Tuesday, December 30, 2008

After Christmas Bargains at World Market

I do have a post to write about this very delicious cranberry orange walnut bread that I need to get up here, but instead, I just want to quickly let everyone know that if there's a World Market nearby, you need to scoot on over and take advantage of their 75% off sale. All the packaged food gifts, cookies, cocoa mixes...you name it. All on sale for ridiculous prices. I got a gift set of La Tourangelle oils for $4.99 and some awesome gingerbread cookies for $.99 per bag. And a gift set of flavored syrups for $2.24. And I know there was more. Though I completely avoided all the chocolate; I've already had way too much this season and I've got to be picture-ready in a month! There's a ton more. Get over there before it's all gone. I might make a second trip to the one in Nashville West.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What's in the well-stocked kitchen?

Yikes, it's been over two weeks since I've posted. In that time, we've had several unremarkable meals and several pizzas made with Trader Joe's wheat pizza dough. I keep thinking it's going to be good this time and it keeps not being good. I need to make my own dough. I know.

The SO recently asked me to marry him, I'm happy to report. We have decided to have a very small and private affair in order to avoid all those complications that make shows like "Whose Wedding is it Anyway?" and "My Big Redneck Wedding" so fun to watch. No showers, no parties. Just a "do you and do you?" followed by a nice dinner. And a kick-ass honeymoon (which has yet to be booked).

Regardless of the fact that we're not having a big to-do, it was requested that we have a gift registry. What started at one registry has become now four registries because no single store has all the items (and there are not many, believe me) that I want. Williams-Sonoma has the box grater and KitchenAid mixer I want, but their flour sifter is definitely not what I want. And Macy's has the Dyson I want, but not the mixer I want. And Target has a lot of basic stuff we could use, but nothing we really need. Sadly, you can't register for Feline Pine cat litter and Gain which is what I buy the most of from Target.

And then there's Bed Bath & Beyond. We generally have no trouble spending an hour or more in the store (usually in a massage chair), but I've wasted a lot of hours creating my registry online. Though there are very few items because I've been talking myself out of many of them. Because as much as I love gadgets, I know that I have no room for them in my tiny kitchen. So I have to say no to those dessert plates (I already have some!) and to the bamboo steamer (I have a steamer basket!), sushi set (I never make sushi!), and all the other countless gadgets and gizmos making my head spin. I'd have to rent a storage unit for all the stuff I've been salivating over.

And though I've got a reasonably well-stocked kitchen, I'm curious to know what others think. What should I register for? What's the essential kitchen item you think I may not already have?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Cats don't know it's not butter

One of the small number of reasons I have not gone vegan is that I love butter. Good, creamy European butter most of all. But I am getting old and my metabolism is slowing, so it's time to wean myself from the butter.

And my cat. The cat loves butter, too. Just like his mom, he loves butter and cheese. He also like caramel cake. I know all of this because for some reason, I have always found it amusing to give Eddie first refusal on everything I eat. Dog owners can't relate because dogs will eat anything, but it can be fun to see what a cat will and will not eat. Unless it's 14 years later, you're no longer single and you'd like to get through a meal without your cat begging for a sniff of what you're eating.

But this was about butter. And my need to remove it from my life. So I was eating some toast the other day and put some Earth Balance on it. It's been years since I've eaten margarine, but the EB is fairly palatable. I still enjoyed my toast. And as usual, the cat wanted to sniff out what I was eating. So I wiped up some EB onto my fingertip and held it down for him, expecting him to turn away in disgust. But he didn't. He ate it! Earth Balance is apparently so butter-like that it fooled my butter-loving cat. I'm still very surprised.

So I've been using it more. For Thursday's Thanksgiving dinner at the SO's grandmother's house, I whipped up some sweet potato casserole. I baked the potatoes in the skins, scooped them out and added brown sugar and orange juice and stirred. I topped them with something akin to a praline crust--I dumped out some brown sugar, whole wheat flour and cinnamon and cut in chunks of Earth Balance and chopped pecans. Then I sprinkled it over the sweet potatoes and stuck the dish back in the oven until the topping melted together. Vegan sweet potato casserole! It turned out to be a pretty big hit (or a bunch of people lied to me--you never know). I didn't bother to mention it was vegan...no reason to give anyone an excuse not to like it!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


While I applaud anyone trying to move toward a more plant-based diet, there is simply no such thing as a "vegetarian who occasionally eats meat." Flexitarian is not and should not be a word. There's already a word for people who eat plants and animals: omnivore.

Vegetarians: don't eat meat
Vegans: don't consume any animal-derived products (for food, clothing, etc).

I happen to be a vegetarian who not only eschews meat, but I also do not internally consume products that contain meat derivatives (stock, gelatin, fish oil, etc). Regardless, I don't have a special name for myself. I'm just a vegetarian.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pumpkin Muffins

I bought what they call a "pie pumpkin" not too long ago. I'd intended on doing this with it but the pumpkin had other ideas. Okay, so the pumpkin didn't have any ideas, but when I attempted to move it the other day by the stem, it separated and fell to the floor. And cracked. So I had to cook it right away.

So I just roasted it as I would any other gourd and stuck the meat in the fridge until I could figure out what to do. I drained and re-drained it, but it was still very wet, so there were a few things I knew would be out of the question.

But this morning I decided to look for a recipe for pumpkin muffins that would easily accommodate my wet pumpkin. I found this lovely vegan pumpkin muffin recipe and got going.

I made a few changes, though. First, I opted out of the yogurt and soymilk and instead used a single egg. In retrospect, I don't think that was necessary given the amount of oil. Or I could have added some ground flax seed. So this wasn't vegan, which is a bit of a disappointment (particularly since it could have been). I also left out the allspice; I'm not a huge fan of it. And I, of course, used whole wheat flour.

As I was preparing the mix, I noticed it was really dry and dense. So I took out some of the pumpkin juice I'd saved and added it in until it reached a consistency I was pleased with. I also grated a little crystallized ginger and mixed it with some (unrefined) sugar and sprinkled it on top. Nice touch, if I do say so myself.

The verdict? These muffins are quite tasty! I'm sure that following the original recipe would produce an almost identical tasting muffin and I'll probably do that next time (with canned pumpkin), but I do recommend adding the ginger sugar on top. It looks pretty and tastes great.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Los Rosales closed until January 12

Sunday evening, the SO and I convinced our friends to make the haul down to Antioch from Inglewood to go to the city's best Mexican restaurant. But when we got there, a sign on the door said that Los Rosales will be closed for maintenance and remodling until January 12. Two months! Two months without Los Rosales! I am beyond disappointed. I am distraught. Bereft.

So this means I won't be having any Mexican food outside my house for the next two months. Guess it's time to figure out how to make Carlos's avocado sauce for my burritoes...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pumpkin Risotto

Until recently, I'd never made risotto. I love it, but the thought of standing over a pot and constantly stirring it for half an hour just seemed daunting. But I finally felt like I had the time and energy and gave it a shot.

I've had pumpkin risotto before. Unfortunately, I only had a bite before I discovered there was bacon in it (at a restaurant). I've been thinking about making it ever since. So I pulled up a stool, got out my wooden spoon and went to work.

So yeah, you gotta start off with some diced onion in olive oil. Then you fry up the rice for a bit in that oil before you start adding the broth...slowly. As in, oh my gosh this is so tedious, so I'll spare you the play-by-play. Anyway, here's the recipe:

Vegetarian Pumpkin Risotto
1 onion, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 or 2 (to taste) cloves of garlic, chopped (note: I added this to the recipe)
2 cups arborio (risotto) rice
1 cup dry white wine (I used diluted apple cider vinegar--half vinegar, half water)
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup canned pumpkin (I used the whole can and I am not ashamed I did not use my own roasted pumpkin puree)
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated or minced (optional)
1 tsp nutmeg (optional--not really recommended)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil (option: garnish with fresh thyme instead)

Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat for three to five minutes, or until the onion is soft. Add the rice and brown while stirring for a minute or two. Slowly add the wine (or vinegar).

Add the vegetable broth, 1/2 cup at a time. Allow the moisture to cook off before adding the next 1/2 cup. Stir frequently.

