27 June 2008

A week of feasting

So I'm obviously a bit behind on getting all my recent meals posted for you, but part of the reason for that is that I had my friend Nicole visiting for a week, during which we cooked a lot. Having a guest to do the dishes and chop things is never a bad thing, and I'm always more enthusiastic about tasty food when there's someone other than me around to eat it. Of course, the flood made impromptu grocery trips difficult, but we managed to do pretty will regardless. The apricots pictured here were purchased one night during a walk downtown that turned into a swim, practically, when the sky opened up. Judith's flood tip of the day: always go to the store with a buddy, so that when you need the last gallon bottle of water on a high shelf, said buddy can give you a leg up.

The apricots were breakfast for most of the week, because I came up with the most amazing crumble recipe. It was actually a hybrid of a few different recipes, because I wanted to use fresh apricots but the crumble topping I liked most came from a recipe that used the dried variety. I used this in terms of oven temp/time, and I used about a pound of apricots, halved and stones removed. I baked in a greased casserole, not a pie dish. I then prepared the topping from this recipe and sprinkled it on top before baking, but without the whole pecans. So tasty, especially if you're a big fan of tart fruits (which I am).

We also did some dishes that I didn't bother to photograph - Nicole's amazing grilled cheese, my goat cheese enhanced scrambled eggs, and the zucchini patties I posted about before (that are still amazing) - but I decided that this grits dish deserved a snapshot. I cooked the grits in the usual way on the stove, then added a bit of butter and a LOT of cheese. Parmesan, mozzarella, and goat cheese all made an appearance, making the grits thick and cheesy and amazing. Sauteed onion and canned (blame the flood) mushrooms went on top, cooked with a little sherry.

The last food adventure we tried was a cheesy tortilla pie. I made a lot of variations on the original recipe, but I loved my version. I used an 8" springform and 8" flour tortillas, so no trimming. I think I used six tortillas. For the cheese, I mixed cheddar and mozzarella. I only used on can of black beans, but I also added a can of mushrooms. Once the bean mixture was a few minutes from done, I added a chopped zucchini in place of the corn. I didn't use a jalepeno, and I used water because I didn't have beer. It turned out great though, despite all the changes. Very cheesy, and I loved the green onions on top. The springform pan is also great for presentation.

One last thing I wanted to mention is a trip to Masala, a restaurant in Iowa City, for dinner. I've been to one of Iowa City's two Indian places, but not Masala, which is all vegetarian. I really enjoyed it! We got an appetizer platter, which may not have been the best idea, and I was so-so on some of that, but the garlic naan was amazing, as was the rose lhassi. For my main course, I had punjabi curry, and it was perfect for my tastebuds. I asked for it "very mild," and it was just spicy enough for me, with a delicious rich curry sauce.

Don't forget! Entries for A Vegetarian Picnic Feast are due a week from today, July 4th!

24 June 2008

Taste & Create: Red Plum and Kiwi Cheesecake

For this month's Taste & Create I was paired with Min of Bad Girl's Kitchen. I must admit that I was a little anxious about the pairing at first. Min and I clearly have very different cooking styles, but I think that's the whole point of T&C! She made my Mushroom Stroganoff right off the bat, and I giggled at the need to have a meat dish alongside it, but I'm glad that's what she picked because it's one of my favourite recipes. I also laughed at replacing margarine with butter, since everyone thinks it's crazy that until a couple of months ago I had never actually purchased a stick of butter.

But then I started feeling guilty - would I be able to finish in time? The problem was that when the pairings came in, I had a friend visiting from out of state and was in the middle of a huge flood. I wasn't sure if I would be able to access the other side of the city (i.e, the grocery store) and even if I could, I didn't want to be one of the assholes ignoring the "no non-essential traffic" warning. So I pored over Min's recipes and found a few possibilities - I thought about macaroni using penne, or granola, maybe. I bookmarked several recipes for later, because she's really got some good ones, but then I found... cheesecake!

