Monday, December 21, 2009

I'm dreaming of some snow cream

Since most of the blizzard in the Northeast has passed (at least that's what I hear), I should have posted this a couple days ago. But better late than never.

When my mom was growing up, snow storms meant her mother would make snow cream for my mother and her siblings. This tradition was passed on to me and my sister. Since my sister still lives in the Northeast, she's keeping the tradition alive and passing it along to her son.

Not surprisingly, this is a very simple "recipe." The ingredients are fresh fallen snow, heavy cream, vanilla extract, and sugar. That's it. If the snow is still falling, put a bowl outside and catch it while it's fresh from the sky. If the snow storm just stopped, you can scoop up some snow...keeping in mind to avoid...erm...discolored snow. In Brooklyn, we would open up the kitchen door, put our two bowls on the verandah (as we call our little landing leading to the sprial stairs), and wait not so patiently for the snow to fill up the bowls.

Don't use much vanilla - that stuff is strong, and if you put too much in, it's pretty nasty. Just do a tiny bit, taste it, add more if necessary.

The same thing applies to heavy cream - if you add too little, it tastes too much like, well, snow. If you add too much, the heavy cream melts the snow so much that you're really just eating iced heavy cream. Start with a little, and add more if it's needed.

Lastly, the sugar. This is a point of debate. One might think that you would want something like confectioner's sugar so the sugar would melt nicely into the rest of the concoction. But my sister and I agree - granulated sugar is the way to go. The grit is what makes it (and, as my mother says, what disguises the grit you might have gotten from the snow).

If you're in an area that is receiving snow, seriously, try this. It's one of my most favorite memories of childhood winters. And once you try it, you won't be able to go through a snowstorm without it. While other people might have been stocking up on salt or snow shovels, my sister (wise beyond her years) was stocking up on heavy cream.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What's one more?

I decided, that since I'm doing such a stellar job of posting regularly here (please note the sarcasm), that I'd begin another blogging project. My friend and former fellow hockey player and I have started a blog about Macaroni and Cheese. Well, she started it and I asked to join. So, we'll see how inspired we get, and hopefully I'll try some new recipes just to put them on the blog.

Check it out: http://easypleasymacncheesy.blogspot.com/

Yours in cheesy goodness,
CraftMafia

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Getting "Caught Up"

My father, for what I can only imagine has been the entire length of his professional life, has felt that he needs to get "caught up." As his undeniable daughter in a variety of ways, I have found myself feeling and speaking the same way when it comes to work. (I used to speak that way about housework, but thankfully, my mother has staged and organizational intervention in a few sessions, and I think I've conquered that demon.)

But aside from work, the other thing I always need work on to catch up is my reading. There are just too many things that I'm interested in to read to my satisfaction. I get a ridiculous number of magazines (some I don't think I've paid for in years, others have been guests). Most of them, as you might imagine, are food-related. It's tough to keep caught up.

Then there is the robust internet world of food - keeping up with food blogs is a seemingly impossible task. Right now, I'm following about 15 food blogs and a handful of other blogs created by my friends. (If only I didn't have such smart and creative friends....)

So consider this a pledge (yes, yes, I know I've made and failed on some of them in the past, but I shouldn't be penalized for dreaming). I will consider reading my food blogs and my food magazines as a household chore. I have recently decided to pick particular days for particular household chores, and I think Saturday should be the "get caught up on food reading" day. It's the perfect thing to do with a football/baseball/hockey game on the TV with a dog curled up at your feet.

And since today is Saturday, I'm catching up on my food blogs. Only 95 unread blog posts to go. Magazines, I leave you to next week. Hey, I only created my pledge tonight, and the football game is already at halftime. (Go Horns.)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

back on the horse

I'm not sure why I didn't post in September. In October, I cooked a lot, so clearly didn't have a good excuse. But November, well, I did have a good excuse there. I participated in NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. An honor-system contest (there's nothing really to win other than bragging rights) that asks participants to compose 50,000 words in the month of November.

In case you've never attempted to write in such a volume, a single-spaced page with normal 1" margins and Times New Roman font at 12 (a common default on most word processing programs, one page is about 660 words. Now imagine writing just shy of three of those a day. It sounds easy, at first. And truth be told, it is easy towards the beginning of the year. Through our AuNoWriMo (Austin Novel Writing Month) discussion forum, this year I receved a spreadsheet that has all these bells and whistles to track your progress, check your mood (yes, there's a chart for your motivation level), and how many words you've written per hour on average. It was fantastic and completely spoke to the nerdy OCD/anal person that I really am. One of my favorite aspects of that spreadsheet predicts that, if you stay at the pace you are currently writing, you will be done by X date.

After the first day when I more than doubled my day's allottment of words, I was floating around, so pleased with myself. I knew I couldn't keep up the pace, but according to that column of cells, I was going to be done by mid-November. How encouraging! The next day I didn't write anything, but I was still slightly ahead of the game, so all was not lost. The first year I did NaNoWriMo, I only wrote about 10k words. Last year, I think I wrote about 17k. But this year, I wrote 23k. I could certainly have written more - I was not lacking for content - but it was just the time that caused problems. The issue with November is that this year in particular, I traveled up to spend time with my family. And while that is a complete blast (we're all a bunch of weirdos), it does't necessarily help me set aside time to write.

I'm determined to participate in NaNoWriMo next year, and it's looking like the schedule will work in my favor. It's an "Thanksgiving off year" as things go in our family (when my sister spends Thanksgiving with her in-laws and Xmas with us), so I'll likely just hole up in Austin and feed my dog turkey and stuffing while writing.

I know it's a little premature, but I've already scheduled to take the beginning and the end of November off work. Well, that is, I've entered it as such in my Vacation Hours spreadsheet that automatically calculates the hours I've acrued every day and how much I have taken to reveal the balance. Yes, I have a vacation spreadsheet. Feel free to chuckle.

For more on NaNoWriMo - www.nanowrimo.org

Sunday, August 16, 2009

tiny produce - a quick post

I work in the semiconductor industry so I understand the concept of putting even more punch into a smaller and better package. But do we want this for our produce?

At the farmers' market a couple weeks ago, I ran across these small pears. And when I say small, I mean SMALL! Look at it in comparison to a cherry tomato. A grape! The kiwi looks like it's going to unhinge its jaw and eat my little pear. And this was supposed to be the same thing as an Asian pear? Those big grapefruit-sized, wonderfully crisp yet juicy monstrosities?? I asked the vendor, "Why are they so small. I normally see them much larger." I guess it's just in the way they trim the trees.

Many of the vendors at the farmers' market aren't exactly known for their well-developed rhetoric, but I'll admit I was hoping for something a little more informative. Alas. I was intrigued enough to buy a bag, and, after all, isn't that what counts? Making the sale?

So I brought them home and washed a couple of them off. I then marveled at just how minute they were. I was beginning to feel like I did in 5th and 6th grade when I was the tallest person in my class, boy or girl, and I let everyone know. I felt large and in charge. I mean, a pear with the diameter of a quarter? Insanity. Had I drunken from the "Drink Me" bottle or eaten the "Eat Me" cake?

Either way, I don't know what had happened, but they actually made me ill. Maybe they should trim the trees a little differently because the big ones never made me sick.

melting pot soup

I am very blessed to have a wonderful brother-in-law. While he has innumerable pride-inducing characteristics (great husband and great father just to name two), one of my favorites is his interest in food. He works to create the epicurious.com website and has a non-work-related love of cooking interesting meals. At one point, he was making his own cheese in their ground floor tiny kitchen. Amazing.

At some point he and I were talking about some sort of Italian wedding soup. I don't know where that name came from, but I must have recently seen a can of Campbell's Italian-Style Wedding Soup ("Meatballs and Spinach in Chicken Broth" as it is described on the label). I think he had also told me of a version he made, and it piqued my interest.

I figured, instead of meatballs I could use the feta and spinach chicken sausage my local grocery store sells. I seared it off and chopped it into large-ish bite-sized bits. The mirepoix would, of course, stay the same (carrots, celery, and onions). And while the sausage was searing in another pan, the mirepoix would get things going in my large pasta pot. Once those had sweated out, I added in some chicken stock. I don't remember how much, but definitely too much. I ended up having an entire pasta pot full of this soup. But wait, I've gotten ahead of myself.

Right after I added the chicken stock, I started cutting up my bok choy and giving it a quick rinse. That's what I was substituting for the spinach...a decidedly non-Italian ingredient, as far as I know. I threw in the sausage since, while seared, it needed to be cooked through. I added some more water (as if there needed to be more volume). Then after a few minutes of boiling, I added the orzo. Did I mention that's what I replaced the little nondescript pasta balls in the Campbell's soup with tri-color orzo. It is a favorite of mine.

Not much longer after that I added in the bok choy. Some hot red pepper flakes and some freshly ground black pepper joined in on the fun. Not much salt was needed since broth usually takes care of itself. As you can see from the next picture, I made A LOT of the stuff.