Add remaining ingredients, stirring well, and cook for just a few minutes, until heated through.

Many apologies for all the parentheses. I had to make some changes to the original recipe. It wasn't quite savory enough for my taste, but if you add the garlic and be sure to used an entire onion, it's much better. It's also much better to garnish it with some fresh thyme instead of basil (as pictured) and a little grated parmigiano adds a nice punch. If cooked to the original recipe with the nutmeg and the ginger and no garlic, it's just a little too sweet. Of course, that could have been because I spaced out and used the entire can of pumpkin (almost twice what the recipe calls for). But when I added sauteed garlic, more onion and topped it with some parmigiano and thyme, I was really happy with it. The texture (despite all that extra pumpkin) was really good and the taste was savory and yummy.

We ate it as a main dish with a side of green stuff for balance and we still had enough leftover for two more dinners and an afternoon snach. Two cups of rice yields a helluva lotta risotto.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lemon Ginger Snap Pie

In the beginning, it sounded like a simple thing. It was. Simply not right.

The inspiration was a box of ginger snaps that had a recipe for pie crust on the side. The instructions were to put 20 cookies in a blender (four at a time) to make crumbs, add I-can't-remember-how-many tablespoons of melted butter and some sugar and then press into a pie plate and chill. Voila, a ginger snap crumb crust. Sounded delicious.

So I thought about what kind of filling I'd like for my crust and settled on lemon. Naturally, I googled it and found this recipe. Wow, all stuff I had on hand. This will be the easiest and best pie ever!

First, I opted to skip the blender and stick all of those cookies in my bad-ass Cuisinart. I ended up with something akin to cookie dust instead of cookie crumbs. I figured that didn't matter too much, so I added the melted butter and sugar and pressed it into the pie plate. And set it in the fridge to chill. Afterward, I noticed that my brand new food processor has a dull ring in side the bowl from where the ginger snaps scratched it. Perfect. Moving on.

While the crust was chilling, I started cooking up my lemon pie filling. I subbed in ReaLemon for fresh lemon juice and added a couple of drops of lemon extract to make it extra lemony. I cooked and cooked and cooked some more until it started getting thick. A little longer than the recipe called for. Also, I apparently wasn't always hitting the bottom of the pan with my spoon, because I dragged up a couple of clumps here an there. No matter. I just stirred them out.

It seemed a bit runny to me, so I let it cool for a while before pouring it into the pie plate. After an hour or so, I poured it in and then set it back in the fridge.

I checked on it after about 2.5 hours and it was still not setting. The SO was eager for a piece of pie, so I put it in the freezer. That firmed it up a bit but made the crust impossible to cut and remove from the pie plate. Great. I finally scraped a piece out and took a tiny bite.

Yum. This lemon pie filling is delicious. And that ginger snap crust is the perfect complement.


The next day, it was time to have pie again. What I saw in the pie plate was not pretty. Some lemony liquid had separated from the rest of the filling and collected in the place of the missing wedge. Clear, yellow, lemony liquid. And despite being at fridge temperature, the crust was still nearly impossible to cut and scrape out of the plate--hard as the original cookie and firmly attached to the (glass) pie plate. So preparing a piece of this pie to eat is a frustrating and time-consuming ordeal. The taste is wonderful, but the look is nothing like the photo.

I'm still not sure what I did wrong. Could be that the cookie dust was just not the right consistency for crust. Maybe margarine--like Earth Balance--would have been a better binder. But the filling? Except the addition of a couple of drops of lemon extract, I followed the recipe exactly. Did I cook it too long? Not long enough? I don't know that I'll ever find out.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

First trip to Trader Joe's Nashville

The SO and I braved the crowds and made our first trip to the new Trader Joe's this morning, its second day of business.

The same issue that was a problem when Wild Oats was in that location was a problem today--traffic and parking. We drove around the lot just a bit and finally just camped out and waited for a car to leave. I'm sure we annoyed several people, but you gotta do what you gotta do. I'd thought we might park at Grace's Plaza, but there were signs in the lot warning against that. I noticed a few people who parked across Hillsboro and walked over--smart idea.

Once inside, the crowd was just as crazy as the parking lot. But people seemed to be fairly pleasant; I suppose because none of us really knew where anything was and wanted to see everything. And the staff was really polite and pleasant considering they had to navigate the crowds with boxes and such to re-stock the quickly-dwindling supply of food.

I really wasn't too impressed with the TJ's in Las Vegas, but I think it was because I was looking for some particular items. It also just seemed a little dingy. The TJ's in Nashville, though has skylights which really take the edge off the fluorescent lights. Also, I think the key is to go in with an open mind and dig for treasure. Which is how I ended up spending nearly $90. I'm really not sure what all I got, but my refrigerator is bulging. Some broccoli and fancy mushrooms, some fresh pasta, some of those fleur de sel caramels...um...well, that accounts for about $12. Oh! some truffled cheese, ginger cookies, soap...let's just say that we started out with one handbasket, got a second and then transferred to a cart. We went a little nuts.

And based on the other overstuffed carts I saw, I'd say we weren't the only ones. So now we've been initiated. We're Trader Joe's fans.

Trader Joe's
3903 Hillsboro Pike
open 9am-9pm every day

And, of course there's plenty of beer including Nashville's own Yazoo, but no wine.

Friday, November 7, 2008


During the course of my workday today, I read about cookstr.com. This website, which will go live later this month will feature recipes by well-known chefs.

Another recipe site? Yes. But the cookstr creators believe this will actually help contributors sell more hard copy books.

Hmm...on the one hand, I can see how it can be used as an effective marketing tool. Other types of books have snippets published online in order to entice people to buy them, but I'm not sure if this will be very effective for recipes. I mean, we pretty much know how the book will end.

On the other hand, I have millions of recipes at my fingertips via the internet and I still do love cookbooks. I have a nice collection. Though I have a tendency to scour the internet first when something pops into my head. And certainly if I have one or two ingredients I want to use in a recipe and need a little inspiration. Lately, I have been forcing myself to actually look in the books and, quite frankly I do find it a more satisfying experience. But I still tend to get more inspiration from blogs and restaurants...real experience with a specific dish.

Nonetheless, I plan to see what's up on cookstr.com when it gets up and running. At least I can already tell that there will be photos (very necessary). I hope that they will allow for comments and tips from users as well. Chefs tend to forget that most people following their recipes have little experience or knowledge about how to actually prepare food. So a little user input goes a long way.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Get ready for that first trip to Trader Joe's

The food-lover's community is all abuzz regarding this week's opening of Trader Joe's. And it just so happens that in the course of my usual workday, I read about this cookbook, Cooking with All Things Trader Joe's. A cookbook where all the ingredients come from Trader Joe's.

I find this interesting since I had to be educated on the Trader Joe's concept. That is, that it's a specialty grocery store, not one intended for meeting all your weekly shopping needs. And that they usually choose locations near other groceries so that it's convenient to pop in there to get those items after your regular shopping. Okay, so I can forgive the Las Vegas Trader Joe's for it's lack of selection and general dinginess now. I get it. Though, if you only make the recipes in this cookbook, you don't have to shop anywhere else!

You can buy the cookbook at Borders, Barnes and Noble and online bookstores but, alas, not at Trader Joe's. The authors originally self-published the book independent of the store or any sponsorship. They've got a newsletter and a blog to keep you updated as well. Unfortunately, not all items listed on the website, newsletter, and blog are available at all locations. Given that we're down here in the vast, empty Southeastern region of the country, I suspect that we'll be bereft of cherry clafoutis and some other items that databases indicate might not sell well here. Regardless, I plan to brave the crowds this weekend to pay a visit to the store.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"I tromped through the pumpkin patch"

The SO and I don't have any kids, that hasn't stopped us from getting into the spirit of Halloween by carving three jack-o-lanterns. Yes, three. As in, we have more jack-o-lanterns than people living in our home.

