Friday, August 21, 2009

The Its Cool to Be Square Jam Session

That's right- your questions answered. A two month catch up YBAC Mailbag. As always, these are real questions to Andrew from real readers. Why would I make these up, that would be a very deranged waste of a lot of my own time.

Why are pizzas round?
-Shawna: Sheboygan, IL

They don't have to be. If you watch Garfield cartoons, you know its because the first pizza chef baked them so hard that they inspired the frizbee. I made a cool square pizza the other night and will now make my own pizzas every time. Its too easy to make one to buy preservative-rich shipped from who knows where possibly due for a recall not nearly as tasty pizzas from the store. The one pictured is a simple crust with 1/4 of the flour rye, and lots of oregano and herbs de provance right in the crust. Also, you can put a bead of mustard around the edge before folding over for a more rewarding last bite of each piece. This one had mushrooms underneath- which were almost as fresh as the day I bought them two weeks after I bought them, wrapped tight in a brown paper bag in the crisper- a trick that apparently does work. And with soft mozerella beneath a crispy browned layer of parmesan. Oh and spinach.

Staying lazy? You don't hike, you don't blog, what do you do?
-Mitchel Prince: North Salt Lake, UT

I have been busy! I made my first zuccini bread batch (delicious) and need a heartier supply of zuccini as I fry them very well too. It is fairly easy, although I suggest using less than the 2 cups of sugar many recipes call for (better if you go half and half brown and white) because it just isn't necessary. A cup and a half will do it I think. I also made 2 batches of pumpkin pancakes with white chocolate chips and walnuts in them, and a new feature to my repertoire: buttermilk pancake syrup. I am even including the recipe for it. I love it with both pumpkin cakes, bars, and my coco craisin pancakes, which also have walnuts. I have never been a big maple person, although mainly I just think pancakes and crepes can do so many things, they deserve more than one sugary sticky goo to smother them in. I also now firmly believe that the wetter and oranger your pumpkin pancakes- the better. The trouble with pumpkin is you can only buy huge cans of it year round. At Thanksgiving Time this year, I am going to buy 10 single pie cans instead of these double ones, because I get pumpkinned out by the time I go through 32 oz of pumpkin in a week. Although, I do love pumpkin. This time I made the cakes really slopping over with it- and they were much better as more pumpkin than flour. Not that there is anything wrong with typical pancakes slightly flavored with pumpkin either. And pumpkin is very good for you- its absolutely slopping over with vitamins and especially lutein and Vitamin A, both of which are good for the eyes. Anything orange or red by the way is good for your eyes: carrots, tomatoes, red bell peppers. Its why a rainbow diet can be such a simple way to know you are healthy: pigments tell you what you are getting because they are created by particular compounds we need. Vitamin C makes things dark red/purple. As does lutein and Vitamin A (or orangey). That's your nutrition tip for the week.

So buttermilk syrup: 1.5 C sugar, 1/2 cup butter, 3/4 cup buttermilk (I use the buttermilk powder with 3/4 cup water), 2 tbsp corn syrup, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 whisked egg. Heat this to boiling for 7-10 minutes, then take off the heat and add 1 tsp of vanilla. If you don't like it, send it to me and I will post a picture of myself eating it.

I also have been hiking- creeks and canyons instead of mountains right now while I get strong again and wait for 99 degrees to go away- my roomate now goes out some times with me, which is great because its nice to have someone to talk to. I spent hours looking up shoes to try that might make my feet break less. I even posted a personal add for people interested in being my hiking friend on the employee board at work. That's not desperate right? Right!!!?

What could be simpler than fresh jam?
-John Miller: Logan, Utah

Finding fault with the idiotic Cash For Clunkers: or the idea that America is now completely sink or swim with the auto industry, the jumbo bank industry, and the same Can't The Government Do It For Me Mentallity- all three of which can't possibly work anymore. I no longer think America needs to eat its Barackoli and will not be printing those t-shirts with his smiling mug on the head of a big hunk of green vegetable. Why not just sink 2.1 billion into say Smart Cars, which are actually environmentally friendly, or any random industry- bean bags. i would rather support someone new and even someone pulled out of a hat than the worst run industries in the history of the modern world. With a 2.1 billion dollar give away program, I am pretty sure Smart Car could produce and sell several hundred thousand units- and create many jobs to replace those Detroit would lose. So auto workers would have to migrate- umm have you seen Detroit? I don't think they would mind once they realized the sky wasn't black everywhere. Why exactly can't anyone envision life without Ford? I once read that when bicycles became big, people stopped buying hats because they spent their free money on their bike (wasn't much flexible income in those days), and the hats blew away while on a bike, and lawmakers at the behest of hatmakers nearly passed a law requiring everyone to buy at least 2 hats per month to protect the jobs of hatmakers. However, eventually, they decided the hatmakers could learn a new skill or starve. Now that is the American way. I either need to get a cut of any future profits or I want my taxes to be withheld from bailouts. I see no reason to be slightly poorer to keep a bunch of frauds and sleezes at the top wealthy. At least give me some CEO heads on a platter and put young hungry people in charge. These guys caused the problem- since when has any American learned from a mistake? Or why not public transportation? Horses and buggies went away, so can cars. If public transportation were not terrible, I would use it. Basically this is just the bad end of Soviet communism isn't it? I support companies and never see the benefits. All for the good of the nation. If you hear about car dealers in Bountiful Utah getting fire bombed with home made lye-based incendiaries, forget we had this talk. Oh yes, and a quick other point: electricity is very cheap in bountiful with an "in-house" plant that produces enough for this town only- and I found out why it is so cheap. Instead of buying and then burning coal, they have paper and cardboard recycling bins everywhere and burn this! Isn't that clever. And Utahns who contemptuosly snear that if God wanted us to recycle he would say so through one of his living phrophets (all currently old white men who are too busy hating on gays and lesbians and Jews and so forth) are willing to recycle to save money. Now it isn't glass burning which I would prefer since few cities even try to recycle glass in Utah, but what a clever plan for a city. I am so proud to live here. Especially with a darling farmer's market once a week, at least, during summer. What was your question again?

