Monday, November 17, 2008

wintry mix

It snowed this weekend.

While I think snow is pretty when it's lain like a blanket over everything and iced the trees in lacy white, I still hate to see this time of year come. (this is NOT the kind of snow we had this weekend, btw).

But, I did do a little cooking in my effort to once and for all eradicate the cold/flu-type thing that's been pestering me and trying to get a foothold for the past week or so. Heidi posted a recipe from Super Natural Cooking on her blog the other day, and it's one that I'd overlooked previously. You can find the post and recipe here. It seemed like the kind of soup that fights off colds. It was good and easy, if a bit plain. I made her "Cornmeal Crunch" recipe to have alongside it. We had that for Sunday dinner along with some roasted acorn squash and onion and some little buttermilk biscuits, and Barbara's Garlic Green Beans with Buttered Breadcrumbs. Luckily, the green beans saved the meal from being completely monochromatic (and I was drinking apple cider, to add another element of golden goodness).

Speaking of that cider, actually, you guys (in the Greater Pittsburgh area) should seek out the cider from Kistaco Farms. I first tasted it when we got it a couple times in our CSA. It's so, so good. The co-op is carrying it right now. Get some! It's the best cider ever!

And, now I have some sad news to report. The last Saturday of the season for the Firehouse Farmers Market is this coming Saturday. And, the last week of the season for the city Farmers Markets is next week. There is one year-round market, but it's a bit sparse.

Farewell, fresh local produce. I'll miss you terribly, and I'll be waiting with bated breath for you in the spring.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I can't, as I'm sure many of you can't, stop thinking about Election Night. Never in my lifetime have I seen so many people celebrating--so joyous, so together as one. All over the country, all over the world, even! It's an amazing thing. I know, of course, that Obama isn't a one-man fix to all our problems, but his win has made me, and so many of us feel HOPE for the first time in so, so long.

Here's my favorite video of the celebrations because it also includes another of my favorite things...Journey.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

for fun

I snagged this from Bill Fuller's blog. While I'm currently a vegetarian, not an omnivore, I have been an omnivore at various times in life, and have always been an adventurous eater. Here's how this little meme works:

Here is the original link. (The parentheticals are mine--ek).

The Omnivore’s Hundred

Here’s a chance for a little interactivity for all the bloggers out there. Below is a list of 100 things that I think every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life. The list includes fine food, strange food, everyday food and even some pretty bad food - but a good omnivore should really try it all. Don’t worry if you haven’t, mind you; neither have I, though I’ll be sure to work on it. Don’t worry if you don’t recognise everything in the hundred, either; Wikipedia has the answers.

Here’s what I want you to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile (no, but have tried alligator)
6. Black pudding (hockey pucks of doom)
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese (no, but I've seen it. i think that's close enough)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters (oh, how I miss oysters...)
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi (I'm always curious to try this, but always go for the sweet or mango)
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea (this just means a traditional tea w/ clotted cream scones, right?)
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat (Have had goat; just not curried)
42. Whole insects (only by accident, which I don't think counts)
43. Phaal (i will rely on its reputation)
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine (Hurd, remember that trip to Toronto?)
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (clay?)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian (i really want to! i love the idea of a fruit that's been banned for being stinky)
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost (this sounds yummy)
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant (someday...French Laundry or Per Se...)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Monday, November 10, 2008

beans, beans, good for your heart

Okay, so I hadn't really thought about it until last night, but I made several dishes with beans as the central player. And, that became obvious in our household yesterday evening. I'll say no more.

Except this.

Here's what it looks like the first time you introduce a new bean dish in your home:

And, here's what it looks like when you've introduced the fourth bean dish in one weekend:

And, speaking of bean dishes, here's one of them that I remembered to photograph. We had the Spicy Autumn Burgers last night with some oven baked fries and a basil aioli. (and, I actually had the last burger for lunch today, and they're even better the next day!).

Okay. Enough of beans.

Tonight I think we're going to have pasta with tomato sauce and "meat"balls. There's a recipe in my How To Cook Everything Vegetarian with nuts and rice as the base. Seriously, if you're a vegetarian, you should own this cookbook. It has EVERYTHING, and variations on each recipe. I love it. Mark Bittman thinks of everything. And, he's not even a vegetarian. Amazing.

And, though it has nothing to do with food, I'll share this photo with you of my number one boy and his friend and cuddle buddy, Chewbacca.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

fall back

Okay, before I say anything about food or cooking, I'd just like to express my extreme JOY and ELATION that we have a new President(-elect)!!! I actually feel hope; the dark ages are drawing to a close after eight long years of fear, hate and general idiocy. Hallelujah! We Baraked the vote! Woot!

Alright. I've been posting so infrequently over the past few months that I never even think to photograph my plates until they're at least half-devoured. I'm going to try to start remembering, though because I just love all the colors in autumn cooking. There was a time when I compulsively photographed everything I ate. My hard drive is full of memories of meals enjoyed. So, yeah, my fall resolution is to remember to do that, and hopefully that'll make me blog more.

Anyhow, I cooked a lot this weekend. I was inspired by my new issue of Vegetarian Times magazine, and by my very own copy of Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian that Barbara got me since I kept repeatedly checking it out of the library, and not giving anyone else a turn.

On Saturday morning, we got our sustenance for our trip to the Handmade Arcade from some lovely pumpkin pancakes from the VT recipe for Pumpkin Pancakes with Honey Raspberry Syrup in the article "Kitchen Prescriptions"--recipes for fighting off colds and flu (B has a bad cold, and I'm trying to fend it off), though we just used maple syrup since I didn't have any raspberries on hand. They were soft and tender and delicious, and totally hit the spot. I had a yummy veggie dog from Franctuary at the arcade, then headed home to enjoy our fantastic new art purchases, and make dinner. I tried another recipe from the same VT article for Soupe au Pistou. It's a hearty veggie bean soup. The pistou (kind of a French pesto) comes into the picture when you serve it. You put a couple tablespoons of the pistou in the bottom of the bowl, and then ladle the hot soup over it, so the heat releases the flavors without cooking it. It was heavenly, and just extremely lovely to boot. I paired that with some warm Yogurt Herb Bread (a quick bread recipe from Mollie Katzen's The Enchanted Broccoi Forest). E-dawg joined us for our fragrant dinner, and showed off her own arcade purchases. We made hot cocoa with fluff for dessert, and all was right with the world.

And then late last night while cleaning out my book bag (no, it is NOT a purse), I came across a recipe I'd printed from somewhere (maybe for Butterscotch Brownies (they were really blondies, not brownies, but anyway). They were super-simple, and really nice.

Sunday morning's breakfast was a grilled cheese sandwich with the Yogurt Herb bread with some cheddar and roquefort, and a couple small squares of the butterscotch bars and coffee.

For lunch, I turned to Mark Bittman's gigantic tome, and made his recipes for Braised Turnips, Spicy Autumn Burgers and Fast, Down-Home Barbeque Sauce. I put the burgers on a toasted bun, and topped them with some carmelized onions, cheddar and the bbq sauce. The turnips and a cup of yesterday's soup rounded out the plate, and were washed down with some apple cider. A cup of hot tea with a butterscotch bar made dessert.

Even though it's cold outside, I feel all toasty warm and sated, and ready to sit down with a crossword and some Iron and Wine playing softly in the background. This has been my kinda weekend.

Monday, October 13, 2008

sunday dinner

I love a good old-school style Sunday dinner. Comfort food like my mom used to make. Or, still does make, I'm just not there to eat it. (But B and I are going down for Thanksgiving, and I can't wait!).

