31 May 2008

Coconut Cupcakes for Coconut & Lime's Blogiversary

I've had Coconut & Lime on my blog list for a while, ever since I was looking up Baltimore foodblogs one day in a state of (not exactly home)-sickness. I find the recipes intriguing and often not very difficult, plus I'm very impressed that every single one is original, but I hadn't gotten around to making one yet. Also, lately I've been craving coconut cake - moisty, chewy, delicious Southern-style coconut cake - and so when I saw that C&L's 4th anniversary was coming up, and that readers are being encouraged to try out recipes for a contest, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity! Sure enough, there was a recipe for coconut cake - well, coconut cupcakes, so I decided to try it out.

I followed the recipe more or less exactly. I did hit a snag with the butter, because I realised I didn't have enough on hand. I decided real butter would probably be more important for the baking part than the frosting, so I used 1-1/4 sticks butter plus a couple tablespoons margarine for the batter and all margarine for the frosting. The cupcakes were easy to make, though I suspect they should have cooked just a few minutes longer. They tested clean, but there are little dots in the centre of some that don't taste quite done. The texture is great - glossy and spongey, and a lovely yellow colour. It's not quite what I was imagining- much denser, less with the fluffy - but I still like it. The frosting, however, wasn't quite a success. I love cream cheese frosting, but this ended up very goopy and extremely sweet because I had to use twice as much powdered sugar to make it even remotely spreadable. This may have been the fault of the margarine, or the organic cream cheese... anyway, I ended up basically spooning it in the centre, pressing down a bit, and chilling to set. I think I probably should have let the frosting chill and then spread it to get away with less sugar. Fortunately, the cakes themselves aren't super sweet so it ended up all right. I still ate three yesterday!

30 May 2008

Look, ma, a video blog!

So that was obviously a bit outtake-style, but I decided to post it anyway. I'll get better. Perhaps not have a disembodied head when I'm frying things. The tomatoes turned out tasty, but man are they a pain. Next time I have green tomatoes, I'm stir frying, or maybe trying Deborah Madison's lasagne, but this batter thing is very much not happening. It's just so messy, and the oil gets disgusting. I ended up just saving the zucchini to stir fry. I might still do the blooming onion in spite of myself, though, because I really really want one. So here's the finished product, the next day - it looked much better straight away but I was too busy eating to photograph. Pictured with tomato/cucumber/ranch "salad" to compensate for the expense of buying actual salad greens.

29 May 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies

A few days ago, I was really craving chocolate chip cookies. Not with oatmeal, not with toffee, not with coconut, just good, crispy, chewy, delicious chocolate chip. Imagine my surprise when I couldn't find a recipe in any of my cookbooks! They all want to go fancier, or they're from a place that doesn't do chocolate chips, or they don't have many desserts. Even the family cookbook is completely lacking in cookie recipes. I did a search of the foodblogs and again found almost no plain chocolate chip cookie recipes. I was going to give up and just use the Tollhouse one when I found this recipe from Canela y Comino. I knew I didn't want five-six dozen cookies, so I halved the recipe, and I was also a teeny bit short on flour so there was a quarter cup less. I've never baked cookies with real butter, and I learned that it really should be super soft or your mixer will hate you (I'm surprise mine hasn't died after the abuse I've put it through this week!) I also had to frequently push the dough out of the beaters to keep it going. The first batch, however, was amazing!! Apparently real butter's what you need to get that soft in the middle, crispy on the outside perfection. I used milk chocolate chips because I need the semisweet for something this weekend, but I thought they were delicious. Let them cool enough to firm up, but eat as many as you can warm, because that's the best way. I also chilled some of the dough and then tried another batch, but they didn't spread out as thin. I baked a little longer (twelve minutes) and didn't like the effect on the texture. I froze a log as well and I'll let that warm up completely before baking. Thanks, Gretchen!

