28 April 2008

AVF #3: A Vegetarian Feast in a Quiche

It's time for the third Vegetarian Feast, and this time it's... in a quiche! Okay, not necessarily. I just liked the rhyme. Any tarts, quiches, or savoury pastries will do. If it's flat and savoury and has some sort of a crust, chances are you're fine! For those of us in spring or early summer, this is a chance to show off those early season vegetables, and for those in the Southern Hemisphere, you can submit some tasty autumn recipes. The rules:

1) Post a meatless dish that fits the theme to your blog with at least one photo. No meat, fish, or poultry. Dairy is fine but as always I welcome vegan dishes. Recipes are recommended, but not required. The deadline is Saturday, May 31st.

2) E-mail the web address to your post to me at judithavory@gmail.com or post a comment to any entry on my blog.

It's that easy! I'm hoping for more participants this time, so if you would like to mention the event on your blog I'd really appreciate it. Or, just tell your friends. The more the merrier!

26 April 2008

Passover (and all year round) Recipes

I know it's a little counter-intuitive to be posting my Passover recipes now, but this has been a very busy week for me, as exams are approaching and work is a bit of a pain and my volunteer supervisor is asking for results all at once. I hope you'll forgive me. Also, probably Monday I will be posting a couple more recipes in honour of spring, which has finally sprung in Iowa City. I wanted to do a vegetarian feast theme in time for spring, but since many places won't really be done with spring until mid-June, I'm going to post the theme in the next couple of days and make the deadline end of may. Cool? Cool.

This photo is my attempt at labneh, or strained yoghurt, popular in the Mediterranean region. Claudia Roden taught me how, in her amazing Middle Eastern cookery book. I'll be posting a Foodie Bookshelf entry about it soon, as she really has made me want to plunge whole heartedly into the cuisine. Anyway, the method is basically just to dump a tub of plain yoghurt into a cheesecloth over a bowl, squeeze as much liquid out as you can, then tie it off and put it in a strainer or colander over the bowl in the fridge overnight to drain.

I had a little trouble with my cheesecloth tearing, and I had to double it up, as well as my colander having not enough holes. It didn't fully strain, but it did make it thicker. I chopped up a handful of fresh mint and stirred it in, and then dipped roasted eggplant slices in it for lunches. I love the combination of the sweet eggplant flavour with the sharp tang of the yoghurt and the cool mint flavour.

My first dinner attempt was a Roasted Eggplant Medley, whose source I unfortunately do not know. It was easy, and extremely delicious. My main complaint is that it went way too quickly, eating-wise. For me, this was two servings, and that's a lot of veggies to buy for two servings. Then again, maybe I'm just a glutton. The taste was fantastic. To start, chop up an eggplant, four Roma tomatoes, and a couple of zucchini. See the photo above for my awesome chopping technique - cut thick slices, then turn them over into stacks and cut into quarters. Throw in an (olive) oiled baking dish and drizzle with two more tablespoons of olive oil, tossing to coat. Sprinkle with a couple teaspoons cumin and salt and pepper to taste. Roast at 450 for 45 minutes, stirring every ten or fifteen. Add a tablespoon lemon juice and a tablespoon chopped fresh mint when it comes out of the oven. The recipe also suggests a chopped green onion, which I forgot, additional salt and pepper if needed, and a tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, which was not at the grocery store.

My next dinner attempt was another that didn't last long - one serving, to be exact. It was a pretty simple mushroom improv. Saute a package of sliced white mushrooms in olive oil. Add dried (or fresh) thyme, fresh mint, salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Toss with a few tablespoons sour cream. Let sit ten or fifteen minutes so that the sour cream melts into a "sauce" and absorbs the mushroom flavour. So tasty.

23 April 2008

Happy Pesah!

Woops, I suppose I'm a little delayed in my Passover week posting. Fact is, I've been eating a lot of Manischewitz-brand sweet potato pancakes, but I do have a few recipes to share which I will try to get to you in the next day or two. First, though, I need to report on my fabulous trip to Kalona, Iowa. Kalona is a big Amish area, and one of the tourist attractions is Stringtown Grocery, a store that buys everything in bulk, then repackages it by hand and resells for cheap. As you can see, I got quite a bit, and the box was so heavy that I didn't feel like getting it further than the front door. Quinoa, cracked wheat, semolina flour... my little vegetarian heart is full of joy.

