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!