25 May 2008

Double Vegetarian Event Entry Time

All right, folks. You have a week to get those entries in to me, and I'm very excited that we have several participants this round so far who are neither me nor my mother. In the spirit of vegetarian blogging, I'm entering this post both in my own event as a second entry (because I had to do something with the other half of the puff pastry box) and in Eat the Right Stuff's Vegetables, Beautiful Vegetables event for the UK's national vegetarian week. So if anyone is coming from that event and wants to enter a vegetarian quiche, tart, or savoury pie (cross-posts are welcome!) just comment with the link to your post by Saturday, May 31st. We'd love to have you!

So, on with my experiment. I must admit, a lot went wrong with this recipe. It was still tasty, but not at all what I'd envisioned, and a little frustrating, especially considering how much I spent on all the ingredients. I found a recipe for caramelized vegetable tart at Meeta's blog. I know from others that Meeta has great recipes, and I read her blog regularly, so I'm sure the recipe would work just fine in more capable hands, but man, I just had all the mishaps. One major issue was the fennel. You see me here, charmingly displayed behind its fronds, but the fennel became much less fun after that. I've never tasted it before, and I found that the smaller pieces that got nice and soft tasted fine, but the majority of slices - perhaps because I couldn't figure out just how to slice it - were crunchy and had an odd, bitter taste.

I also had a problem with the pastry, in that I used wax paper (maybe parchment is different, I've never known) and when I pulled it a way, and sizeable chunk of pastry came with it. Thankfully, there was still plenty, but I was a bit annoyed. Next, I toasted the pinenuts in the toaster oven and managed to burn them to a crisp. I have to stop toasting nuts in that thing. I'll never learn. Those were the last of my supply, so no pinenuts. Then the veggies just wouldn't cook fully. I don't know if they were too crowded in the pan, and therefore had trouble browning - next time, I'm using smaller veggies - or if the heat was just too low, but I had to crank it up to medium to make anything happen. After 25 minutes, they never really browned or caramelized, so I gave up. Everything but the fennel was cooked, at least, but I expected more browning in the broiler. After two minutes, the cheese was still blinding white and the pastry was dangerously dark. I gave up. Tasty, but not exactly a success. Better luck next time?

I had a similar opinion of my dessert offering this weekend, which was a coconut panna cotta from La Tartine Gourmande, one of my favourite bloggers. The process itself was blissfully easy, with only a few ingredients and little advanced technique involved. I picked it because I needed a use for the remainder of the buttermilk from the carton I purchased for a challenge you'll see next week. Apparently, though, my tastes just cannot handle cold buttermilk. Really, I knew this. I'm not the kind of Southerner who can drink buttermilk straight. I wince a bit, and it's an unpleasant experience. I like it in baked goods, but for some reason it didn't occur to me that the buttermilk flavour would be so strong here. I thought it would blend with the coconut somehow and not really be noticeable. I do think it would be tastier with the blackberry stew on that post, because some fruit to cut the buttermilk would be perfect, but as it is I'm probably throwing the rest away. Oh, well.

24 May 2008

Random Photography Dump

Not really a post, just wanted to show you some things I've eaten lately that do not involve recipes or originality. First, one of my favourite snacks and a tea party standby: cucumber sandwiches! I made these for post-Quire concert refreshments because they really are just the easiest thing in the world to take to a party. Cucumber, cream cheese, white bread, done! It is a bit of a pain to remember not to lick the cream cheese off your fingers because dairy is so bad for the vocal chords, though. I found that the ratio of bread to cucumbers to cream cheese is about one loaf to 1.5 largish cucumbers to eight ounces cream cheese, if anyone needs to know.

Next, vegetables! There's just something about a big pan of tasty looking vegetables that makes me really happy. For a vegetarian, I don't eat that many vegetables. I get off on the carb + dairy track far too often, I'm sorry to say. For that reason, my body is always craving vitamins, and it sets me into euphoria when it sees the vegetables cooking. Weirdly, when I finished this use for them and had leftover zucchini and onion last night, my body went into another craving altogether, this time for grease. I had a stomach ache, and even so I was sitting there thinking "God, I *really* want some heavily breaded and fried zucchini and onion." Thankfully, I resisted the urge, but I still may try a blooming onion this week.