But we didn't set out to do that. It started innocently enough--I was at the produce stand and found a nice, big standard pumpkin, paid my $5 for it and brought it home to set outside until the SO said it was time to carve. In the meantime, I saw a website with all these really cool designs on it. That's when I saw a Jack Skellington pumpkin (from Nightmare Before Christmas, in case the name's not coming to you immediately). Ooh, I wanted a Jack jack-o-lantern! And that's when I remembered seeing several white pumpkins around. So we we back to the produce stand but did not find the right white pumpkin for the job. So we got this sort of peachy-colored pumpkin. The next day, we were visiting the SO's family and spotted a white pumpkin. So, suddenly, we had three pumpkins to carve. Uh-oh.

I was smart enough to get a pumpkin-carving kit that comes with all sorts of handy little tools. They helped out a lot. But these oddly-colored pumpkins (likely squashes or squash hybrids) were a total pain to gut. The peachy one might've been a hybrid with a spaghetti squash, because what came out of it looked like wet orange pasta. Yeah, it was really fun separating the seeds.

But we got them all gutted and carved and even got a big bounty of seeds. I've never toasted seeds before, but toasted some on the advice of a friend. I washed them and placed them on a greased cookie sheet (I used butter). I stuck them in the oven on the top rack at 375 degrees for just five minutes. Then I sprinkled them with salt and cinnamon and placed them back in the oven until I heard a couple of them pop (about 20 minutes or so). I didn't use a lot of cinnamon, so it's not overpowering--they're still sufficiently savory with just a little added punch. UPDATE: I tried a different recipe with seasoned salt instead, baked at 300 for 45 minutes and I'm a lot happier with the way those turned out. The ones baked at a higher temperature got a little too papery.

So that was a nice way to get a little something out of my decorations. I wish I could salvage the meat but I got a small eatin' pumpkin for that purpose.

Oh, and the other two pumpkins? The peachy one is The Pumpkin King and my orginal pumpkin is Oogie Boogie. We're very proud of our little pumpkins.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Apple-anche part deux

So what did I do with my bounty of apples? In exchange for washing as much of the black spots off as possible, I promised the SO something sweet. So I consulted my collection of cookbooks for some inspiration.

First, I found a recipe for apple pie with dried sour cherries. Perfect, I thought because I have some of those cherries in the pantry (the SO didn't like them as well as he thought, though he does like the sour cherry drink). But I'd forgotten that they had the pits still in them. Next.

Then I found a recipe for a simple apple pie. I've never made a pie and certainly not a pie crust in all my life, but how hard could it be? I perused the ingredient list and compared it to my pantry.

Uh-oh. I was down to maybe half a cup of sugar. I don't know when that happened; I never use it. So this recipe was going to require a trip to the grocery store. Okay, I thought, I can do that. So I read the rest of the recipe. The instructions were for a food processor. Not only did I not have one, but I was in no mood to figure out how to do it by hand. Next.

By this point, I'd consulted a Gourmet cookbook, some other fancy cookbook and a couple of vegetarian cookbooks. It was time to pull out the Bittman. How to Cook Everything. (I don't yet have the vegetarian version, but I'll get it soon.) There was a nice, simple apple crisp recipe that was not only easy to make, but required no run to the grocery store. I used light brown sugar (so as not to overpower the apples) instead of white, added a teaspoon of ginger to the apples, and skipped the coconut and nuts. And I made a fabulous dessert in less than an hour, including prep.

Unless I count the apple prep. Here's where I admit I'm a cook, not a chef or a baker. There's a lot of technique I don't know, a lot of gadgets I don't have (aside from the aforementioned food processor). The apples? They needed to be peeled and cored. I have a corer. I've had it for years and never used it until now. So I got that. It's the peeling part. My "logical" mind decided that since I use a corer to core, I'd use a peeler to peel. Yes, I used a peeler (some might call it a potato peeler) to peel my apples. Like, 15 apples. Even while my hands were cramping up, while the peeler would sometimes slide right over the apple peel, it never occurred to me to step back a moment and think about how one might best remove a peel from an apple. Or even to reach back in my brain to remember how my grandfather peeled an apple with a paring knife--in one long piece.

Oh, well. The point is that after about, oh, half an hour, I got the apples peeled and ready for baking. And the apple crisp was delicious.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Trader Joe's Nashville opens October 31 November 7

Update: Two commenters note that the actual date Trader Joe's is scheduled to open is November 7, not October 31. I suppose someone at the Tennessean was just as eager as the rest of us for this store to open!

The Tennessean reports today that Trader Joe's will open a week from today on Halloween November 7 (the original story has been updated). And that customers who line up before 8:30 to get in (the store opens at 9) will be entered into a drawing for a goodie bag.

Previous news reports indicated that TJ's won't be selling wine (including the famous Two Buck Chuck) since Tennessee's liquor store lobby laws prohibit grocery stores from selling wine and spirits. But reports have been that the grocery will not take up the entire building (abandoned by Wild Oats) and that a wall will partition the store from the space next to it. There's still hope that TJ's will open a wine and liquor store in that space, but no one knows and TJ's ain't sayin'. Those of us who know the building well know that the two separate doors used for the Wild Oats make it very easy for there to be two separate entities (much like Midtown Wine and Spirits has its separate beer and tobacco store under the same roof).

I can't get off work next Friday morning, but I plan to brave the crowds and check out TJ's at some point next weekend!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Whole Truth

There's been a lot of discussion lately on "sticky prices." Essentially, when the price on a good goes up, it tends to stay there. Whereas some companies (mainly large ones) kept their prices down during the recent spike in fuel costs, others had to pass those along to the end user. But now that fuel prices have lowered, it's very likely that the prices won't follow suit. I'm curious to see how that will affect long term demand for those products. Several of the items I buy went up in price and I'll be keeping a sharp eye out to see if they'll come down. Many of the fresh items I buy likely will (those prices vary quite a bit anyway), but the bread that I eat for lunch every day, the salad mix I buy... I wonder. I doubt they'll surprise me by adjusting back down.

I went on what is just typically a once per month outing to Whole Foods yesterday with all that in mind. Someone in their marketing department has been paying attention to all the chatter about the place earning its nickname "Whole Paycheck" because there were several stickers around the store that listed the WF price with a comparison price from other chain grocery stores. Considering my grocery list is usually pretty short, I have good knowledge of the individual prices of the items I buy. And the labels at WF are correct on the ones that I noted.

For example, the 5 oz. Earthbound Farms box of salad is $3.99 at Harris Teeter. A 5.5 oz. box of the comparable private label salad mix at Kroger is $4.49 (recently increased from $3.99). That's a dollar of savings (sacrificing half an ounce of greens) by shopping at Whole Foods instead of Kroger. I needed more than just 5 oz. of salad this week, though (the SO will be eating salad with me this week and for some time in the future) so I got the big 16 oz. box of private label greens at WF for just $6.98. That's a good value in comparison. The WF prices on Amy's Organic and a few other frozen foods were also comparable or less than Kroger or Harris Teeter. Same goes for the Roland roasted walnut oil that I buy. And organic grapes were actually cheaper than standard grapes at Kroger (just $2.99 per pound!).

That's not to say I didn't drop a fair chunk of change. The real reason Whole Foods gets so much of my money is that they just have a great selection of food that's impossible to find anywhere else in town. I still haven't gotten the hang of making my own very delicious tofu nuggets or the lemon roasted carrots they have on the hot bar, so I dropped a solid ten bucks on prepared food. And *mumble* on various snack foods. So for those reasons (and that it's not super convenient for me to go to Whole Foods), I will still have to limit my trips to once or twice a month. But at least there's no reason to feel really guilty about going.

Friday, October 10, 2008

An apple-anche

As much as I'd like to say that I haven't posted this week because I haven't eaten, that's just not true. However, I am desperately trying to consume about 1200 calories a day (or less--yeah, right). At that rate, I'll meet my weight loss goal of four pounds (two pounds per side)...in about a month. A joyless month.

Yes, many birthday celebrations and trips to Seattle and New York all finally caught up to me. Two weeks ago, I could wear my jeans, but not sit down in them. Today, I can't wear them at all. I don't have the time, energy or cash to buy new ones, so I'm having to diet. It wouldn't take a month if I actually exercised but I'd rather subsist on nothing but salad than exercise.

Anyhoo, I have to say that this season's McIntosh apples are helping me along. They're huge and beautiful and tart and sweet all at the same time.