So, yesterday I made us a Sunday dinner of "meat"loaf, garlic mashed potatoes, sauteed mixed greens with onions, garlic and pinenuts. It hit the spot. I based the "meat"loaf on how Mom used to make it with a few updates:

1 roll of Gimme Lean ground beef style
1 small onion, minced
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1/2 green bell pepper, minced (I was out of this, but would have used it if I'd had it)
1/3 c. minced crimini mushrooms
1/2 c. whole wheat panko bread crumbs
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
1/4 c. chopped fresh basil
1/3 c. freshly grated parmesan
1/3 c. freshly shredded cheddar
2 eggs
1/4 c. ketchup
1 1/2 T. mustard

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Mush it all up, and put it in a greased loaf pan. Cover with foil, and bake for 25 minutes. Then, remove the foil, and stir together some extra ketchup and mustard for the glaze. Spread that over the top, then put it back in the oven, uncovered, for another 25 minutes.

Voila! Lovin' from the oven. (what the bleep? this photo isn't showing up giant-size! still working on it...)
(aren't those plates great? a gift from Maggie. i LOVE them).

I'm really looking forward to the Veggie Dinner at Kaya on Wednesday. Check out the menu here. Yuh-um.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Wowza. I didn't realize how long it had been since I'd blogged. I've thought of it often, and have wanted to, but life kept getting in the way.

Work, as always, has been kind of insanely busy. And, non-work, too. Barbara, my number one lady, was hit by a car while biking to work at the end of August. She's okay, but had some broken bones, some sprains, and lots of bruises and scrapes. It was so scary. If you're a biker, please always wear your helmet. If you're a driver, be cognizant of bikers on the road. The week before Barbara was hit, the E-dawg was, too. Just three blocks up. In the bike lane. By an uninsured driver. Effed up. She's okay now, too, and back to running races.

Also, in the meantime Hurd celebrated her big 3-0, and Mags celebrated her 30-something. A big wish for a lovely year for both these fine ladies. They've enriched and enhanced my life in countless ways, and I'm forever indebted to their mothers for birthing them, and raising them up right.

In other friend news, Nowlzie is going to be doing some birthing herself soon! I cannot wait to meet this little guy. He's going to have the best parents in all the land, and undoubtedly going to be quite the handsome fella.

And, for food, I've been doing some fabulous eating over the past few months. I've been hitting the Kaya Veggie Dinner monthly. I've known about this for a couple years, but had never made it. Now I'm completely hooked. August's dinner was seriously yumazing. September's dinner was not quite as good as August's stellar offering, but it was also really great. And, it's just always a fun night with friends over a leisurely dinner. And, it's always extra fun that the chef, Danielle Cain, stops by to say hello. She's super sweet, as well as a really gifted chef. Her two sous chefs are also really fantastic, Dave and Jason always put out some great dishes also. in fact, we're still all talking about Jason's dessert from August--grilled local peaches with a Point Reyes blue cheese ice cream, candied pecans, and blackberry coulis. Really, really great. The next dinner is next Wednesday, October 15th. I think (hope!) they're going to publish the menu today or tomorrow. I can't wait to see what they have planned. It's always fresh, largely local ingredients prepared in really interesting and beautiful ways. Yum.

And, one more big Burrito-related item, and I'll be done plugging. big Burrito is hosting an event, big Benefit, supporting the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank this Sunday, October 12th. 100% of the food revenue for that night's dinner will be donated for this third annual event. It's a great way to have a lovely evening with fantastic food, and also support a super local organization.

Okay. Enough big talk.

I'm excited about the season change. I love--LOVE--summer produce and the bounty, but I'm thrilled that the weather is changing (although not the early darkness; that's a bummer), and I love the new seasonal additions to my CSA and the farmers market. Winter squash, apples, pears, the last of the foraged mushrooms, and the cutest vegetable of all--the brussels sprout. I haven't seen any sprouts yet at the market, but I'm hoping they'll be here soon. They're best picked after the first frost. I can't wait.

In the meantime, I've renewed my love affair with the butternut squash. Last night I prepared a big one, by slicing it in half, seeding it, and cutting out a big hollow in the stem part (the most difficult and time-consuming part of this dish. everything else is easy-peasy). I did a small dice of the squash flesh I'd removed, tossed them with a little splash of olive oil and a little splash of balsamic vinegar, and some sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and covered them with foil, and baked at 350 for about 20-25 minutes--until it was tender, but not falling apart. And, with the two whole halves of squash, I put a little honey and cayenne into a baking dish, and put them cut side down, and put about 2T of water in, covered them with foil, and cooked them for about 40 minutes, until very tender (the time depends on the size of your squash).

In the meantime, I cooked some red quinoa (you don't have to use red, it just looks really pretty with the other ingredients). Then I tossed about 3 c. of the quinoa with the cooked, diced squash, about 1/4 c. of freshly grated parmesan. While the quinoa was cooking, I lightly sauteed about 1/3 c. of chopped onion, about 1/4 c. of this gorgeous fragrant celery (with the leaves) that I got at the market, a clove of garlic, a splash of olive oil, some chopped fresh sage (about 2T), and some chopped fresh parsley (also about 2T). I folded that into the squash-quinoa mixture.

I melted some butter in a pan, and browned some whole wheat panko bread crumbs, and put that on top, and popped the whole thing back into the oven for about 15 minutes. When that was done, I scooped it into the halves, and served it with some chopped fresh chives on top. It was beautiful, seasonal, and absolutely delicious. I wish I was a better photographer.

Welcome, Autumn. I salute you.

Monday, August 18, 2008

oh, life.

I've sure you're sick of reading me say it, but I've been so busy! Work is kicking my ass, there are always a million things to do around the house, a million things to do with family and friends and assorted obligations and responsibilities and the like. In sum, I'm tired and no end is in sight.

But, I have been eating and cooking a little along the way. Some highlights along the way have been...

1. this Zucchini Ricotta Cheesecake from (guess where!), Heidi Swanson's blog. Barbara and I, along with the E-dawg, went to dinner at some friends' house last week, and had a lovely evening with lovely food. One friend eats a gluten-free diet, so when I saw this recipe I knew it was the winner. Even those among us that hate goat cheese (I know! Blasphemy!) loved it. My photo of the cheesecake right out of the oven isn't as pretty as Heidi's, but it smelled so good I almost dug in right then.

2. While I was on a zucchini-grating bender for the cheesecake, I decided to play around with making some veggie pancakes with all my zucchini. I grated a few zucchini, drained them (and squeezed more moisture out for good measure) and a couple potatoes. Threw in some minced onion and herbs (dill, parsley, chives and basil), a couple beaten eggs, some freshly grated parmesan, salt and pepper and about 1.5 cups of flour. Mixed it all together, and dropped it by heaping spoonfuls into a skillet that was over medium-high heat with some olive oil. I served these with a drizzle of crema, and they were really tasty! And, they were so easy and nice, I have been thinking of all sorts of variations with different vegetable and herb/spice combinations.

3. Roasted Quinoa with Potatoes and Cheese from Mark Bittman's, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. He said that boiling and then roasting the quinoa would give it a crispy, nutty texture. Some of it on the edges was, but mostly it was just like quinoa when you just boil it. However, I did take it out halfway to go pick up Barbara (and loosely covered it with foil), and then put it back in the oven, so it definitely was user error. It was pretty and colorful (would've been more colorful if I'd had red bell pepper; I used green), and tasted really good. It was plain-ish, but nice in a stick-to-yer-ribs way. The cheese definitely made this. I just used a straight-up cheddar because my lady doesn't like smoked cheeses. I had some gorgeous baby purple potatoes from the farmers market, some red potatoes and a Hungarian hot wax pepper from my CSA, so I used all those.