Oh- nothing- I am ashamed I have not made home jams sooner. I made a batch of blackberry and raspberry the past two nights and am delighted with the results and process. Here are the steps: 1)Put berries in a pan and poke them with a fork or knife, 2) Put pan on low heat, 3) When you begin to see juice, add a little under a 1:1 ratio of sugar (so say 3/4 cup sugar to 1 cup berries), 4) Stir on low heat then up the heat to boiling, 5) Boil for about five minutes, stirring twice- if berries were large or firm, mash them a bit, and run a jar under hot water while you go, 6) Put berries in jar, let jar sit on counter for 30 minutes, then refridgerate. I think you will find that fresh jam is bursting with flavor much more so than storeboughts, and its fun and makes you feel smart. You can add pectin in the form of apples, any fruit with a crisp skin, or store bought pectin to make sure you get a solid gel, as berries will leave things a bit watery, but nature will make the jam thick enough to spread and stick to bread. Process should be about the same for peaches or any other fruit you want to add (peach rasperrry? Peach blueberry? Apple cranberry? Hmmmm...)

Do you think your feet might hurt because you wore those damn wrestling shoes with duct tape for 6 years?
-Various members of my family: 3 states

No, I do not actually. I think it is from walking down 10% grades and climbing 80% rock walls for miles and hours. Holding the heel of my sky blue wrestling shoes on with duct tape obviously helped, since my feet hurt more now that they are gone. Which is why I just bought some wrestling shoes- its like wearing no shoes at all, and some Wenger Swiss Army Knife shoes: they stretch with each step, and have temperature-treated grip rubber, and anti-fungal insoles and are perfectly balanced to hold up to the Alps and every kind of arch- and fulfill my need of good footwear and mantastic gadgets. Sadly none are not sky blue, but the wrestling shoes are red and yellow and look like Superman shoes and my Matterhorn hikers are sunset colored: orange, gold, and pink. I found some similar sky blue wrestling shoes to my old pair but realized it wasn't the color of them, it was the memories. I had been walking on memories. Sometimes those can be the only thing you are comfortable in, and you just have to give it time until the memories start causing you pain in your knees, back, and heels before you are ready to move on. And by the way, dear family of mine: offering me new shoes and hundred dollar bribes, and trips to Tahiti if I would only stop embaressing you by showing up in Illinois every other year for my two day hi I'm still alive wow who is this teenager and where is that baby you used to have? trips home did not speed things up. You ought to know by now I just like to egg people on until they froth at the mouth and shriek obsenities at me in grocery stores or chemistry classrooms and also should know I am more stubborn than a statue of a sleeping mule and that I loved those shoes and did not want a new pair. Also, I think things should last. I am opposed to buying new shoes all the time and new cars, and new everything. Why do we need to manufacture hundreds of cars? Leaders have so little imagination: if people keep old cars, then there will have to be more parts, and repair shops, and repair men. I'm not saying do nothing, but when you get a hole in your floor from throwing money at it until the boards cave in and your leaders decide, well if we throw enough money at the hole in one big honey-coated ball, it might clog the hole and hopefully won't make it bigger- that's just frustrating. Anyway I got six years out of those shoes and when I threw them out, I am pretty sure people in the Dominican Republic with no shoes would have even thought, you know, maybe my feet will just get hard over time and put them back in the dumpster. I am doing my part world. Ouch my feet hurt.

What are you wearing right now?
-Alexis Bladell, Hollywood

Shoes with ducktape, and an apron with a picture of Beanie and Cecil taped to it. And a bit of beet juice sadly. So right now by the way I am fermenting goat yogurt. That stuff if $6.79 at the store by the way. I paid half that for goat's milk. Now if I just had a cow and a goat I would really be self reliant. So how's about you new Number 1 Hot Celebrity Crush Who I Would Never Want To Meet Or Try Talking To Because She Is Probably Vain, Stupid, Or Otherwise Uninteresting, But Enjoy Looking At Immensely. How's the view from the top? I know you aren't wearing an Oscar for a neckless. Keep starring in movies though- now if only you had a cool internet nickname like ScarJo does. ABlad? Lexell? ADel? Nothing will top ScarJo.