I've also come into a bounty of a hodgepodge of local orchard apples. I don't know quite what they all are; a friend of mine got them from a friend of hers who owns property that was once a (I suppose) a commercial orchard. There are at least four different types in the bunch.

Problem is, they're covered with these black splotches. They're not spots, really. They don't permeate the skin. And they're not dirt, either. I don't know what the splotches are, but I can tell you that they're incredibly hard to wash off. Steel wool's barely touching them. Baking soda, a rough rag, and elbow grease seems to work, but man does that ever suck. Because I have about twenty apples and I have thus far cleaned about two of them. And I'm really only trying to get them clean enough to peel!

My plan, though is to get them clean eventually (I wonder how many calories I can burn scrubbing these things? Enough to earn a piece of cake from the freezer?) and make them into something delicious. Over at Tupperware Avalanche, Nicki made some applesauce, but I don't love apple sauce, so I'm trying to think of something else. Unfortunately, aside from quick breads and boxed cake mix concoctions, I'm not much of a baker. However, in one of my giant recipe books, I found something that involved apples and dried sour cherries. Seein' as how I bought the SO some dried sour cherries that were a bit too dry and sour for his taste, I think we may have a winner. Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The mystery of the chocolate bakery cake

A friend of mine bought me some cupcakes from local bakery Sweet 16th to help celebrate my recent *mumble*th birthday. Included in the bunch was a chocolate cupcake with cream cheese frosting. The cake was moist yet fluffy with a deep chocolate-y flavor but not too sweet and not too rich. Excellent.

But it made me wonder (aloud, as usual)--if a bakery can make good chocolate cupcakes, why is it that most chocolate cakes are so terrible?

Maybe terrible is too strong a word, but my observation has been that they're bland and (worse) have the consistency and texture of a cheap sponge. Not fluffy and dense like a white cake or even a cake made from a box mix.

So since I was thinking aloud at this point, another friend asserted that it was because chocolate cakes freeze differently than white cakes. White cakes stand up better to the freezing process, but it changes the texture (and in my opinion, the taste) of a chocolate cake. And that most commercial bakeries, because of volume do make cakes ahead of time and freeze them. But their cupcakes are usually fresh.

This makes a lot of sense logically, but I wonder about the chemistry? physics? behind this theory. Is it the baked cake that is frozen or the mix? What happens in that freezer that makes such a difference? Google has been no help...anyone have some science knowledge to pass along?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Not a recipe (again)

It's been a while since I posted a bona fide recipe of any kind. I've been making food at home, but I'm still in the rut. But fall weather and autumn vegetables (okay, gourds) are upon us, so there's hope for something new on the horizon. I project being burned out on squashes again this year.

Anyhoo, I don't know how many of you have been to a restaurant in the last couple of weeks, but if you have, you're in a minority. We've been out twice in the last week and noticed a definite decline in patronage. Business seems to be brisk at the cheaper, low-end places I rarely, if ever, deign to dine in, but it's not great at some of the better and independent places. I hope things turn around soon and people feel confident in spending money again because I'd hate to see any of my favorite places go out of business. In particular, what I've decided is my favorite restaurant, Los Rosales--the restaurant I chose for my birthday celebration this year. Ah, how nice it is to celebrate my birthday in an authentic Mexican restaurant where I have no worries of having a sombrero hoisted upon me and a chorus of Feliz Cumpleanos sung to me by an unamused staff. Yes, I did work at El Chico when I was a teenager; why do you ask?

So if you live in Nashville or anywhere around, please stop by. Don't go to Cinco de Mayo yet again. Leave the neighborhood and La Paz behind. And try the enchiladas verdes this time. And don't forget to have the guacamole. It's actually fresh-made; not that green goo that comes out at the order-by-number Tex Mex joints. I ask you this as a personal favor because I want this place to be around for a long time. Because I'm not making stuffed avocadoes at home. Or any of the seafood dishes that the Significant Omnivore so loves.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A bagel's tale

I could go on and on about the 24 hours I spent in New York last week, but I won't. I don't have the energy to do so. But I do have some things to share.

First, Claudia was right. BLT Prime treated me quite well for dinner, despite specializing in critters. Our hostess, Amanda even ordered grilled cheeses from the kitchen without bacon when she noticed I wasn't eating any. She said, "You have to have one of these" and I'm glad I did. So decadent...truffle oil-drizzled mini grilled cheese sandwiches. Second only to truffled macaroni and cheese in my heart now.

So they already had me at the grilled cheese, but when we sat for dinner, there were popovers. With gruyere cheese melted inside. Popovers! Yes, I know they're easy to make (everyone--EVERYONE--I've raved to about them has said so), but I never have 4 cups of warm milk and/or 8 eggs in my house. Nor do I have a popover pan. And besides, why ruin the memory? I don't make things this decadent at home. I mean, white flour! No.

Anyway, this popover was huge. We're talking if the Swedish Chef was just a little smaller, he could use it for a hat. And I ate the whole thing. Despite knowing that a salad, dinner and dessert were coming. Dinner was a delicious medley of chopped vegetables with a few shavings of truffle on top and tossed with a few Hen of the Woods (relax, it's a mushroom) and a couple of other savory (never slimy) 'shrooms. I squeezed in as many bites as I could, but knew I needed to save room for dessert, which included lemon-cassis meringue pie with lemon sorbet. I shoved in as much as I could in what tiny crevices were still unoccupied in my stomach. And then there was more. Creamy chocolate petit fours. But there was no room. So Amanda boxed some up for me. She's the Significant Omnivore's new best friend since I was unable to eat them until I got back to Nashville the next day. Naturally, he helped me out.

But this post is supposed to be about bagels. I don't think a bagel store still exists in Memphis; those that opened during the bagel craze of the mid-90s have since become sushi bars and other eating establishments. A couple of bagel places survive in Nashville, but I rarely visit them. Because they're just not right. I don't know why it is that a chain bagel store can't manage to make an authentic New York bagel. And because they can't, I just don't bother.

But why can't they? Lots of bagel joints in NYC make really great bagels. Granted, some are better than other, but all are better than what we get here. We were staying in Times Square and the concierge pointed us toward Times Square bagel.

That, my friends, was a very good recommendation.

It's a small place and sort of BagelNazi-esque in that you better know what you want or the people behind you might toss you out. This is a place that people who know where to get a good bagel go to get their bagels. The line was populated with sour- and sleepy-faced New Yorkers who'd not yet had their bagels and coffee and by God, you better not get in their way. Though, luckily the woman in front of us had already had some cheer juice and helped us out before our big moment at the counter.

When it's our turn, we see trays of fresh bagels right out of the oven get unloaded onto the shelves in front of us. No! It can't be. But it is! I order a wheat bagel for breakfast (plain) and an oat bran, plain, and salt to go. My boss was a little curious as to why I ordered mine plain, but when we got out to the street and I bit into my bagel, she figured it out. There is just nothing like the experience of biting into a fresh, warm New York bagel. The outside is crispy, but not hard and once your teeth get through the exterior and tear through the warm, soft, fluffy flesh inside...heaven. You just don't get the same experience when it's been sliced and covered in cream cheese.

I brought the rest back to Nashville and heated them up for the SO. They were almost as good as fresh--still crispy on the outside, but soft once you get through that thin layer of crust. When the SO attempted to slice his bagel, I admonished him and showed him how he must eat it. I figure, since I toted these things all the way back from NYC, I have the right. Right? Right.

But why can't anyone outside the city of New York make these bagels? I've had very good New York style pizza here. Certainly, there's not something in the water or a special kind of NYC humidity that makes these bagels difficult to replicate. Is there? Though I should be careful what I wish for. If there were such a place here that could create a bagel that good, I'd have to make a deal with myself that I could only have a bagel if I walked to get it. Because there really isn't enough room for that many more carbs in my life.

So maybe the best bagel should stay in NYC after all.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pairing wine with rabbit food

Natalie McLean gives a lesson on choosing the right wines to serve with your veggies in this piece via NPR. When you think about it, it's quite logical. In fact, I don't actually like most cabs and certainly not merlot and I wonder if it's because of what I'm eating or that they're just too heavy generally speaking. I much prefer a pinot noir and I love a good chianti classico.