The way I figure, this melting pot soup sums up the various cultures to which I was exposed as a child growing up in New York. Every family had Chinese food from time to time (my Jewish friends always having big family dinners at the Chinese restaurant on Christmas, a tradition of which I was mildly jealous). And though we ate Chinese food fairly regularly, I am aware that it pales in comparison to the real deal. But what can I say...my mother could eat her weight in Schezhuan green beans (though, being a bean pole herself, I suppose that is not much of a feat). And, of course, Italian food was ubiquitous in the city. Even though we were a borough away from Little Italy proper, we were only a few blocks up the hill from a neighborhood whose light poles were painted the green, white, and red of the Italian flag. And then Campbell's soup - I have such distinct memories of their "alphabet soup" from childhood. This might sound gross to many, but we added milk to our beef broth-based alphabet soup. It cooled the soup down to suit our childhood palettes, but more importantly, it's what our mom and dad did, so it was the right way to eat your soup. The next step, of course, was to crumble Premium Saltines (original, thank you very much) into the soup by the handful. That is still one of my go-to soups when I need something comforting.

In any event, it's a soup informed by my culinary past in the Melting Pot of all Melting Pots. And it's darn tasty.

dinner party

I am unabashedly overjoyed to be out of the stay out until 4am crowd (well, at least not as a regular weekend occurrence) because it means that I have moved into the dinner party set. Yes, some of us had dinner parties a decade ago, but a decade ago I don't think I really saw cooking for what it is - a therapeutic way to let my creativity flow....not to mention some tasty vittles as a result.

So you can imagine how pleased I was to receive an invitation to a friend's house for a dinner party a few weeks ago. And let me say, this was a proper dinner party. The cocktail of the evening was a basil gimlet (OUTSTANDING drink, I might add, and one that I need to try at home sooner rather than later). The appetizers were figs drizzled in honey, olives, baguette slices with some sort of sun-dried tomato tapenade (maybe I'm not remember that part right, but it was good whatever it was).

Then came the entree. A perfectly cooked beef roast (red and bloody in the middle, but out to just ever so slightly pink towards the ends....something for everyone). Since we were in absolutely no rush and have a wonderful time making conversations in between nibbles of sticky figs, the hostess put the roast in while we were there. The hour flew by (no doubt helped along its way by the gimlets) also because the rest of the meal was a sort of dinner theatre. The way this apartment is set up allows some people to sit at the island's counter, watching what the cook is doing, and someone else could stand over to the side and participate in the island's conversation while talking to the cook. While all of this conversation was taking place, our hostess was deftly grilling bias-cut yellow squash and zucchini, large slices of avocado, and onions. The cheesy polenta that she had made earlier in the day and let set in a baking dish didn't fare quite as well on the grill as the vegetables, but taste-wise it was certainly a star (I'm willing to make that trade off any day - cheesier polenta that doesn't grill well...no problem here).

I feel as if I'm leaving something out, but the red wine we had with the dishes was the perfect accompaniment. It was all perfect. We then retired to the sectional to look over some magazines and continue our wine and conversation when the hostess exclaimed that she had completely forgotten to serve us her chilled melon soup as a starter. Oh well - we'll have it for dessert...and that we did. It was delicious. There was a dollop of what I surmised was greek yogurt on the top and she had added some dried herbs to the soup that I would have never considered - perfection.

The piece de resistance was that she insisted some of us take home leftovers. I've never been one to shy away from the leftover, so I gladly accepted. The first dinner companion said she would only take leftovers if it were in a tin foil swan. The gauntlet was thrown. Ask, and ye shall receive. A tin foil water fowl was created (one can't say for 100% sure if it was a swan, but the point was easily made). So how would our hostess follow up that masterpiece? With a tin foil fish, of course.

The picture doesn't do it justice, but I got to bring home a fish whose shape I can only describe as being shared with that of Flounder from Finding Nemo. It was perfect. However, it could not have been more perfect than the leftovers found inside. My dog, of course, got a tiny nibble of the meat (I'm a sucker for the pooch. What can I say). But the vast majority was left to me. I think I got two meals out of that beef roast and it was even more flavorful each time I bit into it. I'm thinking I'm going to have to try my magic at some point with a beef roast. Yum

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Is work more important than food blogging??

As some of you may have noticed, my blogs have been on a hiatus. This is not due to the fact that I haven't had and note-worthy food-related activities. On the contrary...and there are pictures to prove it!

This note is to say, forgive me, foodies. My day job (the one that pays for my food) has been a teeny bit busy lately. But don't fret! I have 4 blog posts in the hopper, some replete with visual aids. I commit to you all now before Blogger, the fridge, and my mother - I will post them before the weekend is through!

So check back come Monday morning, and if I haven't posted, send me nastygrams. Seriously. Yell, scream, throw tomatoes....

Much love from the busy foodie...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Oodles of Noodles - quick post

This past Friday, I went to another one of Whole Foods Culinary Center's cooking classes. This one was not a Lunch Express as mentioned in a past post, but rather was a dinner menu with four courses and some wine (a step up from the iced tea at lunch).

Chef Corinne Trang took us on a tour of different noodle styles, and the food was amazing. She has a very interesting culinary history from Southeast Asia to Paris to NYC and a wonderfully informative, yet casual style when demonstrating for a class.

She currently lives in NYC, so for those of you who live there or live nearby, she's frequently referencing her favorite restaurants and dishes from around the city.

She's got a great range of books, and I encourage you all to check them out. (Family, if looking for a gift idea, I'd love her Essentials of Asian Cuisine book - it's almost like a reference book, less cookbook.) And, of course, she's got a blog. She is now in my right hand Food Blog list and can be found at: http://www.corinnetrang.com/blog.

Lemony Schnitzel

Okay, let me start by saying, I am a British Isles Mutt. I am not of Austrian extraction. So my version of weiner schnitzel would likely offend the purists out there. With the disclaimers out of the way, on we go.

As part of my "grand plans" purchases yesterday, I bought some thinly-sliced pork cutlets and a big package of baby spinach. After having had amazing schnitzel in Fredericksburg, I had been wanting to give it a try. Tonight my original plan was to make my Melting Pot Soup, but without the orzo or the sufficient chicken stock that plan was thwarted. One lemon left....schnitzel it is.

For those of you who might wonder did the breading puff up, the answer is no. I used bread crumbs. For my set up, I had a plate of two eggs (probably could have stuck with one) scrambled and another plate of breadcrumbs.

In the pan I used a little butter and a little canola oil (so the butter won't burn). Unfortunately, the fire was a little too high for the first two pieces, as you can see in the picture. I turned the heat down for the next two batches, and they came out perfectly golden and crispy. In between each batch I added just a tad more oil and a tiny sliver of butter to make sure there was enough to pan fry in.

As I had the cutlets out of the pan and on the drying rack (so they could drip any excess oil they might have), I decided to make a pan sauce. I deglazed the pan with the juice of one lemon and a little more butter to make the sauce shine. It smelled amazing. I probably could have added some herbs, but I didn't have any on hand.

In retrospect, there was a bit too much butter and too much lemon. Had I had white wine on hand (which I never have because I don't like it), I should have deglazed with a bit of that, thrown in some shallots, and then done about half a lemon.

I got to thinking that I need to probably also have some green. I decided that a big pile of baby spinach sprinkled with a bit of "House Dressing" with a couple cutlets on top. A little drizzle of sauce on top.

I think this will make for some very tasty leftovers too.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Grand Plans - A quick post

Today I went by the grocery store just to get some pickles (I had to make tuna salad), and it was one of those situations where you end up buying a heck of a lot more than you plan. (Oddly, it was not because I was hungry.) BUT, I had specific recipes in mind. I've been wanting to oven roast some leeks (just thought it's worth a try), so I bought a bunch of leeks ($2.99). I thought about making my Melting Pot Soup, so I bought bok choy ($1.38) and chicken, spinach, and feta sausage ($3.17). In thinking back to my fantastic trip to Fredericksburg, I also decided to get some thin-cut pork chops to try out a wiener schnitzel recipe ($1.99). I purchased some avocados at Costco last week, and I've been dying to make some guacamole, so I bought an onion ($0.23), some garlic ($1.00), and some jalapenos ($0.19). In addition to some other items, I got a pretty full 4 bags for just around $35.

One thing I'm trying to focus on is not letting my food spoil before I get to use it. That's a hard thing for me because I always have such grand plans, but I'm hoping this time will be different because I do have grand plans.

A Lunch Person

When I was three, I attended a half-day session at the school down the block from where I lived. Being the "older than my time" girl from an early age, I was bothered by the fact that there were other kids (some 4 years old, some 3) who were staying there for the entire day. I wanted to be a "Lunch Person" like those who stayed until the afternoon. My mother, wanting to support her youngin's desires, would pack me a lunchbox that I could bring to school, even though I didn't eat it there. I was a Lunch Person.