I get discouraged. Do you ever cook anything that flops?
-Kristy: Cactusville, NV

This past week I cooked lamb for the first time. It came out good, but the tagine all around it (fruit-sweetened stew) was sub-par. I used too many cinammon sticks and too much tomato sauce so that my apricots got drowned out. But the lamb was delicious and I took it to a party for my poetry group and everyone thought I was brilliant and now is convinced I am a real 100% juice chef. I told them I was not and thought back longingly to the first tagine I made months ago. So yes, I often am disappointed with my food, but as I told Teresa the other night: quit complaining about your dinner, its good- hating everything you make is only cute when I do it. A good trick is to make something that nobody knows how it should taste: like a lamb tagine. When you say its a lamb tagine, most people don't know what that is so they say okay and take a little and then are impressed. They have nothing to compare it to. Mom didn't make lamb tagine every Tuesday when they were growing up. I even got several people to eat lamb thinking it was beef and that I was joking about it being lamb, and that thinking that they hated lamb. Now the know different. Just stay positive. I am trying that at work now too. It does no good to get mad at your hands and slam them into walls until they nearly break while shouting barbarically if they don't type as fast as you want: stretch them, massage them, put headphones on your fingertips at night so they can listen to Mozart (not that I do that), do fingertip pushups, practice typing. Try to think about what you do and how to improve it. Do you taste one ingredient? That's a good sign to put less in. Could it be sweeter? Maybe a sprinkle of sugar. Too dry? Cook the meat a little less, or sprinkle it with some lemon or lime juice next time. You can usually analyze anything and at least make a deduction of what went wrong (if anything) and improve every time. It leaves your hands less sore and your voice less hoarse.

Are your tortillas round yet?
-Blain: The Future

Some people obviously have an overactive sense of humor. Yes they are almost as round as store bought ones. This week I made a third batch and it went very smoothly, with slightly less muttering curses under my breath. I am good with a rolling pin now. And I melted some good cheese and then folded them around some hoisin-tamari soy Asian sticky rice. I still miss Chino Bandido. And Superstition Mountain. Other than that, Arizona can melt for all I care.

How's that cheese cake coming?
-Asuka: Osh-Kosh, Wisconsin

Shut up I'm totally going to make it soon. And then I will serve it with a delicious plum topping and hot fudge on top of a mountain while school children play delightful kazoo concertos I will write now that I am going to learn about music and composing- and you won't be invited.

How would you fix the world?
-Sarah: Vermouth, Alaska

I am glad you asked, since I so rarely take the time to speak out with my many crackpot theories about everything. My plan is an eight fold path.

Plastic Bags: I hear Oregon has banned these, which I love. What I would love more, is a very American-friendly (as in sure you can do what you want its a totally free country but...) $1 mandatory envirnmental repair fund tax per plastic bag at every store in the country. So you forget a bag and ask for one from the store for your Gatorade Easy-grip bottle of vitamized water- that's a buck added onto your 89 cent sale. You need 14 plastic bags at Walmart- $14 bucks. I am pretty sure people would bring their own bags at that point- either the same paper or plastic ones every week or expensive personalized hand woven custom hemp ones that could kick off a whole new industry since Americans love to buy things. I go rock climbing once a year I need $1000 dollars worth of gear, but no Andrew I don't want to die on the Grand Teton with you. Yuppies. Also last night a guy put bananas in a produce bag. I should have spat on him and then slapped him. They're bananas! They come wrapped! You stupid sleeze bag. When I am president of the world, anyone who puts bananas in a bag will be shot at dawn- firing squad: 8 jobs created.

Glass Powered Plants: All power plants will be converted to run on melted glass or burned paper. I know at least the paper is possible. Maybe melting glass requires heat and does not produce it- which seems likely as I type this- in which case, glass would be melted at the same plants and then reshaped and resold to companies or stores. Towns should be encouraged to construct local power plants. This would be better than Utah paving every still smooth road in the state right now because they weren't sure how to seize any of the free Government Fun Money being passed out right now other than road construction and repair grants- I never see any construction workers by the way so I guess not too many jobs were created.

Farmers Markets: There should be more of these. I see no reason why every city and town can't build a good modern green house using all the environmental control knowledge and tools we have and sell fresh produce year round with a minimal staff of gardeners to keep taxes down and help reduce emissions- sales reps could be volunteers, and community service penalized drivers. Of course grocery stores would complain, but suck it up and sell more cereal. This would also allow year round fresh local produce.

Store size limitation: Why is it legal to meddle in business in many ways but people would flip out about communism if a limit of say 50,000 square feet was put on stores. This should have been done a long time ago, but I guess no one saw Walmart coming. It snuck up on everyone with a hick Arkansas accent so no one took it seriously until too late. Some cities in Utah try to keep Walmart out- after they let one developer buy and zone a massive plot of ground for commercial use, who then sells it to Walmart. Um what did you think would happen? You can't swim in a pool with sharks and then wave them at the other guy and think it will work. Limiting store size would do a lot of good in keeping grocery stores and furniture stores and Ace hardwares from getting dwarfed and undersold by enormous warehouses- and it isn't really anything but a more grounded form of trust busting and 50,000 feet is still a pretty big store. This would also eat up free time, aiding my eighth and final fold- oh just wait till you get there.

Grass: Another thing I love about Bountiful. There is no grass requirement. There are ten houses I drive past that halve half their lawn fenced in with a cute white picket and dedicated to gardening. They then put up a sign with what they produce and what is fresh that day, and are listed on a cool website called Utah's Own which is dedicated to how to buy local. You ring the bell and some live-in grandparent or stay at home mom or kid on summer break earns their keep by helping you pick out your own produce right off the vine and then weighing and taking your cash. What a cute and wonderful idea. Seriously Bountiful is bursting with these, and some then load the back of a pick up truck, back up the sidewalk and sell from the truck bed at the weekly farmer's market. Having watched people in Illinois and Arizona spend hundreds of hours a year and immense amounts of water during drought seasons to make a vile weed-friendly, pest-rich trash herb or whatever it is like grass look good all summer, I imagine it takes little more work to keep a garden instead and make use of the land. The same yard with a single large tree or some trellissed fruit trees or grape vines could make a lot of products for sale and private use. (Trellis fruit trees are very cool- we saw some at Red Butte Gardens in Salt Lake. They grow like vines into arches over your head and still produce apples, pears, peaches, and so forth. There are also dwarf trees which never get big but produce lots of fruit.) Grass is a horrible idea. Which is why I have never taken care of it and never will. I despise it, and yet most places ban anything but useless ugly grass and have been since the horrible baby boomers took over. And there is less and less farm land so that a famine is coming, and here every private land owner is devoting their soil to grass.

