Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Day 180: Limpin' Susan

I found the recipe for tonight's dinner on, while searching for something to do with the bag of frozen okra that has been sitting in my freezer for far too long. It was one of those purchases that was made with no clear intention behind it, simply that I was in the freezer section near the vegetables and I thought I'd give okra a try. I have had okra before, and I liked it, so it didn't uniquely qualify for this phase of the resolution or the last. I just figured there had to be some dish with okra in it that I needed to discover. As it turns out, I was right.

According to the author of this particular recipe (and I will paraphrase to save you some grammatical and spelling errors), this recipe originates in Charleston, where Limpin' Susan is the wife of Hoppin' John, which is a dish made with black-eyed peas and rice, traditionally eaten on New Year's Day. Apparently, Limpin' Susan likes okra and shrimp. So she put them in with some rice, onions, bell pepper, and garlic, and made a lovely dish of her own.

As you might recall, it wasn't too long ago that shrimp scared the living daylights out of me. But in this dish, though Ian commented that it was the most straightforward shrimp flavor he'd tasted in any of the shrimp dishes I've prepared, it was delicious. The okra, the peppers, the rice--it all complemented the shrimp nicely. I managed to season it nicely, and the cayenne I threw in (about three dashes) didn't raise the heat level too high.

And on top of that, I made my very first batch of sweet tea, which accompanied the meal nicely. One day, I'll have to visit the south in person.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day 179: Ricciarelli

If I were to cook my way through a cookbook, recipe by recipe, my first choice would probably be How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson. It's not as comprehensive a cookbook as The Joy of Cooking (I actually don't own a copy) or Mastering the Art of French Cooking (which would probably be my second choice), but let's face it: all those baked goods! And there's something warm and inviting about Nigella that I've always wanted to embody, but somehow I always come off as more rigid than inviting, more cerebral than warm. When attempting to show others I care about them through food, I tend to screw it up. The food doesn't come out right (even if I've made it right a hundred times before) or I get too scheduled and feel like I'm forcing guests to come to the table or I just choose the wrong menu for my guests' tastes in food and atmosphere. I've found a few reliable party recipes but no recipe for becoming Nigella. That's probably because I'm Laura. As much as I might fight against it, I'm Laura down to my bones.

Anyway. In order to cook my way through How to Be a Domestic Goddess, I would have to develop an incredible metabolism/amazing restraint. I would probably have to send my husband to work with cookies or cake or scones almost every day. His coworkers would get positively fat, or else I would. But every once in a while, I take it out and try something. Tomorrow, Ian's work is having a charity bake sale, so I jumped on the opportunity to cook. I made a batch of my standard Better Homes and Gardens peanut butter cookies, and a batch of ricciarelli, an Italian almond meringue cookie, courtesy of Nigella.

I don't think my ricciarelli came out right. Not perfectly, anyway. I had more almonds than the recipe called for, and I ground them pretty finely, but even though I ended up putting all of my almonds into the mix, I didn't achieve the "hard paste" the recipe called for. More of a goopy paste. So I couldn't form mine into the beautiful little diamonds pictured, but I could put the batter into a pastry bag (or Ziploc with the corner cut out--whatever) and pipe little circles onto my parchment paper (I tried diamonds but they didn't hold their shape). I'm thinking that maybe I had too much egg white; I used local, organic eggs, whose size are not as regulated as the grocery store variety. But I would not be deterred. I sprinkled them with powdered sugar and put them in the laundry room to dry overnight, as directed (I always feel like I'm making something fancy when it takes a lot of waiting). I baked them at 250 for about 30 minutes (preheated the oven before hopping into the shower, baked them while primping) and dusted them with powdered sugar again.

The cookies came out nicely, I think, if not perfectly. They are stiff and hold their shape well, but when bitten into they are both chewy and crunchy and highly textural. Sweet, but not too sweet. The raw batter tasted much more almond-y than the final product, but that was to be expected. I think these cookies would be ideal on a breezy afternoon, with a cappuccino and a fantastic view.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Day 178: Abba-Zaba

I recently read Steve Almond's book, Candyfreak, which was a very exciting read for me. I mean, it's about candy! You see, Steve Almond, a self-proclaimed candyfreak, got a taste of candy factory euphoria and set out to visit as many candy factories as would let him in. Not many said yes (the kind of candy competition you see in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with spies and trade secrets and such, is not fiction), but of those that did, one was the Annabelle candy factory, producers of my all-time favorite candy bar: the Big Hunk.

Annabelle also produces the Abba-Zaba, a candy bar I thought I'd sampled until I read Candyfreak and read its description: taffy, stuffed with peanut butter. I guess I'd simply seen a lot of Abba-Zabas in my day. They are usually merchandised next to the Big Hunk, after all. So today, while feeling completely bowled over by allergies (or maybe I'm getting sick, I don't know), I bit into one. I've got to tell you, it's pretty strange.