Roasted quinoa with potatoes and cheese (from How To Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman)
(4-6 servings)


1/4 cup olive oil
1 lb small waxy potatoes, like fingerling, new red, or Peruvian purple, peeled if you like, and cut lengthwise into wedges
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled
3/4 cup of quinoa
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup scallion, sliced
1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1-2 tbsp minced fresh chile (like jalapeno or Thai) or add hot red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste
6 oz cheese, preferably smoked like gouda, cheddar, or mozzarella, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup minced parsley for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 400. Grease an 8 x 10 inch roasting pan with a tbsp or so of the olive oil.

2. Put the potato wedges and garlic into a large pot with water to cover, salt it, and turn the heat to high. When the water begins to boil, stir in the quinoa. Adjust the heat so that the water boils assertively and cook, stirring once or twice, for about 5 minutes.

3. Drain the quinoa, garlic, and potatoes in a strainer, but leave them fairly wet. Spread them into the prepared pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with the remaining olive oil, and gently toss with a spatula. Spread them out again. Roast, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Gently toss again, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and return the pan to the oven for another 10 minutes or so, until the potatoes are tender on the inside and golden on the outside.

4. Add the scallion, bell pepper, and chile and toss everything one last time. Taste and adjust the seasoning, keeping in mind that the cheese will add some saltiness. Spread the cheese over all and return to the oven for another 5-8 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.


4. Peach ice cream. I'd already made some peach frozen yogurt, but last week we had a great scoop of peach ice cream at Kaya, and had been thinking of it since. So, I made some yesterday with the recipe from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop. Honestly, I was a little disappointed. I mean, it tasted good, the texture was nice, but with the sour cream in the recipe it just made it taste tangy like frozen yogurt. I wanted strictly sweet creaminess this time. I LOVE frozen yogurt, and the tanginess is the biggest selling point for me, but I wanted ice cream this time. In fact, I still do. I might have to do another batch this week because I made some delicious blackberry syrup that is crying out for ice cream.

6. Blackberry Soda. As I mentioned, I made some blackberry syrup yesterday. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it, but I got two pints of gorgeous blackberries from the farmers market, and had read some recipe for a fresh blackberry lemonade or cocktail or something a few weeks ago. So, I cooked them down with a little water, some sugar and a big squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and decided to make a blackberry soda. The syrup tastes fantastic on its own, but then I realized you can't just add that to perrier and expect a miracle. You have to add a lot more sugar to sweeten up mineral water. So I did. It was good. But, next time I'll just use a ginger ale or something. I'm having some friends over for drinks and a game of Foodie Fight on Wednesday. I'm going to make some kind of Blackberry Fizz.

And, after we have drinks and game fun, we're heading to the monthly Vegetarian Dinner at Kaya. The menu looks fab. I can't wait! (and will report back...).

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

comfort food

I felt the need for some comfort food last night. I was crampy, cranky and all worned out. And, I'm in the middle of a YA vampire book that I'm currently obsessed with* so I don't really have time for time-consuming cooking.

I have the book How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman out of the library. (And, have How To Cook Everything Vegetarian on request). This is one of those books that I'm going to hate to return to the library, and probably going to convince myself before long that I need to actually own. I will justify it by stating indignantly to myself (and maybe to Barbara), "I mean, what well-stocked kitchen doesn't have a Bittman cookbook on the shelf? I mean, really!". Nevermind that the answer is, I'm sure: plenty. But, still. Baby gets what baby wants, right? Uh...

Anyhow, last night I needed to comfort food, and I remembered this recipe I'd paged past in the book where Bittman argued that there was no reason to EVER make mac-n-cheese from a box (or any "convenience food") when you could make this recipe in the same amount of time, and have the result be so much more satisfying and delicious. So, I did, and it was. Apart from the time it took to boil the water, it was about ten minutes start to finish. You just boil some salted water for your pasta, and in the meantime, melt 6 T. of butter (I used half unsalted, half salted) in a saucepan, and add 20-30 fresh sage leaves (or the equivalent of dried--I don't remember what that was) and some freshly ground pepper. Cook that over low heat until the butter is lightly browned, and the sage leaves are crispy and fragrant. Grate about 1 c. of parmesan cheese. When the pasta is done, drain (I used penne), reserving 2-3 T. of cooking water, and add it to your warmed serving bowl. Toss the pasta with the butter, sage and half the parmesan. Pass the rest of the cheese for serving. Enjoy!

It was SO good, so simple, and so perfectly what I wanted.

*Seriously. I went with some coworkers (who led me into this obsession) to Barnes and Noble at the Waterfront at 11pm on Friday night for the book release party. It was us, a few other adult nerdladies, and about three hundred tween/teen girls (and about five boys). We made t-shirts. We got tweens to help us with the trivia contests. We raced home with our books and read them into the night. I'm on page 607 (of 753) now. I can't wait to read the rest. And actually, the writing's not even that great. It's often painfully cheesy. But, I still can't stop reading. One of my co-workers (and the genesis of the workplace frenzy over these books) pointed out that the writing isn't really good, but the storytelling is. I think that's the key. Plus, I just like fantastical books. Especially about vampires. Because I'm a nerd. So?

Monday, August 4, 2008

more summery goodness

Last week a co-worker got to talk to Lynne Rosetto Caspar! He'd called in with a question, left a message, and then got a call back with a time to call in and speak to Lynne herself, to possibly be aired on The Splendid Table. So cool! He suggested I call in about my mint conundrum/fascination. Speaking of, I asked a farmer from Goose Creek Gardens (a local herb farm) at the Firehouse Farmers Market (where he was selling spearmint, peppermint and chocolate mint--and who'd supplied the spearmint in my CSA last week). He said that spearmint was his default, and he felt like it just went better with most things. So, the debate continues...

And, speaking of the Firehouse Farmers Market, I got some delicious stuff this week in the Strip:
-Next Life Farms: poona kheera cucumbers, a mix of baby tomatoes, a bunch of red and purple (I think Cherokee Purples?) tomatoes
-Blackberry Meadows: a big basket of white (?) potatoes with this odd peel-y skin (pretty starchy and really tasty, yellow-y flesh), a bunch of parsley, a bunch of Thai basil
-Goose Creek Gardens: some little greens that I was really excited about, and now can't remember what they are for the life of me
-Mushrooms For Life: chanterelles
-Najat's Cuisine: the best hummus EVER
-Puckerbrush Farms: some really fantastically sweet bread and butter corn and a small bag of fresh figs

And, not at the market, but also in the Strip:
-those unbelievable flour tortillas from Reyna
-some Cheddar-Onion bread still hot from the oven from Sunseri
-yummy coffee from 21st Street Coffee

In a word: Mmm.

So, beyond just hunks of bread, and thick slices of tomato, I did a little cooking this weekend. More from the vein of my summer cooking style--don't mess with it too much because it's hot in the kitchen and already pretty perfect the way it is.

D'oh, that dinner got rabbit ears!


That dinner is potato taquitos--based on the Mad Mex version that I constantly crave, tomato salad, cucumbers with dill, Mexican street corn (Ellen calls this "goopy corn"), and carrots with a honey-dijon glaze. Fresh peach frozen yogurt with blueberries for dessert. And mint iced tea (spearmint, fyi).

The peach frozen yogurt is SO easy, and it's a peach party around here right now! To make yourself some...

4-5 ripe peaches
1 32oz container of your favorite organic plain whole-milk yogurt
about 1 cup of sugar (more or less depending on the sweetness of the fruit)
1/2 t. vanilla extract
a big squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Puree in a blender or food processor most of the peaches (save a couple for the end so you'll have some chunks) with all the rest of the ingredients. When the mixture is well blended and the sugar is dissolved, add in the last 1-2 peaches and puree for just a few seconds so you have some fruit chunks. If it's already well chilled, put it right into your ice cream maker, and follow your manufacturer's directions. (mine takes about 20 minutes!). If you don't have an ice cream maker, you can follow David Lebovitz's instructions here.

