30 September 2007

Farmer's Market Finds Part I

Saturday morning, I went to the Farmer's Market feeling slightly panicky, because I've failed to take advantage of its bounty lately and there's only a month left. So I came home with quite a lot - red and green tomatoes, okra, potatoes, homemade hummus, a homemade rice krispee bar that I really need to get the name of, leeks, arugula, and "Killarney" garlic. I was most excited, however, about the green tomatoes and the okra, because I just love Southern vegetables, and I miss them greatly.

Though I grew up in a home with a very plentiful garden, my first experience with obviously Southern preparations that I can remember was at Jestine's Kitchen in Charleston. Jestine's is legendary for its vegetables, and I can't get enough of the fried green tomatoes or the okra. Another Charleston restaurant, a tapas place called Meritage, also does an amazing fried green tomato preparation, but unfortunately it involves crab meat. Still, I want to bribe them for the sauce recipe. As you can see, I started with high hopes of healthy eating with my grilled green tomato and swiss sandwich yesterday, but it was all downhill from there.

For dinner, I wanted to have fried okra. As a kid, I never liked the slimy bits so I always preferred it fried. We usually used the kind that comes in the bag and you just bake, but my father taught me from a very early age about "drench and dredge" so I'm well versed in frying techniques. I thought I'd make it a wee bit healthier than the traditional Southern buttermilk and cornmeal preparation, so I just dunked my okra in skim milk and dredged it in seasoned breadcrumbs. It came out pretty tasty!

My friend Rita says the baby okras taste much better, but I thought these were great. There were a few that were pretty tough, but it was easy to tell when chopping so I just threw those out. These days, I love the slimy bits, and I was glad they didn't get too lost when frying. Of course, you have to use a healthy amount of veggie oil to do it right, but I patted heavily with paper towels as a compromise.

For lunch today, I decided to fry the rest of the tomatoes as well. This went pretty well, but my attempts to adjust and not use as much breading or oil didn't go so well. It turns out you really need plenty of oil, and if you try to fry up a ton of slices at once your pan is going to get pretty messy. So I ended up with some slices left over - perhaps I'll do a little stir fry later in the week.

Stay tuned for leek and potato soup, plus my dessert contributions to two potlucks in a row!

The First Vegetarian Feast!

I'm excited to officially announce the very first round of a new foodblogging challenge, A Vegetarian Feast!! Or, if you want to go with foodblogger lingo, we'll call it AVF #1. This round's theme is A Vegetarian Thanksgiving Feast, so if you'd like to contribute a dish to our table, please take note of the rules and guidelines below and start thinking about what you might want to whip up! Also, please please please tell your friends, as I'm a relatively new blogger and sometimes it's hard to get the word out. I'm giving everyone almost two months to get their recipes done, and as a special bonus, for this challenge I'm letting you submit after the deadline. I encourage everyone to get their entries in by Sunday, November 18th so that I can post the round-up a few days before the American Thanksgiving and give everyone some ideas, but if you make some delicious meatless item for Thanksgiving dinner and think we should know about it, feel free to submit an entry up to Monday, November 26th and I'll add it to the round-up!

The Rules

1. Your entry must be a meatless dish. This means no red meat, fish, or poultry. Dairy is welcome but not required, and vegan entries are always welcome! Also, you don't have to be a vegetarian to cook vegetarian. As long as there's no meat in your post, you're welcome to join us!

2. Your entry can be something that you made, that someone else made, that you ate in a restaurant, etc, but it must have at least one photo (that I can use for the round-up). If you want me to use a specific photo from your entry, please let me know or attach it to your e-mail. Recipes are not required but encouraged!

3. For the theme A Vegetarian Thanksgiving Feast, please feel free to use your imagination! This challenge is not for North Americans only - anyone is welcome to contribute some ideas and join the fun! If you have any questions about what a "traditional" Thanksgiving meal normally entails, feel free to e-mail me and ask. You can do a vegetarian twist on a traditional meaty dish; show us your favourite traditionally meatless side, entree, or dessert; share a unique family recipe; or even just do an original dish using fall ingredients. The sky's the limit, and we want to know what you like to eat for Thanksgiving!