Who thought to put peanut butter inside taffy? I'm not saying it was bad. It was just something I would never have imagined. If it were nougat, like the Big Hunk, it would make a little more sense to me. But it does seem to be vanilla taffy, which is pretty close to the Big Hunk's chewy nougat. It took me a long time to eat, and the most interesting part was when the peanut butter oozed out from between the layers of taffy. Texturally strange, but satisfying. I think that's what I loved about it, and why I tend toward old-timey, off-beat candy. A Snickers is completely boring to me. The country's favorite candy bar isn't really on my radar. Maybe because I've had too many of them in my lifetime, I don't know. Maybe because they're too easy to eat and thus too quickly gone.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Days 176 & 177: Nothing Special

So, last night I tried Thai chicken pizza. Pretty good. Not as spicy as I expected, but yummy.

Today, I finally had a nectarine. It was sweet and super juicy, but I don't think I ate it right. I'm not really used to eating stone fruit, so I kind of ate it like an apple. Didn't want to get a mouthful of nectarine pit.

Sorry if that's not too exciting.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Day 175: More Peachy Pops

Sometimes, I get on a kick and work as many variations on a theme as I can. I had a muffin kick a few years back. Now, it's popsicles.

Tonight's batch was particularly tasty. And SO simple. For two popsicles:

1 1/2 cups peach slices
1 1/2 cups pineapple chunks
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp sweetener

Blend well. Freeze in popsicle molds. Enjoy.

I really had no good reason to combine peach and pineapple other than I had them both in my freezer. So I thawed them, hit them with the lemon juice to prevent browning, and blended them with Splenda (sugar would work the same, maybe even better). Yum, yum, yum.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Day 174: Spring Cleaning

I've been trying to clean out my cupboards and freezer this week, and so I've decided to skip grocery shopping for the time being and make do with what I have hanging around. So tonight's dinner consisted of a lovely filet mignon, leftover from a box of steaks my mother-in-law sent a while back, canned green beans that I doctored as well as I could (my husband must be responsible for their presence in our cupboard because I can't recall ever wanting to buy canned green beans), and a rice concoction made with wild rice mix, butter, onion, garlic, frozen spinach, and some crumbled feta that's been in our fridge just short of too long. I was surprised to find that it turned out to be a pretty good meal. Even the green beans were okay, since I sauteed some garlic and heated them up in that, plus I added some kosher salt. Plus, they helped me practice my food tossing. You know--mixing things in a pan just by flipping the pan's contents over on themselves. I've been using a method Julia Child recommends in Mastering the Art of French Cooking for learning to flip omelettes: I put a handful of navy beans (also something that needed to be used from my cupboard--score!) in a sautee pan and I've been practicing flipping them. According to Julia,
A simple-minded but perfect way to master the movement is to practice outdoors with half a cupful of dried beans. As soon as you are able to make them flip themselves in a group, you have the right feeling; but the actual omelette-making gesture is sharper and rougher.
So I practiced with the green beans, too, since I didn't mind if I lost them (I generally hate canned green beans) but I found that I'm getting good at this. Anyway. Here's the recipe for the rice, which I'm counting as my thing I've never had before for today.

1/2 cup wild rice mix
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can chicken broth
1 box frozen chopped spinach, drained and squeezed to remove excess moisture
1/4 cup feta cheese (though more would be good, too)
kosher salt, to taste

Sautee the onion in the butter until translucent; add garlic and sautee about one minute longer. Add wild rice mix and sautee about two minutes, until it starts to smell nutty. Add chicken broth and bring to boil; reduce to simmer and cover; cook until broth is mostly absorbed (time will differ depending on rice mix; mine took about 40 min). Stir in spinach and cook until water is completely absorbed. Add feta and stir until spinach is heated through and cheese is distributed. Taste for seasoning. Enjoy!

Day 173: Ginger Peach Popsicles

It's officially summer! Yay! Also, I finally bought some popsicle molds! Double yay! I love frozen treats in the summertime, but I like to be able to make my own, so I can play with flavors and control ingredients (and calories). In my first popsicle attempt, I went for ginger peach, which turned out to be light and refreshing, something of a palate cleanser. Not the most dessert-y popsicle, and not creamy or incredibly sweet, but definitely pleasant on the tongue. Here's how I did it:

1 1/2 cup frozen peach slices
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
4 tablespoons Splenda
1/2 cup water

Whip these up in a blender, pour into popsicle molds, and freeze.

I do think the use of frozen peaches made the texture fluffier than it would have been if the peaches were fresh, but it also necessitated the use of water, which, of course watered it down (and made it need a little extra sweetener). For my next batch, I'm going to try to concentrate the flavors a little more; I've got some peaches and pineapple at the ready, and my blender is in the dishwasher. We'll see how it goes. Hopefully, it'll be delicious.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Day 172: Lingonberry

When I bring home souvenirs, I usually bring home food. Which means that my main souvenir from Disney World came from the little shop outside "Norway" in the Epcot World Showcase, though it's actually Swedish in origin: lingonberry preserves.

I did bring this stuff home with the intention of having it as a thing-I've-never-had-before, but I didn't think I'd be having it so soon. I've been cleaning out my pantry, freezer, and fridge, and I'd planned to finally eat an old Lean Cuisine with salmon pasta for lunch, but butterfingers that I am, I dropped it on the kitchen floor and, incidentally, my foot. Thankfully, I was not burned. Also thankfully, I got to try my preserves, which otherwise might have sat on the shelf for quite a while, which would have been tragic because they are delicious.