I am again a Lunch Person. I have begun bringing my lunchbox to work. Yes, you read that right. I'm in my 30s, and I bring a lunchbox to work. Think a modern bento box, less disposable packaging, healthier meals, and downright cuteness. My lunch box is made by Oots. I am in love with it. It has all these cool little containers inside, and if you get the "Deluxe" version, it comes with one large and four small plastic containers that fit inside. (You can also buy it without the inserts.) I was lucky enough to receive one of these beauties from my sister and brother-in-law as a birthday present back in the beginning of May (everyone...mark your calendars for next year...). But it took me a couple months to get in the swing of actually using it as intended. There have been a couple days I've trotted along with a frozen meal inside, but that's not nearly as exciting.

So I gave myself an assignment. Go to the farmers' market (see my previous post called The Prodigal Daughter), buy some tasty vittles, and make sure to eat healthily with the help of my Oots Lunchbox. I started with some fruit. I cut my orange in the "Chinese restaurant" style way, as my mother calls it - in half from pole to pole then slice parallel to the equator. It's the best way to eat an orange. You can just rip the flesh out with your teeth and you barely get any pith.

Next came blueberries. A ton of blueberries in another small bin. They are so easy to snack on throughout the day. I love the way they pop in the mouth.

I also packed one of these little squares with cheese and crackers. It was some delicious Colby that I got at the farmers' market (my dog also likes it...he likes cheese). The Colby was firm, but not oppressively so - it didn't hurt my gums when I chomped down on a big cube. The crackers I used were, brace yourself, good ol' Premium Original Saltines. I know that this Colby could have stood up to a Carr's cracked pepper of a similarly spiced cracker, but there's just something about those Premium Saltines. I love them. One thing I didn't really think about, though, was that the moisture from the cheese made the crackers a little less than desirable in texture. But don't get me wrong, I still ate them. You can't beat the perfect amount of salt on those things.

Lastly, as mentioned in my last post, I had done up some zucchini and and steak in the same grill pan. I had some leftovers in the longer of the plastic bins. Boy were they tasty.

Tomorrow I'm taking another meal. Dark sweet cherries and green grapes in two small bins. Another small bin has some tuna salad (tuna, light mayo, celery, dill pickles, celery seed, salt, and pepper), and the fourth has some more dill pickle spears and some more celery. The big bin has two pieces of Nature's Pride Double Fiber bread (remarkably tasty for how much fiber is in them, and I can toast them at work and make my tuna sandwich) and a handful of Marcona almonds (that are absolutely irresistible).

I'm hungry just thinking about it.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Prodigal Daughter

After a fairly long hiatus, I returned to the Sunset Valley Farmer's Market this morning. I love that place. In an effort to be more financially responsible, I have made a conscious decision to not buy a ton of produce that will just go bad in my fridge. So while I spent a nice chunk of money, I did not overbuy in terms of amount.

I limited myself to the following items:
  • One cantaloupe
  • Two Sharlyn melons
  • Two zucchini
  • Two yellow squash
  • Two cucumbers
  • A skirt steak
  • 1 lb. Black Bean & Queso Fresco Ravioli in Cilantro Pasta
  • Some green beans
  • Four mid-sized tomatoes
  • A dozen farm-fresh eggs


Some explanations...

Sharlyn Melon I found this definition online: "This melon tastes like a cantaloupe and honeydew combined. Sharlyn melons are sweet with netted outer layer, greenish-orange rind, and white flesh. The availability varies, so check your local supermarkets and farmer’s market." It's funny because to me it smelled a bit like a mix of a peach and a cantaloupe.
The first one I ate didn't have nearly as intense a flavor as it did a fragrance. It was good, but a bit of a let down. The flesh was perfectly ripe, though, and I was able to just sit there and carve out bites with my spoon. The second one, however, had a more developed flavor, and it was rather tasty.


Skirt Steak
At about 9:30pm two nights ago, I realized that I had not prepared lunches for the rest of the week (as was my intention). So I figured that since the skirt steak was pretty thin, it wouldn't take too terribly long to cook it. I was right. I didn't put anything but salt and pepper on it and threw it on my grill pan. About 2-3 minutes each side, resting about 10 minutes (while I cooked the zucchini), and it was perfectly pink in the middle. Delicious.


Zucchini I cut a zucchini in half and then in small half moons. I tossed them with a tad of salt, pepper, and some herbs de provence. I then threw them in my grill pan so they could also soak up some of the beef yumminess that was left on the pan. Definitely turned out as well as I could have expected.

The only thing that went wrong at the Farmer's Market this time around was that I brought my pooch with me. He was wonderfully behaved, but there was a lot to smell, say hello to, and so on. He isn't particularly food motivated, so I didn't have to worry about him jumping up after some food or people. It was just hard to maneuver a leash (while trying not to trip people) and trying to remember not to drop the eggs or smoosh the blueberries or the tomatoes.

As of yet I haven't used the tomatoes, yellow squash, cantaloupe, green beans, and cucumbers. But check my next post to see more about the ravioli and the blueberries.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Airport Food

Traditionally, airports are full of a variety of fast food chains. One example of that is certainly DFW - that behemoth of an airport the size of a small Malaysian principality. The options in the food court that I've seen there range from the insipid Wok on Roll (which I might add does fill the desperate need for something resembling General Tso's) to the ubiquitous McDonald's and Burger King.

Austin Bergstrom International Airport (affectionately referred to as ABIA) seems to be different. I'm sure many of the smaller regional airports across the country have a similar aesthetic, but as a Brooklynite, I really haven't spent much prolonged time in smaller airports. All of that is to say, I don't propose that ABIA is different from other smaller regional airports, but rather that it is certainly a different breed from the larger hubs.

This is my second time living in Austin, but in the 6 years in between, I visited annually. Each time I went in or out of ABIA, I stopped by two of the eateries - Amy's Ice Cream and Salt Lick BBQ. (Not normally in that order...but yes, sometimes....I keep telling any kid who will listen, one benefit of being an adult is that you can have dessert first or as the whole meal...but I digress.)

Amy's Ice Cream is local fare much like Cold Stone Creamery. Not having been to CSC more than once, my next statement might be inaccurate, but I'm throwing caution to the wind. Amy's has a ton of more quirky personality than CSC could ever have. Part of that, of course, may be a function of Austin's "weirdity," but it's a company that not only tolerates the counter culture personalities, but also embraces and encourages it. Amy's is where seemingly all of the pierced tattooed young punks/hippies/hipsters work. And it's not all about the folks behind the counter - the ice cream itself has a quirky personality.

There are about 20 flavors that can be used as a base - some are your typical flavors (Coffee being my favorite) while some are more exciting like Mexican Vanilla or Pumpkin Pie. And then there are the "crushins." They have all manner of cookies, gummies, and fruit, not to mention sauces and sprinkles. One of my friends recently sang the praises of Mexican Vanilla with Nutter Butters Crushed in. Almost exclusively I gravitate towards the slightly more pedestrian (and yet ethereal) Coffee ice cream with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups crushed in.

The other local delicacy that I could not pass up whether arriving into or departing from ABIA is the Salt Lick BBQ. The main Salt Lick restaurant is out in Hays County about 20-30 minutes Southwest of Downtown Austin (only about 15-20 minutes from my place, thankfully.) Because Hays is a dry county it's BYOB. People show up with coolers full of beer. If the wait is long, there's a huge outdoor area where you can dive into that cooler, sit and listen to live music, and in cooler weather, sit by a fire pit.

Inside, you can eat with some other people at a community table - everyone just packed in together at a picnic table. Or you can get your own picnic table. The BBQ pit is right there in the building so you can't help but smell like seared flesh when you leave; it's a glorious thing.

At the airport, however, you can buy beer with your, say, brisket sandwich. In some ways it's a better experience. What the airport clearly lacks is ambiance (there's nothing like barbecue off of plastic plates while seated at picnic tables). But the ability to pair your meal with a beer then take about 10 steps to the right and follow that brisket up with some Amy's.

Salt Lick + Amy's = perfect together.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Agida

A couple weeks ago, I seemed to be in a three-day spell of Agida. For those of you who are unfamiliar with that term, it is an Italian-American phrase that means heartburn. It's often used to say that you're experiencing some sort of grief, but the kind I experienced was the heartburn kind.

For some reason, I had the worst heartburn after the lunch I had on that Sunday at the airport. (See my next post for a discussion around the phenomenon of airport food.) It didn't get better any time soon. In fact, after arriving in Chicago for a work conference, I was determined to get a steak...but my stomach was hurting so much that I didn't bother and went with bland room service instead. I had some afternoon doses of Mixed Berry Tums, but after the room service, things reverted back to the previous hurt.

The next morning, my stomach still didn't feel that great (not nausea, but pain), so I started the day with some water and a couple Tums. I then when for a run/walk of a few miles. I was feeling good (there's just something about spandex and my Army shirt that turns on my Supergirl persona), and went to the morning buffet. I didn't overdo it (despite temptation). I had fresh squeezed OJ, coffee, a small bowl of oatmeal, a couple small pancakes (which I didn't finish), and because I felt I needed some protein, an eggs benedict.

