Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lousy Updating Ameliorated

But, only in the worst possible way... with a survey!

The Very Good Taste Omnivore's 100 List


1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries (well, they were in Gramma's backyard.. but weren't cultivated)
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (in both the Clam Chowder capital - Boston - and the sourdough capital - San Francisco... I'm so cultured!)
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle (I did work on a play that mentioned this food.. doesn't count, does it?)
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (isn't this a type of clay?)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

35/100... I think I've only ever scored that low on tests in geometry class! Clearly, I need to expand some of my food horizons, though I am happy to say I've never eaten a Big Mac meal.

Expect some more on-target posts in the near future.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Making Butter

Though they may seem intimidating, making your own dairy products is frequently not that difficult. Some recipes may take a while: yogurt requires about half an hour of heating and cooling the milk before letting it sit for 8-12 hours, but it's certainly not hard. Same with soft cheeses: heat and cool milk or cream, strain, maybe add another ingredient (like vinegar or lemon juice) and wait. Butter, on the other hand, is a more... active recipe.
Instead of heating and waiting, butter is a totally raw food.
Also unlike yogurt and cheese, butter is a good workout.

Step 1: get some heavy cream (I used raw from the farmers' market and I highly recommend it)
Step 2: put it in a container with a good seal (I used a lock-n-lock container)

Almost there in this picture
Step 3: SHAKE!

Basically, you first make whipped cream. When you continue shaking after the whipped cream, the cream gets thicker and then breaks down. Continued shaking results in butter and a special splash: buttermilk!
I didn't get quite as much buttermilk as I expected, but I was ok with that. My recipe called for 1 cup of buttermilk, but I was able to make up for the lack by mixing some leftover cream with water and a squeeze of lemon juice. Ideally, 1 pint of cream, like I had, should yield 1 cup of butter and 1 cup of buttermilk, but I think I got the better part of the deal -- extra butter!After the butter has clumped up, drain off the buttermilk. As you can see, I saved it in a measuring cup and carefully refrained from guzzling it myself, but you might not have the same glorious willpower. You're not done just yet, though.

Throw your butter into a bowl and pour in some water. Knead the butter and dump out the water. Continue this process until the water is clear. Why? You're rinsing off excess buttermilk. If you were to leave it on there, the butter would go off much more rapidly and you'd be left with nasty rancid butter. For my rinsing step, I actually used a colander, but it was a lousy choice, as the picture below demonstrates.

Overall, making butter is easy, sort of fun, and definitely quite an experience. Probably a good science experiment for children, but I don't know the actual science behind the cream to butter process, so I probably won't be using it as a lesson any time soon. Do you know the science behind butter? I've got an interview for Teach for America coming up, and I could use a great mini-lesson. Props are encouraged and I'm sure they wouldn't turn up their noses at some butter time.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Pizza Party

Earlier this week, a good friend of mine emailed to see if I'd be interested in a weekend pizza party. Transcript of his email: wanna have a pizza party on saturday? ive been experimenting with goat cheese.
My response: [...] I'll make the dough if you bring the cheese!
Clearly, we are a delightful group. So, friend sent out a mass email to other friends and, as the week wore on, said friends grew more and more excited about homemade pizza.

Well, tonight, all our pizza dreams came true, with a few mishaps thrown in for fun.
I spent the day at the farmers' market, church, and CostCo, so I actually had very little time at home. I'd started a poolish with one of Peter Reinhart's to-die-for recipes, but later realized the dough needed yet another day of refrigeration to make it take on full flavor. As I am not willing to waste poolish that's been squandering space in my fridge for a full night, I went with a completely fresh dough, ignoring the pre-ferment pain. And where did I find this delightful dough? No other location than my darlingest food blog, Smitten Kitchen. I found this amazingly simple dough recipe and planned on making it a few hours before the party for a richly risen dough treasure. Of course, I had no flour, so an emergency grocery run and a few distractions later, the party was just getting underway and I was just beginning my dough mixing.