Grass Root Giveaways: No more free money for failed massive industries. Why create jobs for people? Companies offer less and less and will never stop doing so now that there are too many workers in the field and the advantage is with the hirers. You want to start a business, here's some money, straight from Uncle Sam at this percent. Oh that would destroy the evil banking and credit industry? Good. Good riddance. People should create their own jobs. I don't want to work for someone else, and I don't want to have to go beg Chase Bank for money. I want Chase Bank to go to He- never mind. No more Applebees, no more cookie cutter same as in Iowa as in Montana menus. Variety, local owners. Although the same people who start their own small business then go shop at Walmart.

Culture change: Obviously this all won't work if we keep selling people on the idea they can have a huge mansion, tons of expensive toys, should not have to pick out their own produce (didn't grocery stores get started because people could pick out their own goods and make sure their cans weren't dented, their apples weren't bruised and their sugar wasn't leaking?), that we should fix every law not by rewriting it but by taping a new one over it and adding a footnote to see amendment, page 3600 volume 29, version 4, that the outdoors are expendable and icky, that its a waste of time to look out the window at birds or trees on a windy day but not to watch the Batchelor, and that the best possible thing that can happen to you is to be famous and if someone isn't watching you do something, you should probably find something else to do. Americans take pride in laziness and greed, buying on credit, grass, and other useless and stupid practices. Everything should be easy. The ideal life is to sleep and lie on a couch all day: the more minutes of free time you can sqeeze out the more we have arrived. Well I say that's crap: we must be busy. I would rather slave sixty hours for myself than loaf forty hours for you or some creep who lives in New York. Shoes with duct tape should be the fashion trend I tried to make them. Fast food should be looked down on, (no more propoganda "field trips" to McDonaldses), anyone on food stamps who has a plasma TV should be deported, recycling should be taught in schools, along with buying local etcetera. Sneer at people who don't bring their own bag to the grocery store. I'm pretty sure we can't go back. There isn't enough land anymore for everyone to have a big single family house, and we won't let this swine flu gets its feet wet and thin out the ranks.

Woman, make me a Sandwhich: There are too many people in the job market. Let's say every woman was suddenly back in the kitchen. With half as many employees, these massive corporations would have to start treating people well the way they did for the baby boomers who now say, well I did good, I didn't have a college education, I own a house and two cars and put my kids through college, America is great. I hate you baby boomers. See Generation X, the novel, for more on this subject. A fine book which helped to invent that term. Every family needs to keep one person at home. This shouldn't be legislated, but if we went back to the shame of the 1950s through 1970s every man felt to have to admit his wife worked, then maybe we could get somewhere. And with a limitation on store size, instead of the little woman going to Walmart and spending $300 in two hours and being finished and being bored the rest of the week- she'll be running around all day between kids and check out lines. It doesn't have to be the woman- that was just to get you all to froth at the mouth and shriek about me in offended riled up tones. In face, I hereby volunteer my services as house husband. I promise to keep the sheets folded and you full of cheese-cake- when I make it next month for real. Why did women ever think going into the job market would make them feel fulfilled? What about their man scuffling in every day bent over like hideous customers had ranted at them and demanded to be treated like a prince and like some jerk they work for harassed them repeatedly for not giving 110%, and them then slugging back a few beers and not talking for two hours then seeming to shake out of it for a few minutes before bed and then hearing the sigh as they wake up every morning and realize its a work day made women think, he looks so fulfilled while I am stiffled here unable to show my creativity- I need to go get a job too. We are a society of Marie Antoinettes: playing on a model farm because we don't get to work on one like all the lucky peasant girls. Poo hoo. Of course I'm no better dreaming of little agrarian Tommy Jefferson societies that could never have worked and probably can't now. But's let's try something else, can't we?


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

ice cream sandwiches

I made ice cream sandwiches the other day; as a pastime and as a source of deliciousness, I highly recommend it.

I will confess, I was lazy and bought the ice cream (on a great sale, too) rather than making it myself because I did not feel like making ice cream. THERE I SAID IT. I am on vacation and had plenty of time, but I felt like buying it (full of all kinds of preservatives and "chocolate flavored chips" even) rather than making it myself.

Also, the freezer bowl wasn't frozen. So there's that.

Anyway, they were delicious! And quite easy...

I just made Smitten Kitchen's oreos (which I have also made as actual oreos, which were a hit among people who like oreos... which does not include me) but, of course, without the filling. I would also recommend undercooking them a bit, for extra chewiness and less crunchiness.

I filled them with mint chocolate chip ice cream -- softened, of course, by letting it sit in the fridge for a while and on the counter for a while -- squished down, wrapped in wax paper and froze 'till solid.

We then carried them in a cooler onto a river, where we ate them while floating along in tubes. Again, as a wonderful summer experience... highly recommended! I will posit that just while food is more delicious the higher up a mountain you are, ice cream is also more delicious the farther from ice cream trucks you are.

But even if you don't have a river to float down, make some ice cream cookies! they are quite delicious, AND very fun to squish together!