4. The deadline is Sunday, November 18th for the challenge, and the round-up will be posted by Monday night to give everyone time to incorporate new recipes when doing their Thanksgiving shopping. The deadline for additional entries showcasing what you actually made for Thanksgiving is Monday, November 26th, and those will be added to the round-up mid-week.

5. Please e-mail all entries to judithavory@gmail.com - don't forget to include your name, the name and URL of your blog, the URL of the post, and the photo you'd prefer I use if there is one. You can also leave this info in a comment to this post. Don't hesitate to e-mail or comment if you have questions!

28 September 2007

Calling All Chefs!!

I've decided to start a new food blogging event. I know there are tons out there right now, but I hope some of you will participate! I don't know that it will be monthly (maybe four times a year to start?) but each round we'll pick a theme and ask for submissions of vegetarian recipe posts. You don't have to be a vegetarian, and your blog doesn't have to be vegetarian, but the food you blog about does. Just to clarify (and I'll link back to this post for the rules in the future), vegetarian for the purposes of this event means that the dish has no meat, fish, or poultry. Dairy is fine, but vegans are welcome to submit their non-dairy recipes! Other than that, the only requirement is that your post has at least one photo in it and that you e-mail it to me (instructions to come) by the due date.

I'll be posting specifics for the November challenge by the first of October, but be prepared (and let your food blogging friends know) for the theme A Vegetarian Thanksgiving Feast. Incidentally, bloggers from all over the world are more than welcome to contribute to this challenge and give your American friends some ideas of what meatless dishes they might try this holiday. So feel free to serve up a traditionally vegetarian dish, do a twist on a classic, try tofurkey, or come up with a completely original dish utilising your favourite fall ingredients! All that matters is that you make it your own.

26 September 2007

What's New

This is going to be a rare post for me - no photos, no recipes - but I think in my usual posts I miss a bit of the general food-related banter I so enjoy in other blogs, and miss the opportunity to do some stream-of-conscious narrating (an exercise I've always enjoyed).

Right now I'm in a major period of transition. First, in August I moved to a new apartment and a new kitchen. You'll notice from my photographs that my dishes have changed, as have many of my kitchen utensils. I don't have a dishwasher, which has made me a bit lazier. I also started a job near a large chain grocery store, which means those modern temptations (mainly frozen pizza and chocolate bars) have crept into my diet, and I haven't been frequenting New Pi nearly as often. The new job and the new semester also mean less time to cook, and I've been buying less fresh vegetables which means that when I am inspired I don't have much to work with. As a consequence, a lot of my cooking experiments lately have been not from cookbook recipes but rather brought-on by the food blogging challenges I've become so fond of these past couple of months.

Well, a lot of that is (hopefully) changing. Things are settling down a bit at school, and the warm weather is coming to an end. That means hot food is much, much more appealing. I got my tea order for the season from Mighty Leaf, and I'm already in love with the Earl Grey and the new Ginger Twist. I think I missed the latest SHF deadline for the fig challenge, but I have a container of dried figs and I'm considering trying a fig jam that somehow incorporates brewed tea. I've been copying down recipes religiously for quite a while from some of my favourite blogs (at some point I hope to do a little link post about those) and I plan to start cooking them soon enough. The Farmer's Market has a lot more now, so I'm going to try to pick some fresh veggies up until the frost kicks in, and finally, I've gone back to Weight Watchers.

I haven't been eating healthfully at all over the summer, so you wouldn't know it from looking at me, but I did Weight Watchers sort of unofficially (didn't want to pay for the meetings) for six months and lost fifty pounds. I stopped counting points and gained some weight as a consequence, but now I'm going back. Besides the weight benefit, I'm hoping this will have a positive effect on my budget - eating less means that I can justify buying semi-expensive ingredients, and making somewhat fancy things. Granted, I'm going to have to knock off the home baked desserts a bit, but I hope to keep doing SHF and maybe some other challenges as well. I'm thinking of starting a vegetarian food blog challenge as well... just have to think of what to call it!

20 September 2007

It's What's Inside... Mushrooms and Root Beer!

These days, I do a lot of my major cooking on the weekend. The weekend before last, I was suffering from a bad cold and didn't really feel like cooking (or doing dishes), but I was also sick of eating candy, cookies, and salty snacks. I was in serious need of some comfort food, and so I decided to meet that need in conjunction with an entry to Dispensing Happiness's "It's What's Inside" blog party.