What I did use those lovely vegetables for was the Moroccan dinner kit Stephanie sent me in my Blogging by Mail package. I'd been looking forward to trying it out, and I finally remembered to buy veggies. The instructions called for two chicken breasts "or vegetables," so I tried to guess what two chicken breasts worth of veggies would actually be. I decided half a bag of frozen broccoli, an onion, and two zucchini. That worked. This is definitely a spicy treat, but I love the taste (and the sundried tomatoes in the couscous have a nice sweetness to cut the burn). My tastebuds have been growing up a lot over the past years (or perhaps my masochism is just developing) and I can handle spicy foods a lot better than I used to. I don't like hot sauce, but something like Indian or Moroccan food that involves spice, not just heat, I can enjoy. Thanks again, Stephanie!

23 May 2008

Ginger-Ginger Cake

So this simple recipe thing is working very well for getting my confidence back. This week I decided to try Chez Lorette's Ginger-Ginger Cake, and I certainly enjoy the flavours. The ginger flavour is strong, and the sweetness is subtle. I wouldn't necessarily call it a cake - I think it's more like a sweet quickbread given how dense it is. That said, I wouldn't mind it being a tad bit more moist or more cake like. Tasty, but could use improvement. Next time I may try using less flour, more egg, more Muscat and oil, or just beating the whole thing with an electric mixer instead of only one step. I do love the crackly golden crust, though, and it's great drenched in Muscat for dessert. I'm including the recipe here in full, just in case you happen not to be fluent in French. (What on earth? Get cracking!)

I recommend doing some prep work ahead of time, and then it's just easy, step-by-step mixing all the way through. Preheat the oven to 400. Grate a small piece of ginger (the goal is a tablespoon, but I never measure something like this). It's always better to buy small pieces of ginger. For some reason they taste better. I try to do no bigger than my thumb. Pour 100 mL vegetable oil and 100 mL Muscat into a liquid measuring cup so that they're ready to go. That's the lovely colour you see here. If you don't know Muscat, you really should. This was a lovely bottle that I found at the kind of expensive grocery store, $15 being the cheapest one they had. It's very strong though, almost like sherry. The variety I used to drink all the time in the Languedoc is honey-coloured and very sweet, and I've also had a ruby red one that was quite good with cheesecake.

I digress. Measure 150 g of sugar and dump in a mixing bowl with three eggs, then measure out 300 g of flour so that it's ready to go as well. Now take your electric mixer and beat the eggs and sugar until light. Here's another place I might have gotten a fluffier cake. My eggs were pale, but could theoretically have been paler. I was afraid of overmixing, which I've done with a couple of cakes. Next, mix in the oil and muscat, then the fresh ginger and 1 t powdered ginger. Mix in the flour with a little over 2 t baking powder (a sachet if you're in France). Once that's all nice and incorporated, chop up 50 g crystallised ginger. You can find it in the Asian foods section, and you'll need a sharp knife. Fold that in.

Pour into a buttered or parchment-lined baking pan - the recipe doesn't specify size, but I used a 9" round and it rose up quite nicely. Since it's so bread-like, I might also try a loaf pan. Bake ten minutes, then lower the heat to 320 (or 325 if you don't have a digital display for your oven). Bake another forty minutes or until it tests clean in the centre. I checked at thirty and the centre tested clean, but it looked gooey in the cracks on the sides, so I let it go to thirty, which was perfect for me. As you can see, I've been enjoying slices for breakfast with yoghurt and fresh kiwi. I removed the kiwi from the skin to take the photo, but if you're not familiar with the French way of eating kiwi and still slice yours without peeling, I highly recommend slicing and half and eating with a spoon. Why didn't we think of that?

Don't forget - You still have a little over a week to get in those AVF #3 entries! I need your savoury tarts, pies, quiches, etc. by Saturday, May 31st.

20 May 2008

Edible Thoughts: Comfort Food

I've been meaning to do this post for days, I admit, but I finally am getting around to it. Comfort food! No, I'm not talking about biscuits and gravy. Comfort Food is the title of a new book by Kate Jacobs, author of Friday Night Knitting Club, and I was invited to join the new Edible Thoughts Foodie Book Club, hosted by Stephanie and Cath, where we're blogging about it. First, my thoughts on the book itself.