Sunday, August 9, 2009

why I am not a vegan

So, I am a vegetarian. For lots of reasons - environmental, health, moral and also, to be totally honest, because I really just don't like meat that much. It was a completely logical and natural decision for me to give up meat.

Why not just eat less meat? Why not stop eating meat, but without any fuss? Why bother to identify as a "Vegetarian?" Answer: it's easier. It's easier to not eat meat if you have made the unilateral decision not to -- easier to explain to people why you're passing over the main course. "I don't like meat" is an insult to your host. "I'm vegetarian," much more of an exonerating explanation. And it's easier to resist eating the occasional chicken salad, which at this point, might make me sick.

I understand there's a certain amount of baggage to picking up any label - for vegetarians, stereotypes about crazy evangelical types, or delusional "oh-i-couldn't-hurt-any-creature" types. If you eat meat, you really ought to check out your local farmers market to see if you can buy some chicken or beef that was raised humanely and sustainably -- that's about as evangelical as I ever get. And personally, I firmly believe that animals raised for human use should be treated decently, allowed to grow up healthy and be killed painlessly - but I wear leather. I kill flies without guilt. And I am not a vegan.

Sometimes I think I should be a vegan. Especially when you consider the sheer awfulness of commercial egg production, and the difficulty of obtaining local dairy (basically impossible to make a living with small- or medium-scale milk production these days). And I don't really like drinking milk at all, and while I enjoy the occasional poached egg, I'm not a huge fan of boiled, scrambled or sunny-side up. And I have absolutely nothing against vegans or veganism. It seems completely legitimate and reasonable to me, as long as your soymilk is B12-fortified.


Life without CHEESE? life without YOGURT???

life without.... heavy cream??? and butter?

You can't see me, but I am basically swooning at the thought. Look, I completley understand those of you who say, "yeah, sure, I see why you want to be a vegetarian, but I could NEVER give up steak." Because me, I could never give up cheese, not of my own accord.

Goat cheese. Cheddar cheese. Brie. Gruyere -- oh, gruyere! Stilton, jack, creamy ricotta... what would tiramisu be without marscapone? What would pasta be without parmesan? And what, I ask you, what would pizza be without mozzerella? The horror!

Vegan cheese? That's like those people who consider carob an acceptable substitute for chocolate. Look, I'm trying, world. I want to do this right. But I am not, in my heart, an ascetic. I believe in pleasure! In flavor! In taste! I BELIEVE IN CHEESE!

And it's not just cheese. Having tart yogurt with fresh berries on a bright summer morning seems to me a valid reason to be alive. (Speaking of which, I think I need a yogurt-maker. Andrew's math is quite convincing me that it would be a good investment).

And heavy cream and butter... well, there's a bit of a paradox. Savory-food-wise, I'm all about the healthiness. It seems to go hand in hand with flavor; brown rice, wheat bread, lots of fresh vegetables, lightly-dressed salads, fruit. It's tasty, it's good for you, life is wonderful!

But when it comes to desserts... well. Don't get me wrong, fresh fruit for dessert is good, but by all that's holy, there's nothing to beat tarts, cookies, pies, chocolate, ice cream, crepes, chocolate, cakes, mousses, chocolate... and with the singular exception of sorbet, I simply cannot bake, freeze, chill or fry a great dessert without butter, cream or eggs. I'm sorry, vegans and the lactose-intolerant. Ya'll have some pretty good desserts. I've had some quite tasty vegan cupcakes. But I can't give up heavy cream and butter. I won't!

And speaking of reasons to justify human existence, I nominate ganache. In fact, I nominate ganache as one of the most incredible substances on earth. Totally delicious, wonderfully textured, the perfect filling, frosting, topping, or base -- and nothing but chocolate, heavy cream and heat. I make mine with a bowl, a measuring cup, a microwave and a fork. It is a primary reason for my joy in life

The best substitute vegans have for ganache is tofu mixed with chocolate. Which sounds tasty and all (actually, yeah, it does -- I like tofu, I really do). But. No substitute. Nowhere close.

Anyway, the whole point of this epic post was actually supposed to be how much I love cheese. It's a lot, in case you missed that. In honor of cheese, here are a couple of dinners I made this last week. Actually, I could have just put these recipes here under that title, and it would have made about the same point. Oh well.

Goat Cheese and Tomato Tart.

This is SO easy and delicious. Tarts, I have discovered in my last month of frantic tart-baking (I shall have to describe my epic tart pan quest sometime) are greatly undervalued as a food type. They are much easier than pies, and look very impressive, which is also a plus.

1 savory tart shell, unbaked (try this recipe for pate brisee)
1/2 log of goat cheese
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Spices of choice (I used dried basil and oregano)
Really delicious tomatoes of choice (I had a great big yellow one and some red cherry tomatoes)
Fresh basil (I used green and purple)
Salt and pepper

Tart shells are really easy to make if you have a food processor, and pretty easy even if you don't, Make yours, and chill in the refrigerator for an hour or more to make your life easier. Of course, I just stuck mine in the freezer for 15 minutes, because how often am I thinking that far ahead?

Roll out the chilled dough between two sheets of floured wax paper. Make sure the paper isn't sticking -- sprinkle flour on the dough as necessary. When thick enough to cover your tart pan, lay the dough round over your pan, press in and trim/press off the excess dough.

