31 July 2008

Behind the Apron: Get to Know Your Blogger

28 Cooks is hosting an event for the second time called "Behind the Apron." I missed it last year, so here's my chance to let the foodie world know who "Shortcut to Mushrooms" actually is. Well, that's me *points at photo*. My name's Judith Faucette, and I'm a vegetarian. Five other nouns I'd choose to describe myself are lesbian, law student, Southerner, writer, and polyglot(te). In a year, when I graduate, we'll permanently switch "law student" out with "human rights activist" as I embark on what I imagine will be a lifelong career. What else is there to know about me? Well, I love to travel, but sadly am not nearly as financially blessed as most foodbloggers, so I have to depend on finding work abroad to see cool places. I've studied about eight or nine languages, seven of which I'm trying to hang on to. I write on another blog called A Lesbian & A Scholar and I also write articles for Suite101. I've been working two jobs for a while, though being in law school full time it's a pain. I'm hoping that the freelance writing will sustain me next semester with just one job, researching and writing for the International Center of Finance & Development. I will graduate next August, and probably move to Baltimore, New York, or Portland (or maybe even Vancouver!) for a few years to build my resume before trying to find a job with a major NGO in Europe. When I'm being silly, sometimes I even sing or dance on Youtube. So that's me! I can't wait to hear about all of you.

30 July 2008

Re-healthifying foods, anyone?

I've been on many, many diets in my life. Normally they're just calorie-counting, and last time I did Weight Watchers. They work just fine, but this time I honestly just want to lose fifteen pounds in order to keep from getting heavier than I am right now. I don't want to go on a big diet with all the emotional ups and downs diets bring. I just need to rein in the portion control a little, and stop saying that chips and dip qualify as dinner. I'm pretty good at healthy foods, but again I'm running into the whole too hot to bake casseroles problem. Does anyone have any really great suggestions for foods with which I can detox? I've just been having lots of stomach issues lately, and I want some nice, filling foods that will keep the hunger pangs from happening, and also that are rich in nutrients. I'm back to doing smoothies, which is great, but I need some good lunch and dinner options! Stovetop is all right if it's less than thirty minutes, microwave or small enough to bake in toaster oven is even better.

Judith's Super Easy Vegetables

1/2 large onion, roughly chopped
1/2 large zucchini, sliced
1 pound white mushrooms, sliced thick

Sauté all veggies with a few glugs of olive oil over medium heat until soft. Season with salt and pepper.

28 July 2008

A few failures in Middle Eastern cuisine

The weather has been, if not swelteringly hot, at least somewhat hot and humid here. This is unfortunate, as the time when the most fresh produce is available at the Farmer's Market as well as in the grocery store is also the time when I can't bring myself to turn heating appliances on. My window air unit is in the bedroom, which shares a wall with the kitchen, so essentially the cold air would have to do a U-turn to make it in there, and I'm not willing to blast it to the level required to achieve that effect. This means that the beautiful fruit pie recipes that have been appearing on my Google Reader so often are out of my reach until a couple of years from now when I can afford central air (or fruit in the off season).

What I have been trying to do is find unique recipes for cold, cook-free food. No, quinoa salad that involves cooking the quinoa for forty minutes first doesn't count. These two recipes have been loitering around in my recipe file for a while, and neither was super satisfying. Still, I think Middle Eastern recipes have a lot going for them when it comes to interesting summer foods, so I may try some more. The first actually was pretty tasty - just not quite what I was expecting. Claudia Roden translates cacik as "yoghurt and cucumber salad," which had me picturing a pile of cucumbers with a bit of yoghurt. Really it's the other way around. I think strained yoghurt would be an improvement, and I would still up the cucumber to yoghurt ratio. The other is eggplant caviar, which I don't have a source for, but I'm pretty sure it's one of my Daddy's healthy cookbooks. It was pretty much a failure. I did find it very weird that it called for two tablespoons of salt and a tablespoon of pepper. I used about half a tablespoon each salt and pepper, and it was still far too salty and peppery. I've included the recipe below, because I think would make a tasty spread with far less salt and pepper. It also could have been that my eggplant wasn't big enough.

adapted from Claudia Roden

3 medium cucumbers
2-1/2 cups plain yoghurt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 dill sprigs, finely chopped
plenty of salt
white pepper to taste

Peel and dice the cucumber and let sit in a colander, sprinkled with lots of salt, for an hour to drain. Combine all the other ingredients and then rinse and add the cucumber.

Eggplant Caviar

1 large eggplant
1/3 cup sweet onion, chopped
3 T olive oil
2 T chopped fresh dill
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven broiler (or in the summertime, use a toaster oven!) Wash the eggplant and pierce several times with a fork. Broil 8-10 minutes on each side (it should be soft and wrinkly). Remove from oven, slice in half, and scoop out into a bowl. The easiest way to do this while it's hot is to hold the skin with a potholder and make slices in a grid with a sharp knife almost down to the skin, then scrape out with a fork. Mix in the remaining ingredients and serve hot or cold with bread, pita, or on its own.

