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Preview: The Essential Rhubarb Pie

The Essential Rhubarb Pie

Recipes and ramblings from a very geeky gourmet

Updated: 2018-02-21T12:21:35.681-05:00


Literary Inspirations: The Address


For this post I made my most ambitious recipe yet. A common literary trope today is the story of two or more women (and occasionally men) from different time periods who are somehow linked together through a particular location.  Usually the character from the present finds some kind of artifact from the past and decides to look for clues as to what it's all about.  The story then shifts to the past where the reader learns the story of what happened.  Usually the character from the present needs to deal with the mess of her current life and finding out these clues gives her focus and purpose.The Address by Fiona Davis fits this formula nicely. The story takes place in one of New York's most famous residences, The Dakota.  The story shifts between a young English girl who leaves her job as a hotel maid to help manage the newly-built Dakota building, and an interior designer in the 1980s who is a recovering alcoholic trying to salvage her life and career by taking a commission to redecorate a friend's Dakota apartment.I was hoping the book might provide some descriptions of fine dining in NYC in the 1880s (or even the 1980s), but like every other book I have read in 2018, it failed to bring me any direct inspiration.  I imagined chapters that would feature dinner parties at the Dakota or meals eaten at Delmonico's.  To my dismay, this book decided not to put any focus on what the characters were eating.  I have learned some authors don't think food is important.  What is wrong with them?I decided to do some research once again and see what was commonly on fine dining menus from 1884-1886 (the years the historical parts of the book took place).  I found the New York Public Library has an archive of menus from clubs, restaurants, and private parties from almost every era.  I looked for common elements throughout the different menus offered.The food on the menus was rarely anything interesting or unique.  The most most frequent dishes were roast meats and fish along with vegetable accompaniments, all made to sound fancier by writing them in French.  I had to run some of the options through a translator.  I often found once I was beyond the French name, I was looking at an ordinary dish.  I'm sure many of these fine cuts of meat were considered fancy enough as they were.  The average American most likely couldn't afford the kinds of cuts of meat offered in high-end restaurants. There were also more adventurous cuts that tend to be overlooked by Americans today such as rabbit, offal, and  terrapin.  At first I thought I would not have to work very hard to create the kind of meal the characters in The Address might have eaten at a dinner party.  I could cook a leg of lamb and a side of peas and call it a day.*After reading way too many menus, I began to notice that timbale was a popular method for presenting food.  I saw meat themed timbales (or should I say timbali?) and vegetable timbales, but the one that caught my eye was one called Timbale Ris Milanese.  Ris Milanese?  Would that be like risotto milanese, the arborio rice dish flavored with saffron?   What if I made a molded risotto and filled it with a delicious meat filling?  How about a duck ragu`?  Duck, including duck timbale, was featured regularly on the retro menus.My usual brain mushing ensued as I came up with how I would do this.  I made a basic risotto, but without the onions (for the sake of texture).  I flavored it with wine and saffron.  I mixed it with eggs and parmesan, molded it into a springform pan, and filled it with a duck ragu´I made the ragu´ with store-bought duck leg confit (even though I had to bite the bullet and pay $12 per leg).  I started with slow-cooked some onions.  I layered that with mushrooms and garlic.   I add some Worcestershire sauce and tomato paste for a deeper, richer, and more intense flavor.  Finally I added brandy to give it a kick.  I simmered it all together and nest[...]

Literary Inspirations: Before We Were Yours (Instant Pot Recipe)


When I decided to take on the project of creating a recipe inspired by every book I read, I didn't realize just how difficult it would be.  It seems I have two problems.I read too much.I don't read the right kinds of books.I am not the first book-and-cook blogger out there.  A quick internet search showed me bloggers who devote their entire blogs to edible literature.  They seem to do a much better job of finding books with a strong food focus.  It seems logical to me that writers would be foodies.  Readers are foodies aren't they?  (Where did I get these stereotypes from?) I make this strange assumption every book I read will somehow be about food. This hasn't happened lately and I come up empty.  Then I struggle to find that food connection in all everything I read.It's also a difficult project because I devour books with the same passion I devour my meals. I finished three books just last week.  That meant I had to create three blog posts (including this one). In that spirit, I don't think I will be creating a recipe inspired by every book I read.  I read too much to ever be able to put all the books up on this blog (and since I deleted Facebook, I read even more).  Since not every book automatically inspires a recipe, I shouldn't have to work so hard to push out posts for all of them.  I will be making posts with my current reads, but in the future, I won't be posting a recipe for every book.  I will only post recipes from books that truly inspire me.  Don't worry.  That doesn't mean the project is abandoned.  I simply won't have quite as many.  I will also make non-book food posts.Now let's get down to business and talk about my recent book.Before We Were Yours is the story of a family of shantyboat people in Depression-era Tennessee who live happily on the river until the mother has a complicated delivery of breech twins.  The midwife refuses to get involved and the mother is rushed to the hospital.  Unbeknownst to the children, the parents sign away the rights to their remaining five children in exchange for payment of their hospital bill.  Police raid the boat, round up the children, and bring them a miserable orphanage where children are starved, beaten, and sexually abused.  We learn they are part of a covert baby selling ring.Although the book is fiction, it is based on real-life events.  For three decades Georgia Tann ran the Tennessee Children's Home Society.  She used many unethical practices to take children from poor families.  She bribed nurses to tell poor parents their babies were stillborn.  She had police officers take kids off the street and tell them their parents had died or that they no longer wanted them.  She enlisted the help of a family court judge who would deem parents unfit to keep their children.  The children were sold to rich families for outrageous adoption fees.  Tann covered her tracks by changing the names of the children once they were taken so they could not be traced back to their parents.  She made up histories of these children to make them sound more appealing to their adoptive parents.  The children starved in her orphanages while she made millions for herself.  (How many other book lovers out there are now making comparisons to Mr. Brocklehurst in Jane Eyre?)  Officials were bribed to stay silent and even aided her efforts.  Tann died of cancer before she could ever be brought to justice.  It is a sad piece of American history that few of us know much about.The story, like so many other novels these days, alternates between two points of view.  Part of the book is narrated by eldest daughter, Rill Foss.  The alternating chapters focus on a modern-day senator's daughter who is trying to establish a connection between herself and a confused elderly woman she meets in a nursing home.  The search for answers and the need for secrecy illustrates the aftermath of the horrib[...]

Literary Inspirations: That Month In Tuscany


I'm a sucker for anything Italian.  If I could only travel to one foreign country for the rest of my life, I would choose Italy.  I have been to Italy three times in my life and each time it revealed a new face to me.  It never fails to surprise me with what beauty it will present.  Italy has beautiful cities filled with dazzling architecture, charming countrysides, and stunning coastlines.  In the past I explored the Roman ruins and Florentine art.  I galloped a horse through the vineyards, olive groves, and cypress lanes of Chianti.  I hope to return sometime so I can  explore the south and experience more of that gorgeous Mediterranean coast I was only able to witness briefly.My most cherished Italian memory, and perhaps my most cherished travel memory, was my 2011 trip to a Tuscan agriturismo.  What could be more magical than a restored nineteenth century farmhouse, horses, gorgeous countryside, homemade food, and plenty of local wine?With this in mind, all I needed was to see the title to make me download That Month in Tuscany onto my iPad.  Anything that would remind me of Italy, and remind me of that special region of my favorite foreign country, was enough to make me want to read it.The book is hardly grand literature.  It's a Mary Sue fantasy (in the sense that it seems to be a manifestation of the author's wish fulfillment).  Our heroine Lizzie is a frustrated housewife who books an anniversary trip with her disinterested husband in hopes of saving her marriage.  Her husband decides at the last minute he can't go (or doesn't want to go) and asks her to cancel.  Instead she surprises everyone and goes by herself.  She meets a rock star who is trying to hide out from the world to recover from burnout and battle personal demons.  The two of them have an adventure evading her angry husband.  Unfortunately, tragedy strikes at home and she has to make some tough decisions about her life. If the book were a romcom, I would likely have never watched it unless I was home sick and curled up on the couch with a cup of Baileys-spiked hot chocolate and a box of tissues.  Reading the book wasn't much of an intellectual exercise.I can't believe anyone would write a book about Tuscany and not spend any time at all discussing the food.  Occasionally the narrator would mention a delicious pasta dish or a salad, but the reader never learns what is in that pasta or that salad.  It was frustrating for me because I had hoped a book about Tuscany would have to contain references to food. (I guess I should have tried Eat Pray Love).That left me with trying to decide for myself what would be an appropriate Tuscan meal. I wanted a dish that would reflect the simple, homemade nature of Tuscan cooking and be seasonally appropriate.I took my inspiration from this book.  My mother bought it for me after hearing me talk so longingly about the food we ate on the farm.It's all about local and seasonal cooking from the Tuscan countryside.  It is about as appropriate for this post as a book can be.Some of the ingredients are hard to source (what's local for Italians isn't always local for those of us in the US) and some contained ingredients from another season (and that seems like the antithesis of Italian cooking).  I needed something with accessible ingredients that was easy to make on a weeknight.The book contains a recipe for Gnudi.  These are ricotta dumplings.  They are called gnudi (literally naked) because they are like ravioli without the outer wrapping.  I swear I made them on this blog before, but I couldn't find the post.  I used that as an excuse to make them again.  The recipe from the book is a spinach gnudi recipe.  Spinach is not exactly in season this time of year, but I rationalized it that I can still get hothouse spinach at the farmers' market, so it's not technically not in season.  I used frozen spinach anyway to save ti[...]

