
Y 69. Fried plantains (even though I hate bananas!)
Chitterlings, or andouillette (There is no way I would eat pig butt)
Y 72. Caviar and blini
Y 73. Louche absinthe
Y74. Gjetost, or brunost
N 76. Baijiu
Y77. Hostess Fruit Pie
Y 78. Snail*
Y 79. Lapsang souchong
N 81. Tom yum (sounds pretty good)
Y 82. Eggs Benedict*
N 84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
Y 85. Kobe beef (or so the menu said)
N 86. Hare (I have always been curious)
N 88. Flowers
N 90. Criollo chocolate
Y 92. Soft shell crab*
N 93. Rose harissa
Y 94. Catfish
Y 95. Mole poblano*
Y 96. Bagel and lox*
N 97. Lobster Thermidor
Y 98. Polenta
Y 100. Snake
That's a total of 56 for me. I would love to try some of these items, and some of them I wonder why I haven't tried yet! As a result of this exercise, I am going to set a new goal to try new things--in both cooking and eating. I'll be sure to report here when I get the opportunity.