Friday, December 30, 2011

New Resolutions, New Recipes

One year ago, I was formulating a project in which I would broaden my palate and challenge myself to cook and eat new foods. I had recently read Jeffrey Steingarten's The Man Who Ate Everything and thought his quest to become a less picky eater was not only admirable, but something I'd had a long time coming. I borrowed a phrase from him for a title and created a blog. Thus, "A Perfect Omnivore" was born.

As you might have noticed (or not, if you're new here), I missed very few days for the first four months of this project--only one to my recollection but I haven't gone back and checked--and only a few more in the second four months, though my "new foods" were at times a bit uncreative. When the third four months came, I fell off the blogosphere.

You see, cooking something new every day is hard. You knew that. But it's not just difficult to commit to culinary feats each night of the week; it's expensive, wasteful, fattening, time consuming, and just not very plausible. Even Julie Powell, whose book (and the movie based on it) were, admittedly, inspirations behind my food blogging (and probably 1,742 others out there, to make a conservative guess) did not cook French food every night in her quest to cook her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year. She had Eric's Spicy Thursdays, when he would make things involving jalapenos and hot sauce to cleanse all that rich creamery butter off her palate. She would get into funks and miss days because she felt like it. But I thought, Hey--she's working a 9-to-5 job in New York, with a long commute, and has way less time to commit to food than I do, so of course I can do it every day. She also had less of a fear of getting fat than I do (she gained, naturally, 20 pounds over the course of the project; I refuse to do the same). And, while I don't have a day job, I do write, and do various editing projects, and I'm learning to play the guitar and crochet and in a few days I start rehearsals on a play--et cetera.

Excuses, excuses, right?

But, I must admit, I have missed food blogging. I have missed having a "good excuse" to be obsessed with food, even if it was unhealthy for me. So I've come up with a new project for myself, which is not nearly so intense, but might result in better blog posts for you to read (I hope) and less mania on my end. I do want to keep cooking new foods and using the many (many many) cookbooks I have sitting on my shelves. I also want to use the culinary knowledge I've accrued over the years to create new recipes, if I can.

So I plan to post at least once a week, chronicling my more leisurely culinary experiments, and one of a more intense variety: About once a month, I plan to give myself a Chopped Challenge based on interesting foods in the grocery store and/or foods that have been lounging around in my fridge/cupboards. I will give myself three "mystery ingredients" and challenge myself to create a recipe from them--not in a twenty-minute time frame like on the show, but with a fair amount of planning and forethought, so it's not just a waste of food.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cafe Boulud

This last week, the hubby and I went to New York City as a sort of birthday celebration (yesterday, I turned 27; tomorrow, he turns 29), and one of my mom's former coworkers, Gavin Kaysen (you might remember him from Iron Chef America) is the executive chef at a restaurant in Manhattan, so of course we made reservations. I didn't realize, when we made these reservations, that his restaurant was between Madison and Park, or that I would be dining near real, live millionaires. I didn't realize that in certain cities, fancy restaurants are not just someplace normal people go to feel fancy; there are actually people who are fancy down to their cores. People who think that Belgian endive salad and duck confit ravioli aren't necessarily fancy food, but just food. Who joke about burning $100 bills (you think I'm making this up, but I'm not) at the table next to you. Who make you wish you were down occupying Wall Street instead of wasting a bunch of money on a meal that you didn't actually enjoy as much as your hole-in-the-wall-slice-of-pizza lunch.

Not that the food wasn't wonderful. The ravioli was delicious and beautifully presented. The dark chocolate mousse we had for dessert looked like a small piece of art. But the servers didn't seem to know what to make of me and my husband, obviously tourists, in outfits that probably cost less than the tablecloth. They weren't exactly rude, but they didn't exactly engage us, either. I don't blame them, really; we obviously weren't going to rack up a large bill, which means they weren't going to earn a very big tip. And while in the area I live in, "fancy" restaurant servers can probably afford to live in the nicest apartments around, or even pay a mortgage, in Manhattan I wondered how far out in the boroughs the busboy or the coat check girl had to live, or whether they had to hold other jobs. I've seen Sex and the City and Selling New York. I know, generally, how much fancy New York real estate costs. And even with generous tips, I doubt any server could afford it.

Basically, this made me feel really bad about being there. Normally, I would feel self-conscious, as though everyone there was judging me, but I don't think any other customers actually looked at me all night. And I was so busy judging them, I didn't care what they thought. Most of them barely looked at their food, drank their expensive wine like it was Diet Coke. It was like they didn't know how lucky they were to be eating there, to have the luxury of food that has been so carefully crafted and wine that has been aged for years in French oak--to have the luxury of affording it.

So the next day, we shared a street vendor pretzel and hot dog for lunch. Pub food for dinner. No guilt involved.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Parsnip/Pumpkin Beer Soup

2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb parsnips, peeled, trimmed, and chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 small onion, diced
1 stalk celery, chopped
two medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
one cup pumpkin beer
three cups water
two bouillon cubes
dash nutmeg

In a large pot, heat the olive oil; saute onion, carrot, and celery about five minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add parsnips and potatoes; saute about two minutes more. Add beer, water, and bouillon; bring to a boil, reduce to simmer; simmer about twenty minutes, until all veg are soft. Puree in a blender or with immersion blender. Garnish with sour cream (reduced fat works well) and croutons (homemade are always delicious), and serve with pumpkin beer.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fried Eggs

I fried my first egg the other day. I had one bite and Ian finished it. Apparently some of my food conditioning has worn off; it's still tough for me to swallow eggs that are cooked with the whites and yolks separate. Plus that goop underneath it is a very rich cheese sauce that just made the whole thing too rich; I ended up eating the bread and sauce while Ian ate the egg. I'll try this again. I will. Drat you eggs.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Brown Sugar

Have you ever made your own brown sugar? It's as easy as adding molasses to white granulated sugar and whizzing it up in the food processor. It's great in a pinch--I'm making cinnamon rolls and so I added the cinnamon (and a little nutmeg) right into the mix. Should be yummy!


So, I'm kind of addicted to blogging, and not only is this project nearing its close, but I've been itching to have a little more freedom in what I blog about, and this site is a little restrictive in subject, huh? So I created a new blog, just for fun. Check it out:

Pattypan Potato Soup

I recently bought a ten-pound bag of potatoes, which is twice what I normally buy, but the grocery store employees were having a nice, leisurely chat while "restocking" the five-pounders, and I wasn't in the mood to interrupt them. So I figured I ought to make potato soup, which used up about a pound of them (only nine more to go!). I'd also bought a few pattypan squash at last week's farmer's market and needed to find a use for them (they're so cute, I couldn't resist). So I chopped them up and threw them into my pot. Once everything had gotten nice and soft, I ran the whole mess (potatoes, onion, thyme, squash, garlic, chicken stock) through the food mill, and boy was it a satisfying dinner, and healthy to boot. I added a little low-fat sour cream to our bowls before serving, but other than that there really wasn't much fat (I maybe used a quarter cup of oil to saute the onion). It was hearty and sort of sweet and nutty; all the great things about potato soup and squash combined. Hurray for last minute inventions.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Everybody Can Can!

Obviously, I haven't been posting much. I've made a few new things, though I'll admit I haven't been sticking to my 7 recipes a week model. Funny how that happened. I got to this part of my resolution and suddenly I didn't feel so excited to learn new methods of cooking. But then, this weekend, I got to try canning for the first time with a friend I rarely get to see, and it sort of reminded me why I got into cooking in the first place.

You see, I'm usually in my kitchen cooking alone. I'm usually staving off boredom, or trying to convince myself that one day I'll have people to cook for besides my husband, people to cook with besides my husband. Not that I don't love cooking for and with my husband; it's just that we live here, with these pots and pans, every day. There isn't much special about making chili for the millionth time, even my special pumpkin chipotle turkey chili. It's practical. It's normal. At one point, cooking together was super romantic and it bonded us together, but at this point I don't know that there's any bonding left to do. It's like saying you'll bond with your own organs.

But this weekend, I was able to cook with someone I've never cooked with before. On top of that, she taught me something: she taught me the basics of canning. We made blueberry syrup and blueberry butter (no part of the blueberry was wasted). It was a cool fall morning with a bit of a bluster outside, but we cooked the fruit on the deck, on this super cool gas stove, and we put screens on top of the pots to keep the pine needles out. While we waited for the juice to drain for the syrup, we talked about Cary Grant and how we really prefer him in comedic roles, like in Arsenic and Old Lace (which Ian and I watched when we got home, later that evening). And when we were done, we had lovely sealed jars of some really fantastic product, good for keeping for at least a year. My friend also sent me home with several other jams and such that she'd canned earlier this year, several of which are experiments in a special kind of pectin that allows jams and jellies to set with less sugar. I can't wait to try them all. I'm going to have to bake some bread.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Lentils and Brown Rice and Kale, Oh My!