Literary Inspirations: The Rules of Civility (Instant Pot Recipe)


I think I read the work of Amor Towles in the wrong order.  The first novel of his I read was A Gentleman in Moscow earlier last year.  That would have provided me ample ideas for a blog post.  The book takes place in a high-end hotel and its protagonist is always dining in one of the hotel's fine restaurants.  At one point in the story his companion is a little girl who eats mounds of different flavored ice creams.Unfortunately for this blog, I read the book before the Literary Project.  It would not count as current inspiration.   I set my sights on a new book.   I enjoyed A Gentleman in Moscow, so I would try Towles's earlier work, The Rules of Civility.The Rules of Civility is about a young American woman with Russian immigrant parents (Towles had to get that Russian reference in there somewhere).  She is a working class girl in New York City in 1939, but her life is not unlike a young single woman in New York today.  She likes to drink and barhop as much as an Sex in the City character (or Girls character, or a character from whatever single-in-the-city TV show is popular right now).  On her travels across the seedier side of the city, she meets a wealthy young man and befriends him and he introduces her to the upper echelons of wealthy New York society.  (There is way more to the story than that, but we won't get into it here.)I had hoped a story of a woman making her way through wealthy New York society and dining at parties in elegant homes and eating at fine restaurants would contain a wealth of food inspiration.  Sadly, this was not the case.  Our heroine Katie seems to care more about drink than about food (she loves her gin) and she eats a lot of seafood when she does mention her meals.  There was little in the book that made me want to head to the kitchen and recreate the experience.I finally found my inspiration when I reached the end of the book.  There was one scene where Katie attends a dinner party at a posh New York apartment and one of the courses served was a black bean soup with sherry that the guests seemed to find remarkable.  At the time I didn't think much of it.  What's so special about black bean soup?  At the end of the book, Katie is reminiscing about that dinner and mentions the black bean soup again.  Obviously there can be something special about black bean soup.  I realized the only way I would know what would make a black bean soup so memorable would be to make one myself. There are so many black bean soup recipes out there that have a Mexican or other Latin American flair.  They are seasoned with tomato and hot peppers and cilantro.  The characters in The Rules of Civility would never eat a Mexican soup.  Such a soup would never even be on their radars.  My soup would need to reflect the food sensibilities from another era.  Besides, I don't see sherry combining well with hot peppers.  My soup needed garlic and fresh herbs.  If I was going to simmer any meat in it, I would avoid hot sausage like chorizo.  I needed something traditional like a good old-fashioned ham hock.I made my soup in an Instant Pot.  If you want to make it in a slow cooker, cook the beans on high for 8-10 hours.  If you want to use the stovetop, just soak them overnight and bring them to a boil and simmer two hours.What did my literary recipe look like?It wasn't much to look at, but it was tasty enough.  The ham hocks gave it a smoky richness and the sherry and vinegar gave it a savory tang.  It was a bit too salty though.  As hard as I tried to make a memorable black bean soup, I'm not sure if dinner guests would remember this a year from now if I served it tonight.Civilized Black Bean SoupIngredients1 bag of black beans, sorted and rinsed1 Tbl olive oil 1 onion, diced1 green bell pepper, chopped4-5 cloves of garlic, finely minced 6 cups of chicken broth 4-6 sprigs of fre[...]

Playing with Vegetables


"Eat your vegetables.  They're good for you."  We have heard this phrase for our entire lives.  First we heard it from our parents and other authority figures.  Then we heard it from the nutrition police in the media.We all know we should eat our vegetables for optimum health.  The problem with eating more vegetables is the way vegetables taste.  Vegetables have a tendency to not taste good.  Some vegetables do taste better than others, but there are too many foods out there that taste better than vegetables.  Chocolate tastes better than carrots.  A steak tastes better than eggplant.  A cookie tastes better than squash.  Barbecued ribs taste better than kale.  Spaghetti and meatballs tastes better than asparagus.  Just about anything tastes better than peas.  What do many of us do when we want to get more vegetables into our bodies?  We often opt for something called a salad.What comes to mind when you hear the word "salad"?  Do you think of a pile of lettuce and tomatoes drowned in a vinegary dressing?   That doesn't sound exciting does it?  We put some effort into making it more palatable, but the stuff we pile onto that lettuce, such as meat, nuts, cheese, and fried onion, tends to negate the health benefits.  If we're trying to push more vegetables down our gobs for health reasons, we need to make them the main event, don't we?One of the most enlightening reads I ever had on the subject of salad was in Tamar Adler's book An Everlasting Meal  (reviewed here).   She has an entire chapter devoted to salads.  Adler describes a salad as any ingredient, hot or cold, cut up and dressed with fat and acid, and nicely presented in a bowl or plate.  Adler describes the different iterations of salads around the world, whether it's a Greek platter of lightly dressed cucumber and mint, or a French bowl of celery root in remoulade.  Salads should not be a pile of multiple ingredients all competing for your attention.  It should be one or two star players dressed in a way to complement their flavors and textures. Adler suggests we find an ingredient we are passionate about and then working with it to make it taste as good as it can.I am likely preaching to the converted here.  Many of my food blogging buddies create beautiful salads from a few simple ingredients without resorting to iceberg lettuce and tomatoes.  It's not as if Adler told me anything I don't know.  What she did do was help me think in new ways.  What am I passionate about?  How can I play with the vegetables I find most palatable and make them shine?In the past few months I have been experimenting with salads, attempting to keep the dishes to one main ingredient with some complementary flavors.  Here are my favorite ones I came up with.My entire life I have loved raw carrots.  They were one of the few vegetables I would eat growing up.  As I grow older, it does feel a bit unsophisticated to just gnaw on raw carrots like Bugs Bunny.  If I publicly snack on baby carrots, I come off looking like a neurotic dieter.  I needed a new take.My answer was a salad of shaved carrots tossed with crispy bacon bits (from Stone & Thistle Farm) and a dressing made of red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and maple syrup.Fennel is another favorite vegetable.  Not everyone likes that licorice-like flavor, but a long slow roast mellows that flavor perfectly.  I roasted my bulbs with lemon, olive oil, and fresh thyme.  When I was ready to serve them, they got a topping of fresh goat cheese. I made no effort to stage this photo.  Some days you just get lazy.  Here it is right out of the oven.I also love roasted parsnips.  I can cut up the biggest parsnip and stick it in the oven with plenty of olive oil and when they come out of the oven, I can proba[...]

Literary Inspirations: Girls on Fire


My literary inspired project is harder than it sounds.  Some books are so full of descriptions of food you feel hungrier with every chapter.  Some books just put you off your dinner. One of my recent reads Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman was one of the latter books.  It's a dark story of a twisted friendship reminiscent of Heathers and Poison Ivy. It is the early 1990s. The protagonist, Hannah is a quiet, unattractive, and lonely teen who is drawn to Lacey, a rebellious and self-destructive classmate.  Lacey comes from a troubled background and finds her salvation in listening to Nirvana and by manipulating those she cares about.  Hannah is drawn into her world, never questioning her motives or her choices.  It is frightening to see what Hannah will subject herself to both in compliance to and defiance of Lacey. As the story comes to its conclusion, we learn the truths behind the tragic events in the book.  The details are shocking and meant to make the reader uncomfortable.  Do I feel relieved or horrified the characters got away with their horrible misdeeds?How can I even begin to find inspiration for a meal from this book?  This is little mention of food anywhere.  The only references to food come from Hannah saying her mother is a terrible cook.  At one point they have Lacey over for dinner and the mother makes lasagne - supposedly the one dish she can make well - and it's burnt and inedible.  Another time Hannah mentions her mother's bad meatloaf.  I'm not inclined to cook either dish when the book turns me off of both of them.  Besides, meatloaf has been done to death on this blog and lasagne has been done to death everywhere.So that left me with what foods this book would inspire.The story is rooted in the early 1990s.  If you lived through that era, you will recognize the fashion, the news events, and the pop culture.  While I'm not a Nirvana fan, I think the early 90s were a great time for music. They were the last years for rock to made a stand on the airwaves and in popular culture before record-company-manufactured pop and hip-hop* took over at the end of the decade.  When I read the book, I felt as I were back there.My goal for this post then was to create a dish that paid homage to the 90s in the same way this book does.  (Well, not the same way.  My food will not be associated with rape, murder, and domestic violence.)I had to do a bit of research as well as call upon my own memories to think of a 90s inspired dish. What did people eat in the 90s?I think of the 80s and 90s as the time when American cuisine reinvented itself and came into its own. During the mid-twentieth century, canned and convenience foods were beloved by most American households.  First and second generation Americans might still be cooking their own classic recipes from the old country, but they weren't sharing them with the rest of the community.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, those who appreciated fine cooking were sticking with the French classics popularized by James Beard or Julia Child.  Until the late 20th century, it seems you were either eating meatloaf with mashed potatoes and canned green beans or else you were eating boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, beef wellington, and sole meunière.  You might have had a fondue party here and there for variety.  In any case, there wasn't a whole lot of creativity or heavy ethnic exploration.In the 80s and 90s the country broke out of its food rut.  We discovered more ethnic cuisines.  We also began to explore the depths of more familiar cuisines.  For example, we learned that Italian food wasn't just lasagne and spaghetti and meatballs, but encompassed a broad range of regional specialties. Asian cuisines other than Chinese began to emerge such as sushi, Thai, and Indian.  Chefs also began experimenting w[...]

