29 September 2008

Around the World in 26 Letters: Sachertorte!

When I saw that the first challenge for the letter "A" was Austria, I knew I wanted to participate. Austrian baked goods are, quite frankly, yummy, and what's more I was planning on doing this on a Sunday and I have a Monday class with an Austrian professor from 5-7 where we're all complaining that we're starving. So I decided to make a Sachertorte and bring it to class. Since it is only 2:43 on Monday as I write this, I haven't tasted it, but I can tell you about the process. I followed the recipe more or less religiously, and it went pretty well for the most part.

It looked complicated, but the cake part took only an hour from start to in the oven, and baked up quite nicely. I didn't bother "spackling" the little holes, because I'm not that anal. The apricot glaze was also fairly easy, though I was somewhat limited by a grocery store that only had one apricot option, called "fruit spread." I didn't bother straining either, because bits of apricot are tasty. The hard part came with the chocolate glaze. I used the small saucepan as recommended, and I'm glad the chocolate didn't burn, but it was impossible to keep it from boiling over! I couldn't stir very effectively with the candy thermometer in, and if I tried to stir and then stick it back in, it wouldn't get all the way up to the temperature before it had started boiling over again. So I estimate that it was probably only about 220 degrees max, and definitely too thin.

My kitchen was quite a mess after it had run all over the place, and though I kept doing a scrape-and-retry job, it never really set enough to keep there from being thin spots where you could see through. You can see the dripping in progress here, which continued onto my floor. I decided it didn't really matter, though, and a thin glaze is still a glaze.. So I'm about to go whip up some Sahne and head to class. I can tell you that the cake itself is tasty, and the top that you have to cut off tastes great with jam! I don't know if I'd do it other than for a special occasion, because the jam and chocolate are pretty expensive, but it's an impressive treat. Check out Prettybaking in Israel in October for the roundup!

28 September 2008

How to Get Judith to Drink Milk

So I have quite a few recipes backlogged for you, but I thought I would go ahead and share my beverage from Friday night. Proving that I am a complete nerd, I had absolutely zero interest in getting smashed Saturday morning for the football game like the rest of Iowa City (I didn't even realise until Saturday night that it had been homecoming and that's why there were so many people in my way when I went to the law school in the afternoon) but I did want a cocktail for debate-watching on Friday. Good old Rachel Maddow proposed a drinking game on her Air America radio show, so I decided to be a good little lesbian and play along. Trouble is, I needed a drink, and something weak enough that I wouldn't get drunk by taking a sip every time John McCain said "prison, chair, or table" and everytime Obama mentioned Main Street or Wall Street. So this is what I came up with. A white chocolate cherry... glass of alcoholic milk.

Judith's Calcium-Fortified Debate Cocktail

About half a shot of Smirnoff black cherry vodka (I didn't measure)
About twice that of white chocolate Irish cream

Pour the liquors in, fill the rest of the glass with milk, and stir. Everything should be well-chilled and I hear if you mix creamy things with cheap vodka, it might curdle, so use the good stuff.

26 September 2008

First Attempt at a Smitten Kitchen Recipe: Squash/Potato Torte

I have long been a fan of Deb at Smitten Kitchen. Her photos always look like something I would want to eat, she gives a lot of helpful tips, and I feel like I can trust her on recipes. If something wasn't all that great, she'll be honest about it. If she says something is spectacular, I think she's probably right. For some reason, however, I hadn't gotten around to making anything from her blog. Recently, I changed that with two recipes. One pretty decent, and the other out of the park. This is the first - herbed summer squash and potato torte, recipe from June 2001 Bon Appetit. Was it good? Yes. But as you can see, not nearly as pretty as Deb's. I didn't have green onions, and my parmesan didn't melt nearly as prettily. Probably should've used a block instead of pre-grated. I also didn't use thyme - mint and basil instead. It was well-seasoned, though, and I love fresh summer squash.

18 September 2008

Blog Party Birthday Bash Part Two: A Cheese and Wine Tasting

As I said before, the Blog Party theme for September is our host's birthday, and I cheated just a little by making a cake. In order to pretend to follow the rules, I also provided a drink and appetizer. This is one of my favourites - wine and cheese. There's nothing more decadent than a little pre-dinner wine and cheese tasting. I'll admit that the wine wasn't so much of a tasting as a glass of cheap cabernet (Lindeman's), but another dish I was making called for dry wine and so I had to open that instead of the fancier but less dry Merlot. It was still pretty good. The cheeses are sort of a spectrum of crumbly. We start with the firmest, a Wensleydale studded with cranberries, tasty with a definite bite to contrast with the fruit. The Stilton with blueberries is milder and sweeter, and the texture is smoother, though it still crumbles. Finally, my classic crumbly cheese, a Chevrion goat cheese. Perfectly mild and creamy, I get this every time I go to the cheese shop. So happy birthday, Stephanie! I raise my glass to you.

12 September 2008

That Time of the Year

It's the very brief period of the year, my absolute favourite time, when the bounty at the farmer's market is incredible, it's cool enough to use the stove and oven, AND I can sleep without six layers of clothing. I've been taking advantage by making a number of casserole-like things. As you can see, I found these strange summer squash that are round and have fewer seeds as a consequence of size. They taste the same but are less watery. I also got some skinny (Japanese, maybe?) eggplants, some new potatoes, roma tomatoes, a bunch of fresh herbs, and plenty of corn. Last night, I spent an hour making Deborah Madison's fantastic red wine tomato sauce and planned to come home and do the eggplant dish it goes on after lesbian reading group, along with some wine and cheese tasting, but I got a bit distracted and went out instead. Ah, well. The good thing about tomato sauce is, it keeps quite happily.

10 September 2008

They say it's your birthday...

This is part one of two for Blog Party this month. We're celebrating Stephanie's birthday this month, and what better way to do so than with cake? Okay, okay, it's not an appetizer or a drink. But I knew I was coming, so I baked a cake. Deal with it. Tomorrow I'll be having a little wine and cheese tasting for the "official" part of my blog party entry. Out of order, you say? I don't know. I think Stephanie is a dessert first kind of person.

I'm thrilled to be able to celebrate her birthday at Blog Party because (1) Stephanie is one of the small group of bloggers who have really welcomed me and kept me feeling like a part of this great big foodie community and (2) I think I've done more blog parties than any other foodie event. It's always a good time. I chose a coconut angel food cake, which is Alton Brown's recipe plus, well, coconut extract. I thought about adding shredded coconut, but after twenty minutes to get the stupid egg whites to soft peaks, I didn't want to do anything that would risk deflation. In fact, it turned out perfectly! I've sliced it into pieces for all y'all, and I hope you enjoy.

07 September 2008

Brunch at Red Avocado

I was annoyed at myself for forgetting to bring my camera to appropriately document this meal, but Rita and I had brunch today at the Red Avocado, Iowa City's only vegetarian restaurant, and I thought I'd at least tell you what I thought. Taste-wise? Fantastic. I had a tisane that was very good and a bowl of coconut corn soup that was well-seasoned and quite coconutty, as well as a portobello crepe. The crepe tasted very nice, but was small and came with a lot of plain old lettuce. We also split a slice of cardamom cake with orange icing that was again, amazing, but too small. This is generally my beef with vegetarian restaurants. Things tend to taste fantastic, use fresh ingredients, etc etc, but the portions are too small, the food isn't very filling, and it's incredibly expensive. $21 plus tip isn't that bad, but I didn't walk away feeling very full and I didn't have anything leftover. If I were to open a vegetarian restaurant, I'd definitely have some very hearty options. I don't mind splurging, but if I'm going to splurge I don't want to go home hungry.

06 September 2008

Anyone want to join my band?

I've decided that today's hair day makes it imperative that I form a new Beatles. Who's with me?

Anyway. It's been a good week in food. I bought an ungodly amount of cheese, and then lots of produce to go with it, so expect cheese and Farmer's Market posts coming up. I may save some of the cheese posts for la fête du fromage, and perhaps carry one with my wine and cheese tasting idea, only one wine and cheese at a time so I don't forget what I tasted two months ago.

Today I wanted to share some thoughts I've had recently about blogs. As I've been trying to make my blogging more manageable, I've been thinking about what makes a foodblog one of my favourites. I'll admit, some of the reasons are picky things that have to do with the way my recipe program works (if people don't list ingredients separately, for example, or use in-text bullet points or strange abbreviations or weird formatting that doesn't copy well, I tend to get annoyed quickly, but that's no fault of the blogger). The things I've included here are more generally applicable, and possibly good tips for new bloggers. I'll freely admit that my own blog does not follow all these things, partly due to time and budget, but they're good to aspire to.

Foodblogging pros:

1. Attractive, clean, simple layout. (Bonus points for the layout, and especially photos, appearing in your RSS feed).
2. Attractive, clean, simple photography. Of course the professional photographers have beautiful blogs, but even people who are about at my own standard with a point-and-click are just fine. It's mostly about lighting and composition - if it's hard to see the food, or it doesn't look appetizing, I'll be less interested.
3. Simple, appealing recipes OR complicated recipes that look fantastic. My favourite blogs deviate between the two. I have some blogs, like Smitten Kitchen, Coconut & Lime, and Cook (Almost) Anything Once that tend to do a lot of simple things with few ingredients and few dishes to wash. Other blogs I love, like Tartelette, have very complicated baking recipes, but I save them because the instructions are clear, the food looks amazing, and they're perfect for special occasions.
4. Tips on the food, opinions about the food, stories about the food. Though some of my favourite blogs are written by great storytellers who can talk about pretty much anything and interest me, in general I like knowing about the recipe someone's posting. Is there something I should know about the ingredients? Is this a fantastic recipe? One of the best things about blogs is that, unlike a cookbook, people are honest about how easy the recipe was to make and how good it was. I especially love it when people mention that a recipe was particularly low on dish-use or particularly inexpensive.

Foodblogging cons:

1. Layout makes it difficult to go back, or there isn't a search feature, or posts are frequently renamed so that links break.
2. Gorgeous photographs that make me want the food so badly and then don't include a recipe. There are some blogs where I want every single dish the person makes, but there's never a recipe. If it's a copyright issue, then I'd at least like the source, so I can write it down and find the cookbook in the library. Granted, I don't frequently do that, but sometimes I will at least add the cookbook to my list of books to check out, and it's better than no clues at all as to source. One of the worst things is when people post an original recipe without the recipe!
3. This is a personal thing, and admittedly a bit Ameri-centric (unusual for me), but I'm frustrated by blogs in English with exotic recipes and no clues about the ingredients. I tend to skip over recipes where five or six ingredients are unknown to me, and then see the same ingredients in a later recipe with a translation and realise that it was just the Hindu word for a familiar spice, for example. If the post is written in English, and the ingredient is something common throughout the world with an english name, a translation would be great.
4. Holier-than-thou blogs. I understand the temptation to declare oneself a great person because you're organic, local-only, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, always made-from-scratch, have an ad-free blog etc. etc. etc. I don't think there's anything wrong with personally being proud of those things, and maybe an occasional post about something like that won't bother me. But when there are frequent posts of this nature, or posts with a condescending tone towards those who aren't able to adopt a given lifestyle choice, I get frustrated. I'm not living in poverty by any stretch of the imagination, but I can't afford to buy only local or organic or whatever else. I'd love to join Daring Bakers or TWD but I can't afford to do something like that where I know I'll be required to buy certain ingredients that are out of my budget. If someone is going to discuss those choices, that's fine, I just prefer that they don't make everyone else feel like dirt.

04 September 2008


Apparently in Iowa, it's pretty much a sin not to eat corn throughout the summer, especially on the cob. A couple of weeks ago, my friends Rita and Liz and I went to Red Avocado's "birthday" party, and they featured grilled corn. I didn't necessarily think it tasted different, to be honest, but it was pretty good. I've never been to Red Avocado, even though it's all-veg, because of the cost. However, their brunch is a bit more reasonable so Rita and I are going there Sunday. I'll report back soon. As for my own corn preparation techniques, I admit that I don't buy corn frequently because I don't really want to find a worm in the husk. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I found these tiny sweet corn ears at the Farmer's Market one Saturday, already relieved of their husks! Nowhere for worms to hide, so I bought several immediately. I decided just to boil them and serve them with a bit of margarine, and they were superb. Then I went back the next week, and no more huskless corn! I had ideas for chowder, souffle, cornbread, corn pudding... but alas. Thwarted. I hope this week will be better. I miss silver queen corn, which apparently only grows in the South, but I have to say fresh Iowa corn is still pretty darn good and I'd like to be able to bake with it before the autumn's over.

03 September 2008

Amazonian Purchases

And by "Amazonian," I mean Amazon.com. It started with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind being marked down, and then I saw a Gold Box special on this lovely box of 120 Ceylon teas by Bentley's (not only is the tea itself a treat, but the box is what I'm really going for, as all my ridiculous quantities of teas have spread like an infestation throughout my cabinet. Then I need something, anything, to get Super Saver Shipping, so I decided to break down and by Clotilde's new book. I'll admit that my love affair with Clotilde only lasted a few months. I thought she was amazing, hers was the first foodblog I saw, etc etc, and I still find her very charming and informative, but I think the blog's gone a bit downhill. I don't enjoy it nearly as much as Smitten Kitchen or Tartelette or La Tartine Gourmande or Cook (Almost) Anything Once or the other dozen or so blogs that now occupy the "top" of my list. I have Chocolate & Zucchini but haven't actually made anything from it. Then again, that doesn't say much for me as I usually only make something from a recipe once every two weeks given my busy life, lack of access to a car, and unpredictable grocery habits. This book I think will come in handy next time in Paris, but it doesn't have my favourite restaurant in it. Actually, that's probably a good thing, because the masses will not descend upon "my spot" anytime soon. I do think that my strategy for foodblog management, given the "problem" mentioned in my last post, will be to try to cut down on the recipes I bookmark, so that less time is spent copying recipes I'll never make (who really needs 17 ways to make chocolate mousse?) and spend more of my "foodie time" actually reading and commenting on the dozen or so posts I do read. I'd also like to spend more time meal planning and, you know, cooking, as well as participating in more foodie events and my own foodie features on which I've been slacking. Finally, I'd like to dedicate a teeny bit more time to Yummr, Foodbuzz, and the Foodie Blogroll forum. This probably means that some of the foodblogs on my google reader will get the axe. I hate doing that, but hey, if I never comment they never know I'm there, and if I'm just scrolling by their posts, there's no reason to keep the blog hanging around because one time three months ago they posted a recipe I liked.

02 September 2008

I have a problem

If you're feeling a sense of dejà vu at the moment, no no, another problem. I think I'm addicted to foodblogs. I spend hours copying recipes into my database, and at least an hour a day bookmarking recipes to copy later. I look at so many posts a day that I almost never actually get to comment on them. If I weren't doing this, I could be reading books, or even having a social life! It's a teeny bit depressing sometimes. Anyway... I ended up bringing bulgur salad to the potluck for fear that börek would not turn out as anticipated. I'm getting somewhat frustrated that I have no idea whether my bulgur is fine, medium, or what, so here's a picture. Do people who purchase packaged and labelled bulgur have any idea?

01 September 2008

A Quandary

I have a problem.

I absolutely cannot, for the life of me, remember to put food in the fridge after it's cooled down. You're not supposed to put very hot food in the fridge for obvious reasons, so I cover it, leave it out on the table, and then promptly forget about it and go to bed. I have a horrible memory in general, and it doesn't help that the layout of my kitchen means that I don't have to walk through it to get anywhere. Normally dinnertime is the last time I'm in there at night. So what do you folks do to remember? Tie a string around your finger? Set a timer? A Google Alert? I have to admit that I stuck the instant mashed potatoes that have been out about twelve hours back in the fridge. They smell and taste all right, and I'm going to heat them up before I eat them. Yes, I know that's a fantastically stupid idea, but I'm sick of throwing away food. If I suddenly stop posting in the next few days, well, you know what happened to me.