Last night I set out to make a variation on Giada DeLaurentiis' goat cheese, lentil, and brown rice rolls, which involve rolling a hearty vegetarian mixture into swiss chard leaves, but alas and alack! The kale leaves I planned to use weren't big enough. So instead, I chopped it, blanched it, and stirred it in with my mixture, which contained brown rice, lentils, ricotta, mozzarella, tomato sauce, and onions. Baked it all together with a crust of Grana Padano (purchased in lieu of Parmesan because it's cheaper... not bad, but definitely not Parm), and boy was it satisfying. A perfect hearty dinner that didn't weigh us down... we had yoga class at seven.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Beer and Pretzel... Caramel!

I have discovered the world's most addictive caramel. If you're going to make this, be sure you have a lot of people to share it with, or you will end up consuming a pound of sugar and fat in only a few days. This caramel is sweet, but not too sweet, with a dark depth to it. It's salty, especially on the finish, because it is full of pretzel pieces, which also give it a fantastic texture. It's a wonderful fall dish, perfect for any event where you'd normally serve beer and pretzels; my husband actually had a poker game on Friday and it was only after he got back that we realized we should have sent the caramels with him as his snack contribution. Next time.

Of course, next time, my caramel might taste more like beer. You see, I got this recipe from Food Network Magazine, and it called for me to reduce a certain amount of beer (I used Sam Adams Oktoberfest) down to two teaspoons, which I tried to do--but when it was at maybe a quarter cup, I went and checked my email, and by the time I got back, it was just a sticky film inside my pot. So, lesson learned. A neglected pot over-reduces. Anyway, this syrup was supposed to be stirred in at the end of the caramel's cooking process, along with the pretzels, and this would give it a little more beery kick. Which would be good, but I have to say, it was wonderful without it.

If you want to try this recipe, click here.

A Strange Little Snack

A while ago, we bought butter crackers for out beet green gratin, which is something we never do--having crackers in the house is like an invitation for me to binge. But this time, I was pretty good about rationing them, and along the way, I created my new favorite breakfast/lunch/snack.

You see, I went through this phase a couple weeks ago where I was craving eggs. I don't know why--other proteins just didn't seem to cut it. So one day I scrambled up a few, and it occurred to me that I had this wonderful havarti cheese in the fridge, and the crackers in the cupboard, and... voila. Topped it with a little ketchup (I know this makes the whole thing sound silly but it needs a little acidity to cut the richness of the eggs, cheese, and crackers--it's also delicious with green chili sauce). Oh my goodness. Silly, but good.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wilton Flower

Last night I went to my very first cake decorating class and made my very first frosting stars on some sugar cookies (I realized later that I should have tried a new recipe for this, since I had the opportunity, but I have found that very few recipes provide truly flat cookies to decorate and so I went with my tried and true unleavened holiday sugar cookies). It was an interesting experience, one designed to get me out of the house and among other living, breathing human beings (the people in my TV set apparently don't count). It was also designed to teach me a few things about decorating cakes, which I did, though I also had to sit through a lot of babble about things I already knew and resist the urge to snark about the decorating frosting being called "buttercream" when it contained no butter (except the Wilton butter flavoring) and choke when the instructor said things like "I don't put salt in any of my food" and "I'm not an icing person, even if it's really good icing."

Needless to say, this class was not at Le Cordon Bleu. It was in the break room at Michael's. I had five classmates, none of whom would speak (except the two college girls who whispered incessantly to each other), forcing me to be the nerdy kid who reads the instructions as the teacher demonstrates. But, like I said, I did learn to make little frosting stars. I also learned a couple of interesting things, some of which I have to take the teacher's word for (until I get a chance to test them) and some I saw in action.

1. Many off-brand powdered sugars are made with beet sugar (I believe that), which changes the consistency of frosting (needs testing).
2. When filling cakes, make a dam out of frosting to keep the filling in. (So simple, but a lightbulb clicked on!) This means you should pipe a thick line of frosting around the bottom layer of the cake, then fill inside that, then add the top layer.
3. Shortening used to contain Trans Fat, but it doesn't anymore. This means older shortening-based recipes might need adjusting with the new product.
4. When filling a piping bag, here's a very handy technique: make a "sausage" by putting the frosting in plastic wrap and twisting the ends. Cut off one of the ends and place that end toward the tip of the bag. This makes for super easy clean-up and no frosting on your hands!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Heirloom Tomato on Toast

I had my first ever heirloom tomato today (no, I don't remember which variety... I was so excited to find them at the farmer's market that I forgot to write it down). This isn't really a new recipe, exactly, as I kind of made it up based on what I had in the fridge, but it was a yummy and satisfying lunch. Even my tomato-hating husband liked it (or pretended he did). Here's what it was:

Toasted bread (I used my homemade sourdough that isn't really very sour) rubbed with a cut clove of garlic, spread with neufchatel cheese (the low-fat cream cheese), sprinkled with balsamic vinegar, topped with a hefty slice of tomato, sprinkled with salt.

Yum, yum, yum.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Beet Green Gratin

When I buy beets, I often tell myself I'm going to use the greens, but inevitably they end up in the trash. Which is a shame, really, because they're a viable food--chard is actually a form of beet stem, according to Alton Brown (I tend to believe him). But like celery tops or fennel fronds, I often save them until they wilt or take up too much refrigerator real estate, and then, since I haven't thought what to do with them, they get tossed out with the trash.

But not last night. Oh no--this time, I had more use for the greens than the beets themselves. In fact, I have two beets leftover, waiting to be roasted some night this week. This time I found a recipe in my Good Eats cookbook--a beet green gratin. I had to modify it a bit--I didn't have a full pound of beet greens so I rounded out the filling with some finely diced potatoes and the flesh of two beets (which, of course, turned the mixture pink, even after several rinsings--I am convinced that beets' pinkiness could be parlayed into enticement for little girls to eat their vegetables--pink potato puree!). Together with some sauteed mushrooms and garlic and a ricotta cheese mixture to bind it, this was a delicious and hearty vegetarian dinner. Good eats, indeed.


Day before yesterday, I had my first kohlrabi--I also prepped it, though Ian did the actual cooking on the grill. I had read that it tasted like broccoli stems, but I didn't expect it to taste EXACTLY LIKE BROCCOLI STEMS. Strange to buy a spiky reddish purple thing at the farmer's market and discover you could have simply bought broccoli.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Tonight, I made my first real spaghetti carbonara. I've made pasta dishes that call themselves carbonara before, but they've involved bechamel type white sauces instead of the saucy eggs the traditional recipe calls for. I have to say, I was nervous about that part. I expected the eggs to scramble or curdle on me and make a big old mess. But, magically, the pan was the right temperature as I swirled in the eggs and it created this lovely creamy sauce, just as planned. Of course, my dish wasn't perfect... I used turkey bacon instead of pig bacon, so it wasn't really crispy and there wasn't that real bacony flavor, which, for a recipe with so few ingredients, is pretty important. But it was still tasty in a slightly less fattening way, and super quick. This will definitely grace my table again.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Kettle Corn Innovation

I have this recipe in a low-cal cookbook for maple kettle corn, and today I decided to try it. Except I didn't have the maple sugar the recipe called for. I did have maple syrup and white sugar, so I used a combination of the two. I don't think this is the only reason for my kettle corn failure, but I think it's a big one.

The biggest reason I think my kettle corn didn't turn out is that I didn't heat the oil before throwing in the corn kernels and sugary stuff, which meant it all blended into a caramel far too soon. The second reason is that I used a liquid sugar which, again, formed a premature caramel. This caramel trapped the corn kernels, keeping most of them from popping. The kernels that did pop were trapped within the unpopped kernels, and by the time a few handfuls have popped, the caramel was burned.

So there was that.

But that's how you learn, right? You make a mistake, you learn from it. Next time I try kettle corn, I will not make these mistakes.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Approach of Phase Three

September 1 is right around the corner, which means the year is almost two-thirds over, which means my project is set to switch gears. Switch gears? you might be thinking. Were you in gear in the first place? Touche, you. I have been sitting around idling lately, it's true, not blogging about food at all. I've been attempting to lose weight while battling a difficult bout of post-graduate depression (the economy is bad enough, but living in an armpit college town while not attending college means that most jobs are hogged by college kids and professors' spouses, or the spouses of the engineers at the town's one major business--all of whom have more specific qualifications than I do while not having the overqualification of a master's degree... plus I'm a depressive sort, anyway, and I've had some difficult rejections for my fiction lately... who cares, right?).