The commentary ends with a handful of tasty-sounding recipes. Also, check out Natalie's wine and food matcher on her website.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pasta e fagioli

I still have well over eight pounds of various peas and beans in the house. Some fresh, some dried, all legumes.

So, thinking that the Significant Omnivore was tired of having cornbread and squash with the legumes, I decided to branch out a bit with a batch of October beans. It didn't take long for me to decide to do some pasta e fagioli with these very sturdy beans, but just how should I do it? There are eleventy billion recipes for pasta e fagioli, so instead of following a recipe, I just looked around the kitchen a bit to see what I could come up with. Sciuè sciuè.

What I decided on was a filetto di pomodoro since I had big Bradley tomato and a couple of Romas from my neighbor's garden. Bradley tomatoes are hearty and sweet and (I think) are excellent tomatoes to use for a fresh tomato "sauce." And, hey wouldn't you know it, but this sauce being cooked over at Claudia's place recently as well. When life hands you tomatoes....

Along with the tomatoes, I had a couple of fresh lemons, an onion, garlic, and fresh rosemary. I put the garlic and fresh rosemary in a pan with some extra virgin olive oil and let it infuse a bit and then put the diced tomatoes and some minced onion in the oil mixture. After just a couple of minutes, I took it off the heat and squeezed the juice of a lemon on it and topped it off with some sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Voilà (ecco?), filleto di pomodoro sciuè sciuè.

I spooned the sauce over a mix of the cooked October beans and some grocery store gemelli (next time I will go to Lazzaroli's!) and served it with a few slices of sautéed polenta. Squisita!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Fried chickpeas (peas again, yes)

The creative juices have not been flowing with regard to menus lately. I seem to have tricked the SO into moving in only to feed him roughly the same eight dinners over and over again. When you cook every night, it's hard to get all excited about a single meal, so they all kind of suffer.

But I'd seen this post on 101 Cookbooks and thought, "hey, that's easy--few ingredients that are easily available, not a huge amount of food...I'll try it."

So I did. Last night. There are a few things you should know if you'd like to try this yourself.

1. If you use tofu from a box, it's not really going to crisp up enough if you cook according to the directions. Your basic Mori-Nu extra firm, even when drained is still going to be a tad slimy if it's not fried up on its own first. I'd cook the peas and onions first, remove from the pan, then fry the tofu with a little more oil and salt, remove from the pan, then saute the zucchini, then add it all back together (I didn't use any greens in mine; I didn't have any on hand).

2. Chickpeas pop right as they're getting to be the desired golden brown and crusty. Luckily, I'd stepped over to the sink when the first little guy escaped over the side of the pan and directly onto the floor behind me. At first, I wasn't sure what had happened. And then, like a mogwai drenched in water, they started popping out all over the place. I dove for the cabinet with the lid to keep my precious babies in the pan. A few got loose and onto the stove, but I rescued them. Only one hit the floor. None hit me, thankfully.

3. Don't overcook those squash and zucchini bits! Mushy squash doesn't go well in this dish.

It's not worthy of its own numeral, but I also think that I'd change this up quite a bit next time. I'd keep the oil, salt, lemon, and chickpeas but pehaps it'd be better as a side dish...maybe mixed in with some orzo. Maybe some slivered almonds and barberries, too but that might be going a bit far.

Regardless, fried chickpeas are a new favorite treat. And that's a good thing since I went to Baraka Bakery yesterday and stocked up, having forgotten I already had some at home.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Peas, peas me

I'm sure I'm the first person who's ever used that as a blog post title. Anyhoo.

Despite the fact that I have still seven pounds of Rancho Gordo beans at home, I set out Saturday morning to the Nashville Farmer's Market in hopes of finding some interesting and local fresh peas and beans. It'd been several years since I'd been to the local farmer's market because I was turned off by the overwhelmingly non-local produce and opted instead to give my business to the McNeil's at their produce stand (which has mostly local-ish produce from the Mennonites as well as some other stuff to fill out the bins).

Things have changed at the Nashville market; though I still found several stands selling produce with stickers on it (hello, I know those bananas weren't grown by you), there still seemed to be a lot more actual farmers (or farmers' reps, I guess) selling food.

Given the time of year, though Tennessee gardens aren't overflowing with bounties of a whole lot I want to eat. The peaches are coming from South Carolina now and at least some of the apples are coming from Michigan. I did find some local Muscadine grapes and there are still plenty of tomatoes, zucchini, crookneck squash and peppers out there.

And peas and beans. Yep, plenty of peas and beans. Beans with no strings, beans with strings. Shelled peas, unshelled peas. I collected a bag of fresh crowder peas and some unshelled October beans. The SO remembered October beans from his childhood, but I'd never heard of them. Turns out they're a cranberry bean with beautifully crimson-marked pods. I can't wait to see what's in there. They're ripe, but could stand to dry out a bit before shelling, so I cooked up the crowder peas this weekend instead.

I'm not sure if I've ever had fresh crowder peas. And I'm not sure I could ever have anything but fresh crowder peas again. These peas were delicious. I only had to cook them about two hours and they were done--the skin's kind of thick, so after that amount of time, not a whole lot else happens to them. I added some minced garlic and Liquid Smoke to the pot and they quickly developed an impressive pot liquor that really thickens up when chilled (leftovers!) as if there were fat in there. Odd but good. So I recommend scooting over to the market to get some.

Also, be sure to drop by the Schrock Family Bakery stand...there are quite a few pies, cakes and breads to choose from. We took home a *mumble* as well as a loaf of fresh cracked wheat bread (the SO says it's delicious; I've not had it yet) and a loaf of something called salt-rising bread. I'd intended to get some sourdough, but in the few minutes I was pondering my purchase, two different people came up to buy the salt-rising bread. So I just had to give it a try. It's got a rich taste to it that's almost buttery even though the recipe calls for shortening...please, Lord, let that be butter or vegetable shortening in that bread and not lard (the label does not say lard, but they're not required to do so--but I know it's popular with the Mennonites). Regardless (ignorance is bliss), the bread was the perfect way to enjoy a nice tomato sandwich loaded with locally-grown and superripe Bradley tomatoes.

I tell ya, I like that it's cooling down, but I'm sure going to miss all the great food that I can only get in the summertime.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Taste of Seattle

What can I tell you about Seattle? We spent a little less than a week in the area and barely even hit the highlights (of food!), but we still enjoyed plenty of good stuff.

First, the blackberries. They grow wild around there like kudzu grows in the south. We first found them around Green Lake near my friends’ home, but also found huge bushes growing in parking lots and along the side of the road. And apparently no one picks and eats them because all the vines were just heaving with huge ripe sweet fruits, some of which fell apart after picking and then just melted on my tongue when I popped them in my mouth. Even better, no chiggers! One night after dinner at Ivar’s (a local seafood joint I went to for the benefit of the SO), we picked the equivalent of about a quart of them. They were delicious on their own and also as a topping on some organic lemon sorbet we got at a local market.

We did actually buy some produce while we were there, too. We took a trip down to the famous Pike Place market where along with the fishmongers, there are tons of flower sellers, produce vendors and people selling just about everything else you can imagine. We bought fresh figs and Rainier cherries (cultivated locally) and enjoyed them all week. Also in the Pike Place market: the Daily Dozen Donut Company, where you can get freshly-made tiny cake donuts. Cinnamon, powdered, plain, and chocolate with sprinkles. Or get a mixed bag like we did. They were fresh out of the fryer when we got them, so we had to wait impatiently for them to cool, but it was very worth it (as you can see from this report). I’ve never had a better donut; even though I come from the land of the Krispy Kreme, I prefer cake donuts.

We also saw the original Starbucks down at the market and though they’re as ubiquitous there as just about any city of size, there were an astounding number of other coffee joints—just about on every corner. I don’t drink coffee, so I can’t tell you much about the quality, but I did enjoy some good breakfasts courtesy of some of the local coffee shops. This great little place in Queen Anne, The 5 Spot has an ever-changing menu (and décor) based on a featured area of the country. While we were there, the theme was Oregon. From the Oregon menu, I ordered the hazelnut pear French toast described thusly:
Three slices of thick sliced bread dipped in Oregon Chai custard, griddled golden & topped with Justin's slightly sinful cinnamon-pear syrup, mascarpone-chai whipped cream and toasted hazelnuts

Oh wow. That whipped cream was just divine…not too sweet and nice and thick (and not oily like canned whipped cream).