I enlisted a slightly unwilling Boy, and we whipped up this dough (three batches in, oh, maybe 10 minutes), swaddled them in plastic wrap, and shoved them into our goodie bag to head to the pizza party.
We let the dough rise a bit on top of the oven, then the baker-boys took over, stretching, nay, throwing my dough into perfect circles then dressing them from a gorgeous assortment of condiments, from pesto to carmelized onions and back around to raw mushrooms (fresh from this morning's farmers' market) and Kalamata olives. If I remember correctly, we made a total of 7 pizzas, 3 with my dough and 4 with miscellaneous donations from Trader Joe's and another friend's CuisinArt. By far, my dough got the most applause, and that for dough hurriedly whipped up and not even allowed to fully rise . Clearly, this is a spectacular recipe. Allow me to share!
That's pizza in that pan there -- we made many types and shared!

Spectacular Pizza Dough
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes one 12" pizza
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (organic if possible, part whole wheat, if you're adventurous. I used only all-purpose this time, though I'll likely sub part whole wheat next time)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp active dry yeast (if using other yeast types, adjust accordingly)
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water (give or take a few drops)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  1. In a large-ish bowl, throw all the dry ingredients, even the yeast, together. Stir them up and then add the water and olive oil. Mix the ingredients together, but don't sweat it if they're stubborn.
  2. Dump the bowl's contents onto a lightly floured counter/workspace and gently knead until the dough forms nicely, about 1-2 minutes. All the extra floury bits should come together at this stage to leave you with a smooth dough.
  3. Lightly (lightly!) oil the bowl and put the dough ball into it, turning to coat evenly. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap. OR Lightly oil some plastic wrap and wrap the dough ball into it.
  4. Let the dough sit for an hour or so until it's risen, then stretch out, place on cornmeal-dusted parchment paper, and top with delicious everythings.
  5. Transfer the parchment paper to the oven, preferably onto a warmed pizza stone, but a cookie sheet works ok and bake on your oven's highest temperature until the cheese is melted and the crust is wonderfully brownish.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Regional Food Affairs

Occasionally, everyone has affairs. I figure, if Bill Clinton can, why can't I?
Thus, my regional food affair.
Not only am I in love with the food of my countrymen (that's the Pennsylvania Dutch, famous for pot pie and scrapple, and Italians, famous for all good food, everywhere), but I also love the food of other regions, like wherever Brie comes from (I know it's France!) and Mexico (mmm, tortillas!).
Mostly, though, I love food from home, wherever home may be. TheBoy made a particularly apt statement while we visited family for the holidays "back east." He mentioned that we are now so firmly citizens of both the east and west coasts that we can be those annoying jerks who crave foods "from home" no matter where we are. In PA, we sorely missed our beloved In-N-Out, but here in Cali, I can't even begin to tell you how much we miss good pizza, hoagies, cheesesteaks, and, above all, Wawa. ::sigh:: My stomach growls even thinking about all the delicious Amoroso rolls, salami, provolone, capicolla, and vinegar. ::sigh again:: So, when we visited, we stopped by all the best places to get a taste of home. First stop, Wawa, of course!

We got the full meal: lemonade iced tea, an Italian hoagie with oil, vinegar, and all the veggies, and TASTYKAKES. We hesitated between visions of butterscotch crimpets and kandykakes, but had to stick with the latter. Why? Because they had the EAGLES on them!
Only later did we find crimpets with Eagles logos, too. Wow!
Later, we went to Pepper Mill (you who don't know.. I'm sorry) and I got a cheese steak while TheBoy got an Italian grinder. There are no pictures for the same reason there are no leftovers -- too good! Even better about our Pepper Mill trip: a good friend of mine works there and when we "complained" about the food, he gave us a full refund. *wink*

Despite the fact that I love Wawa and everything it serves, I have to carefully balance my cravings with the realization that almost everything that Wawa serves is totally unhealthy, unsustainable, and not always all that tasty. Yes, I am talking about Wawa coffee. Ew.