Stuffed mushrooms are one of my favourite comfort foods. As I've mentioned before, I love mushrooms, and the stuffed form are something my mother does particularly well, that I remember as a tasty treat from childhood parties. I can't for the life of me remember what she stuffed them with, but I had a number of cheeses on hand and decided to do a very simple filling to use up the rest of my ricotta from those brownies for the SHF entry. Now all I had to do was decide what to "hide" inside my mushrooms. I chose, as I often do, sundried tomatoes. They pair well with cheese and mushrooms, they're small, they're tasty, and I always have a jar on hand. There isn't really a recipe for this, as I went very simple and didn't bother with any seasonings. Basically I washed and removed the stems from a handful of large cremini mushrooms (also known as "baby bellas,"), arranged them in a small baking dish coated with olive oil, and put a few pieces of minced tomatoes with the oil squeezed out in the bottom of each. Then I made a mixture with a half container of ricotta, a little more than half as much grated Parmesan, and a small handful of coarsely grated Asiago, and put a big spoonful in each mushroom cap. I baked them at 350 for half an hour, and they turned out nicely golden on top with the cheese fairly melty and the mushrooms well cooked.

For my drink contribution to the cocktail party, I decided I couldn't quite handle alcohol this month, so I went for another comfort food favourite. With a root beer float, I could "hide" a few scoops of vanilla ice cream in my martini glass full of diet root beer, and it was creamy and delicious.

Thanks to Stephanie for hosting this event! I can't wait to see what everyone comes up with.

16 September 2007

Death By Chocolate

So it's eleven pm here in eastern Iowa, and after a three hour Quire practice (the local LGBT choral group I just joined) I finally finished the trial brief draft that's due tomorrow morning. I have to be up at 5:30 for work, but there's still an hour left to write a post for this week's Weekend Cookbook Challenge, and I just can't resist the opportunity to tell you the storied history of my most famous (in my family, at least) cookbook.

I'm not sure I can say Mourir de Chocolat is my favourite cookbook, as it's just too impractical and involves too much effort to be an everday favourite. But this hulking hardback has travelled all over the world with me, including back and forth across the Atlantic twice, and it is certainly the cookbook that in my cookbook that is really mine, that has transcended whatever the author intended for it and become legendary within my family. In other words, I have made this book my bitch.

When I was sixteen, I went on exchange trip to Ulm, Germany. Halfway through, my mother flew to Frankfurt-am-main, took the train to Ulm, and "picked me up" for a three-day jaunt to Paris. The first night in town, we went to a restaurant I found in one of those Paris on $50 a day guides, that to this day is probably the restaurant I remember most from any trip to Europe. There was just something about my very first meal in France, my first experience with a chalkboard "menu," my first foie gras... I don't even know that le Restaurant Perraudin was in reality all that fabulous, but I've never forgotten its name.

The part of that dining experience I tend to gloss over is something probably familiar to most Americans who've travelled in Europe. When we arrived, on a rainy evening maybe fifteen minutes before our seven o clock reservation, the restaurant wasn't even open yet. So we walked across the street to a bookshop I'd noticed. It was nothing special, just a little shop with books stacked up to the ceiling, but on a shelf to the left as you walk in, I found a plethora of cookbooks, including Mourir de Chocolat. Looking at the pictures, you can hardly blame me for falling in love. I love chocolate, and I loved the idea of cooking French recipes, from the French, back at home. This was before the days of foodblogging and Clotilde and Loukoum and my other favourite French foodbloggers, so you have to understand that this experience was something of an epiphany.

The first recipe I made was for the fourth of July when we returned. We were having an indoor picnic at my father's house, and I wanted to provide the dessert. It is this cake that my parents think of when I mention "the book," and it's the one I always talk about when I tell someone that I like to bake. I think it took about five hours to assemble, and the recipe included many pounds of butter, sugar, and chocolate, as well as three different preperations that had to be put together. It was the densest cake I've ever eaten, and though not overwhelmingly sweet, it was very, very chocolatey. It didn't look quite like the pictures (the strawberries kind of collapsed and became muddy in colour under the pressure of the cake itself) but I'll never forget the look on my father's face after I took the first bite. I literally thought I'd killed him.

