29 December 2007

Technical Difficulties and a Happy New Year

I want to first thank all my new readers for stopping by my blog this year. I hope you have a happy one, whatever that means for you, and look for a lot more blogging in the new year!

I will be posting some tasty new recipes and photos of my Christmas meal very soon, but at the moment my lovely Apple laptop is having some technical difficulties and is "in the shop." I'll be heading to Baltimore tonight for a New Year's with friends, and so I'm typing this note from my father's computer (and very slow dial-up connection). Thanks for sticking around, and I look forward to blogging as soon as I get back to Iowa (and the 'puter)!

Bon nouvel an!
Alles gute in dem neuen Jahr!
And all that jazz.

20 December 2007

Not-So Christmas Cookies

This time of year, everyone's buying the refrigerator rolls of sugar cookies, sprinkling them with red and green and sometimes using frosting to augment the (obviously lacking) sugar content. Though I must admit I do sometimes indulge in a traditional treat or two - I love yoghurt pretzels and peppermint bark, plus the Moravian Sugar Cookies I get every year from a family friend and the petit fours my aunt sends me - my fondest holiday memories are not of the usual fare but of my mothers overloaded and delicious Christmas concoctions. The cookies she made were a classic Tollhouse recipe with chocolate and butterscotch chips, but I decided to improvise with the ingredients I had on hand to create some tasty variations and clean out my fridge a little more.

Cranberry Oat and Everything Oat Cookies

One of the most pleasant surprises about moving to Iowa City in May was the public transit system. We have very reliable busses here, allowing me to work on the east side and live on the west, and excellent bus drivers. One of my bus drivers, Doug, has become a friend and we frequently have conversations about politics, environmental concerns, literature... and food. I keep promising to bring him something I've made, but I never have something that's easy to carry on the bus. Hence, I thought cookies would be a great idea. Jim, my morning bus driver, also is deserving of many treats after he and his wife picked me up one evening after I missed the last bus and was walking home, admittedly in tears, my arms full of groceries and an hour and a half away on foot.

I thought I'd try to make something a little like mom's recipe, and I knew I wanted to use oatmeal, but NOT raisins. I started by following this recipe more or less diligently. It was nice and smooth, and I also added a dash of nutmeg and a dash of cardamom to the dry ingredients to enhance the flavour. After stirring in the oats, I divided into two batches. One batch got chopped fresh cranberries and the other got whatever I could find in my "miscellaneous" tupperware - peanut butter chips, toffee chips, and coconut were the final contenders. Instead of spooning onto the cookie sheets, I rolled the cookies between my hands and then flattened them a bit. I think I may not have used quite enough baking soda, because they didn't spread out hardly at all, but they were still pretty tasty if you're a fan of chewy cookies, and Jim and Doug seemed grateful.

Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

After dithering between various online recipes to find a chocolatey cookie with mint chocolate chips to bring to the Quire potluck Sunday night, I finally settled on the recipe on the back of the mint chocolate chip bag. Unfortunately, I didn't have the foresight to copy it down, but you can find a recipe on the back of the bag (Hershey's brand) if you're interested.

The recipe did require a lot of beating with an electric mixer, and the dough seemed very creamy and brownie-like after that, so I tried adding a bit of flour. Again, the cookies didn't spread out a ton, but it worked fairly well. They were chewy and a bit like brownies, so I think next time I will use chopped chilled butter instead of margarine. That said, the taste is pretty fantastic, especially straight out of the oven!

19 December 2007

Menemen... My Way!

A lot has been going on lately. The past two weeks have been exams for us over-stressed Iowa Law students, and I'm going home to North Carolina for two weeks on Saturday, which means I have to concurrently study like a lunatic and figure out a way to clean out my fridge of all perishables and potentially-perishables before I leave. This has resulted in some interesting experiments - melted peanut butter, maple syrup, honey, and honey mustard vinaigrette does not a good dipping sauce make, for example - but also some successes, one of which I'd like to share tonight.

Also in this week's news, you may have noticed the advertisements now on my page, as well as the nifty little icon to the right of your screen. These are showing up because I am now a Foodbuzz featured publisher. I'm very excited about this new partnership, as Foodbuzz is helping to build a more connected foodie community, which I fully approve of, hopefully I'll be getting some new readers through the site. So if you're here via Foodbuzz, say hello! And welcome to the blog!

Variations on a Menemen theme

Now, onto one of the more successful clean-out-the-fridge attempts. It's been a running joke with my family and friends for a while that I can bake pretty impressive looking desserts, make confections and pastries, etc etc, but I can't for the life of me scramble eggs! It's not that no one taught me - many have tried, but none have managed to get the message across. I'm not very fond of the taste of eggs, but I don't think that's it. It's really a texture thing. I like fluffy eggs, and if they are sufficiently fluffy, I will smother them in cheese or douse liberally with salt and pepper and enjoy. If they are flat, grainy, or omlette-like, I will have trouble getting them down the hatch.

Still, I persevere.