Wow. I was just looking around this site, and this recipe jumped out at me. Dang. (E-dawg--this sounds like one for you, too). Barbara got me his book (along with my fantastic ice cream maker--mine actually came with two freezer canisters. so awesome) for my birthday. It's so amazing. I need to make some ice creams--I've been fixated on frozen yogurt for months, but ice cream's good, too, right? I need to make this SOON.

Oh, and the corn that I mentioned above--in the style of Mexican Street Corn? I think I've mentioned this before (recently), because I'm obsessed with making corn this way, but here's what you do:

Boil some water (I put in a bit of salt and sugar in the water; I'm not sure why), and cook the shucked corn for about 5 minutes in boiling water. Remove it, and slather on some crema (Mexican sour cream. You can find it locally at Reyna--make sure to get the sour, not the sweet, kind), crumble or grate some cojita cheese (again, you can find this at Reyna--2031 Penn Ave in the Strip; don't forget to get some of their housemade tortillas while you're there), sprinkle with some kind of chili powder or cayenne (I've been using a chipotle chili powder), and serve it with wedges of fresh lime. Give it a squirt, and eat it up until you're too full to move. Such a wonderful flavor--the sweet corn, the sour, creamy crema, the saltiness of the cheese, and the bite of the lime. Perfection.

I had some great goopy corn at Kaya last week, too. The corn was roasted, and given a generation slather of chipotle aioli, sprinkled with Idiazabal cheese and served with lime. I'm going to (finally!) check out the Vegetarian Dinner at Kaya this month on the 20th. The menu has me drooling already.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

mint follow-up & more CSA goodness!

So, I've polled as many people as I could get my hands on (and luckily have lots of chefs within arms reach) regarding my mint conundrum, and maddeningly I've gotten lots of different answers. I'm stumped because peppermint and spearmint are such different flavors it's hard for me to believe that everyone's just using them interchangeably. But, one of the chefs told me yesterday that if she saw "mint" listed in a recipe, she'd just look at the other ingredients to see what made the most sense--using her innate chefly instincts. Which makes sense if you're a real chef. But, when you're just a gal who likes to hang out in the kitchen, it's confusing! Most people said they'd assume "mint" with no context would mean peppermint, but one fine dining chef said he generally uses spearmint. Another said that he almost always uses peppermint, because spearmint is spicier, and has a more distinctive flavor that doesn't always meld as well with the other flavors (but I kinda think the opposite is true! maybe he's confused, too!).

I looked at ingredients of some minty things over the past few days to just better acquaint myself with which is which--Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream is spearmint, a lot of mint teas are a blend of the two, xmas stuff is peppermint, tabbouleh calls for spearmint, mojitos generally say spearmint, but I saw a few with peppermint. Not to mention there are countless other varieties of mint. Seriously. These are the varieties I've come across (other than peppermint and spearmint) in the course of my "research": chocolate mint, orange mint, banana mint, basil mint, Moroccan mint, Habeck mint, Egyptian mint, lemon bergamot mint, orange bergamot mint, lavender mint, pennyroyal, curly (or curled) mint, Kentucky Colonel, apple mint, pineapple mint, eucalyptus (yeah! it's in the mint family!), Austrian mint, Chinese mint, English mint, Corsican mint, ginger mint, lime mint, black-stemmed peppermint, grapefruit mint, Japanese mint, variegated mint, Scotch spearmint, menthol mint, silver mint, Swiss mint, Vietnamese mint, water mint, berries and cream mint, candy-lime mint, pink candypops, Hillary's sweet lemon mint, Julia's sweet citrus mint, margarita mint, Marilyn's salad mint, marshmallow mint, oregano-thyme mint, sweet bay mint, sweet pear mint, mountain mint, Bowles' mint, Nana peppermint, Hairy spearmint, candymint, doublemint, Persian mint, Blue Balsam mint.

Okay, that's enough for now. I read in one place that there are rumored to be over 600 varieties!

Now I feel like Bubba--that shrimp guy from Forest Gump.

Okay, anyhow. It's CSA day!! C-S-A! C-S-A! C-S-A!

This week's box contains:
-free range eggs
-head of lettuce
-spearmint (!!!)
-green peppers
-green beans
-crookneck squash
-Hungarian hot wax peppers


Monday, July 28, 2008

the bounty

While I'm not really one for summer weather (I'm a sweater. Not a cardigan-style or pullover style. I'm a Sweat-Er), I do so love the bounty of produce! And, I love that it's so delicious that it doesn't even take much fiddling to be ready for the plate. I've made some lovely dinners lately, if I do say so myself, that didn't require much more than a trip to my counter/fridge for my CSA goodies or the farmers' market. I'm in love with corn and tomatoes and cucumbers, and can pretty much have them for every meal, along with anything else that happens to come in my CSA box or show up at the market.

One meal was simply slices of tomato (salt and pepper) with ears of corn (butter, salt and pepper) and a couple Veggie Masala "burgers" from Trader Joe's (they're these curried potato-veggie patties that I adore):

Another meal was in honor of my friend Alex's visit from Poland. I made my ol' stand by, Heidi Swanson's Sprouted Garbanzo Burgers (but I used canned chickpeas instead of sprouted) with some smoked cheddar, lettuce, spicy sprouts, avocado and tomato. Served with some cucumber "salad" (just tossed with a glug of olive oil, salt and pepper), and some corn prepared Mexican street vendor style with crema, powdered chipotle pepper, cojita cheese and wedges of lime. And, vanilla frozen yogurt--fresh outta the maker!--with black raspberries and blueberries for dessert. (I forgot to photo that one, but I wish I'd taken a picture of the corn. It's SO good this way!).

On Saturday I was picked up bright-n-early for the farmers market in the Strip by Liz and Emily, and we met the E-dawg down there. I even got to ring the bell (that opens the market) this week! I picked up some Poona Kheera cucumbers--the first time I'd ever seen them. They're an heirloom variety that was originally from India. They're really lovely--bright yellow (thin) skin, crisp, a bit sweet with a very pale green firm flesh. I've been on the look-out for lemon cukes, too, after having some in a dish that pal Kara made last summer. If yinz see any, lemme know! Other delectable farmers market items are:
-big bunches of basil
-radish microgreens
-dill seeds (and an actual dill plant from Liz and Emily's garden)
-lime basil
-red tomatoes (not sure of the variety)
-a pint of mixed little tomatoes--cherries, sungolds, jelly beans, and some others I don't know
-candy onions
-morels !!! I thought it was too late for these babies, but there they were! and the Mushrooms for Life guy (Jonathan Cingota) also had made this incredible spread that he shared with us that I have to make this week. I'll report back on that.
-Emily and Liz also gave me a pepper from a plant I remarked on in their garden. It's a Black Czech pepper, and they compared the heat level to a jalapeno, and said that the flesh is white. I can't wait to try it. I think I'll use it in a quick salsa this week, and the little flecks of black-and-white pepper will hopefully stand out and be lovely.