SIDENOTE: Let me ask you a question. If you had the opportunity to be a full-time writer, no pressure to contribute financially, would you do it? Or would setting your own deadlines/working alone/risking total failure without even a pittance of a salary to make you feel like time wasn't totally wasted be too daunting? Or would you rather get a job assembling electronics? (That really was one question... with sub-questions.)

Here's where my life stands right now. I've applied for just about every non-customer-service job opportunity in town, and I'm currently waiting for a phone call about an interview for a job I actually want (most of the other applications were for jobs I didn't care much about, which I'm sure showed in my cover letters and led to my not being hired). I'm volunteering at the animal shelter once a week, and have a scratch down my arm from one particularly feisty kitten that could make someone think I tried to commit suicide. I'm getting a little bit of writing done, but not enough. I have no local friends. I've dropped cooking/eating for this project because it seems pointless to me right now, and because for me, weight loss often means eschewing food as pleasure. I do have a ton of time right now, but I'm crossing my fingers that I won't soon, because I'm always happier when I'm busy. And if I do get busy, here's how I want to handle phase three: Instead of one recipe a day, I will cook seven new recipes a week.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Thoughts on the Lentil Festival

Every year, Pullman hosts the National Lentil Festival, which is a pretty big deal. I mean, for Pullman. This event, which the town spends a good amount of time and energy on (usually the poster designs are better than this year's), lasts a whole weekend--the weekend before school starts. This means that as WSU students pour into town with their modular furniture in tow, they stop at the giant pot of lentil chili and browse the booths before (or after) redecorating their dorms. Which means the Lentil Festival is the most crowded you will ever see downtown Pullman. Ever.

Somehow, every year, the Lentil Festival incites in me a sort of amnesia. It goes like this: I hate the Lentil Festival, but in the weeks leading up to it, I remember only a few highlights from my first Lentil Festival: a used book stand, a craft stand, and the novelty of lentil chili. Unfortunately, those booths were only there the first year. The rest of the booths feature fried foods, which I just can't find joy in with the crowd and the heat, or are advertising radio stations, WSU organizations, and various other town junk I couldn't care less about. There's also a beer garden, which I've never gone to, but which each year I think will be the highlight until I actually get there. After fighting my way through the shoulder-to-shoulder foot traffic, I find myself faced with a parking lot--no shade at all--and a line of people waiting (in the sun) to get a table (in the sun) to listen to mediocre music (which you can hear from the shade by the train tracks, anyway) and drink beer that is available all year round if you just poke your head into the local breweries (both of which are less than a mile from my apartment). And suddenly, seeing this, the lovely picture I had of the Lentil Festival is gone, replaced by stinking crowds and sunburns. What is the opposite of festive?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What's Happening

So, you might have noticed that I haven't been posting lately. This doesn't mean I haven't been trying new foods and recipes. I've attempted to make cheese out of buttermilk (not wonderful results). I've had some new salad greens that I forgot to ask about. I turned leftover duck into burritos and put it on a pizza. Just today, I tried yellow tomatoes. I haven't been inactive.

The thing is, I get a little lazy. And if a particular food doesn't have a great story behind it, I start to think, what's the point in blogging about it? It's just going to be disappointing. You know what I mean?

Of course you do. You read all the little disappointing posts. Or maybe you don't. I don't really know.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Day 221: Yucky Ducky

The other day, I roasted my first duck. Which means I also ate my first whole-roasted duck. Not that I ate the whole thing; I'd just never had duck cooked that way. It's always confit or seared duck breast. Whole roasting produces very different results. Of course, I can't be certain--the ducks I've eaten in the past might have been full grown, but by the portion sizes, I think they were ducklings. Canetons. You see, I used Julia Child's recipe for roasting this duck, so I figure I ought to use the French term. Even if my duckling was American.

Basically, my duckling drove me crazy. I got it all set up in the roasting pan, which turned out to be too big, which meant that the vegetables I strew around it burned to ash instead of absorbing all the duck fat and caramelizing. I discovered I didn't have any string that wasn't green (if you need to know why I didn't use that to truss my bird, watch Bridget Jones' Diary and watch her make blue soup), and I didn't trust my cat alone with the duck, I made do with toothpicks, until my duck looked like it was receiving acupuncture. Which is okay, really, because you need to prick the duck to let the fat drain out. Then I cooked it, stirred the burnt veggies, spooned out the fat (my turkey baster is apparently useless; I threw the darn thing away), and when it was done I let it rest and then carved a beautiful breast off the carcass, grabbed it the with the tongs, and attempted to put it on my husband's plate.

It was slipperier than I thought.

So, though I'd managed to take my other duck obstacles in stride, when that breast hit the floor, I started to throw a tantrum. You might have called it a hissy fit. I jumped up and down, slamming my feet into the linoleum and yelled a stream of profanities that I won't repeat here. My husband, ever the pragmatist, quickly grabbed the breast off the floor and washed it, telling me it was okay, he'd still eat it, it was okay. Me, I retired to the living room for a few minutes to cool off. And then I came back and attempted to eat the other breast.

The skin was far from crisp. It was kind of disgusting. The meat was tender but nothing like I was used to being served in restaurants, the meat paler than I had imagined. I hadn't been able to make Julia's sauce since my vegetables were charred, so I stupidly opened the packet of orange sauce the company I bought my duck from provided. Beyond disgusting. That, plus leftover polenta that had congealed strangely. I ate one bite before switching to popcorn for dinner.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Day 220: Sausage and Grapes

Did you know that roasted sausage and grapes are a traditional Italian combination? I certainly didn't. Credit that, of course, to the fact that I've never really been to a good Italian restaurant--the good Italian food I've had outside my own kitchen is usually in noncommittal Mediterranean restaurants where the menu is mostly Greek, some Italian, and maybe a little North African thrown in. I am part Italian, but none of my family exudes that Italian zest you see so often on TV. The English and German blood strangle it out, I think.

But: sausage and grapes. I am so thrilled to have tried this, and I will definitely be making it again. I used chicken sausage instead of pork, generally using this recipe, though with adjustments for portion size and the fact that my sausage comes already cooked. Also, I didn't serve it with bread, but with a lighter version of rosemary polenta, made with skim milk. It is amazing how well grapes turn savory. Part of me says, duh! Grapes are in wine, and wine is in a lot of sauces, so why not put grapes in sauces? It's particularly good for me, not being the biggest fan of fruit in the world, to find new ways of exploring savory fruit applications. This exploration will continue as I begin experimenting with duck, per Julia Child's recipes. Tonight I'll begin with a plain roast duck, but there are ducks with orange, ducks with cherries, ducks with peaches. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Day 219: Playing with Blueberries

Last night, I made a grand discovery. I made my very first savory blueberry sauce and had it over a pork chop--you must try this immediately. I got the idea from a roasted raspberry barbecue sauce that got me wondering if I could innovate my own roasted berry sauce, plus a fancy blueberry and mustard reduction I had with venison sausage at West of Paris when it was still open. I couldn't get my hands on any venison, but I certainly could find an abundance of pork, and I figured pork goes with mustard, pork goes with beer--this will be good. And it really was.

Here's how I did it:

Toss about two cups of blueberries in a tablespoon of olive oil, plus salt, pepper, and a half teaspoon of dried thyme. Roast in the oven at 400 degrees for about 5-10 minutes, until the berries start to pop.
Meanwhile, cook your pork chop on the stove top.
Once the chops are done, let them rest and ditch any excess fat you had in the pan. Deglaze with wheat beer (a couple turns of the pan) and add a generous tablespoon of grainy mustard (you could even go up to two). Stir until combined, then add your roasted blueberries to the mixture and allow the mixture to cook and reduce for about five minutes.
By then your pork chops should be rested. Spoon the berries and their lovely sauce over the chop.
Eat your heart out.