I've been craving cheesecake for a while, and this looked mighty tasty. I even had a jar of (light, haha) cherry pie filling on hand! What I did not have was four tubs of cream cheese. I am a cream cheese-eater, so I had one full 12-ounce container and one with just a little bit left (maybe 14 ounces total). I cringed a little at the instruction not to get low-fat, but I couldn't help it. At least mine were 1/3 less fat, not fat free, and they were Philadelphia brand. I also only had cinnamon graham crackers. Oh, well.

The thing is, I had been planning to do a plum tart, but I only had three plums. I didn't really want to make two desserts in one week, either, for little old me. Then I got an idea - plum cheesecake! I halved the recipe and got out my 6" springform, which would accommodate the lack of cream cheese and be a much better size for little old me (most of my cakes sadly go bad or stale before I can finish them, even in the fridge). I ended up doing the normal amount of crust, and I did use real butter! On top of the crust I put a layer of sliced red plums, and then poured the filling (easy as pie... I mean...) on top of that. It was really quite beautiful.

Though I hated heating up my apartment, the cheesecake turned out wonderfully. I didn't think to reduce the cooking time for the pan size, but it ended up working out all right. It was fully set (cheesecakes normally should jiggle a bit in the centre) when it left the oven, but that didn't affect the taste at all. The plums made a lovely pink layer on bottom, and then I sliced some kiwis for the top to go with the fresh fruit theme (pie filling, you'll have to wait for a pie I'm afraid). This is a very rich, dense cheesecake, so I'm having trouble finishing it despite the size, but it's so tasty! Even the cinnamon crust is kind of interesting (though an odd combination with the kiwis). Thanks, Min! It's been fun cooking with you.

23 June 2008

Video Blog #2: Crepes

You can find the text of the recipe on this post. The Swiss cheese ones turned out very well! Also, don't forget that A Vegetarian Feast entries are due July 4th! The theme is picnic, so you can pretty much make anything you might take to a picnic, as long as it's meatless - salads, sandwiches, grilled veggies, drinks, desserts, you decide! Hope to see you there.

22 June 2008

From the Pantry: Spring Pasta

Just a drive-by entry because there isn't much to say about this dish. I needed to use up a quickly-dying bag of fresh baby spinach, so I cooked some mostaccioli pasta and quickly cooked the spinach in a pan, intending just to wilt it. Unfortunately, getting rid of the water was a bit of a difficulty, and I should have pre-toasted the almonds rather than just dumping them in. I added some white wine and cranked up the heat, then drained the mixture (having given up just a bit) and tossed it with the pasta, some lemon juice, parmesan, and tasty fresh goat cheese. Not a bad summer supper.

20 June 2008

Figs in June?

Yes, I am that crazy. Well, I had about 3/4 of a bottle of really good Muscat left from the Ginger-Ginger cake, but this particular variety has 18% alcohol and I couldn't bring myself to just drink it. When this recipe showed up on Spittoon Extra, a blog I've recently started following, I figured it would be perfect. I like figs, and it would use up almost all my Muscat! Unfortunately, the post didn't include an exact amount for the figs, but I didn't want to buy more than one bag. I went with Calmyrna (sp?) figs instead of Mission the other choice, because these look more like the ones in the picture (and the ones I'm familiar with). I used an eight-inch square pan, which in retrospect was a bad idea.

I liked the taste of the syrup, and the figs themselves were also tasty, but a little tough. I think a loaf pan would've been a better idea, as it would have probably managed to cover all my figs completely and get the outer skins (my least favourite part) juicier and easier to chew. That said, the warm syrup over vanilla ice cream was delicious! They also make a great snack for when you're in the mood for a sweet bite but not quite to the point of breaking out a tub of Ben & Jerry's or a chocolate bar.