I'm very excited about the course I'll be taking next semester in Intensive Turkish, as I've been fascinated with Turkish history and culture ever since I read Elisabeth Kostova's amazing novel The Historian, and I desperately want to go to Istanbul. Running with this theme, I've really been wanting to learn some Turkish recipes. I recently stumbled across menemen - Turkish scrambled eggs - and decided I had nothing to lose. In my fridge were an entire dozen eggs I needed to obliterate (I'd bought them on a whim after being eggless for one too many baking projects), much too much cheese, and a number of vegetables that needed to go soon.

The recipes I looked at called for tomatoes, peppers, cheese, and onions, which are optional. They extolled the moisture of the eggs, which are made by simply sauteeing the veggies until the tomatoes' water is somewhat reduced and then adding the beaten egg, scrambling at a low heat and topping with cheese at the end. I liked the idea of more moisture, but I couldn't get past my habit of beating with a splash of milk. I also didn't have peppers, and wanted to use up some mushrooms, so version one was born. Cremini mushrooms (baby bellas), chopped yellow onion, and chopped tomato with parmesan cheese. I didn't use salt or pepper, and didn't need it - these eggs were fantastic!

On a roll, I decided to continue. The mushrooms were looking a little unhappy though, and I hate risking it with fresh produce, so I tossed them and grabbed half a zucchini I'd used recently on a vegetable gratins instead. Noticing the fresh mint about to go at the back of the fridge, I tore off all the green bits as well and then decided to add some of this great "four peppers" fresh goat cheese I'd splurged on.

After all the chopping, I threw my veggies in the pan and sauteed them, but this time remembered to cut the heat from medium down to low before adding the eggs. Last time it turned out all right, but the eggs did cook very quickly, leaving little time to grab the cheese and throw it in to allow for melting. I considered doing a three egg extravaganza, but who am I kidding? I can't eat three eggs!

Again, the eggs got fork-scrambled with a healthy splash of milk. After I turned down the heat and added them to the pan, I realised I had forgotten to crumble the cheese, but big hunks were actually okay, as they melted beautifully. I added the chopped mint to the pan and gave it a nice little scramble. The result?


My eggs were moist, and the ingredients were a heavenly symphony of tastes. I hate to wax poetic on food (I should save that for my poetry!) but the combination of mint, zucchini, and goat cheese was to die for. I also love all the colours (as my mom's best friend would say, this is "beautiful food") and the spring look to it cheered me up after weeks of snow and ice. I felt like I was eating brunch on the lower east side, instead of in my slightly messy kitchen.

14 December 2007

Eat Your Brussels Sprouts!

So it appears that slowly, slowly, photos are starting to work again. I get an error message about 50% of the time, and I have to upload only two or three photos at a time, but I've managed to get most of the photos on the previous posts that were lacking and I'm going to try a new one. We shall see how this goes.

Ever since I was a kid, I hated Brussels sprouts with a fiery passion. I think it was mostly the strong smell, but then that smell comes into the taste, too, and... blech. But then when we had tapas in New York at Alta, everyone insisted I try the "Crispy Brussels Sprouts," and I admit, they were amazing. They also involved Fuji apples, crème fraiche, and pistachio nuts, however. Were my taste buds simply being tricked?

Then, at Thanksgiving, my friend Ryan served fried Brussels sprouts, again with the disclaimer that everyone who doesn't like Brussels sprouts should definitely try them. And they were amazing! Crispy but tender on the inside, greasy yes, but with a hint of lemon... I decided I had to try to re-create this concoction for myself.

Fortunately, there was a neat little pack of fresh Brussels sprouts at Hy-Vee, which I didn't really expect because I'd only seen them frozen. All the recipes say take off the tough outer brown leaves, but I didn't have many of these. I peeled off the tougher leaves anyway, which were dark green, and thoroughly rinsed and chopped all my sprouts in half. Some had some brown parts, so just in case I cut those away.

Some recipes suggest that you first fry, then cover the pan and add a little water to steam for a few minutes, just to make sure they're tender, but I was too afraid of that horrid smell creeping in, so I just fried them simply in a healthy pool of olive oil (and by healthy, I mean large). I sprinkled some salt and lemon juice on at the end, as well as a bit of white pepper. The taste? Good. The texture? Well, maybe I should have tried that steaming thing. They were still a little crunchy, but not unbearably so. I tried microwaving the leftovers and it helped, but there was a wee bit of Brussels sprout smell.

Any suggestions? Maybe I'll just have to e-mail Ryan for the recipe.

11 December 2007

A Vegetarian Thanksgiving Feast: Round-Up

So the photos still aren't uploading (argh!) but I figure I'd better go ahead and bring you the round-up for AVF #1: A Vegetarian Thanksgiving Feast.

It was an intimate gathering this November, but still very tasty. I started things off with some mulled wine to drink, and then we cracked into our savoury dishes. Eat'n Vegan brought us her Steamed Broccoli and Curly Kale with Pumpkin Vinaigrette, which looks not only delicious but healthy, too! Next, Stephanie told us some stories about her experiences with storebought "tofurkey" and then contributed a homemade Unturkey. I've never tried fake turkey myself, but now I must admit I'm kind of curious!

