Saturday, June 28, 2008

Struggling meal to meal

For some reason, when I go on vacation or I have friends/family in town, I plan the meals first and fit all the other things around it.

Take my trip to Paris with my mother and sister back in June 2006. We had some touristy things we wanted to do (my sister hadn't been there in a decade), but let's be honest - the food was really all we HAD to experience. There was a restaurant that only served souffles (more expensive than we would normally have gone, but how often do you have a three course meal solely in souffle form?). There was the ubiquitous sidewalk cafe where we got our croque monsieurs, goat cheese salads, coffees, and carafes of red wine.

There was the crepes place we had to visit in order to subdue my sisters crepe-obsessed cravings. There was also the charming Italian restaurant across the street from our hotel. Sort of funny that we chose an Italian restaurant, but it was literally 10 yards from our hotel front door. Our waiter there was adorable (we went back a second time) and spoke Italian with my sister. He also sang for us and sort of "convinced" us to buy his CD, but it was charming all the same.

But the best food experiences, in my opinion, were the trips we took to the local grocery store or markets and the lovely fresh ingredients we consumed on benches in the park. The cherries were unbelievable and made a convert of me. The baguettes were as crispy and tender as you might imagine. And it was so difficult to restrain ourselves with the cheeses we got from the frommagerie.

God, those cherries were good. I had never really been a fan of cherries before that trip.
But this brings me to what will be my next topic - farmer's markets. The one we had up in Ithaca was fantastic. There are multiple ones here in Austin, and I usually hit up the closest one every Saturday morning. More on that later.

Food on TV

For the majority of my life, I have watched too much television. I'm not completely sure how it came to this, but some have suggested that it was because I was limited to one hour per week for a few years of my childhood. Either way, I agree - I spend too much time in front of the television.

My television watching, however, has evolved from constant sit-coms and dramas (my TiVo is still full of Seinfeld at any given moment) to more "educational" shows - like food-related programming. Depending on the season, I watch:
  • Top Chef (Tom needs to learn how to use his knife and fork properly, but it doesn't dampen my viewing experience)
  • The Next Food Network Star
  • Hell's Kitchen (Chef Ramsay is terribly rude, but remarkably delightful)
  • Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (sorta makes me never want to eat outside of my house again)
  • A Cook's Tour (Tony Bourdain is a god)
  • No Reservations (ditto)
  • Martha (yes, I still love her)
  • America's Test Kitchen (I love Christopher Kimball's geeky New England persona)
  • Everyday Food
  • Nigella Lawson's new show (Express?)
  • Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger
  • Iron Chef America (Who doesn't love Alton Brown's wry sense of humor?)
  • Good Eats (ditto)

I'm sure I'm missing some, but it doesn't end with the TV. I love watching Mark Bittman's videos on the NY Times website (see the links to the right). Sometimes during lunch (for which I never leave my desk), I sit there munching on whatever I've brought in or gone to pick up and I watch him effortlessly create something as involved as paella or something as simple as tomato soup. His humor, his irreverence, his just general down-to-earth-ness (like that?) makes it a great escape despite the fact that while I'm watching him my inbox is being flooded with emails marked "urgent" and "high priority."

I also very much love checking out the recipes on (I am biased, though, my brother-in-law runs the website). I love that they have joined in on the Facebook bandwagon. So now when a recipe excites me (which is hard to avoid), I can save it to my Epicurious recipe box and my friends on Facebook can view that inspiration for themselves. This almost implies that I cook some of these recipes. And, truthfully, that never really happens. This is the technological equivalent to my mother's big binders of recipes (that during one fateful visit home I tried to organize....I gave up and will likely not try again). I have a number of friends from various points in my life who also consider themselves foodies, and this type of technologies have made it possible for us to have a collective recipe box. How lucky can we be??