My next attempt came a year later, another fourth of July. This time it was the pear tart, with pears marianated in rose wine and a chocolate cream base. I wish I had thought to take pictures, because my rose pattern really was remarkably close to the one in the picture. It was also very tasty, and I keep meaning to do it again, but just haven't got around to it.

When I decided to do another recipe from the book for this challenge, I knew I couldn't quite manage the cake again. I am, after all, in law school, and extremely busy, not to mention on a budget. The book, however, is divided into the chapters based on levels of chocolate intensity and difficulty of preperation, so while I wasn't quite ready to attack "delire" (in fact, none of the recipes I've tried have been from that hallowed section), I felt ready for the black and white truffles in chapter two. I made a mess of my kitchen, but they were surprisingly easy, and so now I bring you my recipe for WCC #20:

Black and White Truffles

If you can read French, you'll see that I didn't quite follow the rules for this recipe. I don't actually have aluminum bowls, so I used the plain old ceramic ones I eat my cereal from. I really don't think it affected anything. Also, the sidebar suggested a number of possibilities for rolling the truffles, and though I tried several I found that you really can't go wrong with good old cocoa powder. When I tried a cayenne one I nearly burned my tongue out.

Any truffle starts with the all-important selection of chocolate. You want something high quality, because there aren't a bunch of other ingredients to alter the taste - you've pretty much got your chocolate, your cream, and whatever you roll or dip the truffles in. I was intrigued by these Endangered Species chocolate bars. The extreme dark I used here has a respectable cocoa content, but it's a bit sweeter than the semisweet the recipe recommends. And of course, you can't go wrong with Ghiradelli. The white chocolate is very sweet, but it melts perfectly.

The first part of the recipe, the preparation of two chocolate ganaches, is the easiest. Break your chocolate, 220 g white and 225 g dark, into one-centimetre pieces. I used my hands, and I found the Ghiradelli very easy to break. The dark chocolate was a little harder, and I think the larger pieces did affect my results later on, so I suppose the smaller the better.

Next, heat 3/4 cup cream over medium heat. This is always a bit tricky with French recipes, because French dairy products and American ones don't exactly match up. I went with plain old heavy whipping cream, and I think it was a smart move, but you might experiment with different milkfats to see what works for you. Bring it to the boil, but keep in mind that cream isn't going to come to a big fat rolling boil like water, and you don't want it to burn. Pour half over the white chocolate, and half over the dark, and let the bowls sit for five minutes.

Now you want to stir each bowl with a separate fork, and I have to admit here that I had a bit of a disaster with my dark chocolate. At first I was afraid there might be too much cream, but when I started to stir the ganache was lumpy and some large bits of the chocolate just weren't melting enough to stir in. I went with the remedy the book reccomends, namely a hot water bath. Well I was a bit stupid and overfilled my water bowl, so some of the water sloshed into the ganache! Fortunately, I was able to drain most of it and finish stirring, but I didn't try again, so there are a few hard chocolate bits in my truffles. Oh, well.

The white chocolate, on the other hand, turned out very smooth, and honestly I wouldn't have minded it a little thicker, but the balance ended up all right. After that ordeal, I let both bowls sit for an hour, and then popped them in the fridge for 15 minutes, stirring every five.

You can roll your truffles in anything you want, but I put all the options on my cutting board, and I tried chopped pecans, chopped almonds, coconut, cocoa powder, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and grated chocolate. The cocoa works the best, though the coconut wasn't bad and the nuts would've been better if they were more finely chopped. Next time, I want to try dipping them in chocolate, or hiding something in the centre of each truffle.

For assembly, put the dark chocolate on a sheet of wax paper by the teaspoonful and top each with a teaspoon of white chocolate. Then roll each into a ball with your hands. I took the author's recommendation and coated my hands with cocoa powder, drying them anytime they got too moist, and this helped a lot. Roll your truffles in whatever you want, and eat them immediately or refrigerate. Bon appetit!

Note: For those of you keeping score, it is now 11:48 pm, which gives me twelve minutes to hit the post button and e-mail my entry. I'd like to point out that I ate neither lunch nor dinner today, but I somehow managed to find time to make truffles. Oh, the life of an amateur chef.

