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.