Then E-dawg and I hit the PASA Farm Tour (PASA stands for Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture). We went to a couple farms during the tour last year, and decided to just go to one this year--Morris Farm near Irwin, PA. They're an organic farm that does pick-your-own. E-dawg selected this one because they mill their own flour. We got to watch them milling the wheat, which was fun, and much simpler (as a technological process, I mean) than I'd have guessed. While it was being milled, the farmer (Farmer Morris) put some fresh flour into our hands, and the warm, silky, aromatic stuff was practically enough to send us into fits with visions of freshly-baked bread and doughy possibility. We each bought a good-sized bag, and I can't wait to use it. E-dawg was contemplating using that evening for pizza crust, but I haven't heard if she did or how it turned out yet. Kara pointed out that it's a great find for the locavores in the area. (You can buy wheatberries there, too, which I almost did until I remembered my full-to-bursting pantry). It was interesting (and really cool) to hear this guy who seemed like a very old-school farmer talk about organic solutions to pests and using sea minerals in his soil. We didn't pick any veggies there since we'd gone so crazy at the market that morning, but you can see below the 1920s-era potato digger, and our excitement at viewing the delicious tubers (Farmer Morris said his potatoes had one 2nd place that same week at a fair).
After that adventure, we hit the pool to cool off (I discovered I'd gotten quite a passenger-side burn on my right arm from hanging it out the window of E-dawg's car). Then went home to have one of my favorite seasonal snacks (also had this for breakfast this morning, and many, many other times over the past couple weeks)--tomato slices on buttered toast. And, some ice cream (vanilla ice cream with Rita's root beer ice).

That evening I made a dinner to highlight all the freshness I'd gotten that day. We had a tomato salad (the little tomatoes tossed with a vinaigrette of lemon juice, olive oil, onion, salt, pepper, lime basil and a splash of vanilla extract--E-dawg heard of using vanilla with tomatoes last year on The Splendid Table), some lightly sauteed morels with shallots in a little butter, some gorgeous beans tossed with some fresh dill and salt (I used both green beans and royal burgundy beans--which actually turn green when you cook them--see the before and afters below), some of those gorgeous Poona Kheera cukes, and some roasted new potatoes with some garlic-herb mayonnaise (used garlic, chives, dill, marjoram and thyme).

Beans, before:
Tomato salad:
the full-meal deal:

Summer, I heart you.

p.s. Hey--I have an unrelated question for you, dear readers. When you read a recipe that calls for mint, do you typically assume that means peppermint or spearmint? I've gotten mixed results in asking this question of a lot of people over the past couple of days, but today I asked a couple chefs here at the ol' big Burrito, and they said it'd be peppermint unless otherwise specified. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

i feel fine

I feel fine in lots of ways today! I'm finally, finally, finally over the plague I had. I went to the doctor on Thursday, and he thought I may have mono, and sent me for blood tests and ordered me to do nothing but "Eat and use the bathroom. Seriously, NOTHING else." So, I took off work on Friday, and laid around for a few days, and then I felt better when I woke up on Sunday, and now feel like a new lady. Phew!

As an aside, Metro Family Practice is pretty awesome. I saw a doctor who's not my regular (who's awesome), and he was really great. Seriously, some of the best doctor's visits I've had in years have been at this place. It's like they actually listen and actually care. If you're in Pittsburgh, and looking for a good PCP, check out this place.

I also feel fine because it is now tomato and corn season!!! There's really nothing better. They're delicious even completely unadorned, and perfect for eating on summer days when it is Hot As Hell and you Do Not Feel Like Being In a Hot Kitchen. Yum.

I had some of the best corn I've ever tasted last night via pal Lisa. She sent an email this morning telling us about this place based in the Strip that is a "virtual farmers market" where you can order local and non-local, and even do a CSA, all through their site, and schedule a pick-up either in the Strip or at another location in the area. They're called Good Apples, and I think I'll swing by there after work and pick up a dozen ears of that corn (on their site they say it's from local farm Yarnick's (in Indiana, PA). A dozen is only $5! Worth its weight in gold, I tell ya!

I've been immersed in reading (like, actually reading the entire thing) Deborah Madison's cooking bible Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone. I've been checking out cookbooks from the library constantly, but want to buy the ones that I feel I'll use all the time. This is one of those. It's chock full of billions of recipes and technique tips, and is broken down by ingredient--which E-Dawg pointed out is perfect for figuring out what to make with your CSA stuff. A few people have mentioned not liking her tone/style, but I don't mind it one bit. I kinda like a bossy lady.

Speaking of CSAs, our box last week contained these delights:
-free range eggs
-an italian herb mix
-green beans
-black raspberries
-green bibb lettuce
-beets with greens
-new potatoes
-Hungarian hot wax peppers

And, tomorrow we're getting:
-green beans
-Methley plums
-salad mix
-sweet corn

I cannot wait!!!

I also cannot wait because my friend Alex is visiting tomorrow from Poland. It's been a while since I've seen her, and I can't wait to catch up, hear about her globe-trotting adventures and introduce her to Barbara and our new house (which is looking totally adorable, by the way!).

I also feel fine because I was asked to contribute my photo and a quote from and link to my blog from this outfit called We Feel Fine for their upcoming book. They're a site that "harvests human feelings" from weblogs. Every few minutes they search on "i feel" and "i am feeling" to see what the people out on the interwebs are emoting about. It's pretty interesting, and I feel excited (I'm in the "Excited" section) that they decided to include me. Also, I feel special. It's nice to feel special.

And, just for kicks, and for your viewing pleasure, here's a pic of our Libing Room (half library/half living room). It's that green fantastic?

And, here's a picture of me with the gal that makes it feel like home:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

even with the mini-plague

For the last few days I've had a virus that I was convinced for a few days that was some mutant strain of malaria or something. It's passing around our office, and everyone who gets it gets their own little twist on it. Luckily I did not get the version that included "a million tiny mouth sores" (ouch). But, even so, I've felt pretty cruddy since Friday evening.

However, I did do a little cooking in the times when my fever broke. I had a bunch of beautiful blueberries that I scored from the farmers' market, and I had big plans to make this pie, but I just wasn't quite up for all the rolling and such. Instead I made some blueberry muffins out of the cook book Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook by Martha Hall Foose. I'd come across this cook book because Heidi featured the recipe for the Blackberry Limeade on her blog, and so I borrowed it from the library. It's really a lovely book, and lots of scrumptious-sounding recipes. Lots of them feature some form of pork, but still. I'd like to try a few more of her recipes before it's due back.

I only had my camera phone on me at the time, but you can kinda see them.

Blueberry Muffins
makes 18
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup butter (1 stick, melted)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon grated lemon [ek note: 1 used more like 1 1/2 T.]
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Grating of nutmeg [ek note: i was out of nutmeg, so used a little cinnamon instead]
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (do not thaw)

Preheat the oven to 475 F [ek note: most of my muffins got burned on the outside at this temperature. i'm not sure if it's the oven that i'm just not used to yet, or just that that temp is way too high. i'd probably go for 375-400 degrees F next time]. Grease or line 18 muffin cups with paper baking cups.
In a large bowl with a whisk, combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Toss the blueberries to coat with the flour and evenly distribute. Ina separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, butter, zest, and almond and vanilla extracts.
Using a rubber spatula, combine the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir just until everything is moistened. Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling each two-thirds full.

Bake for 15 minutes [ek note: if you lower the cooking temp, these will take longer], or until the tops spring back lightly when touched. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then turn out of the pan onto a rack to cool. Don't let them cool completely in the pan, or the bottoms will get soggy.

[And, I also opted for the optional streusel topping, but changed it a tad. I used 2/3 c. granulated sugar, 1/3 light brown sugar, 2/3 c. flour, 1/2 t. cinnamon, a good bit of slivered almonds--maybe 1/2 c.?, and 4 T. melted butter. Just mush it all together, and sprinkle on the unbaked muffins].

I made some tasty burritos on Sunday night, too, but now I'm all worned out from typing about the muffins, and need to go rest. Carry me!