Christmas Live Blog 2017


Thursday, December 21st2:30 PMI'm not spending any more money this Christmas.  I'm finished with this whole spending money thing.  Christmas is expensive.  It's not even about the gifts.  I have to buy food and alcohol and decorations and utensils.  It never ends.  Welcome to the 2017 Christmas Live Blog.  This is where I narrate, vent, and otherwise tell the tale of putting Christmas dinner together.  I update my readers as much as possible on how successful I am at feeding my family a feast.I know I complain, but after every Christmas dinner I make, I can't wait to do the next one.  I have been waiting two years to have this chance again and I have been planning the menu for just as long.  It takes time, money, organization, and a few headaches to put together a three-course dinner for a large number of family members, but I don't want to do it any other way.Actually, I would like to do it another way.  I'd like a house  - a decent-sized house - with a bigger kitchen and a real dining room and an attic and basement for storage, but that's a subject for another post.Today's agenda is about spending the last few dollars I still have left in my account.  After extracting my Christmas tableware from my storage locker, I headed to Kohl's.  I needed glassware.  I break glassware all the time.  Almost twenty years ago I moved into my first apartment and my friends Mike and Sean gave me a 40-piece glassware set with the intention of giving me plenty of glass to break.  Well, I have broken most of those glasses.  I needed glasses for non-alcoholic beverages.  Kohl's has decent housewares selection, so I headed there.  I don't really need a centerpiece, but this year I felt I just had to have one.  I want my tables to look more festive.  I scoured Home Goods for something that would look nice on the table.  It was a tea light holder, so I had to buy tea lights.  My final stop was at Party City.  I needed the clear plastic mugs to serve the hot apple cider. I have nothing at home that would look nice for the cider.  The clear plastic mugs are attractive enough and I don't have to keep them.  I do hate the idea of waste though.Next I'll be at the liquor store buying brandy for the hot cider and at the Italian specialty store for panettone and some fresh mozzarella.  I started out with a leisurely morning, but that will be my last leisurely morning for a long time.7:50 PMClosing out the day with a Baileys-spiked hot chocolate and my beloved copy of Paul Theroux's A Christmas Card.  This is a time-honored Solstice ritual for me. Friday, December 22nd8:21 AMI just got back from the gym.  I may let my healthy eating habits fall by the wayside a bit during the holiday season, but I am determined to keep up my fitness.  Exercise keeps me sane and I think it helps me eat better. When I left the house at 7 this morning, I saw a small school bus waiting outside my building.  I was still under the influence of reading A Christmas Card and was in fantasy mode.  I had a hope that bus was there for me and that it was a magic bus ready to take me on some kind of Polar Express-type adventure.  Alas, it was not to be and I had to go to the gym.Today is the least fun day of prep.  This is cleanup day.  This is the day I make my apartment shine from top to bottom.  I dread it, but I have to get through this.  I go one room at a time.  I start at one end of the apartment and work my way from room to room until I get to the other end.The first order of business is trash removal.  I am emptying every receptacle so I have room for all the trash I'll be generating during the cooking and setup process. I have to take these boxes to the compactor room before I do anything else.  These are[...]

New Series: Literary Inspirations


I'm taking on a new project for 2018. I often write about how inspiration can come from anywhere.  It can come from watching Food Network.    It can come from a movie.  It can come from spotting a new ingredient at the store. It can come from mistakenly reading a food label.  It is always exciting to me when one of these ideas come to me and I find myself thinking, "I want to cook this."Some of that inspiration comes from the books I read.  It was The Bone Clocks that inspired me to create my Banana Cherry Muffins (please note if you click this link, you will be forced to relive enduring another one of my bad puns).  It was another novel that inspired me to stuff tiny chickens with a cherry-infused stuffing.  One of the things I love the most about reading is the ways it stimulates my imagination - including in the kitchen.I'd love to say my new project is completely original, but it was a blatant five-finger discount, even though it's something I should have thought of myself long ago.  Earlier this year one of my friends made a post on Facebook asking for book recommendations.  One of our old high school classmates posted a link to her blog for her Book, Look, and Cook Project.  Her goal was to read 100 books and cook a recipe inspired by each of them.  Since she is a professional photographer, she did beautiful photo shoots of her food and books.  One hundred books and recipes is a lofty goal, and I'm not sure she did all 100 (her IG feed only has about 30), but I think she covered a broad range of literary and culinary tastes. So this is going to be my new project.  While I don't have a set number, I aim to cook a recipe inspired by every book I read.  Maybe the recipe will be in the book itself, maybe the food will be specific but there won't be a recipe for it, or maybe something in the book will just suggest an idea for a recipe for me.  In any case, I will do my best to associate everything I read with food. (That shouldn't be difficult because I associate just about everything in my life with food.)Although I say I'm doing the project in 2018, I'm giving it a head start.  I recently finished The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman.  It is the prequel to her more famous book Practical Magic.  It tells the story of the mysterious aunts, Franny and Jet, who raised the two sisters who were the protagonists of Practical Magic. The book doesn't have much focus on food with one exception.  Franny and Jet learn to bake a "Tipsy Chocolate Cake" from their aunt Isabelle, who occupied the big house on Magnolia street before they did.   The cake was so laden with rum, it could make you drunk just smelling it.  I don't want my chocolate cake to be too alcoholic to the point where you drown out the chocolate, but I do think that chocolate is well complemented by many forms of alcohol.I didn't make a chocolate rum cake.  I took a different route.  This recipe on Delish was popping up all over my social media feeds.  I love Baileys and it mixes well into all kinds of desserts.  This cake would definitely be tipsy since the alcohol isn't boiled into syrup or baked into the cake.  This is straight up liquor.   I knew I wanted to make it, but it's the kind of cake I usually like to have an excuse for baking.  It's an occasion cake.This week my office announced we were having holiday bake-off in December.  I knew I wanted to participate.  I can never resist that kind of challenge.  I didn't know what recipe to make. When I remembered my book challenge and how my most recent book contained a booze-soaked chocolate cake, I realized I had a chance to kill three birds with one stone. The recipe calls for a cake mix, but we all know I don't do cake mixes.  I mixed up my go-to chocolate[...]

Is Food Love?


I know I haven't been sharing many recipes lately.  I have been on somewhat of a creative dry spell.  However, I didn't create The Essential Rhubarb Pie just to share recipes, but to share all of my thoughts about food and cooking.  Today I am going to discuss something that's been on my mind for a while.Three years ago, when I started out the Lean Eating program (refer to my other blog for details) my teammates and I were musing on the message boards about how much, and in what ways, we would be restricting our eating.  Many of us agreed that we loved to eat.  We really loved it.  We enjoyed delicious food.  How much would we have to curtail such a pleasure in order to lose weight?The discussions brought down a virtual handslap from the coaches and mentors.  The message was clear.  If we loved to eat, it was indicative of deep-seated emotional issues.  We were medicating our psychological issues with food.  It was impossible, according to the coaching team, to like food just for food itself.  Enjoying the act of eating had to be indicative of greater issues."Food is not love," the health experts love to say.  "Food is fuel.  Food is what you use to power up your daily activities."  You are not allowed to be emotionally attached to eating. Do you know what I find strange? Every day we allow ourselves all sorts of sensory pleasures.  We stare at works of art, climb to the tops of mountains and tall buildings to enjoy the view, and watch dancers and performers.  We get massages, pet our furry animals, and have sex with our loved ones (or at least our lusted ones).  We go to concerts, plug into our iPods, or simply savor the sounds of rain on the roof or ocean waves.  We wear perfume, stop to smell the roses, and love the scent of a crackling fire.  No one considers these acts of sensory pleasure to be indicative of some larger emotional issues.  Why is the simple sensory pleasure of taste so different?I love going to the store and planning my meals.  What looks good?  Is there a product I haven't tried yet that I want to try?  What if I can't find everything I need for the meals I want to make?  What should I substitute it with?  Can I come up with recipes on the fly?I love going to farmers' markets and seeing the beautiful visual displays of fresh produce.  I love the fresh smells of all of those fruits and vegetables.  I especially love them in the summer when they are bursting with so many different varieties of everything edible.I love trying new restaurants.  I love trying new ethnic foods.  I love to see how professional chefs will transform ingredients.  It doesn't matter if the restaurant is a five-star gastronomic paradise or a greasy spoon diner.  I want to experience all the ways someone else can cook for me.I am not a very artsy or crafty person. I don't knit, crochet, or sew.  I don't draw or paint.  I don't build decorative objects out of wood or mold them from clay.  Cooking is one of the few ways I can successfully create.  I love taking raw ingredients and putting them together into a meal.  I find inspiration anywhere.  Sometimes a random ingredient will pop into my head and I'll decide I want to cook it.  Sometimes I'll read a passage in a book about a particular food and decide I want to cook it. I see recipes online and on TV that I want to cook or adapt.  I never stop wanting to create meals and recipes.  The best part of this type of craft is that I can enjoy it by eating it.  After it nourishes my soul, it nourishes my body.What means the most to me is cooking is easy to share with other people.  The best part of cooking is that is can easily be shared. I truly believe the [...]