The oatmeal was fantastic. Each little grain popped in my mouth sort of like perfectly cooked quinoa. I put in a little bit of brown sugar and just a dash of maple syrup (just because it was there), but I suspect it would have been perfection even without the added sweetness.


The pancakes were only picked up because they were just brought out from the kitchen, so they were piping hot and quite fluffy. As pancakes go, they were perfectly lovely, but I didn't feel like finishing them.

Lastly, the eggs benedict. That is likely not a good choice when chafing dishes are involved, but it's typically one of my favorite breakfast/ brunch items. Both the yolk and the hollandaise were congealed. Not good. But I wanted an egg. (I should have gone with scrambled, clearly.) But the meal served as my breakfast and lunch.

(Side note, I was staying at the hotel where Obama spoke to the AMA, so over coffee and oatmeal, I was watching people, police, security, and protesters scurry about. Excitement, but I didn't see the man himself.)

That afternoon there was a variety of treats at the conference - ice cream, a candy bar (literally bins of malt balls, jelly beans, and a big bowl of popcorn), tons of sodas, bowls of hard candy on each of the tables, Kisses, etc. Then on each of the conference tables, there was one (sometimes two) bowls of hard candy. They're trying to kill us. I managed just to have a small cup of popcorn and a chipwich (or rather, a Tollhouse brand chocolate chip ice cream sandwich). During a drowsy afternoon moment, I might have had a hard candy or two.

After the program, we all went to the Hard Rock Cafe's China Grill where we had three different app stations, passed apps, table waitstaff, and a bar...all paid for. There were tortilla chips with tuna tartare, various sushi rolls, pot stickers, skewered meat, etc. I had a few glasses of wine and a lot of appetizers. It was enough so that I didn't feel hungry any more, but not enough that I was stuffed....maybe not quite enough for a full meal. Either way, my stomach hurt again. So when I got back to my room, I ordered ice cream through room service. The cold felt good in my belly. But going to sleep, my stomach hurt again.

Then this morning...ouch, my belly hurts! (A quick side step here. By my "belly" I'm referring to the top of the stomach where it meets the esophagus.) I got up early (after staying up late), packed, ironed my clothes, and headed out the door. I did pick up a coffee (Fat-Free, Sugar-Free, Vanilla Latte at Starbucks, aka a skinny vanilla late) at Starbucks, which was likely not too kind on my stomach. But I had a toasted poppy seed bagel at the conference center with cream cheese - I thought it might make things better. a) I shouldn't bother eating bagels outside of Brooklyn. It's just setting myself up for disappointment. b) I should have eaten at the hotel (I had a voucher for a free buffet) and had a big bowl of that oatmeal. Bygones.

More agida.

I'm pleased to say that spell has long since passed, but it was a tough three days there.

Friday, June 05, 2009

A reminder to help

As schools are letting out all over the country, many children who rely on their school's breakfast and lunch to make it through the day are now left without food options. While for many of us it might seem like nothing has changed (you still have to go into work, sit in your cube, and eat whatever it is that you've either managed to scrounge out of your fridge or buy from a local eatery), but as you can imagine, this change of season can be devastating to little mouths all over the country.

So, in addition to asking you to volunteer your time or money to your local food bank (I'm arranging for my group at work to spend a half day at the Capital Area Food Bank here in Austin), I am also sending out this quick reminder of the "Pledge to End Hunger" campaign.

While of course they will gladly accept monetary donations, what they are asking for is for you to "sign" their campaign. You put in your email address, name, and state, and poof...their partner, Tyson, donates tons and tons of food to food banks in your state. I blogged about this first back a few months ago when there were only 1350 pledges, but I'm surprised to see that the number is only up to 4801. That's a great start, and it's translating into 140,000 lbs of food & 560,000 meals donated. But 5,000 people is not that many; imagine what we could do if twice that many signed up.....

Please "sign" the Pledge to End Hunger campaign and tell your friends. Just by posting your support of this program, people receive food. It's that easy. I signed up and I've maybe received about 2 emails a month at the most, so it's not like you're adding your name to some crazy telemarketing roster. It's just a super easy way to help.

Sign up. Today.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Lunch Express leads to a future Mexican fiesta

Today I went with my friend, Adrienne, to the Whole Foods Market Lamar Culinary Center for one of their Lunch Express classes. These are not hands on classes like knife skills (though they offer those). Instead, they provide a starter, an entree, and a dessert while the chef instructor demonstrates the same menu at the front of the class.

Let me tell you - these people know how to do demonstrations. First - the instructor. This woman, Chef Allison Heaton, is high energy, down-to-earth, clearly skilled, and has great suggestions as to ways to tweak the recipes. She says things like, "if you're making this for a dinner party, you might do it that way, but if it's just me and my fiancee, we do this." She understands that while we all deserve it, we don't always feel like going all out when it's just us. I believe she instructs most (all?) of their Lunch Express classes, as she knew many people in the audience.

The second impressive thing is the ingredients they use; this is, after all, Whole Foods. They have the tastiest looking produce, sustainable products, and all of the ingredients are available upstairs at the store (which I'm sure is very appealing to those people who do not have to go back to work after the class). As for the sustainable thing, I just read last night in edibleSeattle that hearts of palm "harvesting" typically kills the palm trees they're taken from. (The latest issue was my souvenir from a recent trip to Whidbey Island...more on that trip in the next post.) Apparently the quickest way to the heart is just to chop the whole thing down. Hearts of palm isn't really on my regular pantry list, and I'm not a "greenie," per se, but hearing that made me think they never would be. Enter Whole Foods - today Chef Allison made explicit reference to the fact that the hearts of palm she was using were sustainable. She said that all hearts of palm that they sell at Whole Foods are sustainable. She mentioned that if you buy them at another store, just make sure to check the can for the word "sustainable."

Lastly, it's the set up. There are nine tables holding four seats each. It's a tad crowded, but it's really not problematic. The drink options are ice water or unsweetened tea (they do provide both "Sugar in the Raw" and a stevia-based sweetner). Simple, but it really does cover most bases. Periodically, a couple of the people helping out bring pitchers of the two drinks around the room filling half-empty glasses. They provide you with a printed menu of what you will not only be tasting, but also seeing demonstrated (it's double-sided, which wins a prize from my non-greenie self). They also provide you with a newly sharpened #2 pencil, the feel of which I absolutely love between my fingers (said the girl who prefers to type...but there's just something about a good ol' yellow pencil, don't you think?). And the last thing about the set up that I find impressive is the way in which the cameras are set up. Now this may sound like a given for a demonstration classroom, but I have been in two cooking classrooms I can think of where the cameras just didn't do the process justice.

A small bonus at the end of today's class was that I asked the front desk people if they knew of a good knife sharpening guy/gal. They did, and they had his card. And guess what - he makes house calls! Hazah! Finally the knives in my kitchen will be worth using again (I'm just not very good with the knife stone I have....).

I encourage anyone in the Austin area to attend these classes. The Lamar Culinary Center offers a variety of classes on a number of themes and their prices seem to be quite competitive with other classes of this type that I've seen out there.
Lamar Culinary Center - 525 N. Lamar Blvd - 512.542.2340 - http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/lamar-culinarycenter/

And if you're near another Whole Foods somewhere else, find out if they have a Culinary Center. It's a great $18 "lunch and a show."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

When you feel cruddy....

Recently I sent a message out to my friends on Facebook asking what they like to eat when they're not feeling well. The way I see it, there are three kinds of not feeling well. Headaches (I get the migraine kind), colds/sinus infections, and stomach issues are another. I guess just being down in the dumps or having the blues, as I often refer to it, is a fourth kind. So I'm adjusting my previous statement - there are four kinds of not feeling well.

When I have a headache, I'm often not hungry. The headache can lead into nausea, so situations one and three can morph from time to time. But typically in those cases, I end up just picking at food, not really eating anything of worth (and probably not anything that's actually too good for me). When it comes to stomach issues, Campbell's Chicken and Noodle (or Rice) Soup is a winner. Actually, Campbell's Alphabet Soup (I'm not sure what the official title is) with a splash of milk and some crushed up saltines wins in any situation, regardless of the ailment.

When feeling blue, the only solution is plain old comfort food. Down here in Austin, a great and cheap option is the "veggie" plate at Luby's. If you've ever seen King of the Hill when they go to a big cafeteria style restaurant with a bunch of blue-haired bitties...that's Luby's. It's extremely busy in the late afternoon....prime dinner time for the walker set. Their veggie plate includes three "vegetables" (which basically just means "non-meat"). I usually will choose two helpings of mac and cheese and one of fried okra (now you see why I put the word vegetables in quotes).