Thursday, July 10, 2008


On days when I get my CSA I like to chant "C-S-A! C-S-A!" like the peeps do at sporting events (and military events?) when they chant "U-S-A!". It gets me excited, and tickles my fancy, and there ain't nothin' wrong with that.

But, seriously, I would like to take a moment to expound on the virtues of having a CSA. I know I've said it before, but then I talked to a couple people this week who'd never heard of a CSA, so I'm gonna say it again.

Here's how wikipedia describes a CSA, but the basic run-down is that CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and what the deal is that you subscribe to a weekly farm share from a local farm, you pay up front, and then every week (usually early June-ish through mid-Novemberish, in this part of the country) you get a delivery (in various drop-off points around the city) of fresh produce that the farm(s) have picked mere hours or days before. Some of them also offer meats, breads, eggs, honey, cheeses, etc. In Pittsburgh I've used both Kretschmann's and Penn's Corner. I've loved them both. This year I'm doing Penn's Corner. I know they still have slots open, as do many other local CSAs. Here's a good list of all the CSAs available in the Greater Pittsburgh Area, and you can check here for national listings.

To give you an idea of what one gets in a CSA subscription, here's what my last few boxes have consisted of (I split my box with eDawg):

Week 1 (6/18):
free-range eggs
gourmet lettuce mix
head lettuce
baby beets
sugar snap peas

Week 2 (6/25):
new red potatoes
sugar snap peas
shelling peas
romaine lettuce
red ruffled lettuce
green cabbage

Week 3 (7/2):
free range eggs
sugar snap peas
snow peas
baby beets
head lettuce
bibb lettuce
hydroponic cluster tomatoes (1st tomatoes of the season! i can't wait for the onslaught!)

Week 4 (7/9):
black raspberries
new potatoes
young onions
patty pan squash
red cabbage
black seeded simpson lettuce
swiss chard

My CSA box paired with some goodies from the farmers' market almost covers all my eating! Also, when you subscribe to a CSA you're getting healthier food because it's freshly picked, and all the nutrients are still going strong. And, you're supporting your local agricultural community and local economy. And, you're cutting down on fossil fuel usage by choosing foods that don't have to be transported from all over creation to get to you. And, you're further helping the environment when you subscribe to organic farms that aren't using the pesticides that end up as run-off and the like. And, you're more in touch with seasonality as you see the growing seasons for various plants in your particular region. It feels good, do it!

So, don't you wanna go sign up for a CSA right now?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

baby's first risotto

I love risotto. And, I fear risotto. I've heard for years how easy it is to mess up, how labor-intensive it is, how often after stirring for a half hour you're likely to end up with a soupy/sticky/undercooked/overcooked mess. So, it's usually something that I order when out, and only fantasize about making at home.

But, this past weekend I got up the gumption to try it, loosely basing it--naturally--on a Heidi Swanson recipe. In her book, Cook 1.0: A Fresh Approach to the Vegetarian Kitchen, she lists several varieties for risotto. She uses wine and water as her cooking liquid, but I stuck with vegetable broth and a little water. I didn't have any white wine on hand, and knew that broth was the traditional choice. But, I did take her process suggestions, getting all my ingredients ready beforehand, because once you start, there's no stopping to the stirring. I did use Barbara as a pinch hitter a few times so I could powder my nose, and take some other stuff out of the oven. And, you know what? It turned out great! Creamy and comforty with a nice al dente bite. I threw in some grated parmesan (and topped it with a little more shaved parm), a handful of fresh herbs (I think I used basil, oregano, parsley and lemon thyme), salt and pepper and lemon zest right at the end, and it was rich and fresh-tasting. It made a big pot, so I'm using the leftovers for risotto cakes this evening for dinner, and I think I'll throw in some fresh peas and onions and whatever other veg I have hanging out in the fridge.

I served the risotto with some roasted green beans (a Mollie Katzen recipe; I just subbed toasted walnuts for the pinenuts. I can't remember if it's in the original Moosewood cookbook or The Enchanted Broccoli Forest), a green salad (with tender yummy radish microgreens) and a pitcher of sangria I made earlier in the day, then chilled in the refrigerator for several hours (it was even better the next day!). Yum.

Oh! And, lemon pound cake for dessert! I used a recipe that a former co-worker of mine used. I hadn't made it myself, but remember loving it, and then after having some lemon birthday cake a couple weeks ago, I couldn't stop thinking about it. It's a Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten) recipe, and you can find it here. It seems that Oprah and I like the same things.

On a related note, one of the best Halloween costumes I saw last year was a guy dressed as the Barefoot Contessa at the Spell party. It was Spot On.

Sunday morning Barbara and the E-Dawg were taking a big bike ride, so before they left, I whipped up some buttermilk pancakes (I had leftover buttermilk from the lemon cake, so I hadta!) and Gimme Lean "sausage" patties. For the pancake recipe, I again consulted Heidi's Cook 1.0. They came out fluffy and delicious. Yummers.

Now, I'm hungry.

Monday, June 30, 2008

the man is trying to keep me down

This weekend I did a little cooking, and was planning on photographing it for You, lovely readers. But, then my camera was outta batteries, and while I know that my battery charger is somewhere amongst the boxes in my house, I can't begin to guess which box. Ah well. So, I guess it wasn't necessarily The Man trying to keep me down, but I am feeling really, really tired of packing and unpacking and not knowing where stuff is. But, it's coming along. In fact, Barbara and Mags spent all day yesterday painting the room we like to call The Multi-Media Room (I was unboxing the kitchen stuff which still isn't done, cooking, etc.). First they painted the entire room and when we came back to look at it, we all HATED it. I'd picked out this coral for the walls, and an orange for the trim and ceiling, and it was just way, way, way too bright--to the point of making you feel claustrophobic and crazy as soon as you walked in. So, they had a little color lab mixing extravaganza from the paint colors we already had, and now the room is a lovely and soothing pale-ish green with antique white trim. Ahhh.

Friday I made us a big salad, pappardelle with pesto and a bunch of veggies from my CSA. Saturday I made some roasted veggies to take to my friend Tracey's birthday party. The dinner theme was Mexican-ish, so I roasted some bell peppers, onions and mushrooms. I tossed them in some lemon juice and zest, chipotle chili powder, and after they roasted, in some chopped cilantro. The dinner menu was outta this world--little black bean and sweet potato cakes, goat cheese enchiladas with salsa verde and/or mole, guacamole and crema. It was so fantastic! The host/chef was Leslie, and she's just a really excellent cook. It was an intimate dinner party, and one of the best times I've had recently. At one point we swapped Bad Date Stories, and I'm still chuckling over some of them. Sunday Barbara made us a lovely breakfast of challah french toast with tofu scramble, and I made us a lunch of lemon thyme tofu with buttered peas, orange glazed carrots and turnips, and roasted baby new potatoes. Then for dinner I made fakin' bacon and green pepper grilled cheeses with homemade slaw and some oven-baked fries. You'll just have to take my word that it all looked colorful and pretty. And, I used most of my CSA and farmers market goodness. Now I just need to make some big salads to power through my cache of lettuce. I can't wait to see what we'll get this Wednesday.

I also finished the book I'd been reading for Queer Book Club last night--Dog Years by Mark Doty. This author was actually here reading during Pride Week for the American Shorts series, but I missed him due to moving madness. I wish I would've heard him read. The book was fantastic. He's better known as a poet, and you can definitely feel that type of lyricism and imagery, but the main focus is the love of his two dogs throughout the death of his partner from AIDS, his next relationship and lots of moving around. It's a beautiful story, and turned me into a puddle of goo after two seriously hardcore sobbing sessions--half for the book, and half for missing my dog Ursa who I lost in October 2006 to kidney disease and then subsequent failure. If you've ever had a dog in your life, you should read this book. So.Good. The book club discusses it tomorrow, and I'm eager to see what everyone thought, and hear reports from the people that saw him speak.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

the neverending move

I finally moved the remainder of my stuff last night! I never have to go to Troy Hill again. Thank the baby jesus.