18 June 2008

Everything Tastes Better with Ben & Jerry's

So I've been on a bit of an unintentional foodblogging vacation this past week or so. My close friend and blog reader Nicole came to visit from Olympia, I got a new computer, and a giant apocalyptic flood hit Iowa City all at the same time. I have been cooking a lot, though, so I'll be posting a lot over the weekend (until then, I'll be working eight or nine hours a day and going to sleep in the evenings). Anyway, I did want to get the second half of my Blog Party contribution in by the deadline, so this is my chocolatey cocktail concoction. Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness wanted chocolate, and I decided that would be something relatively easy to incorporate into a drink submission. This Cherry Garcia Cocktail is an original recipe, and for an experiment, I have to say it's pretty damned good!

You'll need a blender or a food processor to make this, or alternatively, you could melt the ice cream and then shake it in a martini shaker. The amounts are more or less half a cup of white chocolate Irish Cream, two or three good spoonfuls of completely frozen Cherry Garcia, and half a shot of frozen Smirnoff Black Cherry vodka. Pulse with the blender until the ice cream is completely liquid. If you're using a small food processor like me, beware! Rita, my eternal Blog Party taster, was thankfully here not only to taste but to hold a paper towel to the part of the lid that was trying very hard to leak. Pour into martini glasses and enjoy! (And if you're me, don't be afraid to stick your finger - or a spoon - in at the end to get those tasty cherry and chocolate bits).

08 June 2008

Onion in Bloom

When I was a kid, we had a friend staying with us for a few years, and one of my favourite treats was when he and my mom and I would go out to dinner, because the dinner was always tasty and a lot of the time we got an appetizer. I don't know what it is about appetizers, but I always want one. When I was little sometimes I'd make my whole meal out of appetizers. One of the best places to go was Outback Steakhouse, because of the blooming onion. I loved the sweet, crispy batter-fried onion and the horseradish dipping sauce that came with it.

The other day, I found a recipe for that same blooming onion, and I decided to give it a try. I was a little sceptical after my annoyance with the oil and the fried green tomatoes, and I just generally tend to get annoyed with deep frying. Still, I really wanted that damn onion, so I tried it. It actually wasn't too bad in terms of oil issues. Since I was only frying one thing, I didn't have to worry about batches or the oil getting gross. I used a plain old decently large (but not huge) onion since it's only me, but I didn't change the amounts otherwise to make it easy. The slicing of the onion was not actually that hard, but it was really hard to get the petals to really spread. My onion ended up falling in half as I played with it, but that wasn't a big deal.

The batter was perfect, but I did discover one thing. I made an effort to really get the flour down in between the petals, but I should have made more of an effort to spread them again just before frying. The result was that the onion closed up in the oil and while the outside was delicious and crispy, inside there were sneaky bits of gluey, uncooked flour. I ate it anyway (it wasn't *that* much flour) and discovered that the spices when not actually fried taste much spicier. Yikes! One thing to keep in mind is that it's okay if your oil temperature seems to be rising quickly, because the minute you put the onion in it drops a lot. I only did mine eight minutes, and it was still nice and brown. Also a big basket-type sifter/strainer with a handle is good for gently lowering and retrieving the onion. Put it in upside down so when it's in the oil you can just turn the basket to let it out. The one thing I wasn't hot on were the amounts for the sauce. That's definitely more horseradish than I remember. Maybe I just got a spicier type, but yeah, I definitely added ketchup and may after tasting!

05 June 2008

Fudge for What Ails You

This recipe, thanks to Have Cake, Will Travel, met all sorts of needs. I needed a dish to bring to a potluck. A fellow blogger asked for a vegan fudge recipe. I need something to do with all the bloody whisky in my pantry. And this month's Blog Party theme is chocolate. I thought the idea of whisky-peanut fudge was awesome, and it's as easy as one, two, three. The taste is definitely strong, and I cut very small squares for that reason. I really like it, though (I am admittedly a whisky drinker). It is also vegan, though you need to make sure you check the chocolate chips. Mine did have milkfat in them, but not all chocolate chips do!