13 September 2007

All About Bread

I've been trying to get over a cold for a week now, hence the lack of posting, so now I finally bring you the post I've been promising about bread. Apologies for the delay, and hopefully more to come soon…

Lately, I've been getting more into eating bread. When I moved to Iowa, I rebelled against the sandwich for lunch tradition that I'd adhered to on and off for a good chunk of my life. Living in Ireland, the other main period of my life where I cooked most meals for myself, I occasionally purchased a demi-loaf of French bread from one of the many corner stores in Cork and made myself a sandwich with Dubliner cheese and a sliced tomato, but I never bought a full loaf of sandwich bread like my roommates. After working at Panera Bread for four months, I was a little bread-ed out, so with the exception of one loaf of Tomato Basil bread I bought at the Coralville, IA Panera in May for old time's sake and put in the freezer (I still have two slices left), I hadn't been eating much of the stuff.

Then in late June, I made my first trip to New Song Episcopal in Coralville, or as I've affectionately dubbed it, "gay church." It's not really a gay church, but about half the congregation is gay or lesbian, and I'm a lesbian, and I particularly like it there. After my first Sunday service, where I'd dutifully filled out the visitor card at the end of one row of folding chairs, a man showed up at my apartment with a gift bag including a fresh-baked loaf of bread. Now I was familiar with this tradition, having driven around with my granddaddy in Charlotte, North Carolina as a child from time to time delivering bread to visitors, but I thought it was a Presbyterian thing. This wasn't even particularly good bread, but it reminded me how wonderful a toasted sandwich can be, especially with the right ingredients. Cheese, sundried or fresh tomatoes, spinach, sprouts, and honey mustard are a favourite combination of mine. I also enjoy a veggie burger on toasted bread, piled high with fixings, or a sandwich on a bagel, which I had a few bags of, frozen, for breakfasts. From here, the next logical step was to try the day-old bread at New Pi, and it was there I fell in love.

Havarti on toasted French bread, it turns out, is the closest thing to heaven Iowa City has to offer. The day-old bread is cheap (ninety nine cents for a small loaf big enough for two small sandwiches) and tasty, similar to what I'd buy in Ireland. The outside is floury and holds up well, while the inside is soft and chewy. But after a while, I wanted to branch out from salads.

I had an eggplant in the fridge that I had been planning to "grill" in the oven as I normally do with some olive oil and herbs, when I came across a recipe on a French blog for panazella. I'm embarrassed to say I can't remember which one, but if anyone knows, please comment and I'll edit this entry! Anyway, I'd been curious about this "bread salad" for a while, and this version looked particularly scrumptious, so I gave it a go. The result was tasty, and lasted for about six small meals, plus some extra as I had more filling ingredients than I did eggplant (even though I bought a second one when I decided to try the recipe). I do think I like each element of the recipe (pan-fried eggplant; cucumber, tomato, and mint salad; oil and balsamic vinegar tossed bread cubes) better on its own, but it was still a fun thing to try for a change.

Of course, by the time I finished I still had some bread left, and a lot of fresh mint. The problem with buying herbs at the store is that I almost always have leftovers, and until I get a window herb garden going, I have to try to find ways to use them up. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a recipe for melon bruschetta on a foodblog. Once again, I'm embarrassed that I can't remember which one, so please let me know if you saw it, too! Anyway, as you can see it's quite an attractive dish. I used organic melons, again from New Pi, which were sweet, juicy, and delicious. The quarter watermelon and half cantaloupe were especially nice for me, because I had enough for bruschetta once, and fresh fruit for breakfast twice, without having way too much melon lying around. My bread was a tad bit too crispy (stale), but then I think it almost needed it to keep from absorbing too much melon juice and becoming soggy. The pairing of oiled bread and fruit isn't a perfect one, but the two flavours still made a decent combination.

Eggplant Panazella

The first step in this recipe is the most time consuming, especially if you don't have a very large sauté pan. You want to slice your eggplant very thin lengthwise (though in retrospect a bit thicker might have held together better) and then fry the slices over medium heat on each side with a bit of olive oil. It'll take a few minutes a side, but watch carefully, as the eggplant will quickly show grill marks to let you know it's time to flip. Drain on paper towels (and don't skimp on this, or it'll be quite oily).

