30 August 2008

Yes, it's the chocolate again

Well first of all, I realised that there was a picture on my camera of the chocolate I mentioned last post you can see just how decadently goopy and amazing it really is. But second, I tried the Noisettes (hazelnut) flavour, and it's just as amazing. It has a soft, very dark truffle center, but solid enough so that you don't have to eat the whole thing at once (ha!) and the best part - whole hazelnuts throughout the bar. I don't really buy hazelnuts for my own baking, but I adore the combination of chocolate and hazelnut. Maybe it's a Nutella thing. Whatever it is, it's good.

28 August 2008

Some drive-by enthusiasm about Belgian chocolate

Of course I know that Belgian chocolate is good. I tend to say "well what about French, German, and Swiss chocolate?" though. I still am not convinced that, as a whole, all Belgian chocolate is better than all other chocolate, but I have to say it's two for two on tasty for me. I participated in a non-foodie sort of general package exchange recently, and my box came from Belgium, with a number of things inside including what's pictured here. There was a great big ole cinnamon New Tree bar, which made me happy, as I discovered and loved New Tree when Stephanie sent me some for Blogging By Mail. But in addition, as you can see, there were several Galler bars. I'd never tried Galler, and I highly recommend it. I tried the Café Liegois bar the other day, and it was fantastic. Quality dark chocolate on the outside, delicious goopy cocoa truffle filling on the inside. It's really impossible not to eat it all in one sitting.

27 August 2008

A Taste of Iowa City

I went to an event this evening called "A Taste of Iowa City." The idea was that you could buy tickets for a dollar each, and buy food for one to three tickets by walking around downtown. The portions were small and the featured food was available outside each restaurant. I liked the concept, but I think it could use some tweaking. First, it would be nice if they had some way to put all the food in one place. Second, it would be nice to make it more of a discount. Honestly, most booths weren't charging less than they would inside the restaurant, given the portions. There were some tasty looking options like a bruschetta at 808, but it cost two dollars for a piece about half the size of my hand. I ended up getting a bowl of mostaccioli and a slice of veggie pizza for $3 total. That was a good deal, but pizza and pasta doesn't really live up to my hopes of a tasting event.

26 August 2008

Try some bulgur; it's not vulgar

Apologies for the title of this post. I was in a somewhat corny mood. So, bulgur salad. A success, I would say. I've had some bulgur lying around since a visit to Stringtown Grocery when I just grabbed any grains that looked cheap and tasty, but I hadn't done anything with it until now. The other morning it was cloudy and cool, and I rushed to boil my bulgur while it stayed that way, and then made this cold salad that I could eat when it got hot again. I used this recipe but I deviated a lot.

I wasn't able to find all the vegetables at the Farmer's Market, or cheaply elsewhere, and I was determined not to spend a lot of money on this project. So I went with the dressing formula as-is, with the exception of possibly having slightly less than six tablespoons and four tablespoons of the fresh herbs (and it was plenty), but I changed the veggies. I used some sweet onion, some sweet pepper (a kind of pale yellow colour), and some roma tomato for colour. As you can see here, to cut down on dish use I mixed the yoghurt in the bowl I'd be using for the salad, then threw the chopped veggies in, and then finally mixed in the bulgur. I also didn't bother toasting the pine nuts and thought they were unnecessary, considering how much pine nuts cost. I loved the salad, though. It made enough for about six small to medium sized servings, and it was tasty with a nice contrast between the crunch of the bulgur and the moisture from the yoghurt. Very flavourful.

25 August 2008

Yet another grilled cheese

Tired of grilled cheese yet? Too bad for you. No really, this should be the last one. I think my craving is quite satisfied. This is the same "mystery" recipe as before, except with mozzarella, and I thought equally tasty. The good news is, we're finally hitting that peak point of the foodie year in Iowa City - the point where there are still good vegetables at the farmer's market, and good fruits in the grocery store, but it's cool enough in my apartment to actually cook/bake them. This is a very small window, but hopefully I'll be able to take advantage of it. Classes start tomorrow, though, and I need to think about what appetizer I'm going to bring to an international programs picnic on Thursday. It has to be from a non-US culture, so I'm thinking sigara böregi. Maybe. Also going to Kalona next week for tasty, tasty cheese, which will be a good thing. I love me some tasty cheese!