A small digression, I remember the first time I saw mac and cheese listed as a "vegetable" on a menu. There was this small Southern restaurant around the corner from my house in Park Slope, Brooklyn. This restaurant was as authentic as it could be in NYC, where the female chef walked around in her boots, played Lucinda Williams on the music system, and cooked some mean Southern comfort food. Delish. I believe it was there that I was first amused by a restaurant listing mac and cheese as a "vegetable." Sadly, that restaurant (as many in the high turnover neighborhood of Park Slope) didn't last, and I believe it has since been a wide variety of institutions including a sushi place, some sort of fusion restaurant, and a coffee bar.

But back to the "not feeling so hot" food parade. When I asked my friends what they recommend, there was an interesting array of responses. One friend suggested that hot Dr. Pepper with lemon is a great sore throat cure. (I can't believe I didn't try it a couple weeks ago when I had the worst sore throat. I'm sure there will be another opportunity.) There were the obligatory "chicken soup" responses, which, let's face it, is a good answer to just about any ill...book titles notwithstanding.

Now I've been sick for close to three weeks, so my culinary muscles are not so much looking for ways to flex. I have been leaning on cold fast food treats (frosties, ice cream sundae-type things, and so on). But tonight, I actually opened up a can or three. Back to my low-energy, no frills, feel better meal - a can of black beans, a can of corn niblets, and a can of tuna...plus a little House dressing (Good Seasons Italian Dressing) okay, a lot. Some Diet Coke and grapes, and a meal is made.

Wow...I sure am a gourmande.

It's a small plate after all....

What are the odds? A few weeks ago on Facebook I mentioned in my status that I'd spend the evening blogging. And lo and behold, a friend of mine said that she, too, is a food blogger. Honestly...what ARE the odds? Maybe it's some sort of generational return to domestic life, but in a modern way with a splash of technology? I should probably thank an ex-boyfriend for getting me into food, but since I had a cookbook at an early age when my sister and I were tasked with cooking one night a week, I don't think he gets full credit.

It seems that at least four of us from our college class have food blogs, with at least three of us hoping to get books out of it. I'm going to guess that there are others in our class with similar interests and aspirations. Crazy.

So, on that note, here are the three Eph-oodie-blogs from my fellow classmates. They're always available in the blogroll on the right side of the page, but I just thought the coincidence deserved an editorial mention.

Dena's Recipe Exchange. Dena describes her blog as "an exchange of ideas for what to cook when you're feeling stuck. Or when you simply want to expand your repertoire. This blog is designed for anyone who's been in a food rut, afraid to try new things, or overwhelmed by a 500-page cookbook."

Ambrosia and Nectar. Annemarie describes her site as "Foodie things that make you feel divine." She always has the most amazing photos of her creations, but the best picture thus far is from her latest post (date 5/21) - showing her son covered in pureed beetroot. Hilarious. (For those not baby-oriented, don't worry, this blog is a food blog, not a mommy blog. This was a brief diversion.)

Revel and Feast. Janee has a broad range of tastes that she covers in her blog. To me the most amazing thing is that her kids are eager to sample her sophisticated fare such as Pollo al Pimentos and Pork Chops with Artichokes and Capers (I likely would not have been as open until lately). She provides tested recipes and mouth-watering pictures for each of her entries. The latest one (5/23) is Strawberry Basil Lemonade...sounds delicious and something I very much plan on trying.

Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Guten Apetit

A couple weekends ago, my parents visited from Brooklyn. My father grew up for much of his childhood in Texas and even went to college here in Austin. But amazingly, he had never been out to Fredericksburg (A German town out in the hill country). Since I had never been either, he was eager to check it out. My mother, being pretty easy going most times, was along for the ride happily.

On our way out to Fredericksburg, we drove to the Pedernales (oddly pronounced, "perdinales") Falls State Park. My dad said that while he was at UT, his frat brothers went out there all the time, but he was never along for the ride. As we entered, there were many signs warning of the possible fast rising flood waters. While the signs were attempting to be serious, their language was pretty hilarious for those of us who have a dry/sarcastic sense of humor (I am my parents' child...what can I say). The signs gave orders of what to do if you saw flood waters coming your way, which essentially consisted of drop your belongings, turn away, and run as far and as fast as you can. But the last "order" given on the sign could have either been the result of if those previous steps were successfully taken or it was the oddest order I've ever been given, "LIVE." Oh good. I'm glad they told me to live because otherwise I might not have chosen that option after dutifully dropping my belongings, turning around, and running as fast and as far as I could. ...Ok...maybe you had to be there. But we got a chuckle out of it.

In any event, while in the Hill Country (a name that those from more mountainous environs might think was actually tongue-in-cheek), we passed a number of vineyards and farms. Sadly, it was a little early in the season for the farm stands by the side of the road to really be in full bloom, but mark my words, I'm going out there at some point with the express purpose of hitting up every single farm stand. I'm a sucker for food that is lovingly cared for by human hands, where you put a fiver in a tin can as part of the honor system when the owner isn't right there looking over your shoulder. Reminds me of buying corn up in the Berkshires. Yum.

Once we got out to Fredericksburg, we were pretty ravenous (I think it was something like 2pm at this point). Things were getting a little testy, but we all kept our cool. My father had been given the recommendation to find "the best German place" on the far end of town, so we drove through town (blink: there it goes) and found nothing. As we were aiming for the "far side," though, we did notice a place called Der Lindenbaum. It was featured in a book that I had gotten for my father to keep at my house so he could pick restaurants/farms/sites out of it to see when he visits so I'm not saddled with the whole cruise director task.

If I'm going to be totally honest, I wasn't keen on eating German food. I didn't say this to my parents, but frankly, I just couldn't think of what was German aside from beer (which I'm just fine with, of course) and bratwurst. Not that I have a problem with cased meats, just it didn't sound that great. But the Hill Country was settled by vast numbers of German, Czech, Polish, etc. back in the day and some of those cultures live on quite strongly. So we decided Der Lindenbaum must have been what my dad's friends were talking about, and I might say, it changed my life.

First of all, we had the most amazing waitress. Clearly a bit overstretched in terms of the number of tables she had to cover, but she was perfectly attentive and had a great "straight talking" kind of attitude. You want to know what the best thing is on the menu - boom: Jagerschnitzle. You want a hefeweizen (that was just me) - boom: you want the Erdinger not the one listed on this menu. You want a dry reisling - boom: here you go. You want to know which dessert to get - boom: she says, "avoid this, avoid that." No punches pulled. And she didn't pull that same old song and dance you get at so many restaurants when the waitress is asked, "what's the best thing on the menu." "Uhhhh....it's all good." Great. Nice to know you have a discerning palette. But this lady did. She got high marks for taking control, but for also listening to what we wanted.

Being suddenly struck with a tad bit of culinary trepidation, I decided just to go with the plain ol' weinerschnitzle. Pounded out pork, pan fried, with a lemon to squeeze over it. It was divine. As per her suggestion, my mother got the Jagerschnitzle. This is the same thing I got but with a mushroom "sauce." While the mushrooms were remarkably tasty, they were still very firm and meaty and pretty big to begin with, so we felt it was really more like a side dish instead of a sauce. Super tasty all the same. My dad got the gulash. He says he's had better, but that it was still pretty good.

The star of the show, however, was something that I had seen Tony Bourdain sample in East Berlin with a former spy. The TV show "No Reservations" rarely has items that I think I'll really have an opportunity to properly sample. But amazingly, they had it on the menu at Der Lindenbaum - currywurst. My dad and I wanted to get a side dish of it after I told him about it. My mom also sampled it an enjoyed. Basically, it's some sort of wurst (I don't know my different wursts, so forgive me) in this amazingly succulent curry sauce. I kid you not, had I not been with my parents (and maybe not in public), I would have picked this plate of sauce up and licked it clean. The wurst drowned in the sauce was exquisite. The weinerschnitzle drizzled with the curry sauce was even better. I now know that if I ever make it back to Der Lindenbaum (which seems like an inevitability), I will not even open the menu and will order the currywurst platter. (And another Erdinger Hefeweizen Light or two.)

Scrumptious.

Der Lindenbaum
http://www.derlindenbaum.com/
312 East Main Street
Fredericksburg, TX 78624
830.997.9126

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

On May 5th, the IT department (and a few select guests, such as myself) had their 3rd annual Cinco de Mayo Salsa Competition. Apparently last year they had some chutneys from some of our co-workers originally from the Indian subcontinent, but this year, most items were traditionally salsa or queso.

My addition to this mix wasn't quite as stellar as I had hoped for, so I plan on revising the recipe and then posting it here at a later date. But the basics are back to my beloved corn niblets (canned, baby) and black beans (also canned). I suppose you might get a better bean flavor if you started with the soaking of the beans and so on, but this was something I had to put together very quickly, so that was not an option. I intended to put red onion in there but when I cut into my huge red onion (that felt firm to the light squeeze), it essentially exploded. The middle was rotten. Grody. Bummer. So I moved on to the huge shallot I had sitting with my garlic and put in a big shallot (finely minced) and a medium-sized clove of garlic (also finely minced). Truth be told, I attempted to grate the garlic through my microplane at first to turn it more into a mush that would work itself through the dish completely, but the ROI was lacking - not a lot of garlic mush for all the effort I was putting in. Dicing won out.