I can only describe lingonberry preserves as mild, but that doesn't mean they were flavorless. Sweet, a little tangy. Just perfect, really. I often feel assaulted by the sweetness or sourness or seedy texture of preserves, but the lingonberry did not offend on any account. I had them on plain white bread with a little butter underneath.

Apparently, lingonberries are also called "cowberries," which I find slightly less appetizing and far less exotic. They're also known as mountain cranberries, though they really don't seem to have any of the extreme flavor I associate with cranberries, though what I picked up from Wikipedia is that they are quite tart, thus the reason for making them into jam instead of just eating them raw. They've got good Vitamin C, A, and B, and their seeds even contain Omega-3 fatty acids. So, wow! My lunch-in-a-pinch turned out to be great tasting and great for me.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Day 171: Playing Ketchup

Today, I tried something I don't think I ever could have conceived of: banana sauce, and not in a dessert-type way. This stuff is more akin to ketchup, and I assumed at first that it must have tomatoes in it because it is red. (Why is it red? It's naturally brownish--most likely from the oxidized bananas and spices--and it just looks better if it's dyed red.) And basically, it is a little like ketchup. I tried it on a hot dog. It's sweeter than ketchup, and maybe a little thicker with more watery runoff, but it's still tart and tangy like ketchup and it worked well with my lunch.

Apparently, banana sauce is popular in the Philippines, and has its origins around WWII when tomatoes were in short supply. The answer? Make ketchup with bananas! Pretty ingenious, really. Except somehow, this stuff didn't stick (Nutella has a similar story, but it's hugely popular, though I do believe it fell out of popularity in the US for a long time and was most likely brought back by the foodie boom). It's pretty good. You can't expect it to be just like Heinz, but it doesn't need to be. It's a perfectly good sauce of its own merits.

You should try it. You can find it at Cost Plus World Market (a major supplier of things I have yet to try).

Day 170: Burgers of the Caribbean

On our last day at Disney World, which wasn't really at Disney World at all, just our hotel, we had burgers for lunch in the sort of food court area we found in our hotel. Mine was the Caribbean burger, which had pineapple sauce and plantain to make it "Caribbean." I thought it odd to put plantain on a burger (kind of like putting potato on a burger) but I tried it and it was really tasty, though the plantain was a little unwieldy and kept falling out of the bun. The nice thing was, unlike the plantain I prepared a while ago, this one was ripe and properly cooked and a lot more bananaish. And the pineapple sauce on the burger was pretty amazing. It's something I might attempt on my own this barbecue season.

Day 169: Prime Time

While in the Disney's Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM Studios, but sadly, MGM is no more), the hubby and I ate at a restaurant called the '50s Prime Time Cafe, a cute and delightfully over-the-top replica of a '50s TV home, where the waiters are sassy and clips from shows like The Donna Reed Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show run on loops on a variety of black-and-white TVs that are scattered around the restaurant. Because you're at "Mom's house," there are rules. No elbows on the table, you must eat your vegetables, and you have chores: you have to set your own table. The food is of the classic stick-to-your-ribs variety: meatloaf, fried chicken, etc. Ian and I ordered the two dishes that strayed a little from the norm: the agnolotti (me) and the poached salmon (him). For dessert we had a Boston cream pie parfait (me! so glad I ordered it!) and a brownie sundae (Ian...he was not). But while the food here was good and I'd never had agnolotti or Boston cream pie in parfait form, it wasn't the food that stuck with me. It was the ambiance. You see, when I was a kid, I really really really wanted to own a '50s diner. Or, failing that, I wanted to live in the '50s themselves. So this place with its amazingly campy atmosphere and the server (not ours, but one section over) who actually marched several diners into the kitchen to "do dishes" when they didn't eat their veggies (they were forewarned) was a kick in the pants. Plus it was air conditioned and we were in Florida in June. So it had that going, too.

Day 168: A Trip to Morocco

On our second day in Epcot, we made reservations at the Moroccan restaurant in the World Showcase. It was an incredibly hot morning, super muggy (as it will be in Orlando in the summer), and I was very cranky. I was beginning to tire of having to sidestep dozens of people everywhere we went, of being nearly run over by strollers, of being clobbered by passers-by without so much as an apology (Ian and I each suffered several blows from strangers who either sideswiped us or elbowed us and didn't even acknowledge it), and I almost asked if we could just go back to the hotel room and cancel our dinner reservation. But, knowing I shouldn't make such decisions while cranky, Ian and I went into the air conditioning and sat down for a while, and of course, my mood improved. We kept our reservation and walked into the restaurant at the appointed time, where a belly dancer performed and all the male staff wore fezzes. Our busboy (who did an amazing job and made up by far for our more surly waiter) even placed his fez on Ian's head and took our picture (see below).