24 August 2008

Foodie Failure

Well that was annoying. I'd been craving sweets from the time I got up around 6:30, and at about 2 pm I decided to do something about it. I was all set to make lava cake, when I managed to burn a substantial quantity of chocolate. I was so annoyed by the loss of perfectly costly chocolate and the fact that I'd have to wash yet another dish with no food in return that I gave up on the cake idea. Now I have some diced butter in my fridge that I wish was not diced, and I'm still craving sweets something awful. Ah, well. Really I'm not posting just to complain, but to tell you about a new widget I just stuck on the layout here. Look left and you'll see a little box from Suite101. It will update with my latest articles - not a whole lot about food so far, but some of them will be. And perhaps other topics you enjoy!

22 August 2008

Une fête du fromage!

I was very excited when one of the bloggers I read regularly, Chez Loulou, announced that her regular feature, La Fête du Fromage, would have a blogger event companion of the same name. But I also must admit, spending money on cheese is not something I can do right now. I don't know if the French economy is holding up better than the rest of the world, or if it's just the fact that cheese is *always* cheap in France (which it is), but when I went to the cheese bin and saw that even tiny, halfway decent good cheeses were $4 and up, I knew I'd burst into tears if I brought one home. So instead of celebrating the particular type of cheese (Sargento grated cheddar, extra sharp), I'm celebrating the technique.

This is my second attempt at grilled cheese, and I'm embarrassed to say that after I learned this technique I couldn't find it anywhere. I know I read about it on a blog, but I checked my favourites, tastespotting, food gawker, my Google reader, and nothing. If you know where it's from, please let me know. I know it came up in the past couple of weeks. Anyway, the super-simple technique is just to combine three parts grated cheddar with one part sour cream and a bit of dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. You put this on your bread, you butter the outside, and I again used the toaster oven technique at 425, about six minutes a side. I'll link to the real recipe as soon as I find it, but I loved the technique. It made the cheese gooey and goopey, but a lot easier to swallow than plain old melted cheese, and it comes apart better so there aren't strings of cheese hanging out of your mouth. Also, the mustard gave it just the right spice. I'm not a big mustard fan, but I loved the taste. Thanks Loulou to hosting the event and mystery blogger for the recipe!

21 August 2008

Soup! Very green soup!

I have to admit, as much as I love them, I don't normally buy avocados in Iowa. They're just far too expensive. $1.69 for a single avocado? Give me a break. I'll take the packaged guac, thanks. However, I have been looking for tasty cold soups beyond the standard gazpacho, and this recipe from Spicy Salty Sweet, adopted from Gourmet (which I haven't actually had a chance to read, even though it's the June issue), caught my eye. Her picture makes it look much thicker and creamier, which is probably the buttermilk, but mine was still mighty tasty. Unfortunately, the man at the farmer's market lied when he said he had seedless cucumbers. I definitely spent some time hollowing out the seeds. That said, the cucumber was delicious, the extremely expensive avocado was mighty nice, and my adjustments (no salt, sweet onion instead of scallions) didn't really hurt anything. Soup that isn't perfectly smooth takes some getting used to, but I like the taste, especially the mint. Yum!

Cucumber and Avocado Soup
adapted from Gourmet via Spicy Salty Sweet
makes 3-4 servings

one large (preferably seedless) cucumber (about a pound)
one large avocado
1/8 to 1/4 cup chopped sweet onion
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
a couple squirts of lime juice or the juice of half a lime
1/2 cup skim milk

Chop the avocado and the cucumber into fairly large chunks, removing seeds from cuke if necessary. Leave aside a small handful of cucumber and avocado, and throw the rest into the food processor with the onion, mint, and lime juice. Process to a puree, then add the milk and blend until smooth. Throw the chunks of veggies in and eat.

20 August 2008

Blog Party Retro: Grilled Cheese and Egg Cream

I must admit, when I read the theme for this month's Blog Party, I scratched my head a bit. I gather that a lot of people were really excited about the "retro" theme, but I couldn't really think of any retro food. I don't have retro cookbooks. Could just be my sprightly age, but I had no idea. So I started thinking about diner food. Diners are kind of a 50s thing, I think. And I used to love egg creams when I was a teenager, so I could make one of those. And grilled cheese, that's kind of a diner food. And hey, my mom was born between the 1920s and 1960s! (I won't tell you the year, because a lady's daughter never tells her age). I love my mom's grilled cheese to death. I don't know if she was actually making it in the 1960s yet, but it's delish. Unfortunately, I kind of suck at grilled cheese, though, so I decided to cheat. I used the broiler on my toaster oven, and as you can see it doesn't really crisp, because the crusts blacken so much that you want to take it out while the rest is still a bit soft. I did try it again, though (not pictured), with the toaster oven at 425, and that worked very well. Nice and light brown and crispy. Also, it turns out egg creams don't have egg in them (really?) I thought they were like milkshakes, you know, you drop a raw egg in to make it tastier. But no. This one kind of failed, because I used a short glass, but I hate washing out the tall ones.