Goodbye Blackberries. Welcome Corn


One of my summer fruit dessert goals was a blackberry dessert.  Unfortunately, blackberries were arriving sooner than I expected and peaked while I was on vacation and unable to bake.  The week I returned from vacation was too full of appointments to squeeze in any baking time.  I worried I would not be able to find any blackberries at my next trip to the farmers' market.  I had been looking forward to making that blackberry cobbler and I might not realize that dream this summer (unless I wanted to do a supermarket cheat - and that would defeat the purpose of baking with local seasonal fruits).Fortunately there were still blackberries at the farmers' market this week.  There were still raspberries too.  I was shocked to see one vendor still had strawberries. I'm not sure if these fruits are not truly local or if there is some kind of fruit voodoo going on in these farms.  Either way, I decided to buy some and do my best to convince myself I was getting fresh, local, berries.So this week there was cobbler.This was another effortless recipe.  I used my basic drop biscuit recipe that comes together easily in the food processor.  The berries were tossed with sugar and cornstarch and flavored with a touch of lime.  Then into the oven it went,.While berries are beginning to disappear, other summer specialties are still in abundance.  Good tomatoes are arriving.  Peaches are making an appearance.  Best of all corn is here.  I love summer corn.  I can't get enough of it.  I want to cook it a hundred times before the season ends.  I want corn, corn, and more corn all summer long.I wanted my first corn recipe of the summer to be a main course.  Corn wasn't just a side dish.  I wanted it to be the starring player.  I came up with the idea of corn gazpacho.  It would be an easy weekend recipe that would only require cooking up the corn and then blending a bunch of ingredients together.  Seemingly effortless.I looked at a few corn gazpacho recipes for inspiration.  I took my main inspiration from Spoon Fork Bacon that suggests using white beans rather than bread as a thickener.  That sounded much more virtuous - lots of fiber and more nutrients.  My outside inspiration stopped there.  Most chilled corn soup recipes have a Mexican flare to them with chili peppers and lime.  I wanted to use up the bumper crop of mint I have on my balcony this summer.  I made mine with garlic, mint, and lemon.I used too much garlic and not enough liquid.  I know the recipe would have been better with more corn (I used 3 ears), more veggie stock (I used a half a cup), and less garlic (I used three cloves).  My recipe below is what the recipe should have been and not what it was.  As with every recipe I provide, if you feel it should be adjusted more, feel free to experiment.Corn GazpachoIngredientsKernels cut off of 4 cooked ears of corn1 15 oz. can white beans1 cup vegetable stock1 clove garlic1 good handful fresh mint leavesJuice and zest of 1 lemon2 tsp salt (or to taste)Blend all ingredients together in a food processor.  Serve chilled and garnished with corn and fresh mint leaves if desired.My cobbler recipe has a high crust:berry ratio.  It's almost more of an upside-down shortcake.  This is on purpose.  I wanted lots of crust to absorb the juice.  Also, most people really love crust - even if they won't admit it.Blackberry CobblerIngredients2 cups all-purpose flour2 tsp salt2 Tbl sugar1 Tbl baking powder1 stick of cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces1 cup of milk2 cups blackberries1 tsp lime juice1 tsp lime zest3/4 cup sugar1 Tbl cornstarchHeat oven to 350 degrees.Mix together berries, sugar, juice zest and cornstarch in b[...]

Now It's Time for the Blueberries


I am continuing with my project of making a dessert with every major summer fruit (or as many of them as possible).  So far I have done strawberries, cherries, and raspberries.  This week it's blueberries.Blueberry pie is one of my favorite fruit pies (second only to cherry pie), but I already did pie this summer, so I turned my attention to cake for this week's dessert.I used my basic pound cake recipe that I have used as the base for the my Orange Bourbon Pound Cake, Chocolate Chip Bailey's Cake, and Hazelnut Brown butter cake (a recipe in bad need of tweaking because it was too dry).I made a few tweaks for this cake.  I decided to work with brown butter again, because most desserts taste better with the butter browned (if you haven't tried Emily's chocolate chip cookies with brown butter, you are missing out).   I wondered if it needed more butter because browning the butter makes some of the liquids evaporate.  Rather than add more butter,  I decided to try using sour cream instead of milk.  This would supply extra fat and give the cake a softer texture.  I had to research what tweaks I needed to make a cake with sour cream.  I just needed less fat, less baking powder, and some baking soda.  I crossed my fingers that this would work.It worked.  I brought the cake to the office and it received rave reviews. I personally thought it could be a bit sweeter.  If I make this again I might add a bit more sugar (I considered adding brown sugar this time around and I may try that).  The sour cream gave it a perfect texture.  I was the only person who didn't think the cake was sweet enough, so I would say the experiment a success regardless.Brown Butter Blueberry Sour Cream CakeIngredients3 cups all-purpose flour1 tsp baking powder1 tsp baking soda1/2 tsp salt2 sticks of butter3 eggs, lightly beaten2 cups of sugar 1 tsp vanilla1 cup of sour cream1 pint of fresh blueberries.Heat the butter over low heat until melted and foamy.  When the foam subsides, carefully continue heating it until it turns amber and smells nutty.  Immediately remove from heat.Pour into a bowl set over a larger bowl full of ice water.  Cool until it is solid again, but soft. (Alternately, you can refrigerate it and remove when it is solid and slowly let it come up to room temperature again.  You will need to do this way ahead of time.)Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a Bundt pan with baking spray (or just butter and flour it, but baking spray will make it easier for you to get into all the crevices of the pan).In a medium bowl combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  Set aside.Beat the butter in an electric mixer.  Stream in the sugar and beat until fluffy.  Add the eggs a small amount at at time, making sure each spoonful is absorbed before adding the next.  Continue beating until it is pale and gaining volume.  Beat in the vanilla.Turn the mixer to low and begin alternately adding the sour cream and the flour.  Do it in about 3 or 4 batches, ending with the flour.  When it is well blended, gently fold in the blueberries.Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 55-60 minutes or until toothpick poked in the center comes out clean.[...]

It's The Raspberry's Turn


This summer I made a vow to make at least one dessert with each of the major summer fruits: strawberries, raspberries, cherries, blueberries, blackberries, and peaches. Each dessert would be a different dessert type as well.  I started off with my Strawberry Shortcake White Chocolate Coconut Trifle back in May.  Last week I made a cherry pie (it was a basic cherry pie, so I didn't post the recipe here).  Today's recipe features raspberries.Some of my past raspberry recipes include  raspberry buttermilk cake and raspberry truffle brownies, so I wanted to take this dessert away from cakes and bars.  I saw some intriguing raspberry bread pudding recipes online and that sounded delicious.  I decided to make my own version.  I love making bread pudding because it's simple to make, but lends itself to a million sweet and savory variations.I started with challah bread for my base as I love the texture and sweetness of it.  If you prefer a different bread, feel free to substitute. I added chocolate chips, because I can't go a whole summer without including chocolate in some of my desserts.  It just isn't done. Finally I wanted to add a deeper flavor dimension to my custard. Cinnamon and vanilla both work well with most bread pudding dishes, but I wanted something that would really play against the rapsberries.   A shot of liqueur or spirits is also common in my bread pudding recipes.  In this case I wasn't sure what would highlight both the raspberries and the chocolate.   I decided to use a bit of orange liqueur.It came together easily and was popular both at home and at work. Raspberry Chocolate Chip Bread PuddingIngredients 1 loaf (about 1lb of challah bread)1 cup sugar4 eggs*1/4 cup orange liqueur such as Triple Sec2 cups half and half1 cup mini chocolate chips2 cups fresh raspberriesA day before you make the pudding, cut the bread into chunks and allow to dry out for a day.Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter an 8" square baking dish (you can also use 9" x 13", but you will need to adjust your baking time by 10-15 minutes).Mix together eggs, sugar, half and half, and liqueur.  Toss bread cubes in the batter and make sure they are evenly coated.  Stir in chocolate chips.Lay some of the bread cubes in the baking dish and sprinkle gently with raspberries.  You want to avoid crushing them too much, so the idea to to layer the bread and sprinkle the raspberries over it.  Pour any remaining custard over the top.Bake for about 50 minutes or until the top is springy.  *I used four because I bought my eggs at the farmers' market where I don't have much choice over size.  My eggs were on the small side.  If you are buying uniformly large eggs at the supermarket, you may want to consider using fewer.[...]

Just For Fun: The World's Most Overrated Foods


Hello TERP Muffins.  I know I continue to be rather absent from my beloved blog.  I continue to have a bit of writer's block when it comes to fresh recipes.  I realize that's not really an excuse.  I started this blog not just to share recipes, but to share all kind of food related topics.  I am supposed to be reviewing restaurants, books, and new food products as well as share my inane, food-related thoughts. In that spirit, I thought I'd share a fun post today.  I say I am a failure as a foodie because I'm too picky.  There are too many foods in the world I consider inedible:  Peas, grapefruit, olives, blue cheeses, and anything born in the water and bearing a fishy flavor (including, but not limited to crustaceans, mollusks, and fish with fins).  There are foods I can choke down, but don't like (beets, Brussels sprouts, and the all-too-ubiquitous pumpkin).  I know I'm not alone in many of my dislikes. I just feel guilty about them as a food blogger.Today's post is not about what I dislike outright.  It's about those foods so many people seem to love and I just don't get.  I don't hate them, but I can't say any of the foods on this list taste particularly good.  How can you get excited about some of this stuff?So what are these overrated foods?Quinoa I get it.  The plant kingdom is a bit short on complete, bioavailable proteins.  I'm sure vegans  have it rough.   Not everyone likes tofu and soy is one of the most common food allergies.  I'm sure it's easy to tire of rice and beans.  Quinoa must seem like a perfect protein solution for vegans.I just don't get why everyone else thinks this stuff is so great.  I'm told it tastes "nutty", but I never tasted a nut that tastes like quinoa.  To me quinoa tastes like a combination of soap, birdseed, and nothing at all.  Seriously omnivores, what do you like about this stuff?KaleDark leafy greens are good for you.  I believe that one can say most edible dark leafy greens are good for you.  What makes kale so special?  It doesn't taste all that good.  Some people find it too bitter.  I don't think it's bitter as much as it just tastes blandly vegetal with an undertone of dirt.  It's not bad when you roast it into kale chips, but most vegetables will taste better in crunchy chip form, especially with plenty of salt.  Put it into my soup and it just tastes like slimy green stuff.  If I want some greens with my dinner, I'll stick with chard or spinach.  I think whoever decided kale should be called a "superfood" is playing a nasty joke on the rest of us.  How much kale will the masses eat if we tell them it's the most nutritious vegetable in existence?YogurtI call this a "disappointment food".  There is something tempting about yogurt.  It looks so creamy and sweet.  I can remember my first tastes of it as a child.  I saw this stuff that looked like pudding or ice cream.  I wanted it to taste good so badly.  Too bad no matter how many times I tried it, I was eating this nasty sour stuff.  I used to put this one on the list with peas and olives, but the introduction of strained yogurt to mass market shelves has helped me to tolerate it a bit.  Strained or "Greek" yogurt (or Icelandic Skyr) has a pleasant texture and less torturous tartness.  I am still not too keen on eating it by itself.  It makes a nice dressing and it adds protein to a smoothie without resorting to chemical-laden powders.  I just don't understand how anyone can consider it dessert.  I once watched a travel show where the host made a mango shortcake and used yogurt instea[...]

The Name of This Dessert Is Too Long for a Post Title


What do you do when you have a half a bag of coconut left in the fridge from your Almond Joy Pie and you want to use it up?On top of having too much coconut in the house, it's also the start of strawberry season and you are craving strawberry shortcake?Additionally, you are invited to a party and you have to take a portable dessert for a crowd?This was my dilemma this week.  I was finally starting to see local strawberries in the farmers' markets and I was thinking about how good they would taste over homemade sweet biscuits and topped with fresh whipped cream.  Unfortunately, strawberry shortcake is not a practical potluck party dessert.  The party seemed like a better excuse to use up the coconut.I needed to come up with a recipe that would use up  the leftovers in the kitchen that would still satisfy my cravings for strawberry shortcake.  When I ask my brain to come up with a new recipe, it always gurgles and scrunches, but it eventually spits out an answer.  Some answers are more edible than others, but I always receive an answer.The answer was trifle.  I could make the trifle similar to strawberry shortcake and incorporate the coconut.   Instead of pound cake or sponge cake, I would use biscuits.  I would layer my biscuits and strawberries with coconut custard and top the whole thing with fresh whipped cream.I decided to take it one step further.  One of my favorite pies is coconut and white chocolate cream pie. One of my favorite layer cakes is a white chocolate and coconut layer cake.  Even though I'm not enthusiastic about white chocolate, it does combine beautifully with coconut.  With this in mind, I added another layer of flavor and made my coconut pastry cream into white chocolate and coconut pastry cream.I called this dessert Coconut White Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake Trifle.  I couldn't seem to come up with a better, shorter, or more clever name.  I am simply telling you exactly what the dessert is.I made my base with drop biscuits.  There is no need to make rolled biscuits for a dessert where they will be buried under goo.I don't have a go-to pastry cream recipe. I need to find one at some point.   Every time I want to make a dessert with pastry cream, I end up on the internet searching recipes until I find one that's not too complex.  I also need to find one that works.  I have often tried pastry cream recipes that flopped.The recipe I tried this time turned out pretty well, so maybe this will be the one.  It worked well with coconut milk replacing most of the dairy milk. I layered the biscuits, then the cream, and then the berries.  When they were all used up, I topped it with a light cap of fresh whipped cream.  (Cream not shown in photo.)The custard was tight and I wonder if it were less tight if it might have soaked the biscuits a bit better. I thought they stayed a tad too dry.  The cream was also a bit too sweet.  More strawberries might have also improved things.  I didn't get any complaints at the party though.  The dish was a hit, so maybe I'm too picky.White Chocolate Coconut Strawberry Shortcake TrifleIngredientsBiscuits2 cups flour3 Tbl sugar1 tsp salt1 Tbl baking powder1 stick cold butter, cut into pieces1 cup milkPastry Cream1 15oz can coconut milk*1/4 cup half and half*6 egg yolks2/3 cup sugar4 oz good white chocolate cut into pieces 2 Tbl Malibu rum (or a tsp of coconut extract if you prefer)1 cup sweetened coconut flakesTopping and Assembly1 cup heavy cream2 Tbl confectioners sugar1 tsp vanilla2 pints strawberries stemmed and sliced. First make the biscuits.  Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Pulse together [...]

Almond Joy Pie for Mother's Day


My family rarely ever celebrates Mother's Day like normal people.  For one thing, we often don't celebrate Mother's Day on Mother's Day.  The Saturday night before Mother's Day is always so much more convenient for celebrations.  We also don't do wimpy brunches. I never understood why Mother's Day is always about brunch.  After all our mothers do for us, don't they deserve more than brunch?  Kevin and I like to serve our mothers something more substantial.  Last year I made a pot of Sunday Sauce and piles of good ziti.  Pasta is my mother's favorite food and why should I serve her anything other than what she loves for her day?This year I decided to maintain the tradition.  Big pasta dinners make everyone happy (except for my nephew, and I'm sure he'll outgrow his aversion to tomato sauce eventually).  This year's Sunday Sauce is the same as last years.  I made a hearty sauce and filled it with meatballs, sausage, and beef shanks.  I  prefaced it with a bit of antipasto consisting of olives, roasted peppers, cheese, and some local salumi.  I accompanied all of it with fresh bread and good wine.  This is what family dinners are supposed to be about.The one part of the meal I changed this year was dessert.  I haven't made any new desserts lately and I was itching to make a new pie. I decided to create a a new pie recipe that incorporated two of favorite flavors: chocolate and coconut.  I took that over the top by adding almonds to the mix too. My new creation was appropriately called Almond Joy Pie, in honor of the similarly flavored, beloved, candy bar.  It consisted of an almond flavored crust, chocolate coconut filling, and a topping of almond whipped cream garnished with crunchy almonds and toasted coconut.My plan to make an almond flavored meant I wanted to make a crumb crust out of almond flavored cookies.  This was one of the biggest challenges.  It's not easy finding an almond flavored cookie that makes a suitable crumb crust.  The most common type of almond cookies are biscotti, and biscotti are rock-hard.  I was afraid they would make a hard crust.Eventually I found these almond wafers.  These were perfect since thin wafer cookies make the best crust.  Unfortunately, they were a little too strong in the ginger department with little pronounced almond flavor.I crushed them up, mixed them with butter, and baked them. The flavor might not have been perfect, but I had a useable crust that was neither too soft nor too hard.The other tricky part was adapting a chocolate pastry cream recipe that would incorporate the coconut flavor. I didn't just want to add a bag of coconut to chocolate pudding.  I wanted the flavors to blend together seamlessly.  The best way to do that was to make coconut milk part of the custard base.  Would that work?  I have made coconut cream pie with coconut milk in the custard before (thank you Elaine Corn), but I haven't ever tried it with chocolate.  It would be an interesting experiment.  I crossed my fingers and adapted my favorite chocolate cream pie recipe using coconut milk as a replacement for some of the cream in the pudding.Finally I topped the whole thing with fresh whipped cream blended with amaretto.  I topped it with more toasted coconut and sliced almonds.It was a hit!  I will definitely do this one again.Almond Joy PieIngredientsCrust 1.5 cups crushed almond wafer cookies2 Tbl sugarPinch of salt5 Tbl butter, melted Filling3/4 cup sugar1/4 cup corn starch1 can coconut  milk4 egg yolks1 1/2 cups half and half6 oz semi-sweet chocolate[...]

My Amsterdam Food Travelogue


I know I haven't been keeping this blog up lately.  I do have some new projects in the works for the coming months, so I hope to be a little better about adding more posts in the near future.One type of post I love to make is about the food I eat when I travel.  Since I took a trip to Amsterdam last week and did a lot of eating, I had to make sure it was well documented here.If you want to read the non-food story of my trip, it's on my other blog. You can see a full set of photos here. During a bus tour during my trip to Amsterdam, a guide said The Netherlands doesn't have many specialties in the way of cuisine.  When I booked my vacation, my focus was not on food because I wasn't sure what to expect.  However,  like most cosmopolitan cities, Amsterdam has its share of fine dining.   Even if I didn't have much of a clue about  Dutch cuisine (other than herring and Gouda cheese), I knew there would be some special restaurants regardless.  I was looking forward to seeing what I might find in the city.  I was not disappointed by what I found both in Amsterdam and the surrounding area.  Day 1 - There was a lot of food served on the flight, so when I landed in Amsterdam mid-morning, I wasn't terribly hungry.  When Kevin and I arrived at the hotel, the restaurant, Lotti's was still serving brunch.  At first I didn't want anything, but I found myself tempted by the sight of all of those mimosas and decided to have one.Since we couldn't check in right away, we did some exploring.  By mid-afternoon we were finally starting to feel hungry.  At first we thought we only wanted a snack like a coffee and some pastry.  Then we spotted a restaurant called Quattro Gatti near our hotel that had a tantalizing assortment of cakes in the window, so we thought we would give it a try. (Also, how can I not want to eat at a place called "Four Cats"?)The restaurant was small - more like a little coffee shop.  The decor was simple.   An assortment of copper pans hung on the back wall, but there was little other ornamentation.  The open kitchen at the back was tiny.  It looked like the kitchen of a humble Roman apartment.  The smell of fresh herbs permeated the place (unlike so many Italian restaurants that only smell of garlic). The simplicity of the place charmed me right away.When I looked at the menu, I knew I wasn't having dessert.  I saw an impressive list of homemade pasta dishes and I had to have one.I chose spaghetti carbonara.  I ordered the small portion.  This photo makes it look as if it was indeed small, but this plate was deceptively deep.  I was trying to eat light, but there was plenty of pasta here.I think this was the best cabonara I ever ate.  How many times have you been to an Italian restaurant and ordered the carbonara and found the chef cheated and used cream to avoid clumpy eggs?  That happens to me all the time.  This was not the case at Quattro Gatti.  This chef knew how to stir his eggs into the sauce properly.  Even though I thought it was a bit too salty, it was so rich and satisfying and expertly prepared, I will stand by my statement that it was superior to any other carbonara I have eaten. Kevin ended up sticking to his plan of having dessert.  He loved this chocolate almond cake.  He did have his regrets about not having pasta despite the cake. We hoped to come back here, but they are only open to the public for lunch and we were never in the neighborhood at lunch time after this.I will always regret not coming back here.We st[...]

A Decade of TERP! (Also, A New Corn Soup Recipe)


On March 22, 2007 I made my first post on The Essential Rhubarb Pie (which I now lovingly refer to as "TERP").I still feel like this is my "new" blog.  I had been writing Shipwrecked & Comatose (on MySpace no less) for a few years before that.  I felt my brain is so preoccupied with food, I needed a separate space just to talk about it.The blog has come a long way.  In those early days I would write about any food-related subject that came to mind.  I reviewed just about any snack that ventured near my mouth.  I would log every recipe I made.  I rarely wrote out the recipes properly in those days and I also never included photos.  I can't believe I managed to have any sort of audience.  I certainly appreciated the audience I had.  Over the years I really do appreciate those of you who have kept reading.I know my blogging has been slow in recent years.  Part of it is life gets in the way.  I don't have the time to be rattling off every food-related thought in my head online.  Another part of it is I have a harder time maintaining an audience when there are so many better blogs out there.  The final part of  it is I realized my recipes were beginning to repeat themselves a bit.  I found too many of my recipes were similar to each other and I didn't want to be boring.  I still want to keep this blog going.  I still love inane food-related ramblings and I will keep sharing them.  I still do create new recipes.  Maybe this blog won't be as regular as it was 10 years ago, but I believe it deserves to continue.Speaking of new recipes, I am sharing a new one in celebration of my first decade online.  I made a delicious corn soup for my lunch this week.  The recipe had two distinct sources of inspiration.The first inspiration for my soup was a Thai-style sweet potato soup I used to make for dinner parties.  It had coconut milk, hot pepper, lemongrass, and cilantro in it.  I haven't made it in ages since Kevin doesn't like sweet potatoes.  I don't remember where I got the recipe from.  I have searched online, but I'm not sure any of the recipes I found are the same recipe.The second inspiration came from my Hawaii vacation last year.  On our final night in Oahu, we had dinner at Roy's.  I had a delicious dish of red curry chicken topped with coconut creamed corn.  I never considered corn and coconut together prior to this dinner.  It was an awakening.In honor of that Thai-influenced soup and the coconut corn under my Thai-influenced chicken, I created this soup.  It's a mixture of sweet, sour, and spicy and it makes a tasty lunch.It seems odd every recipe I have posted in 2017 has been vegan.  It's not on purpose.  I guess if my goal is to make sure any new recipes I post here are creative and original, then a vegan recipe is going to require a lot of creativity since I don't normally cook vegan food.If veganism isn't your thing, tune in for Easter.  I'll be showcasing meat and dairy all over the place.Thai-Style Coconut Corn SoupIngredients1 Tbl olive oil3 cloves garlic, minced2 tsp grated ginger2 small red chili peppers1 quart vegetable stock 4 2" pieces of lemongrass1 10 oz package frozen corn kernels (divided use) 6 leaves Thai basil.Juice of one lime1 15oz can coconut milkSalt to taste 2 Tbl chopped fresh cilantroHeat the olive oil in a pot of low heat and add the ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant.  Add the peppers and cook until they begin to soften.  Add the stock and the lemongrass to the pan.Sim[...]

Looking for a Healthier 2017


2016 has been quite a year.  Whether or not you look back on it with fondness or sadness, you can't deny it was eventful. So what's on tap for 2017?  I don't know about the rest of the world, but I am working on making sure I stick to a nutritious meal plan.  As I stated on my other blog, I am challenging myself to go as long as possible without sweets and limit alcohol only to when I'm out.So what's on the agenda for those nutritious meals?My main goal is to keep everything heavy on the vegetables.  My experiment for the first of the year was Cauliflower Tacos.My inspiration for these tacos came last summer when I tried Pico Taqueria in Chincoteague for the first time.  They had a cauliflower taco that was so tasty I didn't miss the meat at all.  I even thought the cauliflower taco was tastier than the chicken taco I ate with it.Pico's had crispy onions, aioli, capers, and cheese.  I decided to continue the idea of sweet, sour, and salty flavors, but do it my own way.I roasted the cauliflower with chili powder and cumin until it was nice and soft. I made caramelized onions and added some vinegar for tang.  I made them in my new pressure cooker (awesome Christmas present from Dad).  You can do it the traditional way if you don't have a pressure cooker or just prefer doing it that way.I got the creaminess from avocado and then additional spice and creaminess from a "crema" made from cashews and chipotle powder.So my first new recipe of the year (and my first dinner of 2017) was vegan.  You know this carnivorous lady rarely does vegan.I recommend making the cashew sauce ahead of time so the flavors can really blend.  I made mine the night before and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. These were unique and delicious.  I will definitely put this recipe in regular rotation. Cauliflower TacosIngredientsCorn Tortillas2 Avocados, diced1 Tbl lime juice For Cauliflower1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets2 Tbl olive oil1 tsp ancho chili powder1/2 tsp cumin2 tsp saltFor Onions2 Tbl olive oil2 large onions, thinly sliced2 tsp salt2 Tbl red wine vinegarFor Crema1 cup raw cashews1/2 cup warm water2 tsp salt1 Tbl white wine vinegar1 tsp chipotle powder Place the cashews and water in a bowl and allow to soak for about 15 minutes.  Blend the water and cashews in a food processor with salt, vinegar, and chipotle powder until smooth. Set aside.Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss cauliflower with olive oil, chili powder, cumin, and salt.  Spread out on cookie sheet.  Roast for 40 minutes or until soft.  Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pressure cooker on saute mode.  Add onions and cook until onions are beginning to soften and give off their liquid.  Put lid on the cooker and cook on manual for 20 minutes.  Quick release the steam and remove lid.  Stir in the vinegar and allow to sit in the pressure cooker on warm for 5-7 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated.Alternately, you can slowly cook the onions for 4-60 minutes in a frying pan over low heat.Toss the avocados with the lime juice.  Heat the tortillas for about 15 seconds in the microwave.  Layer the avocados, onions, and cauliflower and drizzle the crema over the top.  In case you are wondering why I don't have a Christmas post, it's because I didn't host this year neglected to take a camera to Christmas dinner in order to get good photos of the food.  I made my short rib ragu and layered it with noodles, bechemel, and parmesan, and mozzarella for a new twist on lasagn[...]

A Sweet New Chili For Chilly Days


When people say they love fall, do they include the month of November?  When I think about November, I can't relate it to the basic blather about fall leaves and crunchy air.  November is just a cold, dark, prelude to winter.  Daylight Saving Time is over and every day grows painfully shorter.  The pretty leaves have fallen from the trees.  The weather is cold and sometimes even wintry.  Other than Thanksgiving, November has few redeeming qualities (unless you are one of my friends who was born in November of course). Food bloggers are eternal optimists though.  Whatever unpleasantness exists outside, a food blogger will always spin it as inspiration to cook.  Is the weather cold and the sky dark?  Well that's all the more reason to cook up comfort food.  If the only fresh vegetable available is a root vegetable, let's find a creative way to cook it.As a master cynic who tends to shun the cliches of the season, I'm not immune to the need for comfort food on a cold dark day.  I spend my weekends outdoors no matter what the season and I appreciate a warm, heavy, meal at the end of the day.  Since I am out all day on weekends, my slow cooker has been helpful in allowing me to eat more home-cooked meals.  It used to be when I would come home from a long day with the horses, I wouldn't feel like cooking. That meant putting on decent clothes and going back out into the cold to a restaurant.   My slow cooker makes it possible for me to sit down to a hot meal with no waiting and I can wear what I want and stay warm.  It can be challenging coming up with new recipes for it.  How many times can I make my standard turkey chili?  (Not enough if you're my husband.  My standard turkey chili is one of his favorites.)Chili is such an easy dish to make and it offers so many variations (unless you're a Texas chili purist and I am cool with that).  I am so picky about how I like my chili that I don't go too far from my standard formula.  When trying to come up with a new chili recipe, I do try to remember what my standards are for chili and how will the recipe follow them.1.  It must be meaty (unless I'm making a vegetarian chili of course).2.  It must have a thick, substantial sauce.  I want a stew and not Sloppy Joes.3.  It must be spicy4  It can't contain vegetables other than tomatoes, onions, garlic, and hot peppers. Most vegetables turn limp, slimy, and unappetizing after long cooking.There are many regional variations for chili and I doubt I'll ever really know them all.  I know Texas chili is made from stew meat cooked in hot peppers with no beans.  I know Cincinnati chili is made with ground meat and sweet spices and served over spaghetti.  Until recently I never knew Vermont had its own version of chili.  It was no surprise it featured Vermont's most famous ingredient - maple syrup.What chili recipe would scream "Fall Comfort Food" more than one made with maple syrup?  (Don't say a chili recipe with pumpkin or butternut squash please.) Even though I say I don't like my chili to be sweet, I became curious about a sweet-spicy chili. In order to be more health conscious in recent years, I usually double the amount of beans and cut the meat in half (reversing my classic recipe).  For this recipe I put a little meat back in.   I only used one package of turkey, but I added some sweet sausages. There is a vendor at my local farmers' market who makes the most creative homemade sausages. [...]

The Return of Casual Friday - Tortilla Frittata


I noticed I haven't done a Casual Friday post for a long time.  For those of you unfamiliar with this type of post, Casual Friday is the kind of meal I make on a Friday evening when I have to cook, but don't want to make a huge effort.Frittata is one of my go-to meals for when I don't feel much like cooking.  There are few things simpler than throwing some eggs and tasty bits of this and that in a pan.  This week I decided to have some fun and use something other than the standard vegetables and cheese.  I went with a Mexican theme and added whole tortillas.I left the tortillas whole creating a sort of layered dish.  I would almost call this an egg-adilla, but that just sounds too corny.  Besides, unlike breakfast burritos or quesadillas, I had tortillas in the eggs and not eggs in the tortillas.For my version I used (store-bought) fresh salsa made with tomatoes, onion, jalapenos, and cilantro along with plenty of Monterrey Jack cheese.  For my husband's  serving, I just used the salsa.  I think you could also do some sauteed peppers, onions, and tomatoes, or beans (whole or refried), or chorizo.  Really just add whatever you want to add.I suppose if I cut the tortillas into strips this would more closely resemble migas, but I liked the aesthetic of a whole tortilla.  In order to keep the tortillas centered within the egg, I cooked one serving at a time in a small pan.I'm not going to give an actual recipe because this is a truly free-from dish.   However, I will show how I did it and hope I can provide some inspiration for your future Casual Fridays.I heated some oil in a small pan over medium heat and added my first tortilla layer in the pan.  Salsa and cheese went on top of the tortilla.  Yes, I know I should have shredded my cheese.  It's Friday and I don't want to be bothered. I put a second tortilla on top of the salsa layer and repeated the process with more salsa and cheese.  Then I capped it off with one more tortilla and a bit more cheese.I added 3 eggs to the pan over the top of all the tortillas.  It would look  more charming if the eggs didn't flow around the tortilla stack, but how a food looks is irrelevant on Casual Friday.I let the eggs sit for a while.  When the edges were set, I would lift the edge up and tilt the pan to allow the uncooked eggs on top to flow to the bottom of the pan and cook. Once most of the excess liquid egg was gone from the top I put the frittata under the broiler for 3 minutes until set, puffed, and golden.Invert on a plate for a pyramid effect and put a bit more salsa on top.Eggs, gooey, cheese, spicy salsa, and the corn flavor of tortillas.  It's a great and easy combination.[...]

October is Celebration Time!


Ah Fall!  The cooler weather!   The changing leaves .  The apple orchards.   The cute boots and sweaters! The pumpkin pie.Dear Lord, I hate it! The reality? The cooler weather!  (Hey, it's cold outside and I can't go swimming.)The changing leaves! (Those gosh-darned leaf peepers create traffic jams every weekend.)The apple orchards! (I would laugh at the apple pickers fighting for parking spaces at the orchards and then paying for the privilege of doing manual labor while the owners of the orchards laugh, but they are also responsible for those traffic jams.)The cute boots and sweaters!  (Why would I want to confine my body in heavy clothing.  Can I have a sundress and some cute sandals please?)The pumpkin pie!  (Do I need to explain this one?)I'm also tired of the hype of Halloween.  The older I get, the less into Halloween I am.  I couldn't figure out what made me such a Halloween Grinch.  Then I read this article.  Item number one was the reason in a nutshell.  Halloween is too much investment of time and money with too little return.   I don't really hate the season.  I have stated this on both of my blogs many times before.  I have three issues with the season called autumn.  The first is that it's not summer. I love warm weather (SWIMMING), long days, and farmers' markets filled to brimming.  I hate seeing summer end.  The second is I hate the hype.  I'm just sick of hearing people (and maybe I should just bluntly say women) doing the basic blather about how wonderful fall is and how it's their favorite season and all the accompanying drivel about cozy sweaters and changing leaves (no one seems to notice how short the days are).  Then of course there is my distaste for that giant nasty-tasting orange squash known as pumpkin.For any other fellow pumpkin haters out there, I want to reassure you this blog always has been, and always will be a pumpkin-free zone.  On this blog you will not see any pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin cake, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin jam, pumpkin pickles, pumpkin salad, pumpkin candles, pumpkin deodorant, or pumpkin mouthwash.  Consider this blog a "safe space" for pumpkin haters.I remain convinced most pumpkin lovers don't really love pumpkin.  It's the stuff used to flavor pumpkin that most people love.  They love cinnamon and nutmeg and allspice and brown sugar.  Does anyone gut a jack-o-lantern and think, "Yum.  This looks delicious?"  My guess is they feel as nauseated as I do when I'm gutting a pumpkin.  It's pretty nasty stuff.So fall foods may not be my favorites, but at least the next few weeks will still have choice products at the farmers' markets.  While I am losing some of my favorites (corn), I'm gaining a few others like carrots, peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower.   I can still have big family occasion dinners filled with farm fresh produce.October may be tragically dark (although not as tragic as November and December) and not very warm, but it does have a bounty of celebrations.  October is my wedding anniversary, my father's birthday, my nephew's birthday, and Kevin's birthday.  There are so many occasions to celebrate in October and that's why I am writing this post today.  I'm not just here to complain about the changing seasons.  I'm here to introduce some new seasonal recipes I used in Dad's bir[...]

Simple Pulled Chicken Sandwiches


Although there are still a few weeks of summer left on the calendar, the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are gone.  I won't be taking any more vacations in 2016.  I won't have the time to be browsing markets for hours.  I won't have many evenings free to prepare a fresh meal every night of the week.  September brings new commitments and more activity.  I'll be back to dance classes and play rehearsals (or at least play production duties).  The short days and increased darkness will give me less energy to put into elaborate meals.I continue to be grateful I made the decision to buy a slow cooker this year.  In the past my evenings away from home meant more takeout and more restaurant meals.  Now I can prepare home cooked meals even when I'm out of the house.  As theater production season is already here and dance classes start next week, I'm already dusting that baby off and working on new recipes to make in it.The onslaught of pumpkin may be on its way and the roads leading north are already clogged with apple pickers, but I'm still dreaming of summer barbecues. I want juicy cheeseburgers and ribs slathered in sauce.  I want my chicken to be shredded into bits and slathered in sauce so it goes down that much easier.My craving for summer grilling and barbecue is one that stays unsatisfied all summer long.   My readers out there know my pain.  I live in an apartment.  I have no yard to place a grill or a smoker. I can only lust after my friends posting online photos of their grilled meals on Instagram or the endless articles about summer grilling in the food magazines I read.I have a few options if I want to pretend to grill.  I have a grill pan.  I have an electric grill.  I also have that slow cooker.  My slow cooker will cook meats in that low-and-slow mode so I can pull them apart and slather them in barbecue sauce.I experimented with using balsamic vinegar for my acid element and molasses for the sweet.  I wanted to see how the sweetness balsamic vinegar changed the flavor profile.The major flaw in the sandwiches was overcooking.  These should not have been cooked more than 4-6 hours, but I am away from home much longer than that.  Even with all the sauce on them, the meat was dry.  I shouldn't cook chicken in the slow cooker when I'm going to be at work all day.  Chicken, even with the skin and bones on, can't be cooked 9 hours at a time.The other flaw was the molasses.  It overpowered the balsamic and had a slight bitter edge.  If I make these again, I would either cut back on the molasses, or use brown sugar.I use bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts because they have more flavor than the boneless and skinless variety.  Some cooks might worry removing the bone is too much work, but the meat pulls away from the bones easily after several hours in the slow cooker.My side dish was sweet and sour coleslaw with apples.  I mixed pre-made coleslaw mix with lime juice, thinly sliced granny smith apple, and honey.   This recipe makes 4 moderate sized sandwiches.  You can add more chicken to the recipe, but you probably won't need to make too much additional sauce unless you are cooking more than 4 pieces of chicken at a time.Slow Cooker Balsamic Pulled Chicken SandwichesIngredients 2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breastsSalt and pepper1/4 cup balsamic vinegar2 Tbl molasses1 Tbl soy sauce2 Tbl tomato paste1/2 tsp smoked paprika1 tsp[...]

Czech Out This Delicious Food City


Ha ha ha.  I'm just so funny. As if that weren't the most obvious pun in the universe.Now that I got the pun bit out of the way, let me go about my usual business of boring readers to tears with an endless food travelogue.Prague is the most unique city I have ever visited.  I don't think I have ever seen a more visually stunning city.  Even Paris doesn't compare.  Prague doesn't just contain UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  Prague is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  When I first arrived in Prague I felt the endless grand facades, the winding streets, and massive crowds were too intimidating to ever be able to feel relaxed and comfortable, but the place worked its magic on me and by the end of Day 2, I felt able to walk the streets with confidence.If you would like to see my non-food photos, I have archived them here.  (If you want to know what you are looking at, click the comment link and you will see my explanations of the photos.)What is the food like in Prague?  I can describe it in five words:  meat, carbs, gravy, carbs, and meat.  I can also use five words to describe the beverages:  beer, beer, beer, beer, and beer.  The Czech Republic is the second fattest country in Europe (UK is first).  They don't care much for vegetables (although they work wonders with cabbage) and beer is the cheapest beverage you can drink (and they drink a lot of it).  Prague has an excellent public transportation system, but I got around mostly by walking because my body was just begging to get rid of some of those calories.    I suppose I stayed too much within the Tourist Comfort Zone because in all the restaurants I went into, I had the luxury of English menus and English speaking staff.  What I found most interesting was even tourists from other countries who spoke a variety of other languages, would speak English when talking to the Czechs. So let's talk a bit about what I ate.  What were my daily meals like?Day 1:  I arrived in Prague at lunch time, exhausted from the red-eye flight, but eager to start exploring.  The whole family stayed in the beautiful Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí) in the historic Old Town Square Hotel.   Kevin and I  wanted to stay close to "home" for our first day so we looked at the local sites.  We explored St. Nicholas church and wandered a few side streets. When hunger took over our curiosity, we ended up at an open air restaurant on the square called Kotleta.  It was a scorching hot day and the restaurant had plenty of canopies and also sat next to  a shady park.Despite the Czech food reputation, there were salads on the menu.  I chose one with arugula, baked goat cheese on toast, prosciutto, asparagus, strawberries and walnuts.  The dressing seemed to be made out of pureed strawberries.  The worst part was the abundance of walnuts.  There were almost enough to trigger my allergies.  Other than the heavy strawberry flavor, it wasn't too different from similar salads back home.  I was happy to have found something light after the long flight.Kevin took a different extreme and ordered the schnitzel.  It came with a side of butter with some mashed potatoes underneath.In the evening Kevin and I met up with the rest of the family for dinner. We had no reservations anywhere that night, so we wandered around a bit until we found a restaurant that w[...]

Giving Another Classic A New Twist - Spicy, Smoky, Corn Risotto


In my last post I decided to shake up common expectations of pesto and made a green sauce that visually resembles your basic Pesto Genovese, but takes the taste buds in a completely different direction.  Sure there was some traditional basil, but the sauce was all about the shiso.This week I took my love of summer produce and rebuilt (or some people might say destroyed) a classic risotto recipe.  This time of year many cooks will incorporate fresh summer corn into risotto.  I wanted to take it one step further.  Most risotto recipes rely on the same Italian formula: onions, garlic, wine, parmesan, and occasionally seasonal vegetables.  I wanted to ditch the formula and give that bowl of creamy rice a different flavor altogether. Is this wrong?  Should it not be done?  Am I spitting on the sacred?Anne Burrell is not my favorite cook on TV, but she did say something that made sense to me.  She said risotto is a method, not a recipe.  So I don't care.  I want to have fun with my favorite recipe bases, and keep creating, and keep finding new ways to use my favorite ingredients.  This food blog would be boring if I made the same recipes the way everyone else makes them.I have talked about my love of smoked turkey tails.  They are the best unhealthful, fatty, treat in the world next to bacon.  If you are cooking for someone who doesn't eat pork, you can get that richness and smokiness with a tail or three (and it's way better than turkey bacon which is just weird and processed tasting).  While Sir Pickypants has become far less picky and now does eat pork occasionally without gastrointestinal incident, I don't want to always be serving him pork when I don't need to.  This is why I used the tails instead of the classic pancetta.I also substituted the traditional white wine with whiskey.  I felt strong liquor would hold up to the strong flavor of the turkey tails and still complement the sweetness of the corn.I used caramelized onions, cayenne, and smoked paprika for the flavoring.  This was way off the beaten path for Italian risotto.  Mine had a definite southwestern flair.  I used too much cayenne when I made this.  I thought a half teaspoon would be enough.  The recipe below cuts that amount in half.  The risotto was delicious, but a half teaspoon cayenne straddled the line of being overpowering.I bought cilantro with the intention of adding it at the end and forgot.  I encourage anyone trying this recipe to add it and see if it improves the recipe or not. Sorry for the hastily-snapped phone photo.  Risotto is something you have to eat right away, so I didn't want to fuss with the light box and camera settings.When I see you again I will have a travel post to share with you.  I am leaving for a short trip to Prague on Friday.  I am looking forward to the meat-and-carb-fest that is Czech food.  I will be taking a food tour while I'm there, so I should have plenty of interesting meals to share.  Spicy Corn RisottoIngredients2 ears fresh corn, cooked and kernels cut off the cob 1 cup arborio rice3 cups chicken stock1/2 cup whiskey (bourbon is optimal, but Irish will do just fine)3 smoked turkey tails, cut into small pieces*1 Tbl olive oil1 onion, thinly sliced2-4 cloves minced garlic 1 diced red pepper1 tsp smoked paprika1/4 tsp cayenne pepper2 Tbl chopped fresh cilantro (o[...]

The Farm Market Experience Continues with a New Twist On Pesto


During my trip to Hawaii this past winter I discovered shiso.  It is a large-leafed, herb that has minty and citrus flavors.   It complements tomatoes well.  I couldn't wait for summer when I could get my hands on some at home.  I was pretty sure Lani's Farm would be selling it at both of the farmers' markets I attend (Larchmont and Dag Hammarskjold plaza).   There doesn't seem to be an exotic green they don't carry.When I had it in Hawaii, I ate it whole as part of a salad.  I felt the unique minty flavor would be perfect in a pesto sauce.  Would my pesto have cheese?  Would the traditional parmesan go well with the shiso?  Maybe pecorino would work well (pecorino and mint make a delicious pesto when mixed with pistachios).  I knew I was in short supply of those cheeses at home and that would mean a trip to the supermarket for cheese.  Were there any cheeses I could buy at the farmers' market that would be suitable?The salad I ate in Hawaii contained goat cheese.  Coach Farm just happens to have a booth at the market.  Why not try mixing goat cheese into the sauce?  I went to the booth and inquired about their firmest cheeses.  The vendor suggested a well-aged, raw milk cheese.  I took a taste and was surprised it didn't have any of the funky flavors raw milk cheeses tend to have. I thought the shiso, the goat cheese, some shallots (I had onion mignonette in the salad in Hawaii), basil from my garden (to make sure there was some expected flavor in the sauce), and  toasted pine nuts would be perfect over gnocchi for dinner.  I also included some roasted, heirloom cherry tomatoes.I would love to have served this to someone without saying what the ingredients were and then watching that person taste it. I was kind to Kevin and gave him a warning.Gnocchi with Shiso-Goat Cheese Pesto and Roasted TomatoesIngredients 1 shallot, finely diced2 Tbl rice wine vinegar20 heirloom cherry tomatoes 1/4 +1 Tbl olive oilSalt1 bunch shiso (about two cups of leaves)1/2 cup basil leaves2 Tbl toasted pine nuts 4 oz. firm, aged goat cheese 1 package of your favorite gnocchiHeat oven to 400 degrees.Place the shallots and vinegar in a small bowl and allow to sit while you prepare the rest of the sauce.Toss tomatoes with 1 Tbl of olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Roast for about 10 minutes.  You want them soft, but try to avoid having them burst.Combine basil, shiso, remaining olive oil, pine nuts, shallots, and vinegar in a food processor.  Process until fairly smooth.  Add the cheese and pulse until combined.Cook gnocchi in salted boiling water until they float to the top of the pot.  Combine with the pesto and top with the tomatoes. [...]