Your hardest part is over. Now, take about 1/4 cup of goat cheese and soften it in the microwave. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, the minced garlic and dried spices. Mix well and spread on the bottom of your tart crust (this will keep your tomatoes from making your crust soggy). Spread a layer sliced tomatoes on top of this. Dot generously with goat cheese. Add more tomatoes, and if you really like goat cheese -- like me! -- dot generously again. Top with some salt and pepper.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes, or until the crust is browned and the tomatoes look deliciously soft. Remove, top with sliced fresh basil, and serve with a salad.

Say "AHHHH I love goat cheese! I'm so glad I'm not vegan!"

Summer Vegetable Frittata

1 baby yellow squash, sliced
1 baby zucchini, sliced
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium bell pepper, diced
A few carrots, sliced (what? I can't remember how many it was!)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Olive or canola oil
5 eggs
3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
A few tablespoons of milk or cream
1/8 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Salt, pepper and any other spices your heart desires (I used a pinch of dried oregano)

Prep your veggies -- or better yet, recruit somebody else to. In a bowl or large measuring cup, beat your eggs with a fork, then mix in the cheese, milk (okay, yeah, I used heavy cream here... maybe I love the stuff for things other than desserts), parsley and spices. You should end up with at least a cup and a half of gooey, unvegan delight. I was closer to 2.

In a medium cast-iron (VERY IMPORTANT) pan over medium-high heat, saute your vegetables in a generous amount of oil. You want to make them all almost-but-not-quite done.

My advice: start with the minced garlic (it will brown away to nothing by the end, but the flavor will be wonderfully dispersed) and the carrots. Stir for a minute or two, then add the squashes. Stir for a minute or two, then add the onions and pepper. Keep stirring for another 3 minutes or so, then sample them. Nothing should be mushy, but nothing should be crunchy. Don't you love my technical terms?

Add a bit more oil, because you don't want your frittata to stick, then pour your gooey goodness into the pan. Stir until everything seems will-dispersed, then STOP STIRRING. Turn the heat down to medium, and let your frittata sit for a while. Something like 7 minutes, maybe? At any rate, it should firm up so that when you shake the pan, it seems to jiggle, not slop.

The top will still look firmly underdone. There's a solution! Put the whole thing in the oven under the broiler. Broil for a few minutes, or until the top looks nicely set up. Don't wait until it browns, though -- firm and yellow is good enough.

Remove from oven. Slice in the pan. Do try not to burn yourself in the process. Personally, I am convinced that my fingers will eventually turn into asbestos and this won't be a problem someday.

Serve to delighted nonvegans with crusty bread and a potato-feta salad! Or, you know, whatever salad you like. That's just my recommendation as a clueless cook.


Friday, July 24, 2009

The Enchanted Afternoon...

I had a tea party a little while back, a dresses-mandatory, midafternoon little-sandwiches-and-all tea party. I did one last summer (or was it two summers ago?) as well, so I had a little bit of experience. Was that enough to keep me from making WAY too much food?

No. No it was not.

This was the menu:
-bread, cheese and fruit platter
-strawberries and slightly sweetened whipped cream
-scones (plain and raisin)
-lemon curd
-tea-time tassies (mini pecan tarts)
-two tarts, a peach-and-pastry cream one and a lemon-curd-and-raspberry one
-a rhubarb coffee cake
-cucumber sandwiches (with butter or with mint chutney)
-turkey and cranberry-mustard sandwiches (open-face)
-cheese-and-nut sandwiches
-watercress-and-egg sandwiches
-shortbread cookies with chocolate ganache and whipped cream
-cream puffs
- sorbet (which we didn't even eat at the party, because there just wasn't room)
-and, of course, different teas (hot and cold), lemonade, juice and water.

(And may I say that I couldn't have made all these wonderful things without the assistance of my marvelous sous-chefs... I have very tolerant friends!)

Excessiveness is a pretty essential part of any tea party, I think... I mean, the whole thing is completely ridiculous and over the top, and you just sort of have to embrace that. However, the above menu (for about 14 people) is definitely over-the-top. As a two-time tea party host, here is what I've learned about the essentials and superfluities of a tea party:

First of all, the ABSOLUTE essentials:
- Tea. duh.
- Scones. They're just... so tea-party-esque.
- The tea-time tassies. They are small, they are adorable, they are not very hard to make, and they are DELICIOUS.
- Fresh fruit. Easy and a nice, light break from the heavier foods.
- The sandwiches. I mean, it wouldn't be a tea party without them.
- And finally, a fancy dessert. So far, I've done tarts and a trifle, and I think they were both excellent options.

The optional touches:
- Strawberries and whipped cream -- turns the fruit option into something much more desserty.
- Cream puffs. I think they're super-fun to make, and they definitely seemed like a big hit.
- Flavored spreads. I had these at the last tea party -- honey-orange butter, herbed butter, etc. They're really easy (soften butter and blend in the add-in) and they're great on the plain scones.
- Lemon curd. SO good. And not too hard to make, if you heed my super-secret advice. Are you ready? Are you ready for this? Here it is: USE A MICROWAVE. Yeah. Last time I was up until 2 a.m. waiting for my lemon curd to thicken. The microwave can do it in minutes, guaranteed -- you just need to check every 30 seconds to make sure it doesn't overcook.

And the absolutely not needed:
- Coffee cake. It was delicious, but man, what was I thinking? Coffee cake is a great breakfast item, a wonderful snack on it's own -- but too heavy and large for a tea party. Scones fill the carb slot pretty perfectly.
- Bread, cheese and veggies. I set these out because I thought there wouldn't be enough food... again, what was I thinking? Also, clearly much too healthy for a tea party. Although certainly tasty.
- Shortbread cookies. They were just too much. I think they could be perfect for a tea party, but I just had too much food and these weren't bringing much, flavor-wise.
- Sorbet. It was chocolate sorbet, very delicious, totally unnecessary.