Mom's Grilled Cheese
The Toaster Oven Version

2 slices bread (I used sourdough)
3-4 thick slices of extra sharp Cheddar (I used Tillamook Reserve)

Preheat toaster oven to 425. Slather your bread with mayo, then top with enough Cheddar to cover it. Spread the outside of the sandwich with margarine on both sides. Put on the foil-lined toaster oven tray. Cook about six minutes on each side. The bread should be light brown and cripsy, the cheese nice and gooey.

Egg Cream
(makes one tall glass)

2 T chocolate syrup
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup seltzer

Make sure all ingredients are cold. Squirt the syrup in the bottom of a tall glass. Slowly pour the milk in, then the seltzer to within an inch of the rim of the glass. Let it foam up, then carefully stir with a long spoon, trying not to disturb the foam.

19 August 2008

Judith, You're So Smooth!

Yes, another smoothie post. I did a lot of experimenting with different combinations. I tried one that was a variation of something I saw on Tastespotting featuring a couple of kiwis, strawberry, and banana, but I found that the frozen strawberry taste was nothing like fresh. The one below ended up being pretty good, despite that, but I think part of it is just that using frozen fruits makes it more like ice cream. The banana provides the thickening. The trick is to drink it before it melts, and tastes like plain old smoothie. I also tried just a plain old peach smoothie, with regular peaches, and the lack of peach taste was surprising. I could mostly taste the honey. Go figure.

Frozen Berry Smoothie
(makes one serving)

about 8 whole frozen strawberries
a handful of fresh blueberries
half a frozen banana
1/4 cup (approximate) skim milk
a few squirts of honey
a couple tablespoons of wheat germ

Pulse all the ingredients except for the milk first, until a puree forms, to avoid milk spraying around the kitchen out the sides of the food processor. Add the milk and blend until smooth. Enjoy immediately.

17 August 2008

White Beach and Banana Smoothie

In an attempt to get a few more fruits in my diet, which is often sadly lacking in any kind of vitamins (what can I say? That cheese sandwich is a winner), I've been trying to eat smoothies for breakfast. I have to admit that smoothies make me a bit nervous, especially with frozen fruit, because though that ice-creamy taste is the best, I don't want to kill my Cuisinart. I like my Cuisinart. I really should just get a cheap blender. But anyway, this was my first attempt this summer with smoothies (a little late, I know). There were white peaches on sale, and though I normally don't really like banana, it does give a smoothie that smoothie-like texture. I didn't really taste the peach, but it was tasty enough for something healthy.

White Peach and Banana Smoothie
(makes two glasses this size, or one tall glass)

1 white peach
1/2 a banana, frozen
2 big spoonfuls plain low-fat yoghurt
a few squirts of clover honey
a generous shake of cinnamon

Slice the peach into quarters, and halve the banana half again. Dump everything else in. Pulse carefully until everything's more or less soft, then blend until smooth.

16 August 2008

MeBars? No, YouBars!

YouBars are a customizable energy bar that I got a chance to sample thanks to Blake Makes. My impression? I thought they were tasty, but small. They make a good snack but shouldn't be confused with a meal bar. At $30 for a 12-bar box, plus $7.99 shipping and handling in the US, that comes to $3.16 a bar for the three "popular" bars, or $4 a bar for a custom bar. That seems like a lot to me for a snack. Though I certainly understand that it's expensive to make energy bars with quality ingredients, this is definitely a luxury item that I can't afford right now. That said, of my sample, I really enjoyed the Honey Cashew Bar. Few ingredients is evidently a good thing, and I love the taste of the cashew butter. Great Date was also pretty good. I wasn't as impressed by the two custom bars, which I thought had too many ingredients. I do really like the crunch of the nutty rice cereal, though. If you're making your own, I'd say less is more and go with the cashew butter. You get to choose one or two nut butters, up to three types of protein, up to two nuts and seeds, up to two fruits and berries, up to two sweeteners, up to four "tasty additions" like chocolate or coffee crystals, up to two grains or cereals, and one infusion (fiber, vitamin, or greens). The package has the name you choose on it. They do, incidentally, have vegan options.