The new house is great, but boxes are littering the place, so we still have a way to go. But, after everything (or most everything) is situated, I'll post some pics. It's going to be really cute.

I haven't been cooking much at all because where's my big saucepan? where's my chef's knife? where's my mixing bowl? and on and on and so forth. But, I've promised B a home-cooked meal this evening, and I've got some gorgeous CSA goods so cooking will happen come hell or high water. I'm thinking a veggie pappardelle with spring pesto and a big salad with a citrusy vinaigrette and some crusty, chewy bread. Will report back.

In other news, you may remember my pal Kramer from various posts. She just started a really cool blog of her own that is like an Amber Alert for bikes in the Pittsburgh area. She just started it today, and it's such a great idea. You bike riders out there should check it out, now-like. Also, for the bike riders in the Burgh, check out this great multi-event bike extravaganza, Pittsburgh Bike Fest.

One of Kramer's other bike-related good deeds:

As for myself, I hadn't ridden my bike since last summer until a few nights ago. I was weak and winded, but it felt good. I want to get back into it, and get to the point where hills (even tiny ones) don't make me feel like I'm gonna die. Wish me luck (I need it).

Pedal on, peeps.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

oh, you have forsaken me!

I haven't really forsaken you, I've just been losing my mind with work and moving and cleaning and stressing out and barely sleeping. But, even so, I have done a little cooking here and there!

Barbara's birthday was last Saturday, and we had a little soirée at her sister's lovely home. Her brother and his bf were in from Vegas, and I finally got to meet them and they were gems. You can see from this photo what a good time they were. Their sense of fun and adventure is all over their faces!

I made a Red Velvet Cake and some chocolate cupcakes, but forgot to photograph them until they'd been near-decimated.


Happy Birthday, Sweet B.

Okay, more soon. Swear. Really.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

nothing says Memorial Day Weekend like knishes!

It was such a lovely weekend! I woke up early on Saturday morning, and finished reading the book (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith) for my Queer Book Club on Wednesday (if you're here, you're queer, and you're a book nerd and want in, lemme know). Then I hit the Strip and met up with the E-dawg, and ran into lots of other pals down there. At the Firehouse Farmers Market I got some shittakes, "walking onions", baby greens, basil, eggs, asparagus, turnip greens pie, baba ganoush and pita chips, and these teensy little baby turnips that the woman I bought them for called them something like "hot currans" or "hot callans" or "hot somethingorother". Anyone know the name I'm searching for? I wish I'd photographed them. Whatever they were, they were really delicious and pretty cute. I chopped them up raw into a salad. The texture was sorta like water chestnut, the taste was sweet and mild. Yum. I also hit 21st Street Coffee for the best coffee in the 'Burgh, and a chat with the E-dawg. Then E-dawg went off with Barbara to do a 50-mile bike ride, and I stopped in to Cafe Richard, where sadly someone had already bought up all the veggie quiche (wild mushroom with goat cheese and scallions - sob!), so I just got a coconut custard tart.

Sunday we met up with some peeps, and trekked out to the Rachel Carson Homestead for the Sustainable Feast. That evening Barbara wanted to make knishes, so we used the recipe from Vegan With A Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (we just made the potato and the spinach, not the sweet potato. also, for a non-vegan detour, we added some cheese to the spinach ones). We had Mags over to hang with us, and also used her for a little kneading power. They are serious comfort food. Little pastry rolls of warm potato-y goodness. Yum. We paired that with a salad made from my farmers market bounty: the baby greens and some leftover spinach from the knishes, some roasted asparagus cut into 1" pieces, chopped red bell pepper, the baby turnips I mentioned above, several of the walking onions, carrots, chevre, and a quick lemon vinaigrette with lemon zest and juice, olive oil, shallots and salt and pepper. Again, yum.

I had the leftover knishes for breakfast on Monday morning. (OH MY GOD THERE IS NOTHING BETTER THAN A LONG WEEKEND, HUH?).

Last night we went in completely the opposite direction. Ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery (my favorite combo is Chocolate Cake Batter Ice Cream with strawberries and yellow pound cake folded in) and fries from the O.

One can't be virtuous all the time.

[this post is dedicated to the memory of a sweet little cat I once knew. Sports Kramer, rest in peace].

Thursday, May 22, 2008

spring fever

You wouldn't know it by how often I've been blogging, but I really do have spring (food) fever. There's nothing like the bursting forth of green after a long, grey winter. When the farmers markets and CSAs kick it into gear, when you can start getting local produce again. This is my favorite time of year.

The Firehouse Farmers Market started up again two weeks ago, and the city farmers markets are on their second week this week (they're still a little slim this time of year, but that'll change soon!). I had to switch my CSA. Unfortunately one of the owners of Mildred's Daughters had an injury recently that made their CSA program unworkable for this season, but luckily the good folks at Penn's Corner took the E-dawg and I under their wings. (Some of my work friends did the spring share, too, and it's been amazing! I can't wait for mine to start! I know they still have some openings if you haven't signed up for a CSA for this year yet). And, if you're wondering what the heck a CSA is, here's the wikipedia listing that tells you all about it. It's a fantastic idea that gets you the freshest produce available, and helps you support the local economy. You can find info for the various CSAs in the area here.

It feels good. Do it.

I love having a Saturday morning ritual centered around the Farmer's Market. How it usually goes down is that I meet up with E-dawg at some point (we carpool or ride bikes, or she rides and meets me, or whatever). Lately our itin has been that we hit the farmers market first, then Cafe Richard (which recently just changed into the hands of Raymond, one of the long-time staples in the kitchen), sometimes Reyna (for the softest, most delicious tortillas ever), sometimes Mon Amiee Chocolat (especially great during cold weather because they have the best hot chocolate I've ever tasted), sometimes Penzeys or Penn Mac, or Enrico's or wherever else we need. Then roll up into 21st Street Coffee for some fantastic brew and we sit upstairs in the little loft--sometimes a friendly game of Foodie Fight (nice play, opponent), sometimes just chatting and people-watching. It's something I look forward to every week. I love having a little ritual of 100% pure fun, and I'm elated to see fresh local goodness in the market.

I love the Strip District on Saturday mornings. I love the bustle of it. I love all the different shops. I love the incredible smells. It feels like I'm in a city the way I imagined living in a city would feel when I was a kid.

Anyhow, I've made a couple dishes that I really enjoyed recently from my market bounty. One of my favorite vendors at the farmers market is Mushrooms For Life. They have a fantastic variety of cultivated and wild mushrooms. I love mushrooms. Week before last I got some shittakes and some royal trumpets, and used them in a dish I took to a friend's birthday potluck. I based this dish on Heidi's Spring Butterfiles with Lemon Cream from Cook 1.0. While the pappardelle pasta had a great flavor and texture, I think it'd be better with a lighter pasta, like the butterflies Heidi suggests or orecchiette or something like that. Here's what I did:

Spring Pasta
(makes enough to take to a potluck)

Boil salted water, then throw in your pasta and cook until pasta is al dente. When you have about one minute to go, through in some asparagus (a small bunch, cut into 1" pieces) and some peas (I used frozen petit green peas, about 2 c.). Drain and set aside.

In the meantime, chop up a mix of mushrooms (I used shittake and royal trumpets, about 1/3 lb. each), and saute in some butter (about 3 T.) with some diced onion (1/2 onion) and minced garlic (about 3 cloves). Add in a few shakes of crushed red pepper, salt (helps the shrooms to give up their moisture) and pepper. Cook long enough that the mushrooms gave up their juice and are golden brown. When they're ready, add 2 c. heavy cream and 1 c. milk and cook over low heat until it thickens into a cream sauce.