Then came the seasonings. I knew I wanted to put in cumin. It is one of my all time favorite spices. The smokey mild heat just can't be beat. (I'm a poet and I didn't even know it.) And it goes with so many other things. So I added a liberal amount of cumin, some cayenne, salt, and pepper. It still didn't have enough zing. So I added a bunch more cumin. Better, but still lacking. I opened up my pantry and searched for something that would work. Aha! Taco seasoning! So I sprinkled in probably 1/3 of the packet on this mixture (which was two cans of each corn and beans). It livened it up and got it to pretty decent, but like I said, it's going to need some refining. Oh, and measuring. That's the thing I find so hard about writing down my cooking exploits....I don't really measure. I guess I need to get better at that. Experiment while I'm in the mood, but just take note of what I'm doing.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Despite what my mother believes, the sniff test doesn't always work

Even though I am in my 30s, I still call my mother (2,000 miles away in Brooklyn) to ask her if a food I'm considering eating is still good. Nine out of ten times, her suggestion is to conduct a sniff test. The basic process is: 1) open container. 2) stick your nose as close to the food as possible. 3) inhale deeply. It's not rocket science. My mother has an amazingly fine-tuned schnoz for such things, whereas I'm not sure my nose's palette is quite as refined. Nonetheless, I frequently rely on the sniff test. After all, it's what my mom does.

Enter StillTasty. This great tool was advertised by Tasting Table Everywhere today, and I'm a little frightened to see where I've gone wrong so many times. I freeze and refreeze things that, according to StillTasty, shouldn't be refreezed (or in some cases, shouldn't be eaten altogether based on the way I've thawed it in the first place).

I see this as being an endlessly useful tool. You can find products by category or just by entering its name into the search function. I just came across "Parmesan Cheese, Commercially Grated and Packaged - Opened" in the Dairy category and found that my big tub of grated Parmesan from Costco is still good to go. (And yes yes, I know a block of Parmesan is preferable with "just in time" grating as needed, but I needed a lot of the stuff for a couple lasagnas a few weeks ago, and it just seemed easier on my arms.) There are indications for how long something would last in the fridge versus how long it would last in the freezer. There are even little storage tips, and while many of those are just common sense, they are reminders of what you should be doing, regardless of what you are doing, which is always helpful.

So, while I'm sure the sniff test will win out many times, I will turn to StillTasty more often than not. Even though I don't think I've ever really gotten sick from something in my fridge...or maybe I'm just blocking out the experience.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Summer Soups?

With the beginning of summer (we've had weeks of what any normal human being would call summer here in Texas already), it's pretty odd that I've been craving hot soups lately. This craving wasn't helped (and was potentially multiplied by a steak craving) after watching the last Everyday Food episode that aired on PBS this past weekend. I like a lot of the dishes they tend to produce because the name really does fit - 9 out of 10 times it's something you could do on a weeknight either for one or for a family of four. Their recipes are pretty basic, and they explain things quite well, which I would imagine is very helpful for someone not so comfortable in the kitchen.

This past episode was called "Soups and Salads." They started with something that is a kin to my favorite thing to order at a Vietnamese restaurant - Seared Beef and Noodle Soup. (http://www.pbs.org/everydayfood/recipes/seared_beef_and_noodle_soup.html)The recipe had a few moving parts, but it's really rather accessible by anyone. I would say the most difficult part of the whole thing would probably be cutting the carrots into julienned strips, but since you can buy a bag of carrots already julienned at the grocery store, I can't imagine that'd be a prohibitive step. The next difficult thing would likely be searing the steak, but since you're about to put it in a bowl with hot broth, under cook it. No harm done. Rice noodles might also scare people who haven't used them before, but they're just as easy as cooking couscous...pour boiling water on them...and wait. I love their consistency i.

Another soup they featured was a Chickpea and Pasta Soup. (http://www.pbs.org/everydayfood/recipes/chickpea_and_pasta_soup.html) This one had a little less personality than the Noodle Soup, but I think it's got potential. Basically, you sear a little garlic, add broth and water, dump in some pasta (they used elbow macaroni which I think suits this) and some garbanzo beans. She topped with parsley and parmesan. Frankly, I think it would have been more robust with chicken broth (sorry to my vegetarian friends out there) and maybe with the addition of mushrooms or spinach (or some sort of veggie that holds up in a soup). This is suggested as a good portable thermos-type soup for kids to pack in their lunch or for an easy work-friendly soup. This is making me think I need to invest in a soup thermos.

Speaking of spinach, my last ode to the "Soups and Salad" episode of Everyday Food is not a soup but a salad. Pretty basic, but the Beef and Spinach Salad really solidified my need for steak in the next couple days. (http://www.pbs.org/everydayfood/recipes/steak_salad_with_spinach.html) It's not that this recipe is earth shattering (which I think is the point of Everyday Food), but it's just good, hearty, healthy, tasty, interesting food. Blue cheese and walnuts (though you could easily use another nut like pecans) always add umph to salads. When you include grapes in there and some tasty baby spinach leaves (which are awfully meaty for a vegetable) topping it all off with steak, I wonder why I'm not eating this just about every night.

Lastly, the other amazingly simple soup that has my mouth watering (and is also adding a "pro" to the columns for the thermos purchase) is Nigella Lawson's Pea and Pesto soup. (http://www.nigella.com/recipe/recipe_detail.aspx?rid=153) I typically like anything that Nigella does (with few exceptions). I find her style infectious and her shortcuts perfectly defendable. This soup has 4 ingredients plus salt. Boil frozen peas with some lime juice and two whole scallions. Once they're boiled, take out the scallions. Pour the whole thing in the blender, throw in a few dollops of the fresh pesto stuff from the store (see...there's a shortcut I can get behind), and your soup is done. Another thermos wonder.

I'm hungry. Time for supper.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tasty Words

I'm trying not to drown myself in more things to "waste my time," but I just can't read enough about food. So, I've added a few more blogs to the list on the right of your screen.

Orangette - The author, Molly Wizenberg, came to the same realization in 2004 that I have come to more recently. She knew that what she wanted to do needed to be somehow connected to writing about food. Now she has a very successful blog, a monthly column in Bon Appetit, and even a well-received book (A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table). She even met her husband through her site! Check out the blog at http://orangette.blogspot.com/.

Copywriter's Kitchen - I love the description of this blog. "Fast frugal scratch cooking for freelance writers and other busy people." (Plus, I think the name probably appeals to my grammar nerd tendencies.) The Spring Risotto with Asparagus recipe looks scrumptious, and I plan on trying it out some time soon. Visit the blog at http://www.copywriterskitchen.com.

The Wednesday Chef - I don't remember how I stumbled up on this one (I think from one of the blogs above). The most recent post right now is about baked rice (do you detect a theme in the recipes I'm reading about?). I've never heard of baking rice before (that's not in a casserole), so this might be another use besides stew for my Le Creuset dutch oven. I'm new to this blog, but I think it has some great potential...especially since the author is on a trip to Paris. Only good food experiences take place in Paris. Check out The Wednesday Chef at http://wednesdaychef.typepad.com/.

Monday, April 13, 2009

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

I have been avoiding Twitter like, well, a really chewy and lukewarm scallop. I just can't understand why anyone would want to follow me in 140 character limits (as we've seen, I'm not much on short sentences), and, frankly, I'm not sure who I would want to follow who doesn't have their Twitter updates automatically updating their Facebook status. Yeah yeah, I can follow celebrities, which is mildly appealing, but with the varying level of detail they go into, I'm not sure it wouldn't just drive me crazy.

That is all until now. This might change things. Today as part of the Tasting Table Everywhere newsletter, they featured a way to keep up with your favorite Chefs and food trucks/carts. They even have a way to follow the Food Shark in Marfa, TX (!?!?!?). There's even a link to "Find More Twittering Food Trucks." This may just be what I needed to get me onto Twitter. Here's the link: http://tastingtable.com/email/campaign/548.html.

If you're unfamiliar with Tasting Table, it started with the New York version and has since expanded to LA and "Everywhere." They have a feature article every newsletter and there's a weekly "Weekend Update" with food-related goings on. They also update the openings, closings, renamings, etc. of the restaurants in NYC (and I assume LA). As a former New Yorker who goes back every now and then, I often archive mentions of new or interesting restaurants so I can visit them when I go home. (I really want to create something like this for Austin, but I suppose that's a project for another day and another time.)



And with that, I leave you with one last thought - I am acutely aware that I have been shirking on my blogging duties. There's really not much of an excuse outside of the fact that my stupid laptop at home (Dell Inspiron 1501) doesn't have a working battery any more. So it lives on my dining room table and not by my bedside or by the couch, two places where I do some of my best blogging. The battery has so little use that you have to shut down completely before moving to a new location. It takes forever for the shut down and start up process to take place, that I've essentially demoted my laptop to a desktop.