18 July 2008

Shortcut to Mushrooms' First Birthday!

Pull up a seat! Stay a while! Have some cake! That's right, today marks one year of Shortcut to Mushrooms. It's still a small blog with a small (but loyal) following, but I've enjoyed getting to know so many of you in the foodie community this year, and of course trying so many new recipes. To mark the occasion, I'd like to share some of my goals with you, and also unveil some changes. As you can see, my site layout has changed to what I think is a little more friendly. I've been paying attention to what it is I like visually about my favourite sites, and I'm going to try to incorporate some of those things here.

When I started the blog, I was using a format where I would put the recipe at the end, after whatever story I had to tell you or comments I had to make. I'm going to go back to that format, because as much as I've always liked having the measurements directly in the recipe, I realise that it doesn't make it the most accessible! I've also started using YummySoup, a Mac recipe program, and I can't import recipes from my own blog because they aren't in the right format. Argh!

I'm also going to try to post more frequently, and to attract more visitors by commenting on blogs, using foodie forums more frequently, and participating in more foodie events. I hope to keep my three "features" going, as well as A Vegetarian Feast. I decided that the "bottom line" thing doesn't work very well, especially for multiple recipes in one post, but I'll do a little section of my thoughts after the recipe, again like some of my favourite bloggers. So I hope you'll stick around, enjoy the changes around here, and send some friends. Happy birthday, blog!

No-Bake Cheesecake with Cherry Sauce
Crust and Cake adapted from here

1 individual package honey graham crackers (about six)
3 cinnamon graham grackers
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup melted butter

16 oz cream cheese
2 t lemon juice
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar

1/2 pound fresh cherries, halved and pitted
2 t lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

Put the cream cheese out about half an hour to soften. Melt the butter in a mug in the microwave and cool. Put the graham crackers in a Zip lock bag and crush. Make sure all the air in the bag is gone and pound with your hands, then squeeze the bigger pieces until it's a fine crumb. Add the sugar, close the bag, and shake to mix. Add the cooled butter and shake until well incorporated. Press into an 8" springform and chill.

Beat the cream cheese and lemon juice with an electric mixer until soft. You may have to push the cream cheese out of the beaters a few times. Scrape the sides, then beat in the whipping cream a little at a time until thick. Add the sugar and beat until very stiff. Spoon into the crust and smooth out. Chill at least four hours, preferably overnight.

To be perfectly honest, the site with the sauce recipe was taken down and I don't quite remember what I did. I remember a couple of squirts of lemon juice and some sugar - I think a quarter cup is right. I can't recall whether there was water, but I think there might have been. I know I simmered it for about five minutes. Just use your judgement, or find a real recipe. Cool completely and pour over the cake. Remove the sides of the pan carefully. If crumbs fall off, just press them back in place. Getting the cake off the bottom of the pan will really be a challenge, but it can happen if you use your knife to loosen and are very careful.

My Thoughts

I had been in the mood for an English style cheesecake, because it's been so hot and baking isn't an option. I also bought ten ounces of fresh cherries from the Farmer's Market for $4, because I'm weak, and needed to use them. When I poured the sauce onto the cake, apparently the crust wasn't firm enough around the bottom because it leaked. Use a plate! The texture is dense but fluffy - tasty, but by the time the cake was done I was a little sick of whipped cream. The crust is also very loose, so I might bake just the crust if I were to do it again. Still, a tasty cake overall.

11 July 2008

Alcohol, Espresso, and Frozen? I'm there.

I've been wanting to do granitas since the summer started, and sure enough all the recipes soon started rolling in on FoodGawker and Tastespotting. Next, I think, is going to be red wine, but the one that caught my eye right away was courtesy of the lovely Nic at Cherrapeno - Cool Coffee Granita. Of course, the trouble with a granita is that it will eventually re-freeze into a block, and so it's not exactly ideal for leftovers. Also, it's probably not a good idea to get into the habit of drinking alone, so I invited Rita over to sample this caffeinated treat prior to an evening out (which involved pomegranate mojitos for $3 and baked boursin - this must have been my lucky night!) I think Rita could clearly give Vanna White a run for her money. I made her pose for this picture because her parents are apparently both readers of the blog (hi, Mom and Dad!) The thing in her other hand is the cinnamon tea that normally sits on my table, which she always thoughtfully thinks to move before I start pointing and shooting. Rita, I'm sorry for yelling at you to "move your hand, I can't see the drink!" It's my anal inner food photographer talking.