15 August 2008

Tasting Notes: My Muscat Days

I first found Muscat when I was nineteen and living in Montpellier, France for a month. I was there to study French, but I fell madly in love with the region, where I hope to retire one day. The Languedoc, located in the south-central part of France, has a rich history and culture, not to mention amazing food and their own regional language (Occitan). Montpellier was recently voted best city to live in France, and I believe it. It's almost surprising it hasn't received more foreign press - though I love Bordeaux and Paris, I find it the ideal city to spend a week or so. It isn't overcrowded, very pedestrian-friendly, plenty of food and shopping, and some cool attractions such as the Roman aqueducts and the Château d'Eau. I associated Muscat heavily with that trip, where I drank wine with almost every meal we ate out, wanting the "French experience." At the time, however, I hadn't developed much of a taste for red, and even white I was drinking more out of obligation than anything. Muscat was perfect for my new-to-alcohol tastebuds, with its smooth, sweet, honeyed flavor. This photo was taken on my second trip to Montpellier, when I was 21 and on springbreak with my housemate in Ireland, Katherine. I was showing her around, and we stopped to sit down for a moment at a cafe in the Place Jean-Jaurès. I asked the waiter if I could have ice cream, as it was on the menu. He told me it was far too early in the day for ice cream. "Et du vin?" "Bien sûr." "Pas trop tôt?" *disbelieving look* "Non..." Of course, it is never too early in the day for wine, so here I am drinking a glass of Muscat at eleven in the morning.

My taste for the sweet apperitif has since diminished, though I still enjoy it on occasion. One of my most memorable fun nights in the dorm involved my roommate Kat, a bottle of California Muscat (an amber-coloured variety as opposed to the golden colour you see in the Languedoc) purchased from a snooty British wine connoisseur in Ellicott City, a strawberry cheesecake, and the L-Word. This particular Muscat pictured here is an interesting cross between the amber and golden colours, made by RJ Buller & Son in Victoria, a "Premium Fine Muscat" that I enjoyed with cheesecake in honor of Kat. It was good, and more alcoholic than sweet - almost like a sherry. I was thinking today about how my tastes have changed so much, even in the past two or three years. First I started liking tomatoes at sixteen or seventeen after a very strong aversion to them in childhood, then it was brussels sprouts, then artichokes, and finally beer. I wonder if I'll ever get over the urge to wretch at green bean casserole, though, or my aversion to pickles and olives. Perhaps. The funny thing about tasting is, you can never really go back.

14 August 2008

A Tasty On-Sale Italian Wine

So I had intended to do a cool wine and cheese tasting series of posts, wherein I would tell you about the delicious bottles of red wine I purchased on sale from my co-op, along with the delicious inexpensive cheeses I purchased last time I was in Kalona, but the fact is that I drink wine so slowly that by now I've forgotten about most of the cheeses. Oops! I do remember that the plain Wendsleydale was quite good, as was a Danish blue and a local smoked Gouda. There was a brown cheese called Gjetost that was quite frankly weird, with this sweet caramel flavor, but I think it would be an interesting one to have on a cheese plate. This wine, featured with the evidence of Nicole's possibly-needs-improvement pouring skills, is a DOC wine from Douro. That doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot to me, but it was good, full bodied, and tasty for under ten dollars. It has 12.5% alcohol.

13 August 2008

Trying the Chocolate Chip Thing Again

Oh cookies, why are you always so volatile? Though I already have a favorite recipe, I thought I'd test something different, like everyone's been doing since the New York Times article came out. I have no time for those particular cookies with their multiple flours, so instead I found the most attractive cookie picture on Slow Like Honey's blog and decided to try those cookies - Martha's Chocolate Chip Toffee, that is. I love toffee. I especially love delicious gooey cookies as pictured on that blog post. As you can see, my first attempt didn't quite fly. See, I'd been craving cookies but didn't want to do the oven thing in the heat, so I came up with an ingenious idea. Make a batch, then pull off two-cookie chunks of dough and freeze them individually, thawing and baking in the toaster oven when in need of a snack. Of course, I always eat both large cookies at once, but you can't have it all. The first cookies I did were a bit overbaked, and way crunchy. The next two batches had the same thing happen because I forgot about them. The next few, though, were quite tasty, if not so amazing as SLH's picture. They were gooey and tasty, as long as I only baked them 11-12 minutes!