Since we'd spent a few days eating new things and I had yet to venture toward any seafood, I decided to take a risk. I ordered the fish tagine (above). I'd always wanted to try a tagine, and I figured if I didn't like it, I could trade with Ian, who ordered the lamb cous cous. I actually expected his to be the superior dish, but when I got mine, I was blown away. So many spices and olives and vegetables, and the fish was delicious and tender. It definitely tasted like fish, but all the other flavors complemented it so perfectly, no other meat could have been better. Ian ended up being jealous of my order (as he often is), since his dish was lacking in sauce and was literally just a piece of lamb and some plain cous cous. He did, however, order the traditional mint tea that I thought was pretty darn good.

I think this might have been the best meal we had on this trip. Or--the best meal I had. Ian had better. He tends to have bad luck when ordering in restaurants. And somehow, I tend to choose well. One of these days, I'll have to try to make a fish tagine of my own. And it gives me an excuse to buy a tagine, like this one, if only it could be cheaper:

Day 167: Praise the Braise

Obviously, this picture is not of anything braised. It's my pistachio creme brulee, which I had after I had my very first braised lamb shank. By the time I remembered to photograph the lamb, it was pretty much demolished, and I was more concerned with eating than with taking pictures.

I had this braised lamb shank at Tony's, a restaurant in the Magic Kingdom. It was not one of the dishes the waiter recommended, but I've learned over time that waiters often recommend things simply because they have been told by the chef to do so--maybe they have a lot more steaks than lamb shanks or something. Also, the waiter doesn't necessarily have the same preferences that I do. Also, I usually have my heart set on something long before the waiter comes over to give us his spiel.

I definitely think I made the right choice with my order. Ian ordered the steak, which the waiter recommended, and was underwhelmed. I ordered the lamb shank and was in meat and polenta heaven. Braising really is just a wonderful cooking method. I've seen so many cooking shows where the main dish is braised, but I've rarely attempted a braise myself, and when I did, I chose too lean a meat and let it cook too long, thus creating a little pork knot instead of a lovely braised pork chop. But having tasted the potential brilliance of the braise, I'm not going to give up on it.

For dessert, I had another flavor revelation, and again my husband was disappointed. He ordered his standard tiramisu, which he said was okay but not great. I ordered the pistachio creme brulee (I am a creme brulee addict). To be honest, the brulee itself was good but not super amazing. What was super amazing was the candied pistachios that came on the side (they're kind of hidden in that little tuile cup in the photo. I'm going to have to try this at home. Pistachios have quickly become my favorite nut, and I'm excited to try them as many ways as possible.

Day 166: Watermelon Revelation

If there ever was a salad it would not have occurred to me to create, it would be this: watermelon, tomato, and blue cheese. And yet, when I tasted it at Boma restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Lodge in Disney World, I was blown away. It was sweet, it was tangy, it had bite. It was lightly dressed--my palate detected red wine vinegar, a bland oil, and salt--and yet in its simplicity it was absolute genius.

As you can see, it isn't particularly pretty, but I assure you, it's delicious.

Of course, given that Boma is an African food buffet, I enjoyed and discovered quite a few taste sensations. Several preparations of cous cous and lentils. Pickled watermelon rind (an awesome palate cleanser). I actually ate ribs, they were so good (for years I've been too prissy to get all covered in barbecue sauce and gnaw on bones, but these were worth it--they had chipotle and something else--here's Boma's menu if you'd like to peruse it--though I don't see the ribs on there).

But this watermelon salad, man. It's unlike anything I've ever had or seen. I perused the web to find a few similar recipes, but I couldn't find this one exactly, though I imagine it goes something like this:

two cups watermelon, cubed
one cup cherry tomatoes
1/4-1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
dressing: 1 tsp canola oil, 2tsp red wine vinegar, salt

But since this has not been tested (though it will be in the very near future), here are some other watermelon recipes I found:

Tomato-and-Watermelon Salad:
Tomato and Watermelon Salad:
Watermelon and Tomato Salad with Feta:
Tomato and Watermelon Salad: Food Network (Alex Guarnaschelli)
Watermelon and Tomato Salad (closest to what I had at Boma): NY Times

Day 165: Bavarian Cheesecake

I'm back from Disney World! As promised, I will be filling you in on all my culinary adventures.

So. One of the four Disney World parks, Epcot (which we visited twice on this trip) is all about innovations (innoventions), technology, and whatnot--or at least half of it is. The other half is called the World Showcase, which, as you might imagine, showcases different parts of the world. The one element that is represented in every area (you can visit Mexico, Canada, England, Norway, France, Morocco, Italy, China, Japan, Germany, and a bit of colonial America) is the cuisine.

On our first day at Epcot, we had lunch in Germany, served by a very cute German boy in lederhosen (or corduroyhosen) who must have been boiling in the Florida heat, but he was upbeat about it. Maybe not served by. Ordered from. Because at Disney's quick service restaurants you go to a podium, place your order, and then shuffle toward the kitchen where eventually they pass you your food, and sometimes they actually get your order right. Anyway, we had the bratwurst with sauerkraut (a very mild kraut compared to what I've been eating at home, with a more earthy spice to it, which might be toned down for mass crowds or might be closer to how they eat it in Germany, I don't know) and, for dessert (we bought the Disney meal plan which includes dessert with both lunch and dinner, which is why I came back five pounds heavier) the Bavarian cheesecake. Well, I had the cheesecake. Ian had some black forest cake thing which was also good. But I was completely into this cheesecake.