But not to worry, I promise I'll get back to it. ...and I might even buy a new battery.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Rodeo Food

This will be a brief post, but I wanted to make sure to announce that I had a jumbo corndog at the Austin Rodeo yesterday. I have recently discovered my unending love for corndogs. I had one at the Texas Book Fair in October and was in love. I'm honestly not sure when the last time I had one was, so I'm not sure where this love comes from. We're not a family that attended any state fairs, and when there were street fairs I had gyros and funnel cake. I like hot dogs, but not so much as to love corndogs. I like cornbread as much as the next person, but again, a corndog is so much more than the sum of its parts. It's an odd obsession, but perhaps the excitement is that I really only partake in the glory that is corndog 2-3 times a year. Who knows.

In any event, below is a picture of my jumbo corndog. It was absolutely everything I had hoped for and more.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

pics now added

Just FYI for the throngs of people who are following this blog, I have added some pictures to some of my past posts. I've started with the post about St. Paddy's (Eire go Brach) and My Valentine's Party. I hope to keep up this habit and remember to take pictures of what I'm doing and actually add them to the blog, so fingers crossed.

Thanks to all for reading!

Foul Foul

I hate breaking down cooked chickens. I learned in my cooking class how to break down a raw chicken (not that I remember how at this point), but one of the reasons I don't roast whole chickens very often (aside from not owning a roasting pan) is that I really think picking apart the cooked chicken is a pain in the butt. A secondary reason is that I think poultry is terribly boring, but that wouldn't really be the reason not to roast.

But as I mentioned in my last post, there was a deal at the grocery store for a rotisserie chicken with a free baguette and a free family-sized caesar salad. So I went for it. I got the chicken home, and the next day I was wrist deep in the greasy skin of the chicken while my dog was apoplectic due to the aroma. I pulled off the drumsticks and made a pile of skin and a pile of meat. I cut off the breasts, which remained mainly intact. And this is where I believe diminishing returns begins. I start poking around looking for more edible flesh. I pull off what must be the thighs, I pull off some some other little pieces here and there, and eventually I decide I've done my best.

I called my mother to complain mildly about the process. She said, "don't you just love picking the meat off the bones?" Uhhh....no. "Isn't it a great sense of accomplishment?" Uhhh....no.

All in all, I got some good meat off the bones. I've already had three meals and probably have another three using it, so that's good. Definitely good yield for the money. I had a couple small chicken sandwiches (using the baguette as well), and I did another one of my "casserole" dishes. I put some Uncle Ben's 90-second Whole Grain Vegetable Harvest Rice, some of my ubiquitous canned green beans, some of the chicken, and some of our "House Dressing" in a container together. Shook it up, and voila!

By the way, I don't know if I've ever explained my family's "house dressing." I'll leave that for another post where I'll talk about some family memories I have around food. As I say in the cookbook I'm slowly but surely putting together, memory is our sixth and possibly most powerful sense when it comes to food.

But I digress. The thing that I'm most looking forward to is boiling the devil out of that carcass with the Trinity (onion, celery, and carrots) all to make some great stock. That stock will, hopefully, be turned into my kinda wannabe Italian wedding soup that's not really Italian wedding soup. It's super tasty and has bok choy, sausage, orzo, and tons of goodness....especially if there's homemade stock. Yum.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cooking on a Budget

Every week(?) I get an email from my local fancy H-E-B grocery store otherwise known as Central Market. Normally the deals they advertise don't really strike my fancy, but this time, something caught my eye. Buy a rotisserie chicken and get a baguette and a family-sized caesar salad for free. A total value of roughly $8. Well that's probably three meals for me there, so that's a great bargain. And I might even cook the carcass down to make some stock, so that's a bonus as well.

Then I was also shopping for my annual Irish feast - corned beef, cabbage, and champ (see my last post). The tab looked like this:

  • Thyme: $1 (with leftovers)
  • 4 bulk carrots: $0.85
  • Parsley: $1.49 (with leftovers)
  • 4 russet potatoes: $3.99 (with a potato leftover)
  • 3 bulk onions: $2.30 (with an onion leftover)
  • 1 head of cabbage: $1.43
  • 3lb hunk of corned beef: $11.71
  • bunch of scallions: $0.69

All of those ingredients made enough food for three of us at lunch today and probably two more portions for lunch tomorrow.

So for a tab roughly of $32, I got 8 servings (plus the potential for some homemade stock) for a total of $4 per serving.

Hot cha!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Eire Go Brach!

I guess I'm running a bit behind on these posts. A bit later while the potatoes are boiling, I'll take a moment to figure out how many posts I need to add to catch up.



This is just a quick note to say that tonight I'll be making corned beef, cabbage, and champ. The recipe for corned beef and cabbage can be found at epicurious.com. What I like about this dish (as with much from the British Isles) is that you're basically just boiling something within an inch of its life. Literally, this recipe calls for 3-4 hours of boiling (which means I should get to the store and get home soon if I ever plan on going to sleep).



Champ, on the other hand, I learned from a lovely ginger-haired lad I dated for a while who was from Belfast. While he was staunchly loyal to Britain, I still choose to celebrate Ireland Forever (Erie Go Brach) with his recipe. It was a damp cold day when he made this for me, and it just could not have warmed me up any better. Essentially, you simmer milk (or cream...skim probably isn't the best here) with a knob of butter and some scallions. You're basically seeping out all of the scallion-y goodness and the milk becomes infused with it. You then use that oniony-milk yumminess to serve as the lubricant for mashing your potatoes. They end up being a bit soupier than traditional mashed potatoes, but they're lovely and creamy and decadent. He said his mom used to make it for him when he wasn't feeling well. It truly is the ultimate comfort food.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Pledge to End Hunger

I was raised to be creative and find ways to give back. A few times growing up, my mom, sister, and I would spend the day before Christmas working in a local soup kitchen where we wrapped gifts, cooked food, created "to go" dishes of food, etc. for homeless or severely disadvantage people. I loved that tradition. This past year, I emailed one of the nuns that run that soup kitchen, and unfortunately, they already had enough volunteers. Well, it was unfortunate for me, but certainly fortunate for them.

The problem is, that's just during the holidays.

When it's not the "season of giving," not enough people give. And here in Austin, the supposed problem is that we don't give our money, but we give our time. (And to the "I Live Here I Give Here" people, your focus should on PERCENT PARTICIPATION not dollar amounts when you come to speak to a group of young professionals....or most anyone, for that matter. Did we not learn ANYTHING from Obama's fundraising tactics??) People, at least we give back and we're involved. Ugh.

So I figure, why not think of community involvement like the manufacturing concept of continuous improvement. Continuous community involvement? Sounds good. Sounds like a lot of work too, but it doesn't have to be.

No, I haven't hijacked this blog to talk about giving back, per se. There is still a connection with food. And that's exactly my point. Even the most embedded couch potatoes have something that is of interest to them. And the beauty is that you can share that interest with others in a way that gives back to the community.

I have volunteered at the Capital Area Food Bank a couple times, and it was a blast. While washing off cans of peas isn't exactly how I'd like food to be in my life all the time, knowing that I was helping and occasionally coming across an interesting shelf-stable product was a more than sufficient reward. I hope to volunteer with them again.

I leave you with a link to the "Pledge to End Hunger" campaign. While of course they will gladly accept monetary donations, what they are asking for is for you to "sign" their campaign. You put in your email address, name, and state, and poof...their partner, Tyson, donates tons and tons of food to food banks in your state. The problem is, not enough people have heard about it because as of my post, there are only about 1350 pledges. That's a great start, and it's translating into 46,935 lbs of food & 187,740 meals donated. But that's smaller than my college (and I went to a TINY college). We can do better.

Please "sign" the Pledge to End Hunger campaign and tell your friends. Just by posting your support of this program, people receive food. It's that easy.


Sunday, March 08, 2009

Ro what?

For those of you who do not know Rotel (http://www.ro-tel.com/index.jsp) is a widely-used ingredient in dishes here in Texas. I spent one year 2001-2002 in Austin without being introduced to this ubiquitous canned good. But in 2006 when I moved down here and in with my friend Heather, she was shocked (dismayed?) that I had never heard of it. I looked at the can and asked (the audacity!), "Uhh...isn't it just diced tomatoes and jalapenos? Couldn't you just dice the things on your own?" BLASPHEMY!!

The typical dish made with Rotel (or is it Ro*Tel?) is queso. For those not in the know, that is the cheesy spicy dip that you use with tortilla chips. Personally, I've always chosen (outside of a restaurant, that is) the Tostitos brand queso (http://www.tostitos.com/prod_salsaqueso.php). It's available at such gourmand eateries as 7-11 or Walgreens, and it is delicious.