I admit that when I read the first chapter, I was seriously doubting my ability to get through the whole novel. I have a pet peeve about clichés and overdone description of people, and the first few pages were a little bit of that and then some. (Please, please, no more butterscotch-coloured hair!) Fortunately, it got better quickly, and I found myself enjoying the little drama that is the lives of CookingChannel host Gus Simpson and her family and friends. I'm not much of a "beach reader," but this is a good light read, and as you get deeper into the novel the characters start getting much more interesting.

I tend to get tired of romance in books, just because it's always heterosexual and it's always predictable, but here it wasn't too overblown, and I was actually surprised by some of the plot twists and turns. I especially enjoyed the minor characters like Hannah, Troy, and Oliver, and even beauty queen Carmen, who became much more likeable by the end of the book. As for the foodie element, I wasn't too into the use of real Food Network names, but the food itself was fun to read about.

For my recipe, I chose a Spanish tortilla, which I've seen on various blogs but never tried because I'm not into eggs. When I read about Carmen's version, though, using potato chips of all things, I was intrigued. I clicked around the web and found a few tortillas using potato chips, and came up with my own variation on that theme. It's very simple: beat five eggs, add a full Ziplock bag (quart-size, fill it up, crush the chips, and fill again until you have a full bag crushed) of high quality lightly salted potato chips, and let sit about five minutes. It basically looks like wet potato chips, but don't worry. Dump it into an 8" or 10" non-stick pan with a bit of olive oil, and cook maybe five minutes over medium heat. You can lift up the edges to peek and see if it's cooked. To flip, first slide it onto a plate, then flip the plate over into the pan. This worked very well for me, but you have to be a quick and fearless flipper. Cook the other side and slide out onto a plate. Slice and serve.

I still am not a big egg fan, so I wasn't in love with the recipe, but I did find it tasty. The potato chip taste is very prominent, which improved it for me, and it has an interesting texture - not quite soft, not quite crispy. My tortilla was fairly thin, but you could use a smaller pan or more eggs. You also might add some chopped fresh herbs. I saw one recipe that called for fried onions, the kinds that come in a can, but I couldn't find them in the store. Maybe next time!

17 May 2008

Joining the Rhubarb Ranks

So here's one of the after-the-fact photos, so you can at least see the wine I raved about and (sort of) see the dessert, though not as pretty as it was originally. These coconut creams with poached rhubarb are, however, quite tasty, and the recipe is fantastically easy. Though I first saw it on nami-nami's blog, I used the original version from the BBC's Good Food website because it has more sugar and I'm a fan of sweet things. I also used powdered gelatine, not leaf. A warning: gelatine is not, technically, vegetarian. Normally I wouldn't eat it for that reason, like I don't eat Worcestershire or Caesar dressing, but for some reason I can't bring myself to switch to agar agar. I'm not quite that hard core. If you are, you could probably substitute some other gelatine-like thing, but I have no idea what the proportions would be. Anyway, the basic idea is that you soften a packet of gelatine with just enough water to moisten all of it, and let it sit a few minutes while you warm a can of coconut milk on the stove with 2 T sugar. Stir till the sugar dissolves, and let it come just to a simmer. Remove from the heat and vigorously stir in the gelatine until you can't see any lumps. Let it cool a little before pouring into four glasses or small bowls (hot liquids might crack glass). Chill for at least four hours. Chop a bunch of rhubarb stalks (I used about 300 g), discarding the ends, into one-inch pieces. Weigh the rhubarb and stick it in a saucepan with 1/3 as much sugar (so 100 g for me) and just a splash of water. I used a large splash, and it was super liquidy, but that was all right. What you see pictured is less liquidy because it thickens in the fridge. Stir the mixture to dissolve the sugar and bring it up to a boil over medium heat. The whole process should take about ten minutes and the liquid should be reduced somewhat when it's ready, the rhubarb soft and broken down but still chunky. It will be pinker than mine, probably. My rhubarb was pretty green. Let cool at least to room temperature before spooning over the creams and chowing down.