Here's the thing: it was really light. And it was more like a sponge cake with a cheesecake filling. A lot of cheesecake filling and really thin cake. Topped with lots of fluffy powdered sugar. Not too sweet, not too cheesy. Actually, I found the recipe for it here, at a place called If it weren't for the fact that I need to lay off the sweets for a while, I would be dying to try making it. Part of me thought, this isn't Bavarian, this is just Disney making stuff up (trusting, ain't I?) but I poked around the internet and found another site that pictured a similar cake, calling it Bavarian cheesecake. So hey, I learned something new about German food!

I would post a picture, but again, I forgot to take one. Bad tourist! I promise, there will be pictures in future posts.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Hold On

So, as you know, I'm at Disney World! Which means I'm spending huge long days in amusement parks and returning to the hotel room to crash, and if I did have time or energy to write long informative blog posts, the internet here is terrible. So: I'm going to catch up when I get back. I'm taking short notes during meals and I'll have tons of time when I get back since as of yet I am unemployed, so there should be some pretty good blog posts to come. In the meantime, go outside and enjoy the summer!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Day 164: Greek to Me

So, although last night was my (and Ian's) first meal at the Disney World Resort, where everyone takes pictures of everything, we forgot to take a picture of dinner. Sorry. But you can probably imagine it.

We'd just spent an incredibly long day on airplanes and in airports (Spokane to Denver; Denver to Columbus to Orlando) and on buses (huzzah for Disney's Magical Express!) and listening to middle aged women yell at their kids even while checking into the hotel (Caribbean Beach Resort: it has Finding Nemo fishes all over the bedspread and on the wallpaper, which is cool except Finding Nemo took place in Australia). We were tired and hungry. We were trying our best not to let vacation stress get to us, especially so early. I even came up with four H's to help me be a better wife and vacationer. I will be:

Happy, Helpful, Humorous, and Humane.

Good, huh?

Anyway. We had reservations at Kouzzina, Cat Cora's restaurant on the Boardwalk (which is a neat place--we didn't go there on our honeymoon, the only other time we've been to Disney World). If you don't know, Ms. Cora is an Iron Chef and a darn good one at that. She's Greek, from Mississippi. So her food has sort of an old world comfort food feel to it. I had Cat's Ouzo-tini to drink (oh my goodness so good if you like licorice since that's what ouzo tastes like, but I'd only heard tell and it was better than I expected), and then pasta with a lamb ragu for dinner, and kemaolbiohjsohgkl something Greek I couldn't pronounce with phyllo and pastry cream and a lovely gelato for dessert (I will look these things up and give you a better run-down later. The internet is slow and I'm typing on Ian's tiny computer where the apostrophe is not in the right place, nor is the dash).

Anywho. Today we hit EPCOT! (Did you know that stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow?) I will be singing the Carousel of Progress song all day. Plus we have reservations at the French restaurant in the around the world thingy for dinner, and I will have pictures this time! I promise!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Day 163: Gourmet To Go

I have long intended to go to the taco truck in downtown Spokane and order a tongue burrito. Today, I finally set aside the time to do so, and the taco truck was closed. Luckily, another truck was open: Mommy G's Gourmet Grilled Cheese. The tongue will wait for another day.

I had a fabulous experience eating Mommy G's food. I had the #6, a French onion grilled cheese that featured Gruyere cheese, caramelized onions and mushrooms, all on a croissant. SO good. So fattening, too, but oh well. Apparently Mommy G's just opened on June 5th, so instead of being way behind the times (everyone I know in Spokane has been going to the taco truck forever and I still kept forgetting to go), I'm ahead! Yay! So Spokaners: go to Mommy G's!

This was also fortuitous timing for me in another sense: I've never been to a food truck at all until today, and I've been trying to figure out what to do with myself post-graduation. I don't have the cash to start a food truck of my own, but I am pondering a little lunch delivery business if I can work out the details, and looking over Mommy G's menu sort of lubed up the wheels and gears in my head. So I'm happily concocting a lunch menu, pondering the costs and practicalities of a lunch business... maybe it will happen, maybe it won't. But for now, it's fun to think about.

And yes, I know it's "Spokanites." I just think "Spokaners" is better.

Day 162: Just Ducky

I have long understood duck confit to be one of those magical foodstuffs that can lift those who eat it to ecstatic heights. I remember hearing some chef or other say that if you put duck confit on the plate, you win--no matter what you pair it with, it's just that good. An exaggeration, I'm sure. But last night, when Ian and I went to Sante in Spokane (at last! we've been meaning to go since I started school here two years ago and it had to be our last chance to go before we finally made reservations) I finally got to see what the fuss is about. (As you can see, I couldn't wait for Ian to take the picture--we're those cool people who take pictures of their food in restaurants, though thankfully it was light enough not to need a flash--to take my first bite.)