One morning, we ate at a lovely café on the ridge (where you can see the Olympics in the distance over the city below) called Fresh Flours. The SO got some savory pastry called a pithivier and I got, well you can see I had a difficult time choosing just one pastry, so I got some basque cake, an orange currant scone, and a caramelized pecan muffin. Not a crumb was left behind. My only regret is that I didn’t try one of the Japanese pastries.


It wouldn’t be a trip to the Pacific Northwest without some seafood, right? Ha! The SO thought he’d be able to get me to eat some fish, but he failed. Luckily, Ivar’s had a couple of vegetarian-friendly items on the menu (not hard to find in Seattle). While he ate some local Coho salmon, I ate some local heirloom tomatoes and a salad with local blueberries and cheese from the Columbia Valley. I really appreciated being able to eat vegetarian, eat local and eat well.

But I couldn’t sacrifice every night. There are just too many vegetarian and vegan restaurants in town and I couldn’t leave without trying at least one. So my friend Christy and I left the menfolk to fend for themselves and we headed off to Carmelita.

Oh, wow, the luxury of being able to order anything on the menu! And the torture of not being able to eat everything. So Christy and I negotiated and decided to share several plates. We started out with pickled bing cherry salad topped with hazelnut vinaigrette and the grilled corn-scallion beignets. The salad was excellent, but those beignets…oh, yes. Savory corn donuts—perfectly seasoned and perfectly fried so that they were crisp on the outside, moist on the inside and not greasy at all. Yum. And that was just the beginning…next up was a fig pizza with “Oregonzola,” walnuts and honey. This could have easily been a dessert instead of a main course. Delicious. Our other main course was the mascarpone-polenta torte with grilled summer vegetables. It was good, but not good enough to fill up and sacrifice dessert.

Ah, dessert. Again, there was too much good to choose from, so we chose two: a grilled peach galette with honey ricotta and crème fraiche and a duo of ice cream sandwiches. The galette was rich and flavorful, but those ice cream sandwiches were sublime. The first was blackberry-mascarpone ice cream in pistachio-orange cookies (hey, somebody’s actually picking those blackberries!) and the other—probably one of the best desserts I’ve ever had—was lemon curd ice cream in ginger-pine nut cookies. The cookies were almost like pralines and the spice of the ginger was the perfect accompaniment for the lemon curd ice cream which was so good, I can still taste it now. Rich and creamy with just the right amount of lemon flavor.

Speaking of ice cream, on our very last day in Seattle, we finally made it over to Molly Moon’s in Wallingford. Christy had been telling me about their salted caramel ice cream for a while, so I was very eager to try some. But when we got there, I was faced with an amazing selection of flavors. I opted for a double scoop: one cardamom (more delicious than it sounds) and one scoop of honey lavender. The SO had cherry chunk and balsamic strawberry. We got a pint of the salted caramel to go. Molly Moon’s ice cream is so rich that it’s soft and creamy right out of the freezer. I loved every bite of every flavor, but if I could have any of it again right now, it’d be the cardamom. I have some cardamom in the pantry…yeah, no.

On our way out of town, Christy packed some local chocolates (how many times have I used the word "local" now?? Seattle seems to be very locavorious): Fran's gray salted caramels and a Theo's 3400 Phinney chai milk chocolate bar. I'd say they were more than a fair trade for the Goo Goo Clusters and Moon Pies I brought for them from Tennessee.

If you go to Seattle, I'd say that mid- to late-August is definitely the time to go. It rained more than I'd really care for and the humidity put the Redneck Riviera to shame, but the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables and other local foods available at this time plus the occasional ray of sunshine (and rainbow) make it worth getting through the grayness of the average day.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Coming Soon

I made it back from Seattle, but I'm still buried under a pile of laundry and extremely mediocre vacation photos. But I've got lots to report. Seattle's a great town for foodies and I barely scratched the surface of what was available. The abundant rain and occasional rays of sunshine yield a bounty of delicious produce in the area. So much so that giant blackberries grow wild and largely unpicked all over the place. How wonderful it was to pick and eat the sweetest, juiciest blackberries I've ever tasted without having to worry about chiggers! Details soon...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Popsicles and tomatoes

Not much new around the kitchen this week...Monday night, I enjoyed a delicious dinner over at Claudia's house. She'd inadvertently used more chili flakes than I had a taste for in a lovely citrus farro dish, so using what I'd learned from a friend of mine at work (who cools her mother's spicy Indian food with homemade yoghurt), I asked if there was any dairy around. Turns out, Claudia had a yummy Greek yogurt in the fridge that was a lovely complement to her dish. I felt like a real foodie (for once) in suggesting something that actually worked well. I gave myself a nice pat on the back.

I'm still enjoying the tomato bounty around here...I've had several versions of bruschetta and several margherita pizzas. Today, I will likely have a tomato sandwich and hey, guess what, margherita pizza for dinner. The Momster is in town, so leftover tomatoes will be going with her. The Significant Omnivore and I are headed to Seattle Tuesday, so we have to clean out the fresh produce. There might be one or two tomatoes left. Might. I'll see what I can save because Mom's tomato plants in Memphis haven't been doing as well as my friends' plants here in middle Tennessee.

This week, I was also able to catch Throwdown with Bobby Flay, which featured Las Paletas. Interestingly enough, Bobby made sangria popsicles (which had been suggested to me in a previous post). I've not yet made them, but did take the suggestion to make the bluberry peach popsicles. You wouldn't think that combination would be all that remarkable, but they are really good. Regardless of that, since seeing the episode, the SO is now very keen on going to Las Paletas. Lucky for him, I can actually find the place. Actually, when it's really hot out, it's not that hard to find--you just drive down 12 South until you see a parking lot full of people eating popsicles.

We'll be in Seattle for about five days...the SO plans to eat plenty of things that once swam, but if anyone has suggestions on places to go that serve great food that comes from the soil instead of the sea, please let me know.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Isaac Hayes

Today, the world lost a very talented (mostly) vegetarian--Isaac Hayes. I used to see Isaac at the Wild Oats in Memphis when I still lived there several years ago...buying organic foods, mostly fruits and vegetables (yes, I looked). Isaac first starting experimenting with a vegetarian diet in the 70s. For a while, he was a strict vegetarian, though at times he added some fish and other animals into his diet. He writes in his 2000 cookbook, Cooking with Heart & Soul:
I started reading books on the subject and visiting health food stores to see what was available. I became really intrigued by the possibility of living and eating in a healthy way--not dying prematurely of a heart attack or stroke, which has been a way of life in my old neighborhood.

When I started hearing that eating health food could make a real difference, when I learned that by eating better, you could avoid developing these illnesses, I knew that was what I wanted to do.

Sadly and ironically, it seems he died of a heart attack while running on his treadmill. But at 65, he probably lasted much longer than he would have had he continued eat the diet he grew up eating. Regardless, he's gone too soon. He was a gifted, talented, charismatic, and charitable man. I have an autographed copy of his cookbook which (among recipes contributed by friends--many of which he knew through the Church of Scientology) contains several great vegetarian versions of good Southern soul food. Here's one that's vegan!

Fried Kale with Turnip, Mustard, and Collard Greens from Isaac Hayes's Cooking with Heart & Soul
1 bunch kale
1 bunch mustard greens
1 bunch turnip greens
1 bunch collard greens
1/3 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup water
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
salt to taste
pepper to taste

Wash all greens and trim off stems and thick veins. Cut leaves crosswise into 2-inch-wide pieces and mix together.
In a deep skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook onion and garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add greens and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 15 minutes, reducing heat as necessary to keep the greens from sticking to the pan.
Add the water, bay leaf, vinegar, maple syrup, salt, and pepper to the greens and cook until desired doneness, at least one hour, adding extra water if necessary.
Note: you can substitute other bitter greens such as swiss chard in this recipe.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Tomato Time

Seems as though this year's tomato harvest is pretty good. This might've been my year had I not decided to put my heart and soul into growing tomatoes only to see them devoured by critters like I did for the previous two years. Luckily, I have friends who didn't give up and have enough to share!