I also made something I could call Blueberries Ender, kind of like Bananas Foster, but its recipe was less perfect. It did involve white sugar, butter, and orange juice being cooked awhile in a saute pan before berries were thrown in and cooked, then alcohol was added in the form of Grand Marnier, which isn't alcoholic enough to produce a good flame but gives a lovely depth to the syrup. But that's the thing--I didn't really cook this long enough to get it to where I wanted it to be. Too thin, with too much alcohol. But it was still yummy, and I will perfect the recipe next time. I did, however, meld several pound cake recipes together to create what I will now claim as my own. It was fantastic with the blueberry syrup or even solo:

Orange Honey Pound Cake

Preheat your oven to 325F, with the rack in the center of the oven.
Butter and flour a standard loaf pan.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
the zest of one orange
2 tbsp honey
1/3 cup light sour cream

Sift together the first three ingredients; set aside.
Cream together the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time until they are incorporated. Add vanilla, orange zest, honey, and sour cream; mix until smooth.
On low speed, add the sifted flour mixture in three batches, allowing each batch to fully incorporate before adding the next.
Scoop batter into loaf pan; bake for 60-70 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Day 218: To-Smoothie

The hubby and I are heading out for the weekend, camping on the lake. To fuel us on our journey (car trip) I blended up a mango, some almond milk, ice, and another of those tofu desserts. Interesting. Pulpy. Very sweet. If I ever go vegan/vegetarian, I might make this again.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Day 216, Part Two: My First Mayonnaise

My arms are sore. Seriously. My upper back is feeling the burn, too. I didn't lift any weights yesterday or go to the gym and use those upper body machines. I did something far more interesting. I made mayonnaise.

I'm sure you're thinking, Why didn't you use the food processor? In this day and age, who whisks egg yolks and oil for forty-five minutes? Who doesn't take advantage of technology? Me, apparently. Partly because I'm "old-school." Partly because both my food pro and my blender had pieces that needed washing. But mostly because, if I was going to make mayonnaise, I wanted to do it right. I was using the recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I wanted to do it Julia's way.

Did you know that the average American large egg yolk can hold up to 3/4 cup of oil in the mayonnaise making process? I guess you do now. I learned that from Julia as I thoroughly read the recipe and instructions before cracking my egg yolks into the bowl (well--almost thoroughly--it turned out there were a few more instructions on the next page, but they were sort of "just in case"). For three egg yolks, you want a minimum of 1 1/4 cups oil. I don't think I got that much in. My measuring cup was dirty, too, and I was using a bottle with a small pour spout so I could get that drip-by-drip pour that you need in the first phases of mayonnaise. That side of my body, the one holding the oil bottle, is actually more sore than my whisking arm. I did about half the bottle. My mayo was fairly thick but not even close to grocery store thick. But you know what? I was okay with that. And it was still delicious.

Have you ever spread mayo on bread with pepper and had that as a snack unto itself? I don't think it would occur to me with grocery store mayo, and I'm not sure how much I'd like it, but with my homemade mayo, it was divine. Dangerously so. I could have eaten mayo all night and had a stomachache all day.

Day 216, Part One: Playing with Pesto

It might be a little silly, and I probably shouldn't even confess this, but I've been working on an audition tape of Food Network Star--the show where finalists compete for their own show on Food Network (basically, a contract for like six shows--which is often extended). I realize I'm no Aarti Sequeira or Guy Fieri, but I need some goals in my life right now. I've been working on my food knowledge all year, and with my acting background, I enjoy being on camera. So, though I'm entirely self-taught (with food TV and cookbooks for my textbooks), I thought I'd give it a try. And since my point of view on food is one of exploration and discovery, I thought I'd concoct a pesto recipe for the occasion, using some leftover items I had lying around:

Smoked almonds
Honey roasted sunflower seeds
Olive Oil

I have a tendency, I think, to put too many nuts in my pestos so that they overpower the herbs. But this combo was a really interesting one and it was great to get some built-in seasoning from the snack nuts (leftover from making trail mix). I still have some of each ingredient and I think I'll try again today with feta cheese in place of the Parm--really mix it up, you know? Because it's fun to play with your food.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Day 215, Part Two: To-fruity

Tofu, tofu, tofu. I keep thinking I'm done playing with it and then I find a new incarnation. Tofu dessert! Mango flavored! How could I resist that?

I have to say, though, curious as I was, I was nervous about sweet tofu. I keep forgetting tofu's texture when I haven't eaten it for a while--also, the savory versions I've tried have often involved changing the texture by draining away moisture. This tofu was very moist. In fact, if you hadn't told me it was tofu, I might have thought it was a very jiggly flan.

Oh the things you can do with soy beans, huh?

Day 215, Part One: Va va voom

I'm not sure if the Zsa Zsa pepper's namesake would approve of how I used them tonight. They went into fajitas, which I can't imagine Ms. Gabor ever eating. Then again, I can't really imagine Zsa Zsa eating anything. I just imagine her wearing feather boas and diamonds, saying "daaaaarling."

The Zsa Zsa pepper, I would imagine, is so named because of its blonde color, maybe because of its sleek, dainty shape. Well, maybe not dainty. But not big either. Two Zsa Zsas produced about as much flesh as one grocery store green bell.

The Zsa Zsas were very mild in flavor, with a hint of citrusy zest. They were quite good in the fajitas, though my husband didn't detect them on his palate, or even visually (cooked down, they looked quite similar to the sweet onions). Next time I use them, I'll probably showcase them more--if I use them again. I'd never seen them at the farmer's market before, and since I won't make it to the market the next two weekends, the season might be over before I have a chance to grab more. But I'm sure I'll encounter them again one day, and give them the superstar attention they deserve.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Day 214: Couscous To Go

Yesterday's lunch was a bit of a gourmet cup-o-noodles. I brought it to the WSU library, where I've been spending a lot of time writing, reading, and generally killing time, and brought it to the CUB (Compton Union Building) to heat it up. I haven't eaten a lot of this type of food in my life, and for some reason, I thought this one would exceed my expectations. And truly, when I opened the lid, the spices smelled delicious. Unfortunately, the flavor and texture was underwhelming. I hate when food smells good and tastes like nothing.

I guess I had a little misconception when I bought this little cup. I thought all the water would absorb into the couscous, providing a more hearty meal. But I didn't read the back thoroughly enough--it was all in a "savory broth," and I must say, couscous soup is a strange phenomenon. If I didn't know what it was, I would have just thought the soup was gritty. So that isn't an experiment I'll be trying at home. In general, I think I'm going to stop bringing prepackaged foods for brown bag lunches. Homemade food isn't that hard to pack, and it's so much more delicious.

Day 213: Avocado Slaw

A while ago, on an episode of Food Network Star, one of the contestants made a coleslaw with an avocado base rather than mayonnaise. I thought that was brilliant. I like the base elements of coleslaw and I'm okay with the mayo, but avocado sounded like a much nicer, much healthier way to make it. So I conjure up my own recipe and it was highly successful with me and my husband.

Avocado Coleslaw

1/2 head red cabbage, shredded
2 carrots, grated
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 smallish avocados
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup salsa verde

In the food processor, combine avocados, lime juice, vinegar, and salt. Stir that mixture in with the veggies and the salsa verde. You can serve it immediately, or let it sort of marinate in the fridge.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Day 202: Orange Marshmallows

So here's something new that I did have during my lapse in blogging--I just forgot to write about it. I made orange marshmallows! They were amazing and they toasted really well over the campfire, lots of beautiful caramelization instead of the usual flare-up-turned-ash situation. All I did to make them was switch up my regular marshmallow recipe a bit by substituting half of the water the gelatin dissolves in with orange juice, and then adding orange zest at the end, along with less vanilla than usual. Easy and delicious. You could do it with any citrus.

Day 212, Part Two: Tostadas

It's been a long time since I've had a tostada--not since I was a kid--and given that until recently I couldn't palate seafood, I've certainly never had one with fish. Until last night, that is. You see, quite a while ago I bought a cookbook that is designed to help you track your calories and stay within a certain goal. If you eat a breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks out of their book, you will never break 1500 calories. If you only eat one serving and don't add any extras, of course. Anyway, I've finally gotten to cooking from it, and last night I tried the fish tostadas, which turned out to be really good--500 calories for two! (I love a bargain.) They were better than any fish taco I've eaten, and just really simple. They also gave my husband the chance to make his famous salsa verde, both with fresh tomatillos from the farmer's market and with canned ones that I bought because, well, I'd never tried them canned. Of course, the batch with the fresh was better, but the homemade salsa with canned tomatillos was still better than jarred salsa verde, so if we have a hankering for Mexican in the winter, we know we have that option.

Day 212, Part One: Soy Yogurt

Yesterday morning, I had my first cup of soy yogurt. Since I'm not a huge fan of soy milk, I didn't expect to like it, and at first, I was right. The soy flavor pushed past the key lime flavor (I'd chosen key lime because it sounded good and because I routinely eat Yoplait's key lime) and while it didn't make me cringe, it certainly didn't make me salivate for more. But then, as things go, I started to get used to it. And, as you can see from the photo above, when I was done the cat was willing to lick up the dregs--and my cat is one picky eater. Of course, it was key lime flavor and she does like acidic things. So maybe it was that.