I must also make a shameless plug for the food blog of my college friend, Annemarie. My blog is more the pedestrian foodie blog. Hers is the blog to which I aspire. Let's be frank, while working 10-11 hour days, I'm not going to come home and make my own macaroons. I'm lucky if I don't hit up the fast food on the way home instead of heating up leftovers. But I drool almost every single time I read her blog. Her savory and detailed pictures of "pre" and "post" make my stomach growl, no matter how much Taco Bell I might have had that night. Her descriptions are so detailed and so well-written that it makes me believe that I too could attempt such grand dishes and meals. She tells stories of London dinner parties, great cheese discoveries, and her herb and vegetable garden....all things I dream of (yes, I dream of great cheese discoveries). In any event, the link is to the right - it's the Nectar and Ambrosia blog and it is most definitely worth the read.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I have made a pact with myself, much like the almost annual pacts I would make about keeping a daily journal - I have vowed to post 3 times each week. That's less than 50% of the days, so surely I can have the discipline to even just post what I ate...if it's's fair game.

And with that, I'm signing off to go back to the one thing that might just keep me from flogging (get it - food blogging?) - Rock Band. I love hitting those drums. :-)

Mayonnaise is not as good as hollandaise

Growing up, my sister and I had this book called From Bach to Verse. It took the famous hooks from classical pieces and added words to them. (This is a unsolicited plug for the book. I don't know if it's even in print any more, but it's brilliant.) For instance the chorus of Beethoven's 9th had the following words: "Sigmund Freud never hoid a concert due to chronic slouch. All his ritzy, somewhat schitzy patients tied him to his couch."

I don't know exactly what year it was (the book came out when I was 7, so I don't think it was too far after that), but my mother, sister and I were sitting at the piano in the living room plinking out the songs on the piano while singing the words. My father, who was sitting in the kitchen (probably eating a clandestine bowl of ice cream), would then yell out the name of the piece and the composer. As an avid classical music fan, my father found this exercise exceedingly simple, but he outdid himself with one piece. My sister, who would have been 4-5 years old at the time asked my mother spelling out the word, "what is M-A-Y-O-N-N-A-I-S-E?" Without hearing any other words in the phrase or even the tune, my father yelled out, "Chopin!" Unbelievable. He was, in fact, correct - the piece was Chopin's Polonaises. The "lyrics" are, "Mayonnaise is not as good as hollandaise. Hollandaise is inferior to sauce bernaise." Genius.

Today I made my own mayonnaise. I've been a sous-chef on this endeavor before when my ex periodically made his own, but this was the first time I've tried it on my own. I originally intended to use my blender or Cuisinart (as those are the ways he did it), but when I went digging into my cabinet to see which one I could grab first, I remembered my immersion blender. I decided that would be my implement of choice. I feel fairly certain that pretty much every single cookbook I have has a mayonnaise recipe, but I chose to go with my cooking class cookbook - it's a great reference for everything from basics like mayonnaise to ridiculous recipes (involving ingredients I've never seen in person) I will never attempt. The book is On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals by Labensky and Hause. It's super thorough and is usually my first stop. (I think in a future post I'll list the cookbooks I have. It's a motley crew.)

Anyway, I only had two eggs in my fridge (alas, the last of my farm fresh eggs), so I needed to halve the recipe. I had to decide between regular ground mustard and Coleman's mustard and ended up going with the former. I think next time I'll put some Coleman's in there - maybe it will give it a bit more personality. And that's what the finished product really missed overall...personality. I suppose I could have done the math wrong (which, as a former math teacher would be just shy of tragic), but it sure seemed like there wasn't enough vinegar in the recipe. It said to add lemon juice to taste, which I did. But at a certain point (always taste throughout the process!) it got too lemony, so I ended up also adding more vinegar instead of more lemon juice to it to balance out the immense amount of oil and to loosen it up a bit. I think in retrospect I'll also add a bit more salt the next time around.

What are my plans for the mayo you might ask? Well, I bought some grapes, some apples, and some canned turkey (yes, canned turkey) at Costco a week ago. I think I might see if I have walnuts and make some sort of Waldorf salad. I'll definitely have to thin the may with something, so I'll need to do some experimentation. I either need to get some big crispy lettuce leaves (Bibb or Butter, perhaps) or a tasty little roll on which to serve the outcome. I might also need to replace the walnuts with pecans, but I'll need to taste that and see if it works. I love pecans, but they're definitely different from walnuts.