What I do love, though, is how food becomes such a vital part of a place. I couldn't imagine the Greater Philadelphia area without Wawa or cheesesteaks, just as I couldn't picture Los Angeles without In-N-Out and taco trucks. The feeling of community is irreplaceable.
What food is vital to your region? Share in comments!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Holiday Food Treats

I hope everyone just had a lovely set of holidays. Around here, we celebrated entirely too much and, well, the cookies were basically endless (future posts about them.. .yeah). How about I ease into the new year, though, and highlight some food/foodie things received.

TheBoy's gift to me was both thoroughly unexpected and wonderful. A FONDUE POT! Now, I will have to become Strongbad in order to lend out my newly prized possession. I imagine my next encounter will somewhat resemble this Homestarrunner cartoon.

One of my very best friends (who happens to be one of my bridesmaids) gave me a delightfully food-filled gift. Now only did she handcraft a delightful pair of onigiri earrings, but she also delivered some intensely sweet powdered ginger drink. She knows of my great love for ginger, and decided to conveniently deliver. This friend, A, then accompanied TheBoy and me to the craft store for some fun times -- A is an artist (chemical engineering major--artist) and I needed some new yarn to satisfy my cravings. While we were there, A decided that she had not delivered a fully spectacular Christmas gift, so proceeded to purchase two packs of Wilton's adorable mini cookie cutters, one in the "romance" theme and one "Noah's ark" theme. Obviously, A knows me too well. In fact, A is the wonderful roommate who first introduced me to bento, mini cookie cutters, and all things tiny, precious, and edible.

There was only one negative to A's fabulous food contributions: that honey ginger drink is entirely too sweet. Like, mouth-curdlingly sweet. So, how did I remedy this situation? Well, I'm adjusting how much of an individual packet I put into my cup of hot water. Unfortunately, the packets are not resealable and I actually really hate cutting open individual packets. So, this morning I took the only logical step to correct this issue: I cut all the packets opened and dumped them into an infrequently used Nalgene bottle. Now, I will be able to use a long-handled spoon to easily pull out just exactly the right amount of ginger powder without wasting half a packet or having to pull out the scissor. A, are you proud of my food engineering?

Do you have any interesting ways of storing powders or correcting for flavor imbalances? Share in comments!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Lunches, Again

Over here in LaLaLand, we're all gearing up for holiday hiatus and you know what that means, right? Minimal updates!

Instead of leaving you totally bereft over the holiday season, though, I thought I'd treat you to a second dose of festive food.

Here we have my accidentally festive lunch from December 18th. I justsohappened to use a green box and those wonderful farmers' market-found cherry tomatoes couldn't help but cheer up my lunch. The less exhilarating companion to the green box is a microwavable Lock-N-Lock container filled with the same leftover beef stew we've been suffering from (actually, it's delightful, but I'm glad to see it gone). Inside the green box are some of those tomatoes, some small bite-size chunks of homemade bread, and some unsweetened dried mango slices from the bulk bin -- pretty healthy and awesome, in my opinion. If you notice that I packed the green box pretty lightly, you're right: together, the Lock-N-Lock plus the green sidecar is entirely too much lunch for me, so a mostly filled beef stew and lightly packed side are the perfect amount for a filling, wintertime meal, especially in our arctic office environment. Frigid!

Though the last meal was accidentally holiday-themed, this next bento set was purposefully crafted as a tribute to our Christmas spirit. Taking some of the spicy shortbread cookies that I made and coupling them with leftover spaghetti with sausage, and happy green peppers was a great start. Throwing those delightful cherry tomatoes completed the package in the best way. For TheBoy's lunch, I simply cut slices off the top of a green bell pepper and set them aside. I sliced until the bottom of the pepper was shallow enough to sit in his lunchbox. You can see some of the extra slices plugging a hole next to the "wreath" pepper and, of course, over in my box, covering my leftover lasagna. He also got a layered snack area filled with banana chips, salted almonds, and a single spiced shortbread cookie -- I got the same, just with smaller portions.