I followed the recipe pretty much exactly as directed. I melted and cooled the chocolate in the microwave first, to avoid dirtying a saucepan. Do it thirty seconds at a time if you don't want to risk burning your chocolate! In my microwave it took three thirty-second zaps with a stir in between each. Just keep going until it's completely smooth. Also, it's okay if it's still a little warm when you use it. You should whisk the powdered sugar until no lumps are remaining. You get a kind of beige colour. As you can see, I chopped my peanuts very roughly because I'm impatient.

The actual dumping into the pan part was probably the most challenging, as the mixture doesn't really spread on its own. You want to spread it outwards, but not let the sides creep up the sides of the pan. It takes a little trial and error. Also, before slicing remove from the fridge and let sit out ten or fifteen minutes or until a knife goes easily through the chocolate. Again, slice SMALL. I'd like to try a variation soon with raspberry chocolate chips and melted raspberry jam instead of whisky. I'm afraid it might be a little too sweet, though.

Incidentally, I went to Kalona again this week for Amish grocery shopping and The Cheese Shop. I was a little more discerning in my cheese purchases, but I still bought plenty. This photo of yesterday's lunch is mainly so that my mother doesn't get worried after I admitted her that two of my meals on Tuesday were a cupcake. I'm really bad at remembering to go to the store. The cheese in the salad is a Danish blue that I really like. It's creamy and super strong, which is how blue cheese should be!

01 June 2008

AVF #3: A Vegetarian Feast in a Quiche Roundup

Wow! This round we had quite a few entries to AVF, and I'm super-excited. Y'all must really like quiche.

I'm doing something a bit new this time, in that I've decided to go ahead and do another round in a month, and announce the theme right away, so that we can keep the ball rolling so to speak. AVF #4 will be... a Vegetarian Picnic Feast! This is obviously very open-ended, so feel free to be creative. Meatless grilled items, salads, desserts, sandwiches... whatever YOU like to eat outdoors, that's fine by me. The due date is Friday, July 4th. Now, on with the round up!

First we have Holler, stopping by from her blog Tinned Tomatoes with this amazing-looking Tomato and Broccoli Quiche with a Layer of Pea Puree. She suggests less peas next time, but the quiche is beautiful and colourful, and I want to bite through the screen to get a taste of those tomatoes!




Next up is Sylvie from A Pot of Tea and a Biscuit, and she brings us this Roast Vegetable and Gruyere Quiche. Sylvie, how did you know that I'm a sucker for gruyere and red onion? The courgettes/zucchini at the Farmer's Market have been looking great lately, too. I'll have to try this out!

From Closet Cooking, Kevin brings us an Asparagus and Mushroom Quiche. I think asparagus has to be the quiche ingredient. It just makes me think spring, light, and delicious. And of course, you all know I love mushrooms. Thanks, Kevin! I also applaud your use of local asparagus - well done.

Johanna from Green Gourmet Giraffe is another new face on this blog, and a vegetarian foodblog I haven't seen before - how did that happen? She hails from Melbourne, and though I'd worried that this event wouldn't be very Southern hemisphere-friendly, quiche being such a spring favourite, she stepped up to the challenge with a Pumpkin Cornmeal Quiche, tasty and creative!

As for my own offerings, while my guests all decided to go with the quiche route (and hey, the name was rather catchy), I decided to play with savoury tarts, and specifically with puff pastry. I've never worked with it before, but I had a feeling it would make tarts oh-so-easy (the frozen kind, at least) and delicious. I wasn't wrong! I made a Caramelized Vegetable Tart and a Green Tomato Tarte Tatin (pictured, if a bit blurry, due to camera upload failure). Though I had some troubles with the first one, the green tomato tatin was excellent for spring, and just the combination of Southern and French that I was looking for!

Thank you again to all those who participated and helped spread the word about the event!