16 May 2008

My AVF #3 Contribution: Green Tomato Tarte Tatin

Unfortunately, the next couple of posts are going to be light on the photography (and the photographic quality). I went to upload thirty two recent photos and foolishly deleted the photos from my camera before checking to make sure they all uploaded. My camera has been having trouble with turning itself mid-upload lately, and it apparently did that this time. So all but seven photos are gone, including the beautiful coconut creams in martini glasses that I had to re-shoot in a less-impressive orange bowl. At least with the creams I had one left - the delicious tarte tatin disappeared more quickly, and so I have to stick with what blurry photos I have. Unfortunately, no photos of the finished product on the jam puffs I made with the leftover pastry, either.

Anyway. This is my contribution to AVF, so first a quick reminder that entries are due May 31st! You still have a couple of weeks, but those couple of weeks can fly by! Send your savoury tart, quiche, and pie recipes to me via e-mail to judithavory@gmail.com or in a comment to any post. We've got three so far, and I'd love to have a couple more!

Now, on with the subject of this post: green tomato tarte tatin. A few years ago, when I was deeply enamoured of Charleston, I had big plans to go to Tate Business School at UGA and open my own little cafe/bookshop/music performance space in downtown Charleston, called De Bon Goût (in good taste, in French). There were no independent bookstores in Charleston at the time, only a Waldenbooks, and this bothered me greatly. I would offer alternative titles (feminism, lots of poetry, LGBT stuff, etc) and have five or six little tables where I would serve food made with fresh Southern ingredients, but cooked in a French style. Though the idea quickly fell through, this attempt is my homage to that dream.

When I found tons of delicious, bright green tomatoes at the Farmer's Market last weekend, I knew I had to use them in my tart recipe. I had been thinking of doing something with puff pastry, because it's so easy if you pony up the cash for the store-bought variety, and in the back of my mind I had an idea of doing something like a tarte tatin, the classic French apple pastry. Well, lo and behold, someone had already come up with that idea! So I went with this recipe, with a few variations.

First I rolled the pastry out and cut the circle you see here to fit my small cast-iron skillet. It was the one thing I knew was definitely ovenproof. However, it's only about six inches on the bottom, so I had plenty of leftover dough. Not wanting to waste any pastry, I cut it into irregular squares and plopped blobs of the last of the fig and ginger chutney on top, as well as one with strawberry jam. They were super easy - just pinch up into little cases and bake at 400 for 15 minutes or so. The filling is very, very hot though, so be warned!

Anyway, as for the tarte itself, it went well and was super tasty, but I would recommend using a larger pan (I would even say ten inches, not eight). I used only four tomatoes, and lopped the ends off, but they still didn't fit in the pan. I made two layers, which meant that the butter and sugar all collected at the bottom and the tomatoes closest to the pastry, didn't really caramelize. Still, it worked well and I was able to scoop some of the sugary juices over the top. I didn't bother with the red onion, and I think the sour cream thing is overkill, but the oil and vinegar is a good idea to drizzle on top. For the second tasting, I got a special treat, because Rita brought back a bottle of her dad's homemade green tomato wine from Alabama. It was fantastic! I had no idea you could make wine with something other than grapes, and of course you can't come up with a pairing better than this one.

10 May 2008

Breakfast for Hippies

Nope, not homemade granola this time. I came across a recipe for creamy quinoa with cranberries in the May issue of Vegetarian Times when I was scanning through it in the library, and I was quite intrigued. I enjoyed quinoa last time, when I tried the Gourmet recipe, but the "cakes" really didn't hold together so well. Quinoa in a bowl like oatmeal for breakfast, though, that sounded like a good idea to me! I didn't have quite enough dried cranberries in my bag, so I also used some apple rings, which I hastily tore into little pieces. They puffed up quite a bit in the pot, so if you want to try this idea, just chop them nice and fine.