So there's my advice, in case you're ever planning on throwing a tea party. Here are a few easy recipes, for good measure:

Sandwiches: (These come from my Tea and Teatime Recipes book, so thanks, Maggie Stuckey!)

Cucumber sandwiches:
Slice cucumbers, sprinkle with a few tablespoons of mild vinegar, salt, and pepper. Toss, and let drain in a coliander for half an hour. Spread softened butter thinly on fresh white bread, then layer cucumbers. Top with another buttered slice of bread, cut off crusts, and slice sandwiches into small rectanbles or triangles.

Cheese and nut sandwiches (these are my favorite!)
Soften 1 brick of cream cheese in the microwave for 15 seconds, then add 2 tablespoons milk and beat until smooth and spreadable. Add 3/4 cup celery, diced, and 3/4 cup walnuts, chupped. Spread thickly on whole wheat bread, top with another slice of bread, remove crusts and slice sandwiches into small rectangles or triangles.

Turkey and cranberry-mustard sandwiches:
Mix equal parts Dijon mustard and cranberry sauce. Spread on sourdough bread and top with a deli slice of turkey. Cut off crusts and either slice sandwiches into small rectangles or triangles, or use a sharp cookie cutter of your choice.

Egg and watercress sandwiches:
Boil eggs and rinse watercress. Butter rye bread, cover with watercress and overlapping slices of egg, then top with another buttered piece of bread. Trim off crusts and cut into small rectangles.

Lemon Curd (also from Tea Time book):

In microwaveable bowl, beat together:
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Stir in:
1/4 cup buter, softened
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest.

Heat on high in microwave for 2 minutes, and then for 30-second intervals, beating each time removed from microwave. When it thickens (you'll be able to tell, I promise! it will become more spreadable and less pourable, and start making fun gloppy sounds when you stir) stop microwaving and refrigerate until cold. The curd will be even thicker when it cools.

Tasty and really fancy-seeming desserts:

Make a pate sucree and bake in a tart shell. (That recipe is far more simple and helpful than anything I could write up! If you are having troubles, consult my favorite online pastry expert: Joe. He's got great articles on making, rolling and baking tart shells.)

Let cool completely, then cover the bottom of the tart with cold lemon curd. Dot artistically with fresh raspberries... or just throw them on, it'll taste the same. Chill, and serve cold to ooohs and ahhhs.

Raspberry Trifle:
You will need:
- Cake
- Raspberry liqueur (what a funny-looking word)
- Apricot preserves (my Tea Time book says you can also use baby food pureed fruit. So, maybe try that if you are less weirded out by that than I am).
- Frozen raspberries, thawed to pleasant mushiness
- Fresh raspberries
- Vanilla pudding and lemon pudding
- Whipped cream.

Cut the cake into little pieces. (This is a great way to save a cake that fell apart when it comes out of the oven! I made a chocolate trifle out of a chocolate cake disaster, chocolate ganache and whipped cream, and while it was a dense and intense pile of disguised failure... it was delicious. And nobody will know unless you tell them!)

Cover the bottom of a trifle dish (a clear, straight-sided bowl will do... or lacking that, any clear and bowl-like container) with a layer of the cake. Sprinkle with liqueur, then spread on a thin layer of preserves -- it might help if you heat the preserves so they are pourable. Add half your frozen raspberries, then one of your puddings.

Otra vez! Repeat the above. Top with anything that's left over (if you have more cake, say) and then whipped cream and the fresh raspberries. This makes a HUGE and beautiful and delicious tea party dessert.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

belatedly + world famous chocolate cookies

So I think it should be pretty obvious by now that Andrew kicks my butt at food blogging. Do you know what else Andrew kicks butt at? Making eggplant lombardi. Don't listen to him go all "oh i don't know if it was right or not," because he made the most freaking delicious eggplant dish I have ever had. Word up.

Also, in case you thought "Maroonara" was a dreadful misspelling instead of a fabulous pun, let me elaborate. We made a marinara sauce -- garlic, crushed tomatoes, red wine, spices -- and then added a boiled, chopped beet. Isn't that brilliant? I can say that because it was Andrew's idea. Less brilliant, however, was that Andrew cooked the beet half-covered in water instead of grabbing a bigger pot. So, a word of advice, this will be easier for you if you cover the beet in such a way that you don't have to manually flip it over all the time.

Anyway, we cooked and peeled the beet, chopped it up, and threw it in the red sauce to simmer for a while, turning the whole thing the most beautiful, red-purple color. I think it kind of freaked people out when we served it, because they weren't expecting that color on top of their pasta. It tasted pretty darn good, too. It seemed like it might be a good way to sneak beets to somebody who didn't like them very much -- although it was still beety enough that fervent beet-haters might be opposed. Oh, another word of advice, you might want to save the beet water to thin out the pasta sauce if it gets too thick. We used ours to dye my father's hat, so our sauce turned out more chunky than pourable, but that's another story.

I will finish this (wholly inadequate considering how little I've been blogging) post with an order: make these cookies! They are seriously amazing. Like the love child of brownies and chocolate chip cookies. Like a cookie made entirely out of chocolate chips. Like a kick in the mouth from a very large person who is composed entirely of three different kinds of chocolate.