And then the desserts. Oh the desserts. First, Mom contributed an experiment in baking, Carver's Cognac Almond Apples. I'm glad Mom could join us and make this a family affair, and also thrilled that I got to see her for real for her (we'll call it thirtieth) birthday a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. The final contributions were my own Pumpkin Bread Pudding, Holiday Scones, Fig Whisky Jam, and a trifecta of pies: Pecan, Chocolate Chess, and something from a magazine that I'm just calling the Ridiculously Amazing Pie Thing.

Thank you so much to those who could make it! Readers, look for the next AVF theme to be announced sometime in January. There was a bit of a glitch with IMBB this time, but I'll try to do better with getting the word out for the next challenge (and feel free to tell your friends!)

08 December 2007

Here a Pie, There a Pie, Everywhere a Pie, Pie!


I owe you a bit of an apology. Not only have I been very busy lately, but Blogger has been very wonky with the photo uploading and so I've been having a lot of trouble blogging. Never fear, though! I continue to photograph my creations and will be posting about them, just not quite as timely as I would have liked. I never promised to post a certain number of times per month, but I do want to make this a more active blog, and so I'm going to commit myself do that in the coming months. As you can see, this post has no photos, and the last AVF has only about half, but I will be fixing that as soon as humanly possible.

So anyway, later this week, I'll finally be posting the "final roundup" for the first Vegetarian Feast Challenge. But in addition to one more blog link for you, I have a couple of my own post-Thanksgiving treats that I wanted to share.

My Thanksgiving this year did not include any sort of pie, and I decided that, delicious as the dessert I did consume was, that just wouldn't do. Going on a Southern kick, I decided to make two of my favourite holiday creations - pecan pie and chocolate chess pie. At first, I didn't think it was going to happen, because there were no frozen pie shells at Hy-Vee the day after Thanksgiving (raise your hand if you're surprised by this) but then a nice man in the freezer section found some for me in the boxes waiting to be unpacked. So... pie!

Pecan Pie

There's nothing particularly complicated about this recipe. I had a few to choose from, and went with the simplest in my recipe database, copied from an old healthy cookbook whose name escapes me. The recipe isn't really healthy, but it is easy. Beat 2/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup soft margarine or butter, a cup of corn syrup, 1/2 t salt, and three eggs with an electric mixer. Stir in a cup of pecan halves or pieces, pour into a 9" pie crust, and bake 40-50 minutes at 375 or until set.

I used margarine and light corn syrup, as I always do, and though I did put about a cup of pecan pieces in the batter itself, I also arranged whole toasted pecans on the top in concentric circles, as you can see from the first picture. I also added a handful of sweetened shredded coconut, because as a kid I always thought pecan pie had coconut in it. I baked an entire hour, because no "setting" appeared to be happening. It turns out that this recipe is a little flawed, because it will do most of the setting while it cools. Therefore, my pecans were a little too brown for my taste. I also noticed that it was a little goopier than I like. Maybe beating it a little bit less, or at a lower speed, would have helped. Maybe more pecan pieces. I'm not sure, but hey. It was still mighty tasty.

Chocolate Chess Pie

I did a quick internet search for this one and found a recipe on Allrecipes that suited my tastes. The recipe is here, and I followed it more or less exactly. Again, I had to bake longer than the time stated, and the crust wasn't really browning so I didn't think this was a problem. The middle was still rather goopy, like chocolate pudding almost, but it wasn't exactly a problem. I've been eating it cold, which helps it stay firmer. The top, though, is absolutely perfect, all crinkly with pecans. Mm, mm.

Mulled Wine

To go with my pie explorations, I decided to make some mulled wine. This is one of my favourite holiday beverages (though there are many - eggnog, brandy, cider, the list goes on). My mom used to make it when I was far too young to enjoy it, but since then I've tried mulled wine at several holiday house parties and have been itching to make my own. For this, I combined several recipes and tips from Mom, and it turned out pretty decent. It was a tad too citrusy, so next time I'll probably use less orange.

I made two batches, because the first only made half a cup so I ended up mulling the rest of the bottle (whoo, whee!) I used cheap wine as suggested by Mom, specifically Black Swan cabernet. I took a taste before mulling, and yeah, it's cheap. For the spices, I threw in about a quarter cup of sugar, a couple cinnamon sticks, some cloves, some allspice berries, a dash of nutmeg, and a few wedges of a big orange, peeled with the peels thrown in as well. I heated the wine with this combination about twenty or thirty minutes on a fairly low heat, and then strained the mixture into my cup. I still got some un-dissolved nutmeg, so this could probably use some work!

22 November 2007

Thankful... now with links!

I've seen a lot of bloggers in the past doing "what I'm thankful for" style posts on Thanksgiving, and I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to give "props" to some of the food bloggers I read and am thankful for. I haven't had much of a chance lately to keep current with my favourite blogs, but these are those that I've always come back to in the past. So Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate it, and Happy Thursday to those who don't!