Next we went to the cheese shop, where they make their own cheese curds but also sell a ton of import cheeses for cheap, and import chocolates for slightly less cheap. I'd never had cheese curds, so I had to try them. I liked the sharpness, but man are they squeaky! I also got about five other types of cheese. I love that you can sample before you buy - I fell in love with this pear-and-ginger Wensleydale and had to take one home. The bits of pear and ginger make it quite sweet, but I love it just to eat little bits as a snack. It would also be good for crumbling over salad. Next on our tasting tour will be a FABULOUS goat cheese that's just about to go on my super spring squash dish. I can't wait to show you.

Sunday I went to a Seder at a professor's house. I fared pretty well, as there were two types of kugel (matzoh and potato) and plenty of charoset. And then the DESSERT. There were these HUGE fluffy macaroons with a gooey sort of almond filling in them. If anyone knows how to make something like that, please do share!

16 April 2008

Tofu Time!

I really appreciate the Vegan Yum Yum blog, because the dishes are often super-simple and don't get into the territory where it's just not worth it to go vegan. I'm fine not eating dairy, but when I have to go buy nutritional yeast or textured vegetable protein or something, it's just not worth it (not being a vegan myself). When I saw this recipe, I just had to try it - I had a block of firm tofu and half a jar of orange marmalade in the fridge that needed to be used, so I figured it was fate. I did make one small miscalculation relating to pan size. The pan I used was too large, so instead of soaking into the tofu, the glaze ran over to the other side of the pan and burnt. I mean really, really burnt. It was disgusting. That said, I love the recipe, and I'll try it again when I have a) extra firm tofu, b) ginger (which I can't for the life of me find, though I know I have some), and c) a smaller pan ready. Also, I forgot the almonds that I bought especially for this, but I had them with it for leftovers. I used storebought mushroom couscous and frozen spinach, but that suited me just fine. Of course, I'm sure her pearl couscous and kale variety is far superior (and kale is one of my favourite veggies).

The Bottom Line

Taste: **
Appearance: ***
Ease: ***
Cost: $$
Overall: ***

13 April 2008

Blog Party, French Street Food Style

This month, Stephanie picked diner food, street food, and the like as a Blog Party theme. I must admit, I've always wanted to live in a city where I could get really good street food - Middle Eastern, Jewish, North African, etc - but when I'm in France, I certainly don't care, because French street food is the best thing you could ask for. When I lived in Montpellier, I would literally to two patisseries every morning on the way to school for TWO pastry breakfasts, then have another pastry or perhaps a sandwich at our ten am break, then a crepe on the way to lunch... no wonder I gained weight. My favourite crepe is the Grand Marnier and sugar variety, and I make it whenever I get a chance in my cast-iron skillet at home, always with my trusty Joy of Cooking recipe. I have plenty of authentic French ones, but I just can't break away from good old Erma. So basically, you want to sift together 3/4 cup flour, 1 t baking powder, 1/2 t salt, and 2 T powdered sugar, then make a well, beat together two eggs with 2/3 cup milk, 1/3 cup water, and 1/2 t vanilla, and add to the well. Combine with a "few swift strokes," though I always use more than a few. Lumps are all right but not huge hunks of flour. Cover and let sit an hour at room temperature or several in the fridge, then give it a good stir. Add milk if it's thickened too much but I don't usually have to. Wipe a cast iron skillet with vegetable oil and put over medium heat. Do the water test, and when the water drops jump but don't immediately evaporate, it's ready. Use a measuring cup to pour the batter in a swirl from the centre of the pan outward, simultaneously holding the pan above the burner and swirling the pan itself to let the batter spread outward. It should be extremely thin. It takes a while to get the hang of this, so don't fret. When the top looks dry, loosen with a spatula around the edges and use your fingers to lift and check. When light brown over most of the bottom, flip, using your fingers to help, and cook only about thirty seconds on this side. Put on a plate, sprinkle with sugar, splash with Grand Marnier, fold into quarters, and consume immediately. Add a wee bit of oil to the pan after every two crepes, and lower the heat after three or four, because cast iron gets quite hot. As for the beverage, I hope Stephanie won't kill me for not divulging the recipe - yet. I've entered it into a contest, but in about a month when they announce the winners I'll be sure to post it. Suffice to to say, it's a fabulous dark drinking chocolate, and yes, a little of that Grand Marnier made it in as well.