If you don't know, duck confit is prepared in a very special way. It is made with the leg of a duck, salt-cured, and then poached in the animal's own fat. Many of you probably know that duck fat is culinary gold. There are lots of fats out there that, once rendered, might be worth throwing away--they taste good, but they are saturated fats after all, and we Americans are, as I understand it, concerned about that. But duck fat is one of those flavorful things that makes you say, who cares? Health schmealth.

Anyway, Sante served their duck confit with spaetzle (also a first for me--yum), asparagus, morels (marinated in something sweet--I would tell you exactly what but I forgot to write it down and their menu isn't updated on their website since they cook seasonally--but morels were also a delicious first for me) and some sort of cream sauce (I feel quite remiss in not being able to tell you exactly what--you'll just have to go to Sante and see, I suppose). It was one of those unforgettable meals. We also had the bresaola plate to start, which had bread, cheese, cured beef, apple, and some homemade strawberry preserves--all lovely. For dessert: vanilla creme brulee (is there anything better than creme brulee?) and cappuccino. All around, a fantastic meal.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Day 161: Rangoons

Yesterday's new food wasn't particularly adventurous, but it was particularly yummy. I got it at Panda Express, in a dash to have dinner before attending my MFA program's graduate reading (Congrats to everyone! It was a great reading!). Don't judge me for enjoying my fast food Chinese. How can you go wrong: cream cheese (with some sort of seasoning/herbage) tucked into a wonton wrapper and deep fried. Um--yum. The sauce they served it with was too salty for my taste (and I can take a lot of salt) but they really required nothing extra. The crispy outside and creamy inside was enough all on its own.

Apparently, rangoons are usually filled with crab (the literal Chinese translation, Wikipedia tells me, is "crab horn" or "fried crab horn"). Mine were not, but it sounds like it could be yummy. But this is really a fully Americanized Chinese dish, if it's even Chinese at all. I don't know how much I can trust Wikipedia, actually. I did discover that Rangoon was the former capital of Myanmar. So maybe it comes from there. Or maybe someone just threw the name on it to make it sound fancy, like chicken divan. Either way, it was good stuff. I might try making some on my own.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Day 160: Happy Anniversary!

Today is my husband's and my fourth wedding anniversary! We celebrated with dinner in: filet mignon, scalloped potatoes, salad, bellinis to drink (with the canned peach stuff this time--yum!), and for dessert, ice cream sandwiches made with homemade ginger cookies.

This is my thing I've never had before for today. I mean, I've had ginger cookies, I've had ice cream, and I've had ice cream sandwiches. But I've never had ginger cookie ice cream sandwiches. So maybe this is a little bit of a cop-out, a little un-adventurous, but I do think it's a dessert-time revelation. These ice cream sandwiches are so dang good. They're kind of Barefoot Contessa-ish: simple but elegant (the one in the photo doesn't look as elegant as it could, but we were just itching to dive in). They're the kind of make-ahead, no-fuss dessert that's perfect for a dinner party because it can just be ready in the freezer, made days ahead if you like. If you come to a dinner party at my house, you might just have these.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Day 159 (For Real This Time): Waffling

First, let me say whoopsie! I noticed I had a discrepancy between the number of blog posts I've posted and the number of days this project has been going on. And guess what? I skipped day eighty-three. Ay carumba! But I've fixed my count now, and as disappointing as it is to be one day farther behind than I thought I was, at least I'm back on track.

So: as for today's post (Day 159, for real this time).

I often find myself perusing a cookbook only to find that the recipe I want to use requires huge cooking times or refrigeration overnight. I tell myself I'll remember next time, that I'll be prepared and start prep work in the early morning or the night before. I rarely remember to do this. My husband, however, does.

He got it in his head yesterday that he wanted to make waffles for breakfast, so last night before bed we whipped up the batter for Overnight Waffles, a recipe we found in our good old Better Homes & Gardens cookbook.

It seemed like these should be the waffles to end all waffle making, especially for those of us who are used to making waffles from a mix (Ian often makes oatmeal cinnamon waffles, but those are what we consider "healthy" and therefore don't count). They had yeast in them. Yeast! And vanilla and sugar and all those good things. We expected fluffy waffle nirvana.

Boy, were we wrong.

Ian says this isn't the first time the old Better Homes & Gardens has let us down, though I reminded him that it has provided a few of his favorite dinners (he LOVES the Greek-style turkey burgers). But I couldn't deny, these waffles were flavorless. I reread the recipe. We'd done everything right. We'd refrigerated long enough. We'd taken all the steps we were asked to take, and what we got was not worth the effort. It makes one long for Krusteaz.

Part of our problem could lie with our waffle maker, which we realized this morning is a piece of junk. Ian used to blame the "healthy" waffle recipe for the waffle maker's uneven cooking, and sometimes he blamed himself, but we were recently at my parents' house where my dad made us several batches of delicious waffles (thank you, Dad and Krusteaz) in their professional waffle maker, and so of course ours suffers by comparison. But I've never heard of an uneven cooking sapping all the flavor out of a food. So the middle was browner than the edges. So what?