The recipe itself is super-easy. Just bring a cup and a half milk, a cup of water, and 1/4 t salt to a boil. Stir in a cup of quinoa and half a cup of dried cranberries, or if you're me, half apples and half cranberries. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, 15-20 minutes or until it's tender and the liquid is all absorbed. Take it off the heat and stir in 2 T maple sugar, 1 t cinnamon, ½ t ginger, ¼ t allspice or cloves, ¼ t nutmeg. I couldn't follow the recipe exactly as my spice cabinet was a little thin, so I used organic cane sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin pie spice. That was a bit of a dumb idea. I think less spice would have been fine, though it was still tasty. The recipe suggests serving warm with 1/2 cup toasted pecans and milk. I found the milk with warm quinoa to be weird, but if you like your oatmeal with milk you may like this, too. I didn't toast the pecans, just broke them up and that was fine.

A bit of a side note - I always find it interesting what kind of trends sweep the blogs at different times of year. I know ice cream season is coming up, and I'm going to once again be sad that I have no ice cream maker when I see some of the creative flavour combinations. It appears that the cupcake may be on the way out, but the macaroon is definitely in. I've never had this style of macaroon - the sandwich cookie looking thing - but I may try it. One of the fads I've noticed lately is rhubarb, but I ignored all the recipes because I didn't think I'd be able to find any. Well, lo and behold, I went to the Farmer's Market today (opened last Saturday but I missed it) and there was rhubarb everywhere! I bought a bunch for three bucks, and then came home and went to my Google Reader (which I am now obsessed with) and searched the foodblog folder for rhubarb. I was intrigued by some of the recipes, but I decided to be true to my last post and pick something easy. You'll see what it is later this week. Also purchased - green tomatoes, red raspberry jam, homemade toffee, pecan cream honey, and a spring roll for breakfast (only a dollar, always my favourite). Happy spring!

(Don't forget - A Vegetarian Feast in a Quiche is due at the end of the month! I already have two entries, which I'm super-excited about. There's still plenty of time to get in your vegetarian quiches, tarts, and savoury pies.)

07 May 2008

Food Rut

I must admit, I've hit a bit of a food rut lately. I still manage great meals some of the time, and decent meals another chunk of the time, but there have been a lot of duds. For me, food is a strongly emotional experience, and having a cooking failure really puts me in a depressed funk. The more it happens, the more I start to wonder "am I really a good cook?" "Am I kidding myself?" Today I set out to make Turkish delight in hopes of redeeming myself to my Turkish class after a mediocre red velvet offering earlier in the semester. I waited and waited, but the syrup just didn't reach the right temperature. My kitchen, however, was getting hotter and hotter, and the minutes that I needed to be studying kept ticking away... I just lost it and chucked the whole thing, meaning lost food, extra dishes, and nothing to show for it.

I don't think there really is one thing that can be identified as "a good cook." I think some people are reliable cooks, some people make impressive things, some people are great at improvising, some can follow recipes, some are well-trained, some have a well-stocked kitchen. Me? I love food. I am very passionate about food, and always has been. I think this helps. I have some food knowledge, because I pay attention to food and enjoyed watching cooking shows and sifting through cookbooks as a child. I have had some great successes, and made fantastic-looking things that impressed my parents and boosted my ego. I've also had flops. I remember that infamous cake made with the neighbourhood children when I was about ten, featuring peaks and valleys because I was too impatient with the egg whites, a horrible baking soda taste, pink and blue streaks, and a violent shade of purple "frosting" that didn't thicken and tasted like toothpaste due to enthusiasm with the peppermint extract.

The thing is, I really do need to stop losing money, time, and happiness on major food disasters. But I don't want to stop trying new things, and I love this blog. I think I just need to slow down, and take a step back. So I have a few goals for the future:

1) Keep it simple. Though I'd like to continue to do something fun and impressive once every couple of months, I think I have a bad habit of forgetting that simple food really can be great food. I tend to make recipes that are difficult, time consuming, and take a lot of dishes. Often they're expensive, and not very large. I then end up eating crap for the next week because I don't want to do the dishes so that I can cook again.

2) Learn basics first. I really do need to get some Alton Brown books or something. I think part of the problem is that I don't have much of an intuitive knack or any formal training and so when I see a recipe, I don't know that something is horribly wrong. Today, I really didn't know how I was supposed to use my candy thermometer, how long to expect it to take for the temperature to rise, if I needed to raise the heat, etc etc. I've had a lot of failures with simple syrup, so I think maybe I just need to master the idea of it before breaking out the recipes.