But back to the yogurt. As far as texture was concerned, I was impressed. I expected it to feel more synthetic or lumpy. It contained live cultures, as all yogurts do, and it had a pretty similar underlying yogurt taste, with the soy flavor sort of intruding. Not something I'm going to start adding to my grocery list, but if I have breakfast with vegans, it will be perfectly fine.

(Side note: apparently soy agrees with my cat, as she has not had any intestinal troubles--though she did only have a tiny bit--something I only worried about after I had fed it to her. I, however, suspect I might have some sort of soy allergy because I have been breaking out more than usual, starting--though perhaps coincidentally--about the day after I had my vegan cheese.)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 211, Part Two: Vegan Cupcakes

I meant to take a picture of my vegan cupcake, purchased at the Moscow Co-Op this evening when the live music we went to see never showed up (we had planned our meals out so we could afford the chocolate Guinness cake at Bucer's pub while the music played--they ran out of cake, too, but we still love them). Unfortunately, I was so eager to eat it that the picture never got taken. However, it was still an interesting experience.

As you know, I'm addicted to Food Network, and lately I've been really into Cupcake Wars, where bakers compete for a prominent display of cupcakes to expand their business, plus $10,000. There are a lot of vegan bakers who come on the show and some are reprimanded for the gluey texture of their cupcakes while others have won the war. I don't think the one I had was made by a war winner, but I'm still very satisfied with my dessert. As I peeled away the wrapper, strands of something sticky peeled away with it, presumably because it had been unrefrigerated while we drove home. The frosting was sort of sliding off, too, but it was incredibly creamy for something made with soy cream cheese. The cake itself was pretty dense and a little grainy, but very sweet--I tasted honey, though there was none in it, and I think it may have had something to do with the tapioca flour. Who knows. It's a sweet flavor I've tasted in many sort of synthetic sweet products, but I can't quite place it. It makes me very curious to try making vegan cupcakes of my own.

Day 211, Part One: Fried Green Tomatoes

Today is Saturday, and it's summer, and we are at home, which means that this morning we visited the farmer's market in Moscow, Idaho, which, as usual, was the highlight of my week. We've been out of town a lot of weekends lately, so I haven't had too much time to browse my local growers' booths lately, which means that when I do, I go a little overboard. Today's haul included beets, sugar snap peas, cherries, several kinds of squash, eggplant, eggs, three or four varieties of pepper I've never heard of and four beautiful green tomatoes.

I've never been to the south, or to some southerner's home where they fried green tomatoes for me. I've never seen them on restaurant menus that I recall, because I think I would have ordered them. I've never even seen the movie--maybe five or ten minutes when it was on TV. But I've always thought fried green tomatoes sound delicious, so I was more than eager to fry them. When we got home, I went straight to the Food Network website to look up recipes; I assumed Paula Deen's would be first on the list. Strangely, I had to hunt for Paula's, but after perusing a few options I landed on Tyler Florence's version, which were simple and would help me use up two ingredients I already have lying around: buttermilk and cornmeal. I calculated the calories (as you recall, I'm trying to lose weight) and, because I'd been good today, found I could have a lovely fried treat for dinner. I was a very happy cook.

As you can see from the picture above, I didn't achieve amazing color on my tomatoes. I haven't fried anything in a while and at first my oil wasn't hot enough, and then for the second batch it was too hot. Still, I managed a wonderfully crispy crust and the tomatoes were still firm but hot all the way through, and not too oily, which I enjoyed. I mixed up a little sauce with some mayo, buttermilk, salt, pepper, and hot sauce--a lovely accompaniment. For protein, a little grilled chicken.

I have to say, even produced by an amateur, fried green tomatoes are delicious. If I ever have a garden with a tomato plant, I will probably pluck quite a few fruits before their time, just so I can deep fry them.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Day 209: Vegemite

Apparently, Vegemite is very high in the chemicals that constitute umami, that fifth sense of taste Kikkoman likes to brag about. I didn't try straight Vegemite, but I did try its cousin, Vegemite Cheesybite, which I'm guessing is like Vegemite mixed with cream cheese. It would make an excellent April Fool's joke if you know someone who likes Nutella because it looks exactly the same but tastes completely different. Like Soy sauce and various roasted vegetables in cream cheese. Mostly like soy sauce. Very salty, very savory. Like I said: umami.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day 208: Vegan-ish

Today, I had a mostly vegan lunch. Mostly because it turned out my granola bar contained milk products. So I had a vegetarian lunch. It contained a strange new product: vegan cheese.

It was suggested to me (thanks, Kate!) that I try more vegan foods, as they would continue me on my journey to food enlightenment without packing on the pounds. Sound advice. With that in mind, I went to the teeny tiny vegan section in my local grocery store and looked for something I had not had before. I'd tried vegan hot dogs (and found them surprisingly enjoyable), so those were out. I picked up a mango peach tofu dessert, which I'll try another day, and something that has always frightened and fascinated me: vegan cheese.

I suppose it shouldn't surprise me, since processed cheese product (otherwise known as American cheese) is far from resembling pure cheese, that vegan cheese should taste just like it. And feel just like it. And I'm not sure yet, since I haven't tried it, but I might guess it would melt just like it. And, bonus: It has almost half the calories. I had mine stuffed in a pita pocket with some tomato slices, and though it could have used mustard, it was a darn good sandwich.

But here's the thing: other than when dieting or dining with vegans, I can't imagine ever using vegan cheese. When I was younger I was the processed cheese queen, I mean, I could eat huge chunks of Velveeta without blinking, and yet as an adult, I've lost the taste for it. Not that I dislike it, it's just not top of my list anymore. Same goes for French fries, if you can believe it. They now have to be incredible to impress me. Which doesn't mean I haven't mindlessly consumed them when they came with my meal, but I have started ordering more side salads without even thinking of my weight. Funny how junk food can pale in comparison to real food. Funnier still how many vegan foods are imitations of junk foods--perhaps the processed flavors and textures are just easier to imprint on soy and vegetable proteins.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Day 206: Buttermilk Experiment #1

As I mentioned in today's earlier post, I have recently become alarmed by my weight. I know, no one likes to talk about these things very openly. So I'll skip ahead to saying that I've become interested in possible uses for buttermilk, which has a lovely consistency and flavor with far fewer calories than cream. It is already part of my light mashed potato recipe (potatoes, garlic, buttermilk, light sour cream, s&p--mighty satisfying and nearly fat free) and I often use it for scones/biscuits instead of heavy cream, but tonight, as I planned my low-cal chicken roulade, I thought: why not use it to finish sauce?

Why indeed. Buttermilk used to come from the butter-making process. Essentially, it's the runoff dairy product, as the whey would be to the curd in cheese-making. Nowadays, it's made by introducing culture to nonfat milk. Cultures make things a little different, scientifically speaking. It makes the milk react differently to heat, which is why few recipes have you heat up yogurt (I do have a delicious rogan josh recipe that has you add yogurt early on). It's probably those cultures that made my buttermilk start to separate when I added it to my pan sauce. Interestingly enough, it still tasted wonderful (sauteed shallots after browning chicken roulade, deglazed with a little water and white vinegar--which could also be my culprit--added buttermilk and some agave nectar to balance the acidity). It just curdled. Still, I'm going to move forward in attempting to lighten dishes with buttermilk. If it could be made into white gravy, I would dance a jig.

On Falling Behind

I don't remember exactly which day it was that I fell off this track, because I was already behind when it happened, scrambling to fill in past days' posts to little avail. It's strange, because I haven't been supremely busy or anything. I do know that this segment of the project doesn't feel very urgent, especially since I don't live in an area full of specialty stores and restaurants that can offer me anything I haven't tried before. I want to try sweetbreads, but good luck finding it on a menu around here. Ditto for kidney and tongue. I would have to drive seventy-plus miles to find these things, and even then I might not be able to. Which is frustrating, you know?

I'm not trying to excuse myself for falling behind, maybe just to let you know that I'm still here and that I plan on getting better with this whole blogging thing, but that I'm tired. Also, to let you know that I can't put off dieting any longer. All this food obsession is pushing me past my weight limit. So I will be doing my best to slim down for the next few months, which means I probably won't be able to eat a new thing every day. I have to admit, there's a part of me that's thinking about giving up. I don't feel good about myself when I let myself get chubby. Then again, I've never been as thin as I want to be. It's going to be tough to keep my calories in check and still try new things. In some ways, I try new things without attempting to. For lunch I wrapped pastrami, cheese, tomato, and dijon in a tortilla. I've never done that before. But I have those ingredients all the time, and it's not vastly different from any other sandwich. It's not growing my knowledge of cuisine.