I did learn one lesson from this: just because something takes longer to make, that doesn't mean it's better.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Day 159: Fruit with a Kick

Have you ever had dried chili mango? This stuff is such a surprise! It's dried mango, coated in a sweet and spicy mixture that makes it taste a little like a sweet jerky. But without the meat flavor. It's chewy and sweet and hot--all lovely things. But it's definitely a surprise flavor. I'm not 100% sure what I think about it quite yet.

The thing is, I'm only a recent convert to dried fruit. I discovered it as a bit of a diet aid--I know, it's not exactly low calorie, but it's like training wheels between candy and a healthier diet. Except, usually I prefer plain fruit to the dried variety. I suppose it depends on what kind of fruit it is. The dried variety does satisfy a certain craving for chewiness, though it's a lot less sticky than most candy.

Anyway. I'm mostly intrigued by how well the spice and the fruit go together. I know I like spice and chocolate--the baristas at my favorite coffee shop (now closed down, dangit) used to warn me about their Mayan mocha, made with Tabasco and black pepper, but it was always my favorite--but with fruit? Never really thought about it. I might have to experiment with this new notion.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Day 158: Broccoli Slaw

I'm always a fan of finding ways to waste less food, so when I saw Anne Burrell make coleslaw out of broccoli stems, I was intrigued. So intrigued, that I made the whole recipe: pulled pork with broccoli and carrot slaw.

It was a long day of cooking. I mean, not a huge amount of work--except the slaw, which required a lot of julienning--but a lot of cooking. Nine hours in a low oven for the pork. Lots of meat smell all day long. And in the end, a delicious sandwich with pulled pork, vinegar based sauce, and broccoli slaw on a sesame seed bun. Honestly, the broccoli slaw was way more amazing than I could have expected. Not woody or hard to chew like one might expect with broccoli stems. And I still have the florets leftover, so tomorrow I'll make a broccoli-based stir fry.

Yum yum.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Day 157: Bavarian Cream

Every now and again, I get the urge to open my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and try my hand at one of the many fancy recipes therein. Tonight, I tried a dessert: a chocolate bavarian cream.

As you can see, this was not entirely successful. Some of the chocolate sank to the bottom (the top, in the picture), some of it set nicely, and some of the frothed egg whites would not fully incorporate (the foamy stuff at the bottom). However, I was still incredibly proud of my work on this bavarian cream because, as you can see, it molded and set and unmolded again. Sure, it's not perfect. But I have a terrible record with desserts that need to thicken, set, etc. They generally don't turn out at all. But for a first shot at a bavarian cream, this came out nicely. Maybe next time, I'll get it right. Right or not, this dessert was delicious.

Here's my problem with Julia Child's recipes: they're hard to follow. If you're making the chocolate bavarian cream, you have to read and understand the recipe for orange bavarian cream. If you're making the orange bavarian cream, you have to read and understand the recipe for creme anglaise. Julia doesn't repeat herself, you see. She just tells you to refer back to another recipe, which can be quite confusing.

Anyway, next time I'll read more carefully. I can't blame all my failures on Julia, can I?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Day 156: Stinky Stinky Stinky

For years, I thought I would like limburger cheese. I know it's infamously stinky: the stinkiest of the stinky cheeses. But I like a strong cheese. I've tasted quite a few cheeses that smell like sweaty feet but taste like heaven. But I've got news for you: limburger tastes as bad as it smells.

It was packaged really well, I guess. Wrapped in foil and tightly sealed. Its smell didn't leak in the slightest. But as soon as I opened it, the smell exploded. The cat started sniffing around curiously. It was a little repulsive, but I had faith that the flavor would transcend. I was so incredibly wrong.

It's like the worst morning breath you've ever had, like if you didn't brush your teeth for weeks, drank copious amounts of alcohol, and slept all night with your mouth open. Or worse: it's like kissing someone who's done these things. I mean, it is a repulsive foodstuff. It didn't make me gag, which I suppose is something. But it is definitely not something I can imagine adding to a cheese plate unless I want my dinner guests to go home. (If you ever come to a party and I'm serving limburger, take the hint.)

However: I did not throw it all away. I was tempted to, but I wrapped my remaining cheese and bagged it in plastic, and I am going to take another crack at it, trying to incorporate it somehow into a more savory food. Will I do it? Will I just end up wasting food? I suppose only time will tell.

Day 155: Pickled Cauliflower

Of all the possible things to pickle, I never would have thought of pickling cauliflower. But since I've recently discovered a taste for cauliflower, I was eager to try it in a hot, pickled form. And guess what? It's lovely. A really good little snack or addition to a lunch.

Short post, I know. Sorry.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Day 154: Gizzards

Ian's and my favorite bar in Pullman is an interesting place. It has the standard plethora of alcoholic paraphernalia on the walls, windows, and ceilings. It's the home of a weekly dart league. We like to sit on the carpet-covered bench seats and play trivia. Any Pullmanite knows, from this description, that I speak of My Office.

Yes, My Office--so when your wife says, Where were you? You can say, I was at My Office, and she'll think you were at work! Ha ha!