Next, prepare your filling. The recipe calls for six small or four large slices of pain de campagne (country bread). I used about two and a half of my little loaves, but you can estimate an appropriate amount of French or Italian bread. It's best to use bread that is a bit stale, maybe one to two days old. Cut whatever you're using into cubes and toss with a mixture of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and capers. Keep in mind that if you prepare the mixture and then let the bread sit in it too long, the bottom layer will soak it all up—so toss quickly! This bread mixture makes a great soft crouton for salads, or just something simple and tasty to munch on—which I did, plenty.

Next, chop up a couple of cucumbers and three tomatoes. Finely mince six sundried tomatoes (squeeze out the oil first if they're the jar kind) and a handful of fresh mint (the recipe calls for basil instead, tossed with the bread mixture, but New Pi was out so I improvised. Toss these ingredients together.

To assemble, line a cake pan with seran wrap, then arrange your eggplant in a "flower" shape, overlapping, in the pan. The middle will be very thick, and you can carefully press it down with your hands before spooning the fillings in, alternating between bread and veggies. Not a whole lot will fit, but keep trying to pack it down. When you've got as much as your eggplant can reasonably hold, fold the slices over and press down again (I put a couple slices on top as well). Then fold over the seran wrap, press tightly, put something heavy on top (I used another cake pan and a plate on top of that) and refrigerate at least a few hours. I refrigerated overnight and it was very easy to unwrap and move to the plate for presentation, as well as easy to slice. What it isn't is pretty, but hey, functional food never hurt anyone.

Melon Bruschetta

This is hardly a recipe, but I'll include it anyway. Basically I just sliced up one of my little loaves, rubbed one side of the slices with olive oil, stuck them in my toaster oven on a toast cycle, and then topped with chopped fresh mint and fresh watermelon and cantaloupe, cut into small pieces and de-seeded. And there you have it! Lovely, eh?

03 September 2007


So I promise that post about bread and mint dishes will be coming up soon, as long as a humorous "what's gone wrong in the kitchen this summer" roundup and an interesting recipe for vegetarian swedish meatballs (or ground meat, as the case may be). However, I have been tagged by Nirmala from Nirmala's Cooking Corner to participate in a little game, so here we go...

  • Players must list one fact, word or tidbit that is somehow relevant to their life for each letter of their first or middle name.
  • When players are tagged they need to write their own blog-post containing their own first or middle name game facts, word or tidbit.
  • At the end of their blog-post choose one person for each letter of your name to tag.
  • Don’t forget to leave a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
  • If I've tagged YOU, please join in on the fun!

My name is JUDITH.

Jasmine rice is one of my favourite recent culinary discoveries. I love how it can come out sweet and sticky, mixed with coconut milk, or be combined with herbs for a tasty bed for Indian dishes. I also quite approve of the resealable bag mine came in!

Ulysses is one of those books that I've been meaning to read for most of my life and never quite got around to it. I love James Joyce, but twenty pages and I was already exhausted!

Dance was my hobby for many, many years. I was never very good at it, at least when it comes to things like technique and flexibility, but I have grace and balance and I've always loved to choreograph. I didn't ever get to a high level, but one of my proudest accomplishments in college was Down the Rabbit Hole, the modern dance I choreographed for an informal showcase in the fall of 2004.

Intellectualism has always been something I've strived towards. I used to want to be one of those cool people who sat around coffee shops talking about philosophy and literature, and while I'm not sure they exist anymore, academia is still fun for me. I love reading, writing, and learning, and I'm proud to be a bit of a nerd.

Tarkio is one of my favourite bands to listen to as of late. The band is actually a second project of Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy, but the sound has a more melodic feel to it with the same amazing narrative lyricism that Meloy is so well known for. "Summer it came like a light across the highlands, and we laid it down. You wore a dress made of light from the islands, and we sent postcards home..."

History was my major in college. I don't know that I'm an expert, and the program wasn't great, but I still love and am fascinated by history. I continue to write papers, and am considering doing a series of alternative history textbooks for highschoolers. I started out with Western European history, and then became interested in Eastern Europe and most recently the Middle East and Central Asia. I'm also currently fascinated by Ancient Rome and its connections to France and Ireland.

You're it!