09 April 2008

Foodie Bookshelf/Cooking for Our Rights: Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant

Since I already talked about the book Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant in my latest "Tasting Notes," I'll keep this review short, but I would like to briefly tell you what I thought and share my attempt at one of the authors' "alone foods." I first heard about Jenni Ferrari-Adler's collection of essays by various food writers on the topic of eating alone on one of my favourite food blogs, Not Eating Out in New York. I was intrigued by the interview with the editor and had the book on my wishlist for quite a while, when I discovered my local public library's bounty and put a hold on it. I have to say, the introduction was one of my favourite things about the book (I think I relate to Ferrari-Adler's background more than the other authors), but I loved several of the essays, which range from humorous to insightful. It's a nice, light read, though I think I might recommend it more for those who don't like eating alone than for those who do.

The recipe I chose to try from this book was Pa amb Tomàquet, a Catalan speciality shared by Paula Wolfert. I picked this one partly because Catalonia was one of the regions at the bottom of my "Cooking for Our Rights" list and I've been anxious to check something off, and partly because the concept just sounded delicious and simply. Bread! Tomatoes! How hard could it be? Well, I decided to make it even easier by committing a grand no-no and doing my bread in the toaster oven, instead of on the grill. I crushed a roma tomato with a fork, which in retrospect is not the most effective method, and I only spread it on one side of the toast, since both seemed a little difficult to eat. Despite all that, I found this dish very tasty. I used a nice thick hunk of sourdough and drizzled it with extra-virgin olive oil, followed by a light sprinkling of sea salt. I'd forgotten just how much I like plain old bread and olive oil. This summer, I think I'm going to do "mezze" style eating a lot more often - keep a big hunk of decent bread on hand, and lots of little containers of dips and salads and other starters that I can graze on at will. Yum, yum.

The Bottom Line

Taste: ***
Appearance: **
Ease: ****
Cost: $$
Overall: ***

05 April 2008

Healthy Eating: It's Good For You!

I find that one of the challenges of living alone and doing all my own cooking is that I'm not nearly as good at balancing meals as, say, my father is. I also seem to be living under a delusion that fresh produce is still as expensive as it was when I lived in Ireland (which was the first time I did all the shopping and cooking for myself). I developed a no-produce habit then, and I'm afraid it's stuck with me. This week, however, I broke out of the mould, and I really felt much better. As you can see, I took advantage of the the 59-cent kiwis, and also picked up a two-pound spaghetti squash for $1.13... and ate all of it in one sitting.

Mm, squash. Roast it halved for 40 minutes to an hour at 350, preferably with an inch of water (I didn't bother, so it was sort of crunchy-tender), scrape all those delicious squash strings out into a bowl with your fork, and toss with butter, Parmesan, and freshly ground pepper. If you want to be fancy, serve it out of the hollowed-out squash shell. If you don't give a damn, eat out of a Tupperware container. Yum!

It's funny - after years and years of seeing myself as a slightly overweight person, no matter how much weight I lost, I've realised that I finally see myself as a skinny person. Thing is, I'm gaining weight every day, and though I don't really care about the weight itself, I realise that not caring about my weight means that I'm not doing great on nutrition, either. That's no good! So I've decided to make a deal with myself. No buying ice cream (aka; ration the twelve tubs that are in my freezer, and that's not an exaggeration), coffee, snacks at the convenience store near work, candy bars, any kind of candy really, or anything from any university "canteen." This is as much about saving money as being healthy, really.

The plan then is to cut back on snacks as much as humanly possible, and slowly to phase in healthier snacks. Meals? Large! I normally eat cereal for brekkie, but cereal's not all that cheap. I made my own granola the other day, and it was so much tastier than the last batch. This time I used Orangette's chocolate granola recipe here, but I made a lot of modifications. Most obviously, I left out the chocolate. I used the Airborne New Zealand clover honey that cost $9 at Prairie Table but is amazing and just makes the granola, natural cane sugar, sea salt, sweetened flake coconut, and a mixture of sliced almonds, slivered almonds, and pecans for the nuts. I was really pleased to find that if you don't stir when you remove from the oven, it sticks together really well - then you just break it with your hands to form clumps.

Anyway, I think I'm going to start making homemade granola in big batches (even though it isn't actually cheaper than cereal, I already have the ingredients and only have to keep replenishing the oats). Along with that, though, I'm going to try to eat yoghurt and fresh fruit. I'm going to take full advantage of the Farmer's Market this year, and eat lunch at home wherever possible so that I can have a large lunch and decent-sized dinner. Since I should only be doing one class at a time during the summer (and working a lot), eating at home should be plausible. In fact, I've found myself consciously trying to make my fall course schedule such that I can eat all meals at home, too. Mm. Wish me luck!