Yes, I know everyone knows about Clotilde, now. But she has been my number one foodblogging crush ever since I started reading food blogs, and darnit, her recipes are good too! Chocolate & Zucchini is by far the best blog I know for really getting into a recipe and explaining things. Anytime I'm stumped by a French ingredient, I'll hop over to C&Z to see what Clotilde has to say about it, and there's usually something. Also, she's fun, funny, and her cooking experiences are wonderful to read about.

Number two on the foodblog crush list comes from Not Eating Out in New York. This girl always impresses me with her ability to resist the temptations of delicious NYC restaurants, and I love her health and price indexes on all the recipes. Also fabulous are the interviews, including one that convinced me to buy the awesome cookbook, Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant.

Next we have another all-time favourite, the bilingual blog La Tartine Gourmande. These photos are spectacular, as is the food. The desserts always make my mouth water – bring on the sugar!

Amy of Cooking with Amy has been on my favourites list nearly as long as Clotilde. She's more narrative than some other bloggers, and I love reading about her cooking adventures.

Joanna, aka The Passionate Cook, is just out of this world. I love the way she lights her photos, and she is a blogger that admittedly has me actually craving her meat dishes. Normally when I see photographs of meat these days I feel a little ill, but not from this lady. She just posted about a Foie Gras and Gingerbread Sandwich with Pear Chutney and Mulled Wine Reduction and I can honestly say I've never considered "cheating" so strongly as at this moment. Oh God. Resist the urge!

Nicisme at Cherrapeno is a British food blogger and another whose photos I just drool over. I especially liked the recent post on roasted smoked garlic, with photos from the Chunnel and in France itself. Oh, how I miss Europe!

Speaking of Europe, Zarah Maria is the Danish blogger who brings us Food & Thoughts, with fantastic photos and recipes from Denmark. I really want to try her bran muffins, and I like that she includes some Danish recipes, since I'm learning Danish and want to go there some day.

I'll admit that the reason I first started reading Beau à la Louche is that the blogger, Loukoum, is just so adorable, but once I got over my little crush I noticed that she also makes some amazing recipes, with great photographs. She also has a ton of cool reference items, from "La petite lecon de cheesecake" to a handy linked cooking converter (in English) that actually asks you what you're measuring to be more accurate.

The Happy Sorceress over at Dispensing Happiness is one of my favourites, just because she's so darned nice! She was super-welcoming when I decided to come to her "Blog Party" event, and I'm bummed that I didn't have time to participate in this month's "Fusion" theme. I looove fusion. Oh, well – next time!

Café Fernando is a blog that has a fantastically easy to navigate layout, absolutely amazing food, and beautiful photographs. Another personal plus is the occasional appearance of a Turkish recipe, as I am a big… turkophile? Is that a word? Anyway, I'll be taking Intensive Turkish in the spring and I really love Turkish culture. I can't wait to go to Istanbul one day.

Though Tartelette doesn't only make mini-tarts, I really do appreciate her miniature desserts, as they're perfect for single people and often rather gourmet and amazing. Also, a fellow Carolinian! South, okay, but I spent enough time in Charleston to count, right?

Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody is a fabulous Canadian blogger whose sweet treats always make my mouth water. Recently she made Gingerbread Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting that look amazing, and I can't wait to try for a holiday treat. I also really want to try her Pumpkin Brioche, and Funfetti Flan. Funfetti? In flan? That's my idea of a good dessert!

Mele Cotte is another fantastic blog for baking ideas, but the most recent recipe really perks up my tastebuds as well. I love acorn squash, and this simple preparation (roasted with a honey glaze) makes my mouth water.

Cupcake, My Love by Steph may not be as fancy as some of the baking blogs, but boy does she post some tasty entries, and what's more they're the kind of things I can actually make!

Yet another amazing dessert blog is Amuses Bouche. Admittedly I get a lot of my recipes here and don't actually attempt them, but one of these days, damnit, I'm going to! Le Royal ou Trianon looks very tasty – if only I could get pralinoise and crêpes dentelles in the States!

A Veggie Venture is a blog by Alanna that gives me so many great ideas for vegetables that I both love and am a little wary of. The Boozy Baked Celery kind of makes me scratch my head, and so I know I have to try it (and if Alanna can get me to like celery, she really has done something special).

Okay, so maybe the photos aren't as fancy, but the Porcini Chronicles always impress me with interesting ingredients and unexpected recipes. Quince Chutney? Fantastic!

And remember, there's still time to pass on your Thanksgiving posts for A Vegetarian Feast!

20 November 2007

AVF #1: A Thanksgiving Vegetarian Feast Pre-Roundup

Since I didn't get many entries yet for AVF, I'm just going to go ahead and link what I have at the top of this post of my Thanksgiving contributions and let anyone who wants to add an entry do so until next Monday, when I'll post a formal round-up. I know people have been busy getting their menus together, but I encourage you to submit if you have anything that might apply!