Look at those beautiful babies. Shauna's been growing some really nifty heirlooms and Crystal has been growing juicy Romas and slicers. Between the two of them, I've got a good stock of 'maters.

So last night, I didn't have a lot of energy, but didn't feel like restaurant food, so the SO fed himself some not dogs and chips and I set about trying to figure out how to eat some tomatoes (he doesn't much care for tomatoes; insanity, I know).

And then it hit me: bruschetta. I plucked out that purple guy, the zebra, a peach tomato, and a roma, sliced them up, drained them, heated them a bit, added a little EVOO, a dash of balsamic vinegar, crushed garlic, chopped basil, and salt and pepper and voila, bruschetta topping. I spooned generous amounts on slices of my favorite Provence Organic Grains bread and that was dinner. I didn't take photos of the finished product, but the array of color was beautiful and the taste was amazing. Very bright and bursting with flavor.

Tonight, I'll make a margherita pizza; this weekend, I'll make salsa. I'm truly enjoying this bounty of fresh tomatoes. I'm so glad my friends are willing and able to share!

Friday, August 1, 2008

A whirlwind tour through Milton Keynes and London

Obviously, in a week's time, I ate a lot of food, but I'll spare you the low- and medium-lights and just hit the highlights and the curiosities.

The first part of my trip was business, which took me to Milton Keynes, which is essentially a far-outlying suburb of London. It's got a huge mall and lots of chain restaurants; I think you know the type. Though the town actually consists of several smaller villages, some of which (unlike Milton Keynes--not to be confused with John Maynard Keynes) are quite old and cute. Contrary to popular belief, it's quite easy to be a vegetarian in England--even if you're in a traditional pub.

Anyhoo, like a good tourist, I mainly stuck to the chain restaurants around my hotel. Though I generally eschew what I like to call high-concept chains, I was delighted to find a restaurant called dim t, which specializes in dim sum. And has an extensive vegetarian selection. Yes, please. I ate there three times. This, my friends is what I had for dessert: chocolate won tons. They were as tasty as they appear--filled with chocolate and just a hint of liquer.

After bidding my co-workers "cheers" for the week, I headed into London. On a tip from one of my co-workers, I headed to Borough Market. I wasn't expecting to be astounded by the enormity of the market and the selection of both prepared and unprepared foods. It hurt me that I had nowhere to cook and no way to escape with some of the most amazing produce, cheese, breads, and seasonings I've ever seen. A few images for you:

After roaming around, a trail of slobber following behind my open and hungry mouth, I finally settled on a cute little stand offering handmade veggie burgers. They had three to choose from that all sounded wonderful, but I settled one comprised of a combination of grains, shredded carrots and halloumi cheese. There were six or seven side salads you could choose to stuff in your container (have one, have all; they were incredulous that I only selected two). One was a chickpea salad; another was a barley salad with herbs. I took my box and found a spot on the (crowded) grounds of the Southwark Cathedral. Everything was delicious. I could hardly be bothered to people-watch because I was so mesmerized by this delicious food. For a variety of reasons (including a much more organic food supply), the food in England just tastes so much better. Brighter. Every bite does a little dance on your tongue. I miss that already.

I spent the rest of my day hoofing around the south bank of the Thames, past Big Ben (and Parliament), through St. James's Park, Green Park and back to Kensington. So by the evening, I was ready to relax and hang out with my friend, Jenn who's living and working in the area until next year. This little guy, called the Pigalle Passion (named for the club where it was purchased), really helped me finish the day the right way.

The next day--my last full day in the UK--Jenn steered me toward a few of her favorite places. There was a Paul nearby my hotel--her boyfriend is French and so it is one of their favorite places to have breakfast/brunch/lunch/anything. I chose a sandwich, Six Cereals with Goats' Cheese. It was excellent and like so much of the food there, bursting with flavor.

We proceeded to work off our Paul calories by visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum just down the street. I have no shame in saying we spent way too much time in the jewelry and clothing exhibitions. I think there were some paintings and sculptures in the musuem somewhere...

Next up, Jenn told me I just had to see Harrods. With the dollar in the, um, "w.c.", I knew I couldn't afford anything, but heck, why not check it out?

The place was jam-packed, mostly with tourists. You could hardly walk, particularly in the food hall, so we decided to escape to the fourth floor's Georgian Restaurant for afternoon tea with sandwiches.

I won't tell you what I paid for this meal, but I will tell you it was worth every pence. Jenn was kind enough to trade off my salmon and turkey sandwiches so that I could have an extra cucumber sandwich (much more delicious than it sounds) and egg salad sandwich (rivals Destin's Donut Hole for best egg salad). The third sandwich was cheese with pickle. Again, not "a" pickle, but "pickle." It was likely the Harrod's brand, but the most popular in the UK is Branston pickle. I have been informed that some pickle is on its way to me. I can't wait. I had no interest in the marmite (wretched smell), but I did very much love that cheese and pickle sandwich.

I also quite enjoyed the wonderful loose leaf jasmine tea I had with my lunch. Despite my manner of dress, I felt quite posh.

After tea, we did a little sightseeing around Piccadilly Circus as well as a quite a bit of shopping. Though very little buying. But all that walking around made us hungry for dinner. Jenn had a favorite spot not far from my hotel, Cous Cous Darna, a lovely little Moroccan place on a quiet street in South Kensington. We started with some mint tea and triangles stuffed with herbs and goat cheese. I'm accustomed to having this as tiropita--with feta, so the taste of the goat cheese was different...and better. Perhaps I'll try this at home with that leftover phyllo that's been taunting me from the freezer...

For dinner, we shared a tagine of eggplant, zucchini, peas, and beans with apricots and plums. The sweetness of the fruit in this dish made it absolutely sublime. We ate it with a bit of cous cous that came adorned with sultanas, my new favorite raisin that I will have to find a way to procure through the magic of the interwebs.

And of course we had dessert, a plate of delicate Moroccan pastries. Though I do love baklava-style pastries, I have to admit that the sesame seed-sprinkled roll filled with fig paste was my favorite. An excellent way to end a wonderful meal that ended my trip on a high note.

As opposed to letting it end on the low note of the meager airplane food and wretched treatment from the American Airlines flight attendant on the way back to the States...

But I digress. London remains one of my very favorite places in the world to eat. Regardless of whether it's at a chain restaurant, street vendor, pub, or Marks & Sparks, I feel like it has some of the very best and most flavorful food available anywhere.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Oh, hey

I meant to post more as my voyage progressed, but I was ever so busy. So I've got a whirlwind post of just the highlights planned. A preview: something called "pickle" is on its way over from my co-workers. Not "a" pickle; just "pickle." It's spread and I actually quite liked it.

But my purpose here today is to tell you I have returned (with a load of Hotel Chocolat chocolates and Mars candies for the Significant Omnivore). All of my luggage returned as well, no thanks to the TSA people at O'Hare who, AGAIN failed to re-zip my suitcase. Luckily, on the return trip, I put all small items in zipper compartments and used the little clampy things to secure my clothing. All of those things were as I left them, so I'm not really sure what the point of unzipping my luggage was.

Also, I got my vegetarian meals on the return flight from London. This is both good and bad. Good because the options were "beef or chicken," neither of which could have easily been converted to a vegetarian meal (unlike the omelet and pizza). Bad because it was eggplant moussaka on potatoes and was such a miniscule portion that even with the small salad (as in, four square inches of salad) and fruit, it was not enough food (hello, protein? nope.). Also, I have history of getting food poisoning from eggplant dishes. But I took my chances and ate it because I had no choice. Despite allowing two and a half hours for check-in at Heathrow, I had to be pulled out of line to make the plane. So I had no time to stop and get any food or water to take onto the plane as I'd planned. American Airlines at Heathrow is a bloody mess. Even at 7:45 on a Sunday morning.