Anyway. My Office actually has pretty good food--mostly deep-fried, of course--but we like to walk down there every once in a while, get some fries, a burger, and a beer, and play the trivia game until we get bored or someone reeking of cigarette smoke sits next to us (as happened last night). But we rarely sample around their menu. Mainly because it's all standard bar food--except for one item that I previously would not have dared try: chicken gizzards, deep-fried.

I've seen a lot of old men order the chicken gizzards and the waitress didn't bat an eye, but for some reason when I ordered them I expected a reaction. Like, REALLY? But she was very cool. She took my order, told me I should get them with ranch dressing because ranch is good with everything, and I had to agree. I figured, I've become an eating champion. How hard could this be?

Let me put it this way. People told me I would have trouble with the chewiness of squid. I had no trouble at all. But the chewiness of a chicken gizzard--I couldn't even get my teeth through it. The breading, yes. The gizzard, no.

The taste of the chicken gizzard, though not the most pleasant (Ian thought it was wretched, I just thought it tasted like old meat) didn't get me so much as that dang texture. They're practically inedible, by design. The men who order them so often must have iron dentures or something. Anyway, we gave up on the gizzards pretty quickly, and ate a regular meal.

Now, having ingested at least a small quantity of gizzard, I figured I should look up what exactly a gizzard is. I know I've removed them from turkeys, but they've been already detached and generally in a plastic bag. Apparently a gizzard is a sort of stomach where a chicken can grind food with stones it's previously swallowed. They do this because they cannot chew. They're so tough because they're line with special proteins, because chewing your food with a stomach full of rocks is probably not the most delicate of processes.

So now I've had chicken gizzards, and I know what they are. How enlightened am I?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Day 153: Home Brew

Yesterday, after my last MFA class ever, I came home to Pullman to see my husband and cat. I could have stayed in Spokane, gone to the bar, had a beer with everyone--but I didn't. I was in a funk, you see. It's the end of the school year--the end of my graduate program--and I'm having the wish-I-had-the-do-overs blues. Not that I regret everything about my grad school experience--far from it--I just wish I'd been able to connect more with the people, move past the getting-to-know-you phase with more of them. That's part of why I didn't want to go out--even at the end of the program, I still feel like I'm getting to know most of these people, it's still on small talk terms, and it's difficult to start saying goodbye when you never finished introductions.

Now, I realize that for many people, the small talk phase lasts forever. Not everyone will be your kindred spirit... blah blah blah. I get it. But isn't it lonely? Don't jokes and surface-level conversations get old?

Anyway. This is a food blog. Sorry. The point of all that was to get to the fact that I went home rather than out for a beer, but that when I got home, I got to taste my husband's first batch ever of home brewed beer. It was sweet. Not just that he had a beer waiting for me when I got home, but literally--the beer was sweet. The yeast had yet to eat some of the sugar that is supposed to help them carbonate it, I think. Not that sweet was bad. It was actually quite drinkable. But I like girly beers. Either way, not bad for a first batch.

Okay, back to that mushy stuff. I am so grateful to have my husband and cat. I am really lucky, really blessed. When I whine about not making deeper connections with my school chums, I have to admit that I have one bone-deep connection, and that is a miraculous thing. I mean, my husband and I love each other to our very marrow. On top of that, I have a cat who, if she had her way, would burrow under my skin. And I have wonderful parents, who I just got to see this weekend, the fresh lack of whom definitely contributed to yesterday's melancholia. Every time I see them I'm so happy, and when I come home I go through a sad phase, which is augmented when I've also gotten to see my oldest, dearest friend, which I did last weekend. I saw all these people who make my heart burst with happiness, and I came home to Spokane--not even to Pullman--and had to let my husband go home and back to work while I stayed in an empty apartment (my roommate, my one real connection from grad school, has gone back to Hawaii and I miss her). So I was sad. I still am, a little. But I was very happy, last night, to have a beer at home with my husband.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Day 152: Steamers

Yesterday, I defended my thesis, which means that, basically, I have a master's degree. Technically, there is paperwork to be turned in, including final grades and one important sheet with my thesis committee's signatures on it, but once that's done, I'm done: Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (fiction).

After defending my thesis, I went to the Globe with a pal and we drank and shot the shit and generally celebrated my passing my defense. And he ordered some steamer clams, which he was generous enough to share with me. And my word, were they fantastic. The fact that, until this year, I'd been completely missing out on mollusks just astounds me.

Though, I do think they might have contributed to my tummy ache later in the evening. A lot of that probably has to do with the alcohol I imbibed, and on top of the clams and a stick of fried cheese, I decided to add my leftover muffaletta. Plus, until going to the bar, all I'd had to eat was a caramel macchiato and a couple pieces of candy, neither of which would I say qualifies as food. So I was in for a world of trouble. I'm definitely not going to blame the stomachache on the clams, because they tasted too good for me to develop a negative association with them already. If they give my problems again, maybe I'll become wary. For now, I'm looking forward to the next time I can eat them.

Though--my friend did say that they don't always use the same kind of clam for steamers. I guessed we had littlenecks, though I'm hardly a clam expert, but the websites I've been perusing seem to agree with me/tell me that littlenecks and steamers are both names for the same clam. I don't know. Small and gray. Good stuff.