I'm going to do my best. But right now, I'm exhausted. I don't know how this resolution is really moving my life forward at this point. Maybe I should just skip ahead to phase three, starting with low-cal recipes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Day 200: Macaroni Cheese Soup

I'm sure that macaroni and cheese soup was invented accidentally, by someone whose cheese sauce turned out too runny. Soup is basically a thin sauce, anyway. The version I had was tasty in a very kid-friendly way, but I'm betting there are quite a few amazing mac n cheese recipes out there that could be converted into soups, or beer cheese soups that could benefit from a little macaroni.

Sorry for the persistently petite posts. I'm suffering a little post-grad depression and slacking on things that I should be doing in favor of sleeping late and watching lots of 30 Rock (I just discovered it a few weeks ago and I am now officially in love).

Day 199: Roasted Raspberry

Just a short one to account for the day before yesterday. I tried roasted raspberry chipotle sauce with a chicken sausage, and it was awesome (except, maybe, for the seeds). What it revealed to me is that I need to try roasting some fruit. It was a pretty sweet sauce--I'm betting roasted berries could work with dessert or with dinner.

See? I told you it would be short. Now I have to get ready for jury duty.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Day 198: On the Trail

The hubby and I were supposed to go camping this weekend, but predictions of heavy rain kept us at home. We did, however, go for a hike (hurrah for Kamiak Butte). We also dug into the homemade trail mix I had made for the occasion.

I had never tried to assemble my own trail mix before, and since the bulk bins at my local Winco warn heavily against sampling, I had to trust my own sense memory and choose items that, to my mind, sounded good together. Here's how my trail mix shaped up:

1/2 cup banana chips
1/2 cup chocolate covered banana chips
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup smoked almonds
1 cup pistachios (no shells)
1 cup honey roasted sunflower seeds (again, no shells)

Of these items, I had never had chocolate covered banana chips (though I could imagine how awesome they would be) or honey roasted sunflower seeds, and, of course, I had never had all these mixed together. When I got home, I thought I would need to play with a few combinations of these ingredients to make a mix that worked, but when I took one of each item (well, more than one sunflower seed because they're so small) and popped them all together in my mouth, it was delightful. I dumped them all together, shook the bag, and voila! I had trail mix.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Day 197: My Goodness

I could write about last night's dinner at Nectar in Moscow, ID, where I had some super yummy lamb chops and my very first broccolini (nice vegetable--kind of noncommitally vegetabley). Instead, I'm going to write about my dessert at Bucer's Coffeehouse & Pub, where the hubby and I ate a lovely slab of chocolate Guinness cake (who knew beer was so good in cake?) with Irish cream frosting (um, yum!), accompanied by a pint of (what else?) Guinness Extra Stout. Beer and cake. It's a whole new taste sensation. Add to this some pretty fun Irish folk music, complete with a pipe/whistle thing made out of PVC (sounded pretty good), and you've got a lovely evening.

The interesting thing is that there was no alcoholic taste in the cake. I would expect the cake batter to absorb that bitterness into the chocolate, and for a lot of the flavor to bake out, but the baker had a nice light hand with the Irish cream in the frosting so it didn't overwhelm. The most interesting thing to me was how nicely the beer went with the cake. Alongside the chocolate, it didn't taste bitter at all. It's one of those things to bring out at a tasting party, like pairing Merlot with chocolate or white wine with fruity candies. But don't go overboard; in my experience, booze and sugar stop being friendly less than a couple drinks in.

Day 196: Mallow Out

When you think of foods that are easy to make at home, you probably don't think of marshmallows. Unless you've made them at home. Then you know the secret.

It's really basic: add gelatin and cold water to your stand mixer's bowl; boil some sugar, corn syrup (it's an essential to candy-making; get over it), water, and salt to the soft ball stage; start the mixer on medium and slowly pour in the syrup; whip the crap out of it until it's thick, sticky marshmallow.

There's a science to it, of course. You need the right proportions. I used Alton Brown's recipe in the Good Eats 2 cookbook. Though he often goes a little overboard, in my mind, to get what he considers the "perfect" recipe (I recently watched an episode of Good Eats where he made really thick English muffins and dusted them with oatmeal instead of corn meal. I didn't agree with either of these alterations.) he is the most scientifically minded cook I can think of, so when it comes to candy, I'll put my trust in him. And I was right. The marshmallows turned out wonderfully. And for the first time in my life, I tasted a marshmallow that didn't come out of a bag.

I think the texture is the main difference. They're denser, softer, creamier. The flavor is less simply sugary, too. I'm excited to see what they do over a campfire. If it doesn't rain, I'll be testing that tonight.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day 195: Cream Tea

Clotted cream is an interesting bit of English cuisine, popular in high tea (or cream tea)--a meal that doesn't really require tea at all. It's sort of like butter, but not quite so solid. It has a lovely, creamy texture, and as I understand it, is best served in large globs on top of scones with jam. So that is exactly how I ate it. For the scone, I used the recipe for Lily's Scones in Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess with one minor substitution: I used buttermilk instead of milk. For jam, I used marmalade. It was one of those supremely surprising snacks that makes me consider adding a daily teatime to my schedule (I also very much enjoy the preparation and consumption of tiny tarts and crustless sandwiches). Of course, the fact that I only found clotted cream in a tiny jar at World Market could stand in my way, unless I were to find a clotted cream recipe of my own. Since it seems to be somewhere between whipped cream and butter, I don't think that would be too difficult. It might be worth investigating.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day 194: Blood Orange

I'm not all that familiar with the taste of blood orange, though I see it popping up in a lot of recipes as a bit of a fruit du jour. But I am a soda addict, and I enjoy trying new flavors. I especially enjoy trying the all natural varieties that add real juice to carbonated water without all those crazy chemicals in my diet orange Shasta. All natural blood orange soda could easily take its place (except for those nasty calories--why is it that food has to have calories?).

Blood orange soda is very light and citrusy, and it does taste like orange but with a rounder flavor. It tastes... pinker? I don't know how to describe it, and neither could my husband (he came home for lunch, as he's been doing a lot lately--who wouldn't come home for leftover soupe au pistou?). He said it reminded him a little of cherry 7-Up, which I disagreed with, but I see what he means by the cherry part only in that it somewhat jives with my theory that the soda tastes pink... or red, really. Maybe it tastes red.

Whatever it tastes like, I am fascinated with the idea of making my own soda flavors--not that I'm going to be learning to carbonate water, just that I can buy fruit, juice it, mix it with carbonated water, and sweeten as desired. I do have a goal to wean myself off soda over the next year so that I won't have to go cold turkey during pregnancy, and this might just be a good stepping stone.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Day 193: The Great Scape

I used my broiler for the first time today, or I think it was the first time. I tend to remember the events that lead to my apartment filling with smoke. The Thanksgiving turkey, generously massaged with butter as instructed by Ms. Paula Deen. The Christmas ham, glazed too soon. Today's slices of bread, left under the broiler for about five minutes, which was apparently about three minutes too long.

Why was I broiling bread, you might ask? Good question. I needed something on which to spread the pesto I had made: five different varieties in all. Why did I make so much pesto? Because I recently became acquainted with a new form of vegetation: the garlic scape.

Here's your botany lesson for the day. The garlic scape, a lovely, twirly veggie, is the shoot of the garlic plant, which, if left uncut, will turn into a head of garlic. If cut, you can use it in a variety of dishes, most commonly pestos, and the plant will grow another scape, which you can then allow to turn into grown-up garlic, giving your plant double productivity. It's a pretty good deal, all around.

Here are the five pestos I made (all garlic scapes were chopped whole, though some recipes call for using only the stems; I didn't want to be wasteful and it all smelled nice and garlicky):

1/2 cup chopped garlic scapes
1/4 cup toasted almonds
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup olive oil
salt & pepper
Blend first three ingredients in food processor; trickle in olive oil; season to taste.

1/2 cup chopped garlic scapes
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup olive oil
salt & pepper
Blend first three ingredients in food processor; trickle in olive oil; season to taste.

1/4 cup chopped garlic scapes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup olive oil
salt & pepper
Blend first four ingredients in food processor; trickle in olive oil; season to taste.

2 tbsp toasted almonds
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
1/2 cup chopped garlic scapes
1 cup chopped basil
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp grated Parmesan
1/2 cup olive oil
Blend first five ingredients in food processor; trickle in olive oil; season to taste

See Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Soupe au Pistou; substitute garlic scapes for garlic cloves.