First, we have a delicious looking healthy veggie option from Eat'n Vegan. She asked to submit her Steamed Broccoli and Curly Kale with Pumpkin Vinaigrette, and I wholeheartedly approve, as kale is one of my favorite foods! However, everything in this Thanksgiving meal post looks absolutely scrumptious. My mouth is especially watering for the mashed sweet potatoes with a balsamic reduction! What a healthy, tasty, and colourful holiday meal. Thanks for joining us!

Now, we move on to desserts. I had intended to do a number of different options, some sweet and some savory, for this event, but time got away with me and classes started picking up steam just as National Novel Writing Month also came to call. So instead, I'm going to submit a few baked goods I made in October, and it seems mom caught the sweet tooth as well. Yes, my very own mother kindly agreed to submit something for AVF, in the form of Carver's Cognac Almond Apples. When mom starts experimenting, things tend to get interesting, and this was no exception. I'd love to try this sweet treat, but next time, mom, maybe lay off the brandy a wee bit? :-)

Now, for my own contributions...

Judith's Fabulous Fig-Whisky Jam

This was a somewhat spontaneous idea I had the weekend I made pumpkin flan for blog party and the bread pudding below. I was in such a cooking mood, and so NOT in a study mood, that I randomly decided to make jam. Trust me, this doesn't happen frequently. The recipe isn't really a recipe, as I just started throwing things in the saucepan, and had originally planned on making a savory compote but changed my mind at the last minute. The basic idea is, chop up about a cup of figs, and then add about a cup of water. Bring it to a nice happy simmmer and sit around a while. Eventually, you'll get a nice goop and the liquid will be mostly evaporated. Season with cinnamon and nutmeg and add several generous splashes of Jack Daniels (or finer whisky if you have it on you). I thought about adding brown sugar, but decided it didn't really need it. The result was a delicious warm, seedy jam that was just as tasty cold. For Thanksgiving, you could serve it with some vegetarian stuffing, brioche rolls, or lentil loaf. The next day, try it cold on wheat bread with cream cheese. Mmm mm tasty!

Pumpkin Challah Bread Pudding

I found this recipe on the blog Words to Eat By and knew I had to try it. I've really missed Challah bread since living in Baltimore, surrounded by Jewish friends and the ever-popular Double T Diner with its Challah French toast. I was rather sceptical of the frozen version of Challah dough, which mom and I tried once in the spring, but I didn't really have time to do it from scratch (next time!) so I went for it. I'm not a huge fan of the bread by itself (too yeasty) but it worked just fine for the pudding. I put it on a baking sheet and let it rest covered in greased plastic wrap for about four hours, until it doubled in size, and then baked according to package instructions. Once that was done, I followed the recipe pretty much exactly.

Whisk together a cup and half of milk, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 t pumpkin pie spice (my lid is broken so I didn't really measure), two eggs, two whites, and a fifteen-ounce can of Libby's (pure pumpkin). Once you have a relatively smooth batter, toss in five cups of 1/2 inch Challah cubes. This was the part I ignored, and basically tore a little more than half the loaf into bite sized chunks with my hands. I have no patience with knives, and my bread knife hadn't arrived yet anyway. Anyway, you want to spoon that mixture into a greased 8-inch square dish, cover in foil, and refrigerate anywhere from half an hour to four hours. I think I did it one or two, I don't really remember. Bake in an inch-high hot water bath for half an hour at 350, then remove the foil and bake 10-15 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. At no point did my knife actually come out clean, so I just pulled it out after 17 minutes. Also, keep in mind that when you put the foil on your pan in the first place, you want the piece trimmed pretty well because you don't want to stick your hand in the very hot water bath. Alternatively, you can use my method of just having a corner above water level that you can pull, but it may splash a bit. It's absolutely amazing with maple syrup and chopped toasted pecans, and great for breakfast the next day. Without the syrup, it isn't quite sweet enough for me, but that may just be my tastebuds.

Ridiculously Amazing Pumpkin Pie Thing

This comes to me via the amazing Steph at Cupcake, My Love. When I saw this concoction, featuring layers of cheesecake, pumpkin pie, and pecans with TOFFEE BARS, I knew I had to bake it, pronto. I couldn't find Holiday Baking magazine anywhere, however, so I asked Steph to e-mail me the recipe. Of course, as she's typing this whole long thing out, I find the magazine at Hy-Vee. Sorry, Steph!

Anyway, it turned out absolutely delicious. I will warn you NOT to eat it warm, because the cheesecake part tastes really strange, but it's super chilled. I ended up filling most of the pie crust with cheesecake batter, so I only used half the pumpkin, but next time I'll adjust to make it 50-50.

So, to make the "Pumpkin Praline Pie" (so much more official sounding), you want to start with a frozen 9" deep dish pie crust, the deeper the better. This was Steph's suggestion, and I agree. Homemade pie crusts are good and all, but if it's just plain, I usually take advantage of Pillsbury. You don't have to pre-bake or anything, just have that ready. Now, combine 12 ounces softened cream cheese (NOTE: 12 ounces is the bigger sized tub if you buy Philadelphia) with 1/3 cup sugar. I used light cream cheese, incidentally, and the taste was still great. Beat on low to medium speed until smooth, then beat in an egg, and stir in about a teaspoon of grated (they say finely shredded, whatever) orange peel. Cover and chill half an hour.