3) Don't take on too much. Most of the time, when I'm cooking something special, I have a deadline. Either it's a foodie event, or it's something like the class Turkish party. I feel like I need to make something specific and I don't really have time to go to the grocery store. Sometimes, I need to just say no. I'm coming to terms with the fact that as much as I want to do Blog Party this month and make cute little linked girl symbol cookies with witch hats for the Buffy theme, this is the busiest month of the year and there just isn't time.

4) Look for recommendations. I keep all my recipes in one big fat file, and I do mark the source, but I think it would be smart to also mark recipes that really, really worked for a blogger or cookbook author. What I need is confidence-building recipes that I know will work. Family recipes would probably be smart, too. I never make a recipe twice, and while there isn't necessarily anything wrong with that, I think sometimes old favourites are old favourites for a reason.

5) Pay attention. I tend to fly into food a little recklessly. I miss things like the fact that an ingredient is completely out of season, or I insist on buying a super-expensive ingredient because the recipe says so, rather than considering a different recipe. I don't read ahead to see how much time something's going to take, or think about how long I'm going to have to run a hot appliance in summer (my A/C is a window unit in my bedroom, and there's no air flow from there to the kitchen, which has nice bright sunshiney east-facing windows).

Maybe I'll pay attention to my own recommendations. Maybe I won't. It feels good to write them down, anyway.

06 May 2008

Finally, the Chutney Post

I got this jar of McQuade's Fig & Ginger Chutney from a Blake Makes giveaway right before Passover, but my recipe ideas were not Kosher-friendly, and once I did make my recipe, it wasn't really what I had hoped for. Then my camera decided to stop cooperating. But anyway, here it is. When I tasted the chutney - sharp, not as figgy as I expected - I decided that I had to go with my pineapple plan. I had in my head a sort of stacking idea involving sweet rice pancakes, grilled pineapple, chutney, and fresh ginger.

I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted in terms of a sweet rice pancake. I was thinking of how much I like rice pudding and how nicely jasmine rice would go with ginger and coconut, and somehow I didn't think of how frying something rice in it would make... fried rice. So the taste was decent, but the texture was a bit too crispy for me. Basically what I did was make two cups of jasmine rice, then toss with sweetened coconut and finely chopped fresh ginger. Thinking of potato pancakes, I bound the rice together with an egg and half a cup of flour.

This might have worked better if I had used something to moisten the mixture - sticking with that rice pudding idea - or even made more of a plain pancake that just happened to have rice in it, rather than a patty. I also would add sugar, because the coconut didn't really make it quite as sweet as I expected. The preparation was basically what you do for a potato pancake - put big spoonfuls in the pan with some oil, pat down, fry a few minutes each side, drain on paper towels.

Next, the pineapple. I've never bought a whole pineapple before, and I was very worried about how much green this one was showing. Turns out I needn't have worried. I cut off the top, bottom, and sides, and found a very sweet and juicy fruit waiting for me. Oh, how I love fresh pineapple! My relationship with the stovetop grill has been a bit dicey lately, so I decided to broil the pineapple instead. Apparently, broiling doesn't really do much... no browning, no caramelization. Waste of electricity, really. But the fresh stuff is delicious, as you can see.

Here's the assembled product. The chutney itself is quite tasty. I think if I were to do this over again, I would probably make rice pudding with chutney and pineapple, or just plain old sticky rice even. If I were to pick another use for the chutney, I would pair it with a vegetarian stuffing in the wintertime. The sharp, sweet taste would stand up very well to something like stuffing or even your favourite meat substitute.

What I ended up doing with the rest of the jar was making toast with the Panera sesame semolina bread I picked up with a giftcard recently, sliced thick and spread with that amazing French goat cheese. I spooned chutney on top and put the whole thing in the toaster oven, and the bread got nice and crisp, the cheese slightly melty, and the chutney warm. Yum!

Thanks to Blake and McQuade's for my chutney!