This variety of pestos (probably pesti in Italian) made for an interesting dinner. Five pieces of bread, five pesti. Number one was one of my favorites, the driest though they all use the same amount of oil (the almonds were drier than the walnuts and seemed to absorb more liquid). It was sharp and clear and clearly garlicky. Number two was very similar, but the walnuts gave it a less bright, more earthy flavor. Number three was Ian's favorite, the easiest to eat and the most similar to your standard pesto. Number four was sort of muddy (by which I mean confused, not tasting like dirt) in flavor, probably owing to too many ingredients, but still tasty. Number five was delicious and tomatoey, very similar to what we put in our soup last night.

I would make all of these again, most frequently numbers one and three. I will definitely buy more garlic scapes next spring (they have a short season) and try them in as many ways as I can.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Day 192: Soupe au Pistou

Tonight, I made a beautiful dish, the recipe for which I got out of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which I'll be doing my best to cook my way through over the next who-knows-how-long. The translation Julia provides beneath the title Soupe au Pistou is "Provencal Vegetable Soup with Garlic, Basil and Herbs" (no Oxford comma for Mrs. Child). She then explains that, "The pistou itself, like the Italian pesta, is a sauce made of garlic, basil, tomato and cheese, and is just as good on spaghetti as it is in this rich vegetable soup." That made sense, and I plan to make a big batch of the pistou tomorrow to use some more of my fresh basil and to either spread on my homemade bread or use as pasta sauce or even mix into some ground turkey for pistou burgers.

It was quite leisurely preparing the soup. I put the Billie Holiday station on Pandora and started chopping the carrots, potatoes and onions (only half of what Julia asks for, since I didn't need to serve 6 to 8 people; half the recipe made a full meal for tonight's dinner and tomorrow's lunch). Then those needed a full forty minutes to boil, which seemed a bit excessive to me, but if forty minutes the recipe said, forty minutes the recipe got. This also helped me get my navy beans boiled, as I had thought I had canned white beans but apparently did not. While all that was bubbling away, I had quite a bit of time to cut my green beans (diced, according to the recipe, so I cut them in about inch pieces like they are in the can, which is so not stylish now that it made me smile) and break the spaghetti and crumble the bread (a lot of starches go into this soup, which makes it a satisfying meal unto itself) and also to make the pistou (though Julia outlines how to do it by hand, I dumped everything in the food processor, because I could). I also had time to write a letter to a friend and straighten up the house before my husband got home.

The soup, once all boiled together and mixed with the pistou, was beautiful and salty and oily and luxurious. I served some crisped bread with it, and a few slices of local cheese I'd gotten at the farmer's market (Brush Creek Creamery's Farmstead Cheese, Brush Creek Select). It was lovely to eat, definitely something I'll be making again, and completely vegetarian, which I like, especially when we've had meat at lunch (Ian came home on his lunch break and I heated up leftover pork loin). This was not a challenging meal for me, but a good way to ease into Mastering the Art of French Cooking as I try to cook my way through it and teach myself to be the best cook I can be. I was diligent and read the entire recipe twice before starting. Thankfully, this wasn't a variation on anything so I only had to read one recipe.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Day 191: Whatchamacallit

Today, I had my very first Whatchamacallit. You know--the candy bar. And while it was pretty tasty, it didn't blow my mind. And I was hungry when I ate it. I'd eaten a miniscule lunch and then sat snackless through a two-and-a-half hour matinee of Noises Off! at the Hartung Theater in Moscow, ID (put on by Idaho Rep--very entertaining) and then we went to the grocery store (never a wise thing when hungry) to pick up a few ingredients we'd forgotten/didn't know we needed yesterday, when we were at the grocery store last.

In case you don't know, a Whatchamacallit is made of peanut flavor crisp, caramel, and chocolate. None of these ingredients are in top form--they're definitely your basic kid-style, cheap candy. (I believe the candy bar cost $0.64.) The kind of thing I might have adored as a kidlet, but now find a little dull. The kind of thing I feel I could very easily make better. Like if you coated the Davenport Hotel's Bruttle (peanut butter brittle) in a good salted caramel and enrobed that in dark chocolate. Just thinking about that makes me salivate. The Whatchamacallit--not as much.

In other culinary news, I used some of my leftover rhubarb glaze on grilled chicken (or my husband did--but I told him to), and it worked nicely. We had that alongside some grilled vegetables and today's homemade bread. Lately, whenever we go to restaurants, we've been getting bread that's totally crusted in kosher salt, and it is so delicious and appetizing. So I coated one of my loaves in salt this time (the others I left alone, in case the salty version didn't turn out) and I spread a few slices of that with my delicious dry cured olive spread from the other day. It was incredibly delicious. I could have dined on that alone.

Tomorrow, I plan on attacking a recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Soupe au Pistou. I decided on this particular recipe because among the many delicious things we bought at Saturday's farmer's market (including the rainbow chard, sugar snap peas, cute little beets, and a lovely Egyptian pastry called basboosa that I forgot to write about because of the rhubarb) we bought a huge bouquet of basil, and we need to use it before it starts to wilt. Thankfully, my new Food Network Magazine also came in the mail yesterday, with a whole bunch of advice about basil. I'm excited for some culinary adventures.

PS: Do you like the new site design, or is it too cold?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day 190: Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb

Do you know what background actors say to each other when they're supposed to look like they're talking without being heard? "Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb. Watermelon. Rhubarb." Which is why, when a director wants more silent chatter in the background, she'll say, "More rhubarb!" She's giving direction, not asking for pie.

Rhubarb is an interesting plant. It's a vegetable, but it's generally treated as/combined with a fruit because of how tart it is. Strawberry rhubarb pie is probably its most famous incarnation. The strawberries are sweet, the rhubarb is tart, and everything balances nicely. Or so I've been told. I don't think I've ever had strawberry rhubarb pie. Until tonight, I'm pretty sure I'd never had rhubarb.

This Wednesday, at my local "fresh food market," I bought a bunch of rhubarb, weighing in at about two pounds. Tonight, I prepared rhubarb two ways: a rhubarb peach cobbler (recipe courtesy of Alton Brown and my husband's Good Eats 2 cookbook) and a rhubarb glazed pork loin (recipe courtesy of my red-and-white checkered Better Homes and Gardens cookbook).

I've never made a cobbler before, but I figured it couldn't be too hard. I've made fruit filling (this one was peach, rhubarb, lime juice, sugar, corn starch, and salt), and I've made pie dough (this one contained lemon zest, making it nicely fragrant). Unfortunately, flour is a finicky thing. I wasn't paying good attention. By the time I'd added five of the nine suggested tablespoons of water, my dough was already goopy. I added more flour, but it still didn't firm up the way I would have liked. So I improvised. I threw the whole mess into the freezer, which helped a little. Thankfully, the bottom layer of dough doesn't need to be pristine. The top layer is supposed to cover all the fruit, it seems, so I tried spreading my dough (with wet hands) on my Silpat, and then inverting it onto the pile of fruit in the pan. It still didn't want to come off nicely. So, as the name would suggest, my dessert is a little cobbled together. But still, it's delicious. So tangy and sweet and creamy, with a nice bit of pastry and a nice bit of fruit, which I served with vanilla ice cream. So incredibly good.

The main course was also delicious and smelled so good while it was cooking. The rhubarb glaze involved cooking chopped rhubarb in fruit juice concentrate until the rhubarb turned to mush, then mixing that with a corn starch slurry, dijon mustard, honey, and wine vinegar (I chose red, though the recipe didn't specify). The recipe didn't give a lot of instruction on how to roast the pork loin for maximum deliciousness, but thankfully I've watched enough cooking shows to know that I should season it well and sear it on the stove before throwing it in the oven. I then used the juices to cook some super colorful rainbow chard that we bought at the farmer's market this morning, plus I did my super creamy, super low-cal mashed potatoes (boil potatoes and garlic, drain, mash in low fat sour cream and buttermilk, plus salt and pepper). All together it was a lovely meal.

This meal required some food knowledge, some of which I had (like making a corn starch slurry instead of adding the corn starch and water separately) and some of which I maybe didn't (like how far to cook the chard--I may have gone too far). Since I am currently unemployed and any jobs that wouldn't make me tear out my fingernails look like they won't be available to me, I'm trying to figure out my life until we finally finally finally move out of this college town. I'm going freelance with the writing and editing, for one, though I know that won't earn a ton of money. But what to do with the rest of the time? One thing: I can teach myself how to cook. I have several good cookbooks to cook my way through, ones that explain the history and science of food, and carefully guide the cook through techniques. This might get in the way of my persistent plans for weight loss, though I can practice some self control. I also want to brush up on my French, my guitar playing, and keep up a fairly rigorous exercise routine (partially to combat the food I'll be cooking). So you'll start seeing posts marked "Cooking School" soon, in which I describe my efforts at mastering certain cooking techniques. It should be fun. I'm looking forward to it.