Anyhoo. So we got our first meal about an hour into a seven and a half hour flight. No snack accompanied it like on the flight over (I was hoping for that processed cheese product again--would have been a lifesaver). About two hours afterward, I ate some of the food I'd meant to bring back to the SO. I was starving. It was just as I'd pictured it might be. People were begging for drinks to combat low blood sugar. People were getting restless. Those of us who might have slept were being kept awake by a toddler who thought he was a monkey (he shrieked and cried the duration of the flight--I'm not exaggerating). We were Desperate Passengers.

The problem was compounded for me as my row had been assigned an utter bitch of a flight attendant. I don't think I've ever been treated so rudely by a flight attendant in all my life. She was rude to my seat neighbors as well. I don't know who peed in her Cheerios that morning, but it was still no excuse for the treatment.

When they finally came around for the second food service, there was maybe an hour left in the flight. Pizza! But not for me. I got another tiny bowl of eggplant--this time sitting on white rice. High glycemic index, little nutritional value. Yay. Oh, and a tiny container of grapes. I'd been told by the flight attendant on the flight coming over that they usually have extra food going back to the states (Ostensibly to serve large Americans--who knows), so when the cart came around with the pizza, I asked, "Excuse me, do you have an extra pizza?" Exactly those words. Yes or no question. What I got was, "Only one meal per person. And you have your meal--it's right there" in a tone that was so condescending and rude, it was all I could do to contain myself. I said nothing to her, but said to my neighbor "Well, that was completely unnecessary" in a voice loud enough for her to hear. Even if she'd just said "no" sharply, it would have been better. Oooh, I wanted so much just to kick her. Oh, and I didn't get my cookie. Everyone else got grapes and a cookie on their tray. No cookie for me.

While I'm complaining (and I really shouldn't--the only delay was in Chicago and the notorious baggage handlers at Heathrow actually got my luggage on the correct plane), what's the deal with security procedures? Why can't they have the same procedure and same rules at every airport? Flying out of the US and within the US, you can have tweezers and clippers and nail files but no gel insoles, but no sharp objects at all coming into the US from some other country. I don't remember the insole thing. Flying out of Nashville and Heathrow, I was able to keep my laptop in my bag, but I had to take it out at O'Hare (I had to go through security again their after coming back into the country). I had a Sprite in my bag that I had to surrender because I didn't know I had to go through security again and then I got ridiculed for not taking my laptop out. With a confused look on my face, I ask the guy with the thick Chicago accent to clarify what he has just said, "I need to take my laptop out of the bag?" "Yes, ma'am, it's been a rule for about five or six years now" (in a quite sarcastic tone). I'd had it with rude people, so I shot back "Well, not in London or Nashville." And I moved along.

To top things off, when it was (finally) time to board the plane in Chicago, my boarding pass had been flagged somehow. I was told there was an equipment (plane) change and I got moved from the sixth row to the seventeenth. As in the last row of the plane. The one with the seats that don't recline and is right next to the lav. Thank goodness it was only an hour. And that I had time to grab a sandwich and a bottle of water during the delay.

I had a good time, but I'm not ready to go back any time soon. My boss and her boss do this once or twice a month. God help them, I don't know how they stand it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

UK Trip Day One: 20 July 2008

~11:00 CDT 20 July 2008
I just did something I've never done before. I ate an omelet while flying 39K feet over Ontario.

The travel agent thankfully moved my seat from the back of economy (next to the lav) up to the front of economy but neglected to note a request for a vegetarian meal. I knew this before getting on the flight and brought some trail mix and pre-made bean and grain snack in a can, but I knew they wouldn't get me through 7.5 hours in the air on the way to London.

So as I watched an Indian family eat what looks to be a tasty vegan meal (though I wonder about that bagel), I got to choose between pancakes with scrambled eggs sitting on top of slices of ham and an omelet.

I've avoided omelets my whole life because I'm just not a big fan of eggs (nor of the egg-producing industry, but that came much later than my general dislike of the taste). Plus, omelets are pretty much eggs cooked in butter, right? Yuck. Sounds disturbingly fattening.

But this airline food "three cheese omelet" looked a little less buttery and came with roasted potatoes and mushrooms instead of dead pig, so I opted to give it a try.

It wasn't bad. I mean, it wasn't great, but it wasn't bad. Well, bad for me I'm sure, but not bad-tasting.

Incidentally, it came with a croissant, too. I haven't had a croissant since I was in France seven years ago. The logic being that if I'm going to consume that amount of calories, it better be the real thing. But something about being trapped on an airplane makes food more appealing than it would be elsewhere. As if I feel like this might be my last opportunity to ever eat, so I may as well go for it. I might need the energy on the island, you know. I even ate the honeydew melon. I don't even like honeydew melon. Later, I will likely eat something the package calls "pasteurized processed cheese spread." But, hey, they included a Toblerone in the package, as well. Sweet.

~14:00 CDT 20 July 2008
I ate every last bit of that cheese spread crap as if it were my last meal. I thought it would be, but no, now I have pizza! A miniature deep dish-style cheese pizza with a salad and oil and vinegar dressing. I'm so pleased to see a salad that I'm not even going to complain that it's iceberg lettuce. To save on my carbs, I think I'll leave the pizza bones behind. And forsake the "oatmeal chewie," though I'm sticking that little guy in the backpack. I might need it on the island, after all. Luckily, I have a pointed nail file (now allowed on flights in carry on luggage, yet gel-filled insoles are not), so I can fight off anyone who tries to steal it from me.

~23:00 GMT 20 July 2008
Well, I made it to London after all. And I'm feeling quite guilty about all the junk I shoved into my facehole during the day. It's amazing what being bored and trapped in an airplane for seven and a half hours will do to your level of standards.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fried Green Bananas

No, not a typo. Yes, fried green bananas.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at my local grocery and as usual, bought a bunch of bananas. And, as usual, they were green. I loathe green bananas and prefer my bananas to be yellow and freckled at the very least. Underripe bananas make my teeth hurt.

So I waited for them to ripen. And waited. And ended up buying some ripe ones last weekend from McNeil's. And yesterday it occurred to me that these things were never going to make it to a point where I'd find them edible. And they were so green that no human would find them edible now. So what does one do with green bananas? Google told me to fry them. After reading all the glowing reviews, I decided to try it.

First, I had to cut open the bananas. They were so green, they could not be peeled. And just to make sure that the skins weren't deceiving me, I tried a bite of one. Yick. So I proceeded to cut them into small slices, about the size of half a home fry. I didn't want them to be too thin and therefore higher in calories.

I poured some canola and peanut oil in the bottom of a pan--about 3/4 inch deep--and heated it on a high-ish medium high setting. Once it was good and hot, I dropped in the first fries. It didn't take long for them to start browning, but they had a tendency to stick together, so the frying required some monitoring (and poking). After just a few minutes, I took them out and placed them on a paper towel to absorb excess oil. I repeated for six bananas worth of fries. Pictured is only about three bananas' worth. I like big bananas (I can not lie...).

Instead of eating them with something sweet or plain, the SO and I decided to salt and pepper those little bad boys up and dip them in a little ketchup. And just like the reviews say, they were delicious. We polished off a whole lot of fries. Yay, banana fries! Not quite as unhealthy as potato fries!

So, yay, right? Hang on just a second. Here's where I tell you the rest of the story. First, deep frying these bananas caused quite a bit of smoke to develop. I didn't see it actually forming but realized what was happening when my eyes started burning. Little bits had gotten left in the oil and started smoking (and were very charred by the end). Maybe this is an outside job. Luckily, I got that storm door with the panel that opens for ventilation.

Second, remember how I said it was six bananas? Six large bananas? Split between two people? If you've never tasted a really green banana, the texture is very cellulose-y, fibrous...woody, even. Do you see where I'm going with this? We ate what felt like (hours later) a pound of deep fried tree branches. Fiber is good for you and all, but indigestible fiber...not so much. I think that eating about half of what we did (or maybe a quarter) would have been smarter. But they were so good! So deep-frying the green bananas is a good way to use them up, but keep your consumption limited to a small portion. Unless you enjoy feeling like you have part of a tree in your gut.