12 August 2008

Cilantro Sauce, Zucchini Blossoms, and a Long Hot Summer

All right, blogreaders, I have to be honest. The past few weeks have been like pulling teeth, which is part of why I've been saving a lot of my posts for later. But I'm going to be posting a lot in the next few weeks, promise! Basically, I had several deadlines and at the same time was stuck with really crappy headaches because of my failing glasses. Unfortunately, the result is that I don't get a vacation this summer - the plan was to have a week and a half off in August, but because I could only work a few hours a day over the past few weeks, I have to work straight through that vacation.

The good news is that I did eventually get new glasses, and despite my jaw drop at the price, I can see so much better and I like the way they look as well. Apparently my astigmatism had changed monumentally, and the distance in my left eye as well, so she wasn't even sure I'd be able to see once the prescription changed, but they seem to be working so far. Hurrah! Now, a random question: Does anyone have a Tastebook? If you leave stuff out of one section, will they take that tag out? I wish I could customize, but I really don't want a freaking meat tag in my book, thanks.

So, this post was going to be for the last blog party, along with a tasty drink I posted on Yummr, but despite my timing failure, it wasn't bad. My favourite part was the cilantro sauce, which I found on A Veggie Venture. I didn't make the burritos, but instead tried it first on French fries and then on this falafel (not homemade, I'm afraid). I love the sauce. I haven't quite found something that it's perfect with, but I'll keep searching. I did the yoghurt-and-cottage cheese version, incidentally. Oh, and the fresh cilantro didn't kill me. I also added some sauteed squash blossoms from the farmer's market as a garnish, but they were disappointing. Too much butter, maybe, but they collapsed in the pan and didn't have much of a taste. Probably better for stuffing.

03 August 2008

Red Wine Granita and a Confession

Dearest, darling fellow foodbloggers,

I have a confession to make. I'm jealous. I've been sitting here looking through all your beautiful posts, kicking myself for not commenting as always, bookmarking recipes... and all summer I've been reading about your trips to far off destinations - Cyprus, Italy, Greece, Croatia - many of which are places I really want to go. It makes me just a little bit sad. Don't get me wrong. I love your travel photography, and your stories about the food you ate. I'm thrilled that you got to go on such fabulous vacations, and that some of you get to go every year, but man. It's hard being the young, broke blogger on the block. I have been very lucky in my life. I've had opportunities to visit and live in Europe, and I'm far better off than most people in the world. With all the work I do with impoverished populations, I know I'm being a big fat baby. The smart thing to do would be to meditate, reflect on all my blessings, and stop being attached to material things.

But I have to admit it. I miss eating in restaurants, especially outdoors. I miss the ocean like a lost limb. I love my town, but it's smack dab in the middle of the country and I won't be leaving it until next August, with the exception of the occasional half hour trip to Kalona for Amish groceries. I'm starting to wonder if I'll ever actually make enough money to go on exotic holidays like the ones you blog about. Let's face it - I'm not the marrying kind. I'm never going to have double incomes, and if I do, we'll both be women and therefore statistically not making very much. But I'll try to be optimistic. I dream of one day having the money for a KitchenAid, and an apartment with plenty of cabinets, and enough bookshelves so my cookbooks aren't sitting on the floor, and ingredients - oh, the ingredients! I'm determined to one day make enough money to have culinary lavender, vanilla beans, matcha powder, orangeflower water, and all the other things I need to make those lovely recipes I see on your blogs. Maybe I'll even live somewhere with a Trader Joe's! So put in a quick prayer for me, or some good vibes if you're not the praying kind, that one day I'll be posting about gorgeous foodie vacations of my own. I'd appreciate it. :-)

Red Wine Granita

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 bottle red wine

Stir sugar and water to dissolve and bring to a boil over medium heat. Let boil a few minutes, then remove from heat. Cool a bit. Stir in the wine, pour into an 8" baking pan, and cool completely. Cover and freeze about an hour or until crystals start to form. Scrape with a fork, or if you're using a non-stick pan like me, a small rubber spatula (the one that comes with a Cuisinart is perfect). Scrape every forty minutes or so until crystals are more-or-less dry.

My thoughts:

I must admit this isn't my favorite. A spiced variety could have been better, and I'm wondering if it would just freeze by itself without the sugar. The taste is too much like alcoholic grape juice. I needed to use up this bottle, which I really liked (Red Truck Merlot, I'll blog about it later), but it's naturally just a bit sweet and that was perfect. Cold red wine is also just a little weird, and it doesn't freeze as well because of the alcohol. The good thing about that is that you can keep it around forever, because it will never freeze into a solid chunk.