But tonight it was homemade queso. I had some friends over, and one of my friends left me a bag with the two ingredients and some really tasty tortilla chips. Oh, and did I say the other ingredient is Velveeta? Oh yes. That bizarrely shelf-stable yellow/orange cheese-like product. To date, I had never prepared anything with Velveeta either, except for maybe boxed mac and cheese. So this evening was a first for two things.

I announced to my friends that I had never made queso with Rotel and Velveeta. This shocked them. "You don't have a crock pot? But you like to cook so much!" questioned one friend. "I like my queso a little more watery so I do two cans to one block, but it's a question of taste." advised the one who brought the products. "How exciting!" I exclaimed.

I decided to stay with the advice I had been given as opposed to the advice on the box, which was to pair just one can of Rotel with the entire 32 oz (yes, you read that right) block of "cheese." Instead of microwaving in a bowl as my friend suggested, however, I decided to turn to the box for the cooking method - melt it over low heat in a medium sauce pan. I did not choose this method due to the friendly warnings about how queso in the microwave can bubble up like oatmeal, but I will say the concept of cleaning that fake cheese stuff out of the inside did give me pause.

My friend also warned me that I will never go back to bottled Tostitos queso. It is likely that she is right.

Friday, March 06, 2009

A small failure

I wanted to update all of you to say that I did not make the writing deadline to submit my manuscript to the folks at the Writers League of Texas. The plan was to write a synopsis page and the first ten pages of my cookbook (sans recipes and pictures for this contest). But alas, I just didn't devote the appropriate time to the project (I could list the excuses, but why bother). So tonight as the 6pm deadline rolls by, I'll just be thinking about what might have been if I had won and had that meeting with an agent/publisher.

...actually, no. At 6pm, I'll be waiting in line at Yoga Vida for the free Bikram Yoga class with water bottle, mat, and towel in hand....probably while reading The Best Food Writing of 2008.

Food and Kids

Some of you know about my undying love for my TiVo (I've had one since 2000). Having a TiVo usually means that I watch everything in "TiVo Time" which means that you're never watching live TV. You get to fast forward through the advertisements (or if you're averse to embarrassment like I am, through the icky confrontations on reality shows) and basically tailor the show to your every whim.

But for some reason lately, I have been watching live TV. This means, I've seen a lot more ads, some of which are hilarious and involve food and kids (my other love besides food and my TiVo). So, without further ado - I feature three of those ads below. You can watch them on the YouTube links provided.

What is this, minced? You bring me minced??
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTx2yNmHdgA
This Van De Kamp's ad had me literally LOLing on my couch. It's Jackie Mason mixed with the old guy in Coming to America ("what is this, velvet?") mixed with a precocious little girl. It's brilliant on all levels.

What if it had a flat bottom?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3KXaF2_UzU
Something about the slow motion celebration in this Old El Paso ad cracked me up. The boy is so cute and his creativity genius is appreciated by the make believe Mexican town. Fantastic.

Why don't we have both?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGnTW8EhGSk
This one is the weakest of the lot, but my favorite part in this Old El Paso ad (aside from the moment of celebration, of course) is the argument over "suave" or "duro" (soft or hard) tacos the two kids are having at the dinner table. The resulting suave/duro taco wheel is priceless.

I'm beginning to think that I should have had this post sponsored by Old El Paso or Van De Kamp's.....

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

This doesn't really count....

...but this post is just to announce that I'm going to go through all previous posts and put tags in. I like the fact that my other blogging friends do this, and I've always intended to do so, but I just never really got around to it. So there you go. (And no, this doesn't count towards my 25 posts in 8 weeks count.)

cheap eats

The economy has not been kind to me. Gas was killer there for a while, and now that I live in a driving community (gag....I miss the subway), that hurt me for a bit. I had to put my property taxes on my credit card back in December (because I had not planned well), and that's a HUGE chunk of cash (easily the most I've ever charged on my card). Then there's the 10% pay cut that my company required of all employees (VPs and above had bigger cuts).

So all in all, I've been focusing more on cheap food than on healthy food. This, in addition to a loss experienced recently, has meant that I've gained a bit of weight. It sure is tempting to do the quick and easy fast food thing when you have a coupon for a free burger, or free breakfast, or whatever. And I recognize that I didn't have to spend that money to begin with, so it's not cheap - it's more expensive than eating something that's already in my pantry or fridge.

I've been trying to get out and walk my dog more, not only because it benefits him, of course, but also to keep active. Problem is, my big loop around my neighborhood walks by a bunch of restaurants at the end, and I like going to the donut shop (to get breakfast burritos, this is Texas, after all) with only about three-quarters of a mile left in the loop. Clearly, things need to change.

But, as Katie Scarlett O'Hara says, "tomorrow is another day."

Today, however, is still the deal for cheap eats. And boy can Austin deliver. Even with very little money, there is something to be said for going out and spending some time with some friends surrounded by free food and half price drinks. :-)

So, below is a link to a day-by-day list of happy hour deals here in Austin. Next Monday, some friends from work and I are going to Freddie's for the free brisket and wings starting at 6pm. Aw yeah.

http://www.austin360.com/blogs/content/shared-gen/blogs/austin/dining/entries/2009/02/08/restaurant_deals_the_big_fat_m.html

Monday, March 02, 2009

Killer Spaghetti...or is it Killing Spaghetti?

On Saturday I was, once again, trying not to spend any money and use the food stuffs I had already at my disposal. I was also inspired (yet again) by a Nigella Lawson recipe featured on her TV show (all repeats, but I still watch them while drooling). Lemon Garlic and Mushroom pasta. Because I went to Costco back for the Valentine's party, I knew I still had scores of lemons and limes. And I had some Dreamfields (high protein, low on the glycemic index) spaghetti. I had a huge clove of garlic. No mushrooms. Okay, so my version was going to be Lemon Garlic Spaghetti.

Let me tell you, not only was this one of the easiest dishes I've ever made, but it was so tasty that I ate about half a box of pasta in one sitting. No, that's not advisable, but it's almost unavoidable due to just how good this stuff tastes.

I did this with spaghetti, and frankly, I think any long pasta would work well. I don't anything like a rotini or penne would make a nice pairing with the sauce. But that's just me.

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 box of spaghetti
  • 2 decent-sized cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 Tbsp really good "sipping" olive oil (super tasty, but nothing you'd cook with)
  • 1 large lemon

Implements:

  • Big pasta cooking pot
  • Large non-stick skillet for sauce
  • Garlic crusher or chef's knife for mincing
  • Microplane/zester
  • Tongs
Instructions:
  • Once you've gotten your water up to boil, salt it like you've never salted anything before. I've often heard that you want your pasta water to be as salty as the Mediterranean. Mine might have been as salty as the Dead Sea, but it was just that much tastier.
  • Put the pasta in the boiling water (check the package for the proper timing). Don't forget to stir it around periodically so the pasta doesn't stick.
  • While the pasta is cooking, heat up a non-stick skillet over medium/medium-low heat with the extra virgin olive oil (not the super good stuff)
  • When the oil has come up to temperature (shimmering slightly), put in the garlic. The point here is to brown it slightly, but watch out - burned garlic is one of the nastiest tastes on the face of the Earth...very bitter, almost metallic. If you're concerned, lower your flame.
  • Did you stir the pasta?
  • While the garlic is browning, rinse off your lemon and use a microplane (or zester) to put the zest of the entire lemon into the oil/garlic mixture. The aromas will begin to dance and it is such a happy fragrance.
  • Cut the lemon in half, and squeeze in the juice from one half. My lemons were particularly large, so feel free to put in the lemon from a whole lemon. Just depends on how citrusy you want your dish. Stir in the juice and the zest.
  • Turn off the heat under the skillet and just make sure the sauce is combined.
  • Assuming you've stirred your pasta periodically, by the time the buzzer has gone off, you've got some perfectly al dente and separated pasta. Take your tongs and pull out some of the pasta. Let the water drip off of it, and add it to the skillet. Take the tongs to make sure the pasta is covered with the sauce. Repeat with the next bunch of pasta and continue until you've got the half box of pasta rolling around with the sauce.
  • Since the skillet has been turned off, it's now "safe" to add in the really good olive oil. Choose a deeply-colored olive oil that you might use for dipping bread and pour in 1 tablespoon of the sipping olive oil. (If you don't have that great bottle of olive oil, you can use your extra virgin olive oil, but I wouldn't put as much on it.)
  • Turn the pasta around in all the sauce once again, and separate into two bowls. Make sure each person has some garlic, some lemon zest, and some of the olive oil/lemon juice mixture. Just to top it off, if you've got the really good olive oil, drizzle on one more teaspoon or so to each of the servings.

I was so excited by this recipe that I posted my glee to Facebook stating I had "just had some killer lemon garlic spaghetti." A friend of mine from Italy responded with, "Spaghetti with lemon and garlic???? You are spaghetti's killer." I'm guessing that means this is not one of the approved sauces for the pasta, but boy did I love it. In fact, I've got leftovers for lunch today. :-)