Now, preheat your oven to 375, and start on your pumpkin filling. Combine a can of Libby's or whatever other pure pumpkin there is with 3/4 cup sguar and 2 t pumpkin pie spice. Add three eggs and beat lightly. Gradually beat in 3/4 cup half-and-half or light cream. Spread your cream cheese filling into the frozen crust first, then the pie filling. Like I said, this was too much filling for me, so I recommend you adjust the amounts and use a plain 8 ounce tub of cream cheese and 1/4 cup sugar. Since you're using a can of pumpkin anyway, I'd keep that the same and just toss what you don't use, or bake a mini pumpkin pie. Also if you're a spoon-licker, it tastes good raw.

The recipe says to cover the edges of the crust with foil, but mine honestly didn't overbrown. Bake 25 minutes. While it's baking, combine 1/2 cup broken Heath or other toffee bars and 3/4 cup broken walnuts with 1/4 cup packed brown sugar. I found I didn't need quite that much sugar but you be the judge. Sprinkle over the pie and bake another 25-30 minutes or until knife comes out clean. My knife didn't, I just declared it done. Cool on a wire rack. Yes, the melty toffee bits look amazing but RESIST THE URGE (or just pick them off). Chill for at least a couple of hours before eating. The recipe suggests whipped cream and fudge topping but I think that's overkill. Bon appetit!

Holiday Scones

Finally, an adaptation of a recipe from the vegancooking LJ community. Note that my version is not vegan, but you can easily make it so by using Earth Balance and soy milk. The recipe was for brown sugar scones, but I jazzed them up a bit with dried figs and cranberries. The taste was great but they were very dense. I suspect part of the problem was that I worked the dough too much, especially when cominbing the butter and flour. I've since purchased a non stick pastry cutter and will try to be gentler next time. So these turned out looking more like cookies, but they were still yummy, especially with a cup of tea.

The recipe itself is super easy- just mix together three cups flour, a firmly packed cup of brown sugar, 1-1/4 t baking powder, and a cup of butter until crumbly. I recommend that you cut the butter into the flour first, or mix the dry ingredients and then cut in the butter. Gently blend in a cup of milk, then add in a cup of dried, chopped fruit. I accidentally added the fruit before the milk, so it was a bit harder to stir, which may have been another consistency problem. Anyway, you want to drop spoonfuls of the dough onto baking sheets and bake twenty minutes at 375. They will brown a little, but not a ton. Check the bottoms - they should be fairly brown when done.

And that's all folks! Remember, you can still submit entries and I will add them as they come in! Final round-up coming next week!

18 November 2007

Restaurant Reviews and a Reminder

First, before I forget, a reminder that entries for the first Vegetarian Feast blogging challenge are due tonight!! Please post a link to your entry in a comment or email me the information. We will have a second round-up after thanksgiving, but at this point the only entries are from me and my mother (thanks, mom!) so that's just a wee bit sad.

Second, last weekend I went to New York to surprise said mother for her fiftieth birthday and we had some fabulous eats. I know a few of my fellow foodbloggers are in the New York metro area, so I thought I'd tell you about them.

First, Friday night, we went to Alta in the West Village (64 W. 10th St., near the intersection with Sixth Avenue). Of course, my plane was delayed and the busses into Manhattan were screwed up, so I jogged back and forth across that intersection about five times before I found the place. Turns out the door is slightly hidden. Anyway, the atmosphere is lovely - it's very small and cosy - but it is a rather noisy restaurant. The menu is tapas, pretty much, though they call it "small plates" for a reason unknown to me. We tried a ton of different dishes between the six of us, including several vegetarian options for my benefit. I think my favourite were the fried goat cheese balls, which were deliciously melty and served with a lavender honey. I've been a big fan of lavender honey since I bought a jar in a market in Uzes, in the South of France, and though it's now available everywhere I don't get it nearly enough. I also tried a smoked eggplant and lebne dip, which was tasty enough but not spectacular, smoked mozarella which came with a really tasty balsamic and tomato sauce, the trumpet mushrooms, and a catalonian flatbread called "Coca."