So I was quite satisfied with the presentation, and with the overall effect. I made some slight modifications to the recipe. First, instead of coffee I actually used espresso granules for an additional kick. I was afraid it wouldn't be sweet enough, but it was actually quite sweet, especially with the addition of the liqueur and whipped cream. Speaking of which, I must admit that I was too cheap for Tia Maria and bought a less expensive coffee liqueur, but it tastes just fine. I also didn't bother whipping cream, but did a trick with the Cool Whip so that you can't tell it's Cool Whip. Just squirt it into a bowl and give it a quick whip with a spoon until the ridges disappear. Your guests will think you whipped it yourself! Oh, and another note is that my granitas never freeze as quickly as recipes say. Your freezer/kitchen temperature may vary, so just check after an hour and keep checking every half hour until there are some frozen bits forming on the bottom and sides. That's when it's time to start scraping.

07 July 2008

AVF #4: Watermelon, Cucumber Salad, and Fruit Salad

For the picnic theme, I decided to go with cold things. Actually, this is mostly the fault of the weather, not the challenge, as the heat index has been above 100 and the humidity has made me wonder whether I haven't accidentally morphed myself home. I have a small box air conditioner in my bedroom, but the design of the apartment means that there is no airflow to the other rooms. It's been a challenge, but a welcome one, to think of lots of cold things to eat.

The first picture is sliced watermelons and cucumber salad, which is actually just cucumber with S&P and oil and vinegar. I found the recipe on Tastespotting, but I kind of mangled it by using seeded cucumbers and cutting them thicker. It was still tasty, and I got to try out my white wine vinegar with herbes de Provence. Next, we have a simple fruit salad with apricot, kiwi, strawberries, Granny Smith apple, and seedless red grapes. Tasty! Fresh apricot is a bit tart for salad, but I don't mind it. Maybe next time I'll break down and buy peaches.

05 July 2008

AVF #4 Guest Post: Corn Pudding

Things are going to be slightly different this round. It's just me and my new local friend Laura, who was kind enough to send me an entry even though she doesn't have a blog! So these are her words below, and I'll post my Vegetarian Picnic Feast entry tomorrow. Thanks for tuning in!

Like everything I make, there's not really a recipe for this dish. It changes each time but the core ingredients are the same: corn, some kind of fat (butter or olive oil), some kind of milk substance (dairy or soy), veggies for taste and color (onion and pepper, bell or spicy). All of this is mixed together and baked. If I want something heartier, I add flour (or in this case, hush puppy mix - yum!!), an egg and sharp cheddar cheese. In essence it's an excuse to savor the loveliness of cooked-down sweet corn flavor. Put it in a shallow baking dish and it can be almost chewy and carmelized on top. Put it in a deeper glass dish and you have to wait for it to set like a quiche. In any case, it is delicious and a great accompaniment to grilled anything (I'd go for zucchini and eggplant slices with mushrooms, marinated in balsamic vinigriette). I would go so far as to say this dish is worth bringing forks to your picnic...

Here is the "recipe" that I made this time (what is pictured). As you can imagine, it's way better with fresh sweet corn scraped off the cob, but we won't have that around here (Iowa City) for at least another month:

Mix in a bowl:
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 can creamed corn
1 slightly-beaten egg
1/4 cup milk
Big handful of grated sharp cheddar cheese
Black pepper to taste
(You won't need salt using canned corn, but might if you use fresh corn)

Sautee in butter until tenderish:
A few tablespoons each of:
Minced onion
Diced red bell pepper
Diced poblano pepper

While still cooking in the pan, add to the veggies:
2-3 tablespoons of hush puppy mix (or flour w/ some added seasonings if you'd like, or just flour)
Mix well to coat the veggies. Let the flour brown a little.

Allow the cooked veggies to cool a bit.
Mix them with the stuff in the bowl

Pour all of this into a buttered glass baking dish.

Bake in a 325 degree preheated oven for at least 30 minutes. Check for the consistency you like. It may take up to an hour to cook in a deeper pan (or if you want it to be more chewy-licious and golden-brown on top).

Let cool as much or little as you want. This is great hot, room tempurature or cold (but admittedly, I like corn more than most people!)

01 July 2008


It's not often that someone just shows up with something for me to blog about, but Rita's done it twice! The other day, when I asked for her assistance in consuming the Cherry Garcia cocktails, I asked if she could pick up some skim milk. I had lots and lots of granola, but no milk. This is obviously a tragedy of epic proportions. "What kind of milk do you want?" Rita asked. "Skim," says I. "Hey, you should try this new milk!" "New milk?" "Alena told me about it! It's organic milk, made by Christians. You can blog about it." Me: "..."

So half an hour later, Rita indeed showed up on my doorstep with organic, homemade (well, homemade as you can get in the store), authentic Christianmilk. And it is, indeed, quite tasty. Goes great with hippie organic granola from Target. It expires sooner than regular milk, but that probably has to do with the lack of scary unidentifiable ingredients contained therein. I'll drink to that! Don't forget - A Vegetarian Picnic Feat entries due this Friday, July 4th! No entries yet, so it may just be me. Come on, folks, whip up a salad or something! I'd love to have you.