02 May 2008

Spring has sprung!

Finally. The weather is still very finnicky here, but we got what I think is the last snow of the season last week. In Turkish, my teacher asked me when summer comes in Iowa and I said "hiç bir zaman gelmiyor" (It never comes). I am still in tea paradise, though the birthday tea sample I got with my order is less than impressive. Pictured is the first glass of sweet tea of the year. Hurrah! My foolproof sweet tea recipe is this. Dump about four to six inches of sugar in a pitcher. You kind of have to eyeball it. Heat three cups of water, or so. Stir into pitcher with wooden spoon until sugar dissolves. Add two Lipton's Iced Tea Brew teabags. Let sit five or six minutes. Remove bags and fill pitcher with cold water. Refrigerate several hours. Serve over ice.

As I said, I'm completely impressed with the cinnamon tea from Adagio, but I just realised today that it's the same cinnamon tea I'm obsessed with from House of Aromas. Good to know, since they charge nearly two dollars for a cup of it, and it's much much cheaper than that if you just buy a tin and make your own. I also got a cup of apricot tea today and it was less than impressive. It was bitter, and I suspect they brewed it too long. Speaking of unimpressive things, always check labels before buying for the ubiquitous phrase "cheesefood." This cheese with caraway seeds is horribly processed-tasting. The caraway is the only good thing.

It was tolerable as pictured, melted on potato pancakes. Then again, at the end of Passover, you start getting desperate. One of my Passover plans was to make squash casserole, and that didn't happen so much. I had picked a recipe, but I didn't realise that you have to steam the squash and then bake it. It was pretty warm that week, and I did not want to heat up my kitchen nearly that much. But still, I had five yellow squash on my hands and needed to do something with them.

So, I decided to improvise. This goat cheese is from France and it's amazing. Delicious taste and a creamy texture, as goat cheese should be. I decided that I would roast the squash in the oven without pre-steaming, along with some chopped green onion, and then I would dot it with goat cheese when it came out. I was a little worried, though, that the squash would be too dry if I didn't steam in advance.

Thankfully, I was wrong. Yellow squash has so much water in it that it made no difference. It browned a bit on the outside but remained very moist on the inside. The green onion wasn't the best idea, or at least, I should've added it towards the end of the roasting time. Half an hour in a hot oven made the onion dry and brown, and killed a lot of the flavour. Oops.

The goat cheese did pair well with the squash, although maybe I would've put it with a drier vegetable if I was thinking a bit more clearly. I did think the seed pattern in this squash was pretty excellent. It makes me think of this famous tree... is it the boddhisatva? Anyone know? There's some sort of a tree that looks like this, in any event.

So, to break the Passover week, I decided to do a roast asparagus recipe that called for cornstarch. It was a good way to use up the orange and lemons that I bought and hadn't used yet, and I figured roasting again would heat up the kitchen less than some other methods. I used the recipe found here, but I had a little less orange juice and a little more lemon. It was quite tart, but I enjoyed the combination. I served it on top of (sadly not homemade) mashed potatoes with almonds on top. Yum!

Finally, I have one more cheese review for you. This is an Appenzeller cheese, which Wikipedia tells me comes from northeast Switzerland and is cured with an herbal brine. The cheese is very strong, and I wouldn't recommend it if you're on a date or something, but I love it. It has a sort of nutty flavour, and is very distinctive. I didn't try it with anything else; just ate slices straight off the block. Sometimes, that's the best!

01 May 2008


I will post a real post tomorrow, but this can't wait.

The lovely miss Stephanie passed along a gift certificate to Adagio Teas and my package arrived today. I got the $19 tea starter kit, though I am a tea veteran, because it comes with the niftiest way to brew tea ever. But what I'm raving about is the cinnamon tea, which is perfect. Naturally strong and sweet, which is how I love it, and full of flavour. Mighty Leaf had been falling flat for me, and this renews my faith in tea.

Want to try it? Leave a comment or e-mail me at judithavory@gmail.com with your e-mail address. I'll pass on the love with a $5 certificate. Want to try my own Tropical Nut blend? Click here. You can create your own, too!