Pour the cream sauce over the pasta/asparagus/peas and stir gently.

Now zest three lemons, chop up a handful of basil, and grate about 1 cup of cheese (I used about 1 c. of parmesan and about 1/2 c. of this wonderful raw goat cheddar I got at the market from the East End Food Coop's booth; I forget who the maker is). Chop up about 1/2 - 3/4 c. of pine nuts. Reserve about 1 T. each of the zest, pinenuts, basil and cheese, and mix the rest in. Sprinkle the reserved items over the top for good looks. Salt and pepper to taste.

This flavor is all about spring.

[I want to mention as an aside that while I don't often stress this, I do use all "organic" ingredients when I cook. Not necessarily all certified organic (you can read about that distinction in the brilliant book The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan), but grown without chemicals. I try to buy as much local stuff as I can, and to eat as seasonally as I can. It's better for you because the food is fresher, it's better for your local economy because you're supporting local farmers and growers, and it's better for the environment because you're not contributing to adding additional chemicals to the soil (and the subsequent run-off), you're not using fossil fuels to bring your food from across the globe, etc. I'm just sayin'. I do make exceptions, but I like to keep these goals in mind when I'm choosing foods].

Okay. Back to cooking and eating.

Last week I heard tale that Mushrooms For Life were bringing some foraged morels to the market. I got there early, but there was already a line. The word spread back down the line that he'd brought about 1 pound of morels, and was divvying them up in 2 oz portions. I crossed my fingers that I'd make it to the front before they were sold out. And, I did! There was enough for me, and for the people behind me, and then everyone else had to console themselves with other beautiful mushrooms and ramps and the like.

I hadn't had a morel in a couple years. My stepdad used to forage them in a couple secret patches on their property, but a couple years ago someone found his stash, and made it there before he did. Last year Kramer and I talked about joining the Western PA Mycological Club (I think that's the name), but never got around to making it to a meeting or foraging with the group. Anyhow, morels are wonderful mushrooms. They're kind of lovely and creepy looking at the same time. And, they have this really amazing flavor. It's really kind of meaty. Like, steak-esque, but gamier and earthier. They live up to the hype.
I made a dish with the morels, and my leftover shittakes and royal trumpets. I didn't really have much of a vision to start with, but I just made it up as I went along (often my cooking method) it turned out fantastically well. The texture was almost risotto-ish and the taste was reminiscent of stroganoff. In other words, yummalicious.

My method was to cook some brown rice.

Then to saute the mushrooms in some butter with onions and garlic. Keep the heat kinda low so you can cook them for a while. I wanted the onions to be soft and sweet, but not browned. I through in some minced rosemary, salt and pepper and crushed red pepper. After about 15 minutes or so, I deglazed the pan with a little sherry, and when that moisture was gone, I added a couple glugs of heavy cream. Let it bubble for a minute and thicken.

Then I made a big dip in a bowl of rice and scooped in some of the mushroom mixture, and crumbled some (okay, lots) of goat cheese. I photographed it at this point, but it really was kicked up a notch when I stirred it all together. The goat cheese lent it a fantastic creaminess and tanginess, and the morels made it so meaty that if I hadn't made it myself I'd have sworn that there was some kind of beef or something up in there. I made enough for two servings, and accidentally ate them both for dinner. So simple, so incredibly delicious.

Want to get your local and sustainable grub on this weekend? Check out the Sustainable Feast at the Rachel Carson Homestead on Sunday noon - 5pm. E-dawg, Kara and I went last year, and it was really super. $5 gets you in, and tastes of all the lovely food. Some big Burrito peeps will be cooking up some goodness (Corporate Chef, Bill Fuller and Casbah's Executive Chef, Alan Peet), too. It should be a Real Good Time. And if there's one thing I like, it's a good time.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

busy with overflowing goodness

I'm going to say this again. It won't be the first time, and I'm sure it won't be the last. I have been so freakin' busy! Busy at work, busy looking for a new place in which to cohabitate with my lady-love, busy with other general life things. Work especially has been kicking the ol' hind-end with regularity. It's the high season in the catering world--weddings, communions, graduations, etc. On one hand it's great, on the other, I'm a tired lady. But, things are good all-around. I'm still loving the job, and Barbara and I found an awesome place to live! It's so cute and perfect, and had everything (except a dishwasher...) on our wish list. We're going to be residents of the fine neighborhood of Bloomfield-ish/Lawrenceville-ish/Strip-ish/Garfield-ish soon! I'll post some pics when we get in there and set up all our stuff just exactly how we want it. And, there's room for a small garden in the back yard, and already has a compost pile going. I'm so, so, so thrilled--both about the place itself, and to live in sin with my gal. Good stuff.

I promised to tell the tale of my fantastic dinner at Eleven. Seriously. It was so good I actually wrote a fan letter (er, email) to the Executive Chef, Derek Stevens (like the nerd that I am). He wrote back a really nice note. I'm supposed to have a work meeting with him soon, and I'm kinda nervous. See, chefs and authors, (and, uh, some musicians/rock stars) are my rock stars.

Anyway, to the meal. Eleven's menu changes daily, and there's always a Chef's Tasting Menu, and a Chef's Vegetarian Tasting Menu ($45 for five courses). It's not often that you find such a thoughtfully created and prepared menu especially for vegetarians. I love food and love eating out, and always look wistfully at tasting menus that sound fantastic but are heavy on the meat. So, Barbara and I both opted for the Chef's Vegetarian Tasting Menu. I should mention also, that we have pretty different palates, but that we were both pleased as punch. It was interesting, delicious and varied. Our menu was...

amuse bouche:
pea puree with roasted red pepper and chili oil
This was a really nice taste--very fresh-tasting and very lightly spiced with the red pepper adding a slight bit of acidity and the oil adding a tiny bit of heat)

soup course:
Cauliflower Puree w/ nasturium, herb & brioche salad
This soup was a really wonderful presentation. the soup itself was rich and lovely, and the nasturium and herbs (basil and parsley, i think) looked beautiful on the top, and added a nice balance. The brioche croutons were really flavorful and just-crisp. This plate was so pretty that another diner being seated stopped in his tracks to ask us what it was. The servers also brought around some of the lovely house-made breads (I tried a sunflower one with golden raisins and also a walnut one with the entree. Both were delish).

salad course:
Three Sisters Farm Mesclun with lemon-rhubarb vinaigrette
The greens were gorgeous and tender as they only can be at the height of spring. The salad was very lightly dressed (as it should be!). The dressing was mouth-watering, and just a little bit creamy. Maybe a little yogurt as the base?

appetizer course:
Chili Relleno with Capriole goat cheese, salsa romesco, local honey, oregano
Whoa. I think that's exactly what I said when I tasted this. The presentation was stunning, and I think I've thought about that salsa romesco every single day since this dinner. It was the epitome of freshness, and the nuttiness pushed it over the top into richness and perfection. The local honey drizzle on the plate was genius. This is one of the single best plates of food I've ever eaten. For reals.

entree course:
Spring Pea Ravioli with black truffle, Parmesan cream and basil
So, I thought nothing would EVER be able to top the Chili Relleno until I tasted my first mouthful of this dish. The raviolis were tender little pillows of love, the Parmesan cream sauce was incredibly rich and velvety, the truffles added an utterly amazing level of earthiness, the basil cut through the richness and brought the freshness back into the forefront. I seriously thought about donning a ski mask, and running into the kitchen with a weapon and some huge containers and demanding the kitchen fill them up tout suite. Ah-mazing. