Virtually Absent

16 Jan

Recently I’ve been suffering from the nagging suspicion that my internet presence is slowly dwindling down to virtually nothing (pun ever so intended). I miss my Twitter friends, I never seem to catch birthday reminders on Facebook, and I immediately delete all emails from Klout, shuddering at the thought of what my current score must be. (I won’t even touch the fact that I’ve basically ignored this blog since we moved to Kentucky nearly six months ago.) There’s no longer a healthy (read: neurotic) competition with Adam to see who is more virtually influential, just shame at my inability to keep up.

But then there’s the ray of hope that is Pinterest, with its daily (sometimes minute-ly) updates on my likes and repins. Not only is it a useful tool for organizing recipes, gift ideas and such, but it let’s me feel that I haven’t completely forsaken the internet for real life activities, like walking the dog and going to work. “Don’t worry,” those emails remind me, “there are still people online, both familiar and unfamiliar in the offline world, who are aware of your presence. Look, they even ‘like’ something you posted!”

Okay, so maybe I don’t actually stake my identity on how many Friends and Followers and Likes I have, but I have been feeling a strange sense of disconnect lately which Pinterest has slightly assuaged. I might not be reformatting my blog or working my way through the thousands of posts backlogged in my Google Reader, but I am clicking the “Pin It” button and building (what I consider to be) useful and interesting pinboards, and the frequent emails telling me about each person who responded to my pins is, well, nice.

So while I’m failing at blogging I’m winning at pinning, and the cooking is still mixed in there. I added these recent successful meals to my “What’s for Dinner” board :

Martha Stewart's Baked Eggplant Parmesan

Skillet Rosemary Chicken from Minimally Invasive

And these treats on my “To Do (as a Gift)” board went out to various friends and family as holiday surprises:

Saveur's Candied Orange Peels

Whole Foods Market's Chocolate-Dipped Figs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I just haven’t managed to blog about any of it.

I blame the dog.

Agent Dale Cooper Keiper Winer

Meatless Monday: Caprese Salad

29 Aug IMG_4006

Well the tomato plants in my mother’s backyard are producing like crazy, which means lots of tomatoes for me! Fortunately, this fits right into my current lazy, gadget-deprived cooking style (I really can’t wait to move into the new apartment!) as I’ve been making lots of Caprese salads.

I don’t know if anyone gets super-technical about what actually constitutes a Caprese salad, so I figured I’d look it up on that paragon of accuracy, Wikipedia. Turns out a Caprese Salad, or Insalata Caprese, means “salad in the style of Capri” and originated in the region of Campania in southern Italy. “Officially” it’s comprised of buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and basil topped with salt and olive oil.

Enough “technically speaking.” What’s awesome about Caprese salad is that it takes virtually no time to prepare, highlights gorgeous seasonal produce and can be completely adapted to suit your palate and ingredients. Right now, the cherry tomatoes are beating the full-size ones to ripeness, so I’ve been using a mixture of those and an heirloom variety called a Black Plum. I simply slice the tomatoes (with a serrated knife), arrange them on plates, then roughly chop some basil, tear up some mozzarella (I’ve been using Ciliegine mozzarella since its size is comparable to the tomatoes) and distribute them evenly over the tomatoes. Then a drizzle of olive oil, and a drizzle of balsamic, a sprinkle of Kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper and we’re ready to eat! (Don’t forget to soak up the juices with a nice crusty bread!)

And a bonus: Caprese sandwich! I spread some pesto onto a dry, pita-like bread, constructed a mini Caprese salad on top, then added a bit of roast turkey. Delicious! (Or so I’m told- I sent that one to work with Adam. He deserved a reward for taking all the salad pictures!)

Meatless Monday: Cheesy Chard and Pasta Gratin

22 Aug IMG_4044

During the summer, my mom’s favorite activity seems to be giving away vegetables. Now that I’m back in the Midwest (or thereabouts), I’ve become one of the lucky benefactors of her garden’s overwhelming productivity. Unfortunately, I missed all of the asparagus, but she never fails to foist bags full of chard and tomatoes and peppers on me whenever she gets the chance.

Not that I’m (really) complaining- it sure beats buying all my produce at Whole Foods (especially given my current, unemployed state). But each time it starts a race against the clock- how do I use all these lovely, backyard garden-grown vegetables before they go bad?

For the chard, this required an exploration of the internets: tomatoes are easy to turn into a tasty caprese salad, but I don’t have much experience with chard. Luckily, I managed to stumble upon a recipe that looked perfect for me: covering vegetables in cheese is always my favorite solution!

Mom was sweet and gave me the chard already separated

Chard and Cheese Pasta Gratin

adapted from Girl Interrupted Eating

I’ve made this dish twice now and all I can say is it’s one of those where you can play around with the ingredients/quantities to suit your tastes. I upped the amount of cheese sauce the second time around since I used whole grain pasta, which tends to absorb more moisture.

Ingredients:

10 Chard leaves, separated

1 Small onion, finely chopped

2 Garlic cloves, finely chopped

12 oz. Whole grain pasta

1 T Butter

1 T Flour

2 c Milk

2 T Whole grain mustard

8 oz. Extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2/3 for sauce, 1/3 for topping)

Breadcrumbs

Salt and Pepper

Directions:
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain.
  • Finely slice the stalks and greens from the chard.
  • Saute the stalks with the onion until softened, then add the garlic and finally the leaves. Allow the leaves to wilt,  then set aside.
  • Create a roux, then slowly add the milk, stirring to prevent lumps. (My sauce was quite thin, but it worked just fine since the whole dish gets baked and the pasta absorbs a lot of the moisture.)
  • Slowly add 2/3 of the shredded cheese, stirring in a figure 8 to prevent clumping. After all the cheese is melted, stir in the mustard.
  • Mix the greens with the pasta, then transfer to a 9″x 11″x 2″ baking dish.
  • Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and greens.
  • Top with salt and pepper, breadcrumbs, and the remaining cheese.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the top is starting to crisp, then broil for 3-5 minutes to give it that nice bit of color.

A Pollen-y Analogy

11 Aug

Thinking about that meal at Volt, I remembered an article I read not too long a few months ago about the popularity of pollen in dishes. The article itself was on Tasting Table, though I found it because of an installment of What We’re Reading from the NY Times Dining Section. I’m not sure that the link would have even caught my attention had it not been for the analogy :

Tasting Table: Dill pollen is to fennel pollen what Neutral Milk Hotel was to Nirvana. — Jeff Gordinier

Thanks to my music-snob boyfriend, I had a vague sense of what that was supposed to mean. (Or, more accurately, I was very pleased with myself for recognizing that Gordinier was referencing two bands.) At any rate, the Tasting Table article basically introduces dill pollen as the new, cool flavor enhancer.

What does this have to do with Volt, you ask? Well, check out this picture (again):

Notice those breadsticks sitting in front of my music-snob boyfriend? Yep, they’re dusted with fennel pollen.

Guess Bryan Voltaggio didn’t get the memo about which pollen the cool kids are using.

Back with a Volt!

8 Aug Adam at Volt

Aaaand I’m back.

My poor blog has been virtually nonexistent recently- let’s just say that I’ve clearly not yet learned to be one of those queens of domesticity who can go to work all day, then come home and meticulously photograph a meal as I put it together and have it waiting on the table for my beloved when he walks in the door. And then blog about it.

Sigh.

But now I’m in Kentucky, with a temporary condo (our apartment is currently being constructed) and no job (yet) so I have a bit more free time (when I get tired of staring at my resume). Of course, given that all of our belongings are currently in boxes in the garage, I’m not exactly making gourmet meals at the moment.

You know where they do have gourmet meals, though? Volt.

We lived in Frederick for a little less than a year, but I’m going to miss all the lovely people and places until I get to visit.

In the meantime, I’ll share some pictures that I’ve been meaning to share for months…

We finally made it to Volt during Frederick Restaurant Week this past March. I had something strep-like at the time and was barely dragging myself off the sofa, but I refused to miss this meal. Luckily, since I was just having a throat issue and not a gross sinus-stuffing cold, I could taste every delicious bite (even if it was painful to swallow it).

First Course

cherry glen farm goat cheese ravioli butternut squash, maitake mushrooms, sage air

sheep’s milk cavatelli country ham, broccoli rabe, parmesan

Adam ordered the goat cheese ravioli, I of course went with the dish that most closely resembled macaroni and cheese. Delicious, though I seem to remember an unnecessary hint of cumin.

Second Course

scallop beluga lentils, cauliflower, cilantro, medjool date, verjus

pork tenderloin brussels sprouts, braised red cabbage, creamsicle sweet potato, mustard greens

I had the scallops. They were a-maz-ing. Frankly, the drips and drops of things on the plate didn’t add much, but it sure looked pretty, don’t you think?

Dessert

goat cheese cake d’anjou pear, spiced vanilla ice cream, citrus tuille

textures of chocolate dark chocolate ganache, chocolate caramel, raw organic cocoa

Yes, that might have been too much chocolate, even for me. On the other hand (or, I guess, plate), I’m still dreaming about that vanilla ice cream.

Oh, and there were extra treats, in case that wasn’t enough:

they brought around an awesome bread basket between each course

just in case we were still hungry- coffee cake to-go

So that was our meal- super tasty, but definitely not for every day.

Unleavened Bread & Plenty of Fluids

26 Apr matzo meal latkes

I always manage to screw up Passover. Usually it’s just a little slip, like accepting a bagel chip offered by a friend without really thinking about it. Once, it was because I was studying in London, and my parents came to visit for spring break and we spent five days in Italy: the land of pasta and pizza is not really Kosher for Passover. This year, however, I was going to be good. I as going to make matzo ball soup (for the first time ever!) and matzo kugel and matzo meal latkes… I had a shopping list and everything.

Then I got some kind of stomach virus and the only things I could keep down were sourdough pretzels. Sigh.

So a few days, three IV bags of saline and a very sad shopping trip later (my cart literally contained Gatorade, 7-Up, Saltines, broth and Jell-O) and I completely gave up on being ‘good’ for Passover.

But…

Before I got sick, I did manage to make one matzo-based meal. Luckily, it’s one of my favorites.

Matzo meal latkes!

Most people are more familiar with potato latkes, but I’ve always liked these more because with matzoh meal latkes I can just sprinkle a coat of sugar over them, and I do love sugar. My recipe was not at all recipe-like, given that it came from my mother and, as usual, included the phrase “you just have to get the feel for this one” in the directions. I make pancakes quite frequently, however, so I at least knew what I wanted the batter to look like and could tinker with the quantity of the dry ingredients.

The ‘recipe’ went something like this:

Matzo Meal Latkes
Ingredients

4 eggs, beaten

‘a little’ water (1/4 cup)

1/4 cup matzo cake meal (plus some)

1/4 matzo meal

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Mix all the ingredients, adding extra cake meal until batter is normal pancake consistency.

Heat enough oil in a frying pan that the pancakes will float.

Drop spoonfuls of batter in but don’t crowd the latkes. (They reminded me of funnel cakes floating around in the pan.)

Allow the latkes to brown, then flip to brown on the second side.

Drain on paper towels.

Sprinkle with sugar and enjoy!

Meatless Monday Thoughts: On Eating Animals and Dreaming of Turkeys

28 Mar southern ground hornbills

Can't you feel him judging you?

Awhile ago I mentioned picking up a few food-related books at the library, among them Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. I was skeptical because of its legendary ability to turn readers vegetarian, and as I began reading it I was unconvinced. I’m a Foer fan, but so far (I’m only a third of the way through) he just seems smug and arrogant. There’s absolutely no wiggle room: you either agree with him and give up meat, or you’re completely ignorant (and kind of evil). Seriously, he probably judges lions every time they take down a gazelle. His tone was really starting to annoy me.

Then, I had a dream about a turkey.

Kind of too cute to be bacon

Now, like I told Adam, this could just be from spending too long on the ZooBorns site before bedtime. The site, which I discovered while filling out my NCAA bracket (clearly I needed to see a real bearcat), features baby animals from all over the world. There are palm-sized monkeys, muppet-like sloths, and over-the-top-adorable miniature donkeys. There’s a pig-like creature so cute it made me momentarily reconsider the deliciousness of bacon. And then there’s the Southern Ground Hornbill.

not exactly adorable

This is not a cute baby animal. I mean, I know all the people who care for the animals have to love them all the same, but this is the baby in the nursery that looks like an alien. Actually, it reminds me of one of those challenges on Top Chef when they all have to cook with strange proteins- this could easily have been one of the proteins (if it weren’t endangered). And instead of one of the fluffy, cuddly baby animals, this is the one that somehow made its way into my dream.

You see, the turkey in my dream wasn’t a big, proud, feathered turkey. It was a featherless adolescent that showed up in my apartment, as if it was my new pet. I didn’t know what to feed it, I didn’t know how to tell Adam about it and, most of all, I didn’t know how to keep eating meat. I was seriously planning a blog post in my head (in the dream) in which I admitted omnivorous defeat at the hands pen of Jonathan Safran Foer.

Then I woke up, and all was right with the world.

Except…

It does make me reconsider Foer’s argument about companion animals. Our decision ‘to eat or not to eat’ is closely tied to whether or not a particular animal is a pet. My dream turkey was definitely a pet, and it made me immediately uncomfortable about the idea of eating poultry. So dream Alex (with a pet turkey) is vegetarian but waking Alex (pet-free) loves Popeye’s? Clearly, this ‘pet’ designation is completely arbitrary. I mean, I look at the capybara and see a mammoth guinea pig, i.e. a pet. I’m sure that people from other cultures look at a capybara and see lunch.

It's just like your third grade class pet!

 

So maybe this dream has me thinking a little too much (or, for Foer, not nearly enough).

What do you think?

*Click on photos for sources

Irish Potatoes for St. Patrick’s Day

17 Mar Irish potatoes 2

When I was little I had a wonderful babysitter named Marie. My best friend Sarah and I both went to Marie’s house every day, and played with a whole group of kids while our parents were at work.

I don’t remember a lot about my time at Marie’s. I must have been 5, because I remember her taking me to kindergarten one day when the school schedule was rearranged. I remember playing in a wood-paneled rec room, and watching Loving in the afternoons. I remember one naptime distinctly: as a special treat that day, Sarah and I were allowed to take our naps together. Being a great big 5-year-old, a whole year older and wiser than Sarah, I made up my mind that she shouldn’t have a pacifier anymore, since pacifiers were for babies. Of course, Marie happened to be gardening right outside the bedroom window, and she saw me confiscate Sarah’s pacifier. No more joint naptime.

The other thing I remember is making Irish Potatoes with Marie for St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t remember the ingredients or the flavor, but I remember the excitement of standing in the kitchen with her, helping to create this treat. I might not have a single Irish bone in my body, but this candy is a special tradition for me anyway, because of those memories.

Irish Potatoes

(adapted from Irish Potato Candy by Saundra on allrecipes.com)

Ingredients

1/4 cup butter, softened

4 oz. cream cheese

1 t vanilla extract

3 cups powdered sugar

2 T cocoa powder, separated

2 1/2 cups flaked coconut

1 T  cinnamon

pinch of chili powder

Directions

In a medium bowl, mix together the butter and cream cheese until smooth.

Add the vanilla, powdered sugar, coconut and 1T cocoa powder. Using your hands (trust me, it’s the easiest way) work all of the ingredients together until fully combined.

Combine cinnamon, 1T cocoa powder and pinch of chili powder in small bowl.

Pinch off tablespoon-sized pieces of coconut mixture and use your hands to mold them into potato shapes. Roll each ‘potato’ in the cinnamon mixture, then place on a cookie sheet. Once all of the potatoes are formed, place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator to allow the candies to set.

Share with friends, leprechauns and the like. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

My new favorite sin: candied bacon!

2 Mar IMG_3272

I’ve never really been a good Jewish girl as far as food is concerned. I love shellfish, cheeseburgers and, of course, bacon. There was one Passover when my mom scolded me for eating ham, but that’s about the extent of our attempt at Kosher-ness. And since my love for bacon falls only slightly below my love of olives (both below cheese and chocolate), as soon as I saw this piece on unusual candied foods, I just had to try the bacon.

The process was actually pretty simple. I had to adjust a little, since I got a 12oz package of bacon (the only nitrite/nitrate-free choice). And while the instructions called for using just one spice I used a combo of cayenne, cinnamon and nutmeg. The pinch of cayenne gave it a nice burn at the end to balance out the sweetness. My one problem was what to do with the finished product. My original plan was to use it as a topping on leftover cauliflower gratin. After snacking on taste-testing a few pieces, however, I didn’t really want more with my dinner. I tried it for lunch on a peanut butter and banana sandwich (amazing), and I think it could be great on a Cobb-type salad.

Any other suggestions for using candied bacon?

ready to go in the oven

draining (a few pieces didn't make it)

a bowl of 'yum!'

Here’s the recipe, so you can indulge too!

Candied Bacon

(adapted from Organic Authority)

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon olive oil

¾ cup packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground spice of choice (try cumin, chili powder or cinnamon)

1 pound sliced bacon

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking pan with foil, and place a broiler rack on top of the pan. Coat the rack with oil.

Mix sugar and spices in a large bowl. Add bacon and press mixture onto each bacon slice. Place bacon slice on oiled rack in a single layer, sprinkling with any remaining sugar mixture.

Bake until bacon is nice and crispy, about 20 minutes. Transfer to towels to drain, then transfer to a dish to cool completely.

Lazy baking and Red Lobster

28 Feb IMG_3278

I don’t think I’ve used a baking mix since I was in college. Senior year, when I was living with Mags and Shivani, we made brownies probably once a week, and since our priorities back then involved watching CSI marathons were more studying oriented, our most frequent baking endeavors involved opening a box of mix, adding the requisite eggs and milk and throwing in half a bag of chocolate chips.

Similarly, I probably haven’t been to a Red Lobster* in at least six years. I see their commercials now and shudder- I don’t know how they manage to pack so many calories into a single lobster tail. And yet, when I saw America’s Most Wanted Recipes sitting on the shelf at the library, my first instinct was to check out the recipe for Red Lobster’s biscuits.

Lobster lover's dream (image from redlobster.ca)

You see, before I lived in an adorable town with some great restaurants within walking distance of my apartment; before I lived in Brooklyn and my favorite restaurants were on the way home from the subway and served schwarma and pumpkin curry; before I attended college outside of DC and learned the joys of tapas and Middle-Eastern cuisine, I lived in a small town in western Ohio. And when you live in a small town in western Ohio the dining choices are Bob Evans, Cracker Barrel or, you guessed it, Red Lobster. A 15 minute drive will expand the choices to include Friendly’s, Applebee’s, Tuesday’s and a few non-chain-but-still-not-particularly-exotic restaurants. A 30 or 40 minute drive to Dayton will yield many more chains (hello Olive Garden, Max and Erma’s, Friday’s) but still, not a lot in the way of interesting new flavors.

And so, because the soup and salad lunch is convenient and one chain is as good as another (unless you listen to my father and boycott companies for their political contributions), Red Lobster was a fairly frequent mid-shopping lunch stop for me and my mother. Now, years later, the flavor of those hot, buttery biscuits lingers in the back of my mind, taunting me and my chain-shunning elitist tendencies.

Which brings us back to the baking mix. The recipe called for ’2 cups biscuit mix.’ I have never owned a box of Bisquick, but I now have one sitting rather forlornly in the back of my refrigerator. I have a feeling I will end up using it exclusively to make these biscuits. Regardless of whatever other feelings I might have about Red Lobster, these biscuits are pretty tasty!

I use Smart Balance 50/50 blend, so it's not as bad for me, right?

Red Lobster Cheddar Biscuits

(adapted from America’s Most Wanted Recipes)

Ingredients

2 cups biscuit mix

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

2/3 cup milk

4T butter

1/4 t garlic powder

finely chopped parsley**

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Stir together the biscuit mix, cheddar and milk until a soft dough forms. Beat with a wooden spoon for about 30 seconds.

Spoon onto a greased cookie sheet. Smooth down the tops to prevent hard points from forming.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the tops are brown.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and stir in the garlic powder.

Once the biscuits are out of the oven brush the butter on the tops, sprinkle with parsley and serve hot.

*Red Lobster is a registered trademark of Darden Restaurants, Inc.

**The recipe called for parsley flakes, but I had fresh parsley and it made me feel less guilty about making such a lazy recipe.

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