Saturday, we had brunch/lunch at a cafe called La Madeleine on 43rd Street. The best part about that place was the atmosphere, because we managed to get a table in the indoor garden. It was lovely, and sufficiently lit for picture taking, so you can take a look at what I ate as well as hear about it. This mushroom-gruyere tart that I shared with Daddy was so delicious that I forgot to take a photo before digging into it. The velouté was perfectly seasoned, and the sort of "cracker" of Gruyere light enough that it didn't feel like a diet cheat. For my main course, I wanted something light so I went with the yoghurt, fruit, and granola bowl. It turns out there was enough honey that it didn't really qualify as "light," but it was still delicious. For dessert we all shared a Valharona mousse, which was quite tasty and I was particularly happy since I've been wanting to try Valharona. Saturday afternoon, while my folks were at a movie (supposed to be a play, but the stagehands' strike got in the way of that) I went with a local friend to The Telephone, a bar on the lower east side (Second Avenue). It was extremely cute, with several English telephone booths out in front and a very impressive cocktail menu including a lot of warm options. I had a mint tea that was spiked with rum and flavoured with an orange wedge and a cinnamon stick, perfect for a cold afternoon. After drinks, I was supposed to obtain dessert at the Little Pie Company, but since I was so far west I went to Whole Foods instead. Oh, how I miss Whole Foods! Of course, the line was a million people long but the New York store has this nifty innovation where a screen flashes the colour of your line and the register you go to, and it only took about ten minutes to shuffle a hundred people through the express line. So Saturday night, after I dropped off the cake, we finished up with a birthday dinner at the North Square Restaurant, right by Washington Square Park. Though the menu didn't include any vegetarian entrees, there were quite a few salads, so I tried the Endive Salad which included stilton and walnuts. It was very good, and the grilled asparagus I had along with it was also quite tasty. I thought the cake, a chocolate ganache layer cake, was a little dry, but everyone else liked it. So all in all, a success. At least, my belly thinks so.

Oh and by the way, a little note to vegetarians about one of my favourite chains - I've been going to TGI Fridays since I was a little kid, and on the whole I think their menu has gone way downhill as they've expanded, BUT I have to say the grilled portabella sandwich with fire roasted red pepper soup, which I tried in the Minneapolis Airport, is a total winner. Even with a side of fries and honey mustard, it only came to $10.50! And for an airport lunch, that's cheap. I'll probably be having it again when I fly through Minneapolis for Christmas.

25 October 2007

My second blog party - happy halloween!


It's almost time for another Blog Party. I had so much fun at last month's party, and was so encouraged by our fabulous host, that I've been looking forward to October's event all month. The theme? Halloween. I never get invited to Halloween parties, so this sounds like a lot of fun to me.

I've been craving pumpkin lately, so I knew it would have to make an appearance. I had considered some sort of dessert that incorporates lots and lots of miniature candy bars, but I'm also trying to watch my weight. What I needed was a pumpkiny-delicious dessert that would come in nice small portions, perfect for a party as well as for my waistline. Enter ramekins!

I've been wanting to use these adorable two ounce ramekins since I purchased them in my recent Amazon cooking supplies spree, and I kept thinking "you know what I really want? Pumpkin flan." Lord knows why. I've never actually had flan, and certainly not with pumpkin, but from an early age I've always concocted fabulous ideas for theoretical fancy restaurant menus, and so things like this tend to pop into my head. I did a quick Google, and what do you know? Recipes abound!

Next I had to think of a drink, and here I was thwarted. I planned to do orange and black and make a yummy liquorice martini. I even found a recipe for one called a "Dirty Witch," which I found absolutely hilarious. But I couldn't find Sambucca anywhere! So I rifled around in my cabinet and instead went with Kaluha, chocolate liqueur, and Diet Coke (drink very quickly, as it starts out frothy like a milkshake but curdles after a minute or two). Still, there is some relation to Halloween – when I was in college, my roommate loved to trick or treat, and so we would go out around the neighbourhood in costume, collecting candy from unsuspecting and sometimes grumpy adults. One year, however, we showed up at a lady's house who didn't have any candy, but liked the idea that we were trick or treating at the age of twenty so much that she gave us each a can of Coke and said that we should come by and have a drink with her sometime. So this is for you, Coke can lady!

Pumpkin Flan

I tried two different methods for the caramel top to my flan. The first was to pour some sugar in the ramekin and then hold it over a hot burner, shaking constantly, until the sugar melted. Well it turns out, ladies and gentlemen, that a hot burner is… hot. I couldn't stand the heat, so instead I made a syrup with 2/3 cup sugar and ¼ cup water. All you have to do is stir to dissolve, put it over medium heat, and then wait a while. It took mine about ten to twelve minutes to achieve the amber colour I was looking for, but it did darken up quite quickly after I removed it from the heat. The recipes say that you should use a wet brush to brush down the sides, but I gave this up halfway through. Also keep in mind that your utensils and pan will be a bit of a pain to clean when the sugar hardens, so soak them immediately in soapy water.

I poured an even amount of the syrup in each ramekin, and of course again forgot that syrup is hot. I saw a drop about to fall on the table so I instinctively put my finger on it, and then when I realised the syrup was, you know, boiling, stuck my finger in my mouth as a slave to another stupid instinct. So now I have a really attractive burn on the corner of my mouth, as well as on my finger. Oops.

The flan itself is relatively easy. I combined two recipes, trying to make something that would be creamy enough to taste rich but not with so many eggs that I'd die of heart disease at the age of thirty. What I ended up with was a mixture of ¾ cup canned pumpkin puree, three eggs, ¼ cup sugar, 1 t vanilla, ½ t cinnamon, and a dash of pumpkin pie spice. I whisked all that together until it was pretty smooth, and then added a cup of whole milk. The resulting mixture was thin, creamy, and pale orange.