Moral of the story: make those cookies. You will not regret it, unless you do not like chocolate, in which case I am sorry. I will try to remain your friend anyway. Seriously, though. Make these cookies, pour yourself a glass of milk, lock your door and turn off the phone. They're that good. They might not be world-famous yet, but if there's any justice in the world, they will be.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009


and yes, I am so excited I must speak in all caps.

I have gotten some flack in the past (a la drew's comment on grinding one own's flour, which I was kind of huffy about until I realized he was totally right, if I had a nifty grinder thing i would totally want to make my own) for my stubborn insistence that everything is better, cheaper and healthier when you cook it yourself. But it's true! (okay, there are some exceptions -- mostly to the "better." artisan cheeses, callebaut chocolate, wine... home cooks can't compete. just about anything else, though...) The tastiness, I think, is pretty self-explanatory (and requires practice!). The healthiness obviously depends on what you use, but since you can't control the ingredients of processed or restaurant food, I'd say homemade wins. But is it really cheaper?

Slate says yes! Mostly. Except for cream cheese and granola, the latter of which is TOTALLY worth it.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter eggs

Sooo, don't know if you noticed, but today was Easter. And what is Easter without dyed eggs? And what is the fun in dying eggs the NORMAL way?

Last night William and I dyed Easter eggs a la Chinese tea eggs. You can read all about it here, where I got the idea.

So first you boil the eggs -- APPARENTLY there is some sort of debate on the intarwebs about whether you are actually supposed to boil hardboiled eggs or not. Some folks say you should bring the water to a boil and then turn it off. Some people say you just need to turn it down to a very low simmer, others just say to keep it at a full boil. What do I know -- I'm clueless! I had to look up how long you're supposed to boil them for! (It seems like more than 10 minutes but less than 20 is about as consistent of an answer as I got... again, I don't have a clue, we did ours for about 15 and there were no disasters) About the only consistent advice is to use oldish eggs (which we did not) and to immediately put the cooked eggs into cold water (which we did!)

While the eggs are cooling, mix up some colored water. I followed the instructions for making egg dye, from the back of the food coloring, except without any vinegar and with cold water. So I guess I didn't follow those instructions at all... yeah, pretty much just mix food coloring with cold water until it's nice and bright, about 20 drops per cup/cup-and-a-half. (Also: while these are based on Chinese tea eggs, I don't recommend using tea -- maybe because the process has been altered, I dunno, but it didn't work nearly as well with tea).

Then crack the eggs like you're about to peel them, but DON'T peel them -- just leave the shell on, all cracked in pretty patterns. Or not-pretty patterns. Whatever. Then drop the eggs into your mugs or cups full of colored water, and leave them in the fridge overnight.

The next morning, peel the eggs, and voila! The hard-boiled egg itself -- not just the shell -- will be covered in a pretty, tie-dyed/spider-web pattern of color. They make pretty ballin' deviled eggs.

I will put pictures up... someday. For now, just take my word for it. Coolest easter eggs evah.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

A cook without a kitchen

I don't cook very much at college. And when I say very much... I mean at all.

Why? It's really pretty straightforward. I'm pretty darn busy, for one, but that's certainly not the primary obstacle. The nearest usable kitchen is 600 feet and several flights of stairs away. In the Davidson universe, this is a considerable distance... my cooking equipment is heavy, after all. My fridge is tiny and my storage space nearly non-existent, so I lack basic pantry supplies, and therefore any cooking venture requires preplanning and shopping: spontaneous chefery is out of the question. And preplanning is, well, not my forte.

In short, cooking is a rare and happy event for me here at D-son. So consider my complete disappointment and despair when I discover that the cooking contest I planned to enter is on a weekend that I have a regatta! Just consider! It is -- it is considerable. I was trying to decide between deep-fried thai-themed tofu and vegetarian pancit (I was limited to tofu or chicken for the main protein source, and "international" for the theme) but no can do. I love crew, I do, but it's a big time and money commitment that I've begun to think might not belong in my future... and now it's keeping me from cooking? Man, this is just not okay. Straw: breaking camel-a's back.

Anyway, maybe I will soon do a post of what passes for cooking in my life here at college. It includes:

- putting peanut butter on pretzels
- making trail mix from salad bar supplies
- and, um... that's about it...

Seriously. Tragic. I found a recipe for microwave chocolate cake-like substance, but it requires eggs, which, of course, I never have handy. And you can make potato chips in the microwave... but only if you have a mandoline, which, alas, I don't. I could do SO many things with a toaster oven, or a panini press, or a hot plate! -- but we aren't even allowed normal toasters. It's awful.

I tend to compensate for this by going on baking and cooking binges when I go home on breaks; over spring break I made pretzels, cake, pie, doughnuts and various vegetably dishes, all within the span of a few days. But breaks are few and far apart, and my last bout of cooking has definitely worn off. Rainy, cold days like this one, all I can think about is what I wish I was baking... damnedly distracting. And then I think about the one cooking-filled (and competitive!) day I was so looking forward to, which has now fallen out of my future, and I sigh a mournful sigh. A mournful, mournful sigh.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

green-filled mushrooms...

So, I'm all for colorful food, but...

portobello mushrooms stuffed with green mashed potatoes?


I don't know. I'll be honest, it looks kind of terrifyingly green. But it sounds tasty, so maybe someday I'll work up the nerve.

Incidentally, I ran across the above image at the great, and wonderfully reincarnated, Tastespotting. Tastespotting is a foodporn addict's dream... or worst nightmare, depending on how much you have to get done. Basically, people all across the internet post pictures from and links to blog posts about food anywhere. Such pretty pictures! Such pretty food!