TheBoy loved how much thought (he thinks) I put into this lunch and gobbled it up in record time. He loves anything to do with spaghetti and tomatoes and peppers, so this was a huge hit. I also loved my lunch and we both got compliments on our wonderful meals. So, I'll sign off now for the holidays with a clear blog-conscience. Happy Holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Festive Food

Because L.A. is so different from my old, cold Christmas home, I've been having some difficulty getting ready for the holidays. So, to help me, I've started making festive food choices. Beginning with my holiday cookie spree and edging into our lunches, Christmas has started to seriously invade the kitchen here.
Let's start with a small example: Saturday night hit and cookie craving set in bigtime. I needed my fix, so I made another batch of Chocolate Rocky Road cookies. These ones didn't turn out quite so beautifully as the last ones, but were delightful, especially when photographed on holiday wrapping paper!

A little bit of red and green has snuck into our lunch boxes in the form of lasagna and green grapes. Let me tell you a bit about the lasagna. First, I started by making the sauce. You can find the recipe at the bottom of the post, but mostly it's a sham-recipe -- I just throw in whatever I have around. While the sauce is bubbling away, I work on the ricotta (following the directions on the lasagna noodles box... too easy!). While both the sauce and ricotta are getting delicious, I'm also, sometimes, heating up hot Italian sausage to mix into the sauce. Then, it's just a matter of throwing all those ingredients into the baking dish and making delicious, holiday lunches with the resulting leftovers. The other defining holiday aspect of these lunches are my Christmas cookies. A recent post dealt with the cookies, so I won't go into too much detail, but... they are pretty festive, aren't they?

How about the naturally red and green produce from our local farmers' market? Swiss red chard is big in my book, I've even blogged about it before. I love how it looks, smells... I even love how it feels. I took some of that fabulous vegetable and cooked it up into a sort of Mediterranean stir fry: Swiss red chard, zucchini, mushrooms, and, of course, garlic and olive oil combined to make MMM the best stir fry I could whip up. And plenty of leftovers for the next week. It's even in the red and green bento pictured in this post.

Chard was not the only festive farmers' find this week. I got tons of great red and green produce there. Take a look at our veggie basket, brimful of bright red heirloom tomatoes, pretty purple onions, and, best of all, a subtly colored and heavenly smelling bunch of thyme. I can't wait to use it in the Parmesan-Thyme Savory cookie recipe I have stored up in my recipe file. This image of our produce basket even has my "rolling pin" off to the side. You can read about my wine bottle rolling pin reuse project over at my eco blog, Light Up My Room.

Homemade Sauce Recipe

  • 1 huge can (smaller than a basketball, bigger than a softball) of stewed tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste (for thickening. give or take for taste and preferred thickness)
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh, or 1 tsp. dried, basil leaves (or to taste)
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh, or 1 tsp. dried, Italian herbs (I use a dried blend, but you can use parsley, sage, oregano.. whatever)
  • 1-6 cloves garlic, minced (have I mentioned we LOVE garlic?)
  • Olive oil for the pan
  • Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat olive oil in a tall-sided pot and add garlic. Don't let the garlic brown, just get your kitchen smelling delicious.
2. Add the stewed tomatoes, crushing each one with your hands (OVER the pot! or else you'll make a huge mess!). Crush or cut to your preferred texture; I like chunky sauce. TheBoy calls it "stylish"
3. Add spices and stir well.
4. Let it cook until the tomatoes have started falling apart and the taste is to your standards. It's really up to you how this sauce turns out. If you decide to add meat, especially sausage, make sure you either buy loose ground meat or crumble it up before browning, because it's a hassle if you try to crumble after cooking.