I poured an equal amount in each ramekin, and had a little left over, but better too much than too little, I think. Then I set my ramekins in a small but fairly deep baking dish and filled it with water halfway up the sides. Once the flans were happily bathing, I popped them in a 325-degree oven for 55 minutes and walked away. When I came back, they were completely set. Maybe I could've taken them out earlier, but they didn't burn or anything, so I'm not bothered.

Keep in mind that, once again, these ramekins are – you guessed it – hot. Remove them from the bath with a potholder or something else heatproof. I set them on another clean baking sheet to cool for about half an hour and then popped them in the fridge. Chill eight hours.

Now, the best part, I actually had someone to help me eat my creation this time! My friend Rita has been looking forward to flan since I mentioned it two weeks ago, so she and another friend, Leslie, got to watch the big finale as I inverted our treats onto plates. In reality, it was a little anticlimactic. The caramel stayed hard and stuck inside the ramekins, though a little bit dripped out. The flans themselves were lovely, though a bit difficult to remove. They had a nice, light, creamy texture and a sweet and pumpkin-y taste that I really enjoyed. Next time I'll let the caramel cook a bit longer, I think, and use less in each ramekin, but despite that fluke I'm happy with the recipe.

15 October 2007

Exotic Muffins!

When I read the "exotic muffins" prompt for Muffin Monday, my first thought was something with chiles and dark chocolate. I love that combination, and it seems exotic enough. But then, the combination of chiles and chocolate has been really popular lately, and I didn't want to blog about the same thing everyone else was doing.

I toyed with a number of combinations. A lot of them had something to do with whisky, strangely enough. After a while, I was so burned out on thinking about what type of muffin would be "exotic" that I had to go to the dictionary. This is what the trusty American Heritage Dictionary gave me for exotic:

1. From another part of the world; foreign: exotic tropical plants in a greenhouse.

2. Intriguingly unusual or different; excitingly strange: "If something can be explained simply, in a familiar way, then it is best to avoid more exotic explanations" (Chet Raymo).

3. Of or involving striptease: an exotic dancer.

As tempting as it was to try and come up with muffins "of or involving striptease," I decided to think about the first two definitions. The first, of course, is relative. "Foreign" depends on your starting point, something that's always been important to me as I study all sorts of social and cultural relativism. And this has an application in food – a lot of the "trendy" dishes are a product of globalization, some sort of a twist on something people have been eating every day for years on the other side of the world. In the second definition, I especially liked the word "intriguing." I wasn't feeling brave enough to concoct a muffin that was "excitingly strange," but intriguing I could handle.

What I came up with was based on my perspective as a pre-teen, when I was both fascinated with all things French and thought that anything French was exotic, unusual, and probably extremely expensive. I dreamed of the days when I might be able to drink wine and eat cheese and chocolate on a regular basis. Of course, now that I'm grown up, I realize these things aren't conducive to a happy waistline, but sometimes we just have to splurge. And thus, my Good Life Muffins were born.

I started with a new purchase from Amazon.com: two shiny and new 12-cup nonstick muffin tins. I'm very excited about my new tins, because as a single person I like to be able to make my desserts in portions small enough to consume in a single sitting without feeling a little queasy afterwards. Muffin tins plus a set of six two-ounce ramekins mean that I'm in business.

Next I thought about how to incorporate those three ingredients – wine, cheese, and chocolate – in a single recipe. Personally, I love the combination of sweet and savory, but I wanted a simple base with the subtle hint of wine to serve as a drawing board for the shocking combination of chocolate and nice, sharp cheese. I especially liked the idea of having chunks of cheese and chocolate that would melt, but retain their basic shape.

I started with an adaptation of a recipe I transcribed long ago from a diet cookbook but never actually tried. You basically just mix a couple cups of variety baking mix, 2/3 cup wine (I used my all-time favourite Cabernet Sauvignon) an egg, and 2 T vegetable oil. If you want a sweeter muffin, you could add some sugar, but I kept things simple. Give the mixture a nice vigorous beating with a fork. It'll be kind of sticky and goopy, and that's okay.

Now, gently fold in your cheese. I went with crumbled Gorgonzola, but you can use anything with a bit of a bite to it. The amount depends on how much flavour you want – for a milder muffin, you can use less cheese or even reserve it at this step and just press a few pieces into each muffin after you pour the batter.

Pour into 12 greased muffin cups or use paper liners. Put a chunk of your favourite dark chocolate in each – I used Dagoba's roseberry, which is not only delicious but also organic. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven and bake 20 minutes or until golden.

The verdict? As I said, the muffin itself is very subtle, with just a hint of cabernet. You could add seasonings of your choice for a variation, or sugar, but I was okay with the subtlety. The chocolate and cheese provided great contrasting bursts of flavour, and they were delicious warm.

So there you have it, folks. Good Life Muffins – exotic, at least, to me. Thanks to Pernille for hosting Muffin Monday!