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.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Day 182: Whiskey Praline Pecans

One of my favorite ice creams of all time is pecan praline, so when I saw these whiskey praline pecans at World Market, I had to have them. I'm always surprised at the lovely depth of flavor whiskey can bring to food, though as a beverage, it's not my favorite (I do like a Jack & Ginger if it's a lot more Ginger than Jack--mostly because I like the name.) And pecans are my favorite nut, so I had to try this combination.

Can I say yum? I can? Yum!

I don't know how else to say it. I would like to learn to make something like this. I should learn to make something like this. I WILL learn to make something like this.

PS: Can you believe it? The year (and thus, this resolution) is half over. Yikes!

Day 181: Peanut Chews

Yet another candy-tasting inspired by Steve Almond's Candyfreak: Peanut Chews.

Note that the front says "Chocalatey" not "Chocolate." There's a reason for that.

The interesting thing is, in Almond's book, the friend who accompanies him to the Goldenberg factory (before they were bought out by Just Born--you know, the guys who make Mike & Ike and Peeps) was given a whole mess of peanut chews, but told Steve she didn't like them. The next time they spoke, all her peanut chews were gone and she wanted more. Let's just say I can relate.

At first, I was completely disappointed in my peanut chews. They didn't have much punch. But after the first little piece (there are 8 in the package) I figured I would give the second one a chance. And then, I actually kind of wanted the third one. The fourth was divine. The fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth I had to save for my husband (I promised to share and I just don't need 460 calories from one snack).

The moral of the story: these things are dangerous. They have a sort of nostalgic wrapper and it's always fun to come across new things, but I don't know if I will have them again, if only because I don't want to become a peanut chew addict.

PS: Check out this cool candy blog I found and their opinion of peanut chews!