Day 189: Mochi

Last night, I tried green tea mochi. I've seen mochi in the freezer section before, and though this one was sold at room temperature, I at first tried to freeze it. But biting into it, that didn't seem right. This was a more gelatinous dessert, and frozen gelatin didn't seem right. So after eating half a frozen mochi, I let the other half thaw. (I know, I should have done my research.)

Generally, it was okay. Not terrible. In the past, I've had terrible reactions (eg spitting them out) to some of the gummier Asian desserts. They have a particular texture that makes me think of mattresses--you know, that memory foam stuff. That's probably not the best description but it's still what I think of. Anyway, it was a green tea mochi and it really tasted like green tea, which should have surprised me less than it did. I suppose I thought the taste would be more subtle. I do think I could handle the texture if the flavor was more pleasant. I will have to try other varieties.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Day 188: The (Dry) Cure

Yesterday, I had my very first dry cured olive. Man, it was good. Salty, savory, full of umami (you know, the fifth sense of taste so popularly pushed by Kikkoman--found in things like soy sauce, seaweed, and MSG). If you don't know, dry cured means that they have been cured with dry salt rather than brine, and they look a little like big raisins, except raisins don't have a pit. I enjoyed a few as I prepped dinner, and I also concocted a wonderful spread:

1/2 cup grated Parmesan
5-6 dry cured olives, pitted
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (with a little of their oil)
1/2 large onion (or 1 small), caramelized

Throw the above four ingredients into a food processor and grind to a paste.

I stuffed it into pork chops last night, which was good, but I think it would be even better on a steak sandwich with some arugula, maybe a little mayo on one side of the bread (I'm thinking ciabatta) for moisture, and a healthy portion of this schmear on the other side, nice pinky hanger steak, and the spicy greens. I have leftovers; I might try this very soon.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Day 187: Dried or Candied?

When I saw dried cantaloupe in the store, I was skeptical. To me, it seems that cantaloupe is probably about 50% water (after a little research, I discovered it's about 90% water). So how can you dry it? Isn't that like drying watermelon? Of course, this is probably a problem with many dried fruits. Except I'm pretty sure what we buy as "dried" isn't so much dehydrated as candied. I mean, think about those apple chips. Those are truly dried. Most "dried" fruit is gelatinous.

Anyway, I tried this dried cantaloupe stuff, and it tasted very bland. It's the kind of thing where, if it was in trail mix, I could only identify it by reading the bag and using process of elimination. It's sort of cantaloupe colored. But cantaloupe flavored? Not so much.

Generally, I think we should probably leave most fruits alone. I suppose drying/candying preserves them longer and makes some of them taste pretty good, but maybe we should leave cantaloupe alone. It's just so much better fresh.

Day 186: Grape Expectations

When I was a kid, my dad liked to eat certain foods while watching TV: mostly peanuts, whose shells he would deposit in a plastic grocery bag, but also grapes. I mostly remember him eating green grapes, but I know there were red grapes, too. I was a bit of a snack mooch (I always liked to quote the old Disney TV show The Torkelsons: Whatcha got there, Boarder Hodges?) and I liked to hope or pretend that I would grow up to have Dad's amazing twig-thin metabolism (which, of course, I didn't) and be able to snack in front of the TV every day, which at the time seemed like the height of luxury.

On grape nights, though, it was not so luxurious. For one reason or another, I never took a shine to grapes. Maybe it's because they were fruit (in the kid thesaurus, synonymous with yuck). As I got older, I pinpointed it to a textural issue: I didn't like food that exploded in your mouth (which seemed to be the main reason most people liked grapes). I took to peeling them, for a time, which proved too laborious. Often, the red grapes tasted a little rotten (what most people would call too sweet, but I associated sweetness with processed sugar, not plant matter) and the green grapes were a little too tart. So grapes were marginal.

Of course, then I married a grape eater. A thrifty grape eater. A man who buys fruit seasonally, which generally means at its cheapest, which means that though I want Granny Smith apples year-round, he goes for things like grapes, most recently black grapes, which I had never (to my recollection) tasted before.

Here's how Ian described black grapes after eating a handful: not as sweet as red, not as tart as green. Part of me thought, Wow, they must not have any flavor. But than I tried them and realized that these are the ideal grapes. They're like grape juice grapes, the flavor the candies are modeled after. I've eaten cups of them, without any coercion, just for an afternoon snack. I bet you could make a savory sauce from them and serve it with meat (maybe black grapes and wine, with some spice in there). I bet they would be good in salad. Maybe a black grape granita. Or simply straight off the vine.

Day 185: Opaa!

I recently discovered that I like ouzo, Greek's licorice-flavored liqueur, favorite of one of my favorite Iron Chefs, Cat Cora (after every battle, she and her sous chefs take a shot of it from little glass prep bowls). So when I saw ouzo candy at World Market, I had to buy it. And I did.

The candies are (to me, a licorice lover) totally yummy (though my husband cringed and exclaimed how bitter they were--to me they are sweet and perfumey), but I have to say I expected something more complex than your basic flavored hard candy. I don't know why. The packaging doesn't claim anything more. They are ouzo candy. Period. They deliver what they promise.

I'm curious about how one goes about making candy with alcohol. I know these probably don't have any alcohol in them and never did, but after my Jack Daniels pecans (I also tried another brand's bourbon pecans and found I preferred the whiskey version), I'm thinking it might be fun to play with sugar and booze.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Day 184: When in Montana...

I find that every time I visit my in-laws in Montana, I end up eating buffalo. This is not a complaint. Often, it's in the form of a buffalo burger at Fuddruckers, which we visit at least once per Montanan trip (when we visit my folks in California, we always visit In-n-Out and Eriberto's). I believe at some point I might have sampled a buffalo steak. This time, I had a magical plate of buffalo osso buco. (I had the turkey burger while at Fudds.)

So what's new about that, you might ask? You've obviously had buffalo before. No, this post isn't about the formerly endangered, now carefully farmed cattle. Mostly, it's about osso buco, a dish that has intrigued me for quite a long time, and until now, I had never tried. Honestly, since osso buco is more often made with veal or beef than buffalo, you could say I still haven't tried it. The flavors of the buffalo were probably completely different.

But do you want to know the best part about this dish? They plated it with the marrow bone. I'm sure, since the cut of meat used for osso buco is so tightly held to the bone, since the two are cooked together until the meat falls off of said bone, and since the marrow is so important to the flavor of the sauce, this is common. But as I said, I've never had osso buco. I've also never had the pleasure of scooping marrow out of a bone with a tiny little fork, which (as you can see from the picture) was generously provided so that I might enjoy every last bit of my meal. I even brought the marrow bone all the way home for my cat (I don't have a dog), across two states. I realized her little mouth was too small to chew on it and I've never seen a cat chewing a bone and I did eat most of the marrow, but there were definitely more fatty deposits that she could have reached with her tongue. Sadly, she didn't seem interested. But hey, I tried.

Day 183: Sour Cream Potato Salad

As you might remember from the portion of this blog where I ate a food I didn't like every day (a portion I'm considering returning to, as I find myself getting flabby and weak-willed when it comes to certain foods), I have not long been a fan of potato salad. My main qualm: the mayonnaise. And while I have discovered that potato salad, even gooey, mayonnaisey versions, can be sublime when seasoned properly, I still find myself looking for alternatives. Let's say, for argument's sake, that this has something to do with health. It probably should, right? Concern for the old ticker, though more likely it would be concern for the waistline, especially since I don't buy that eggs are particularly bad for you, or that you're going to die or even get sick from eating raw yolks (which, in commercial mayo, have been denatured anyway) except one in a billion times (I should do some sort of count of raw cookie doughs, cake batters, etc. that have not sickened me over the years), nor do I think that the amount of mayo in even the goopiest potato salad is necessarily excessive if your portion size is reasonable. (Can you tell I've been reading a lot of Steingarten lately? I feel like quite the culinary curmudgeon.)

So: While at my in-laws' this weekend, celebrating our nation's independence, I sampled a lovely sour cream potato salad that blew me away in taste and simplicity. It was quite creamy and tangy, and though I forgot to get the recipe from my mother-in-law before leaving (I will have to email her), my palate detected these few ingredients:

Sour Cream
Green Onion

That's all! Isn't it brilliant? Maybe some of you are thinking, How dull! Or perhaps you don't fancy the particular tang of sour cream the way I do, and wonder why one would choose to at least cut the sauce with mayo (it's possible there is a little mayo in the recipe, though the mixture was marvelously white and my tongue didn't taste or feel it). Perhaps you're thinking, That sounds awfully oniony. My only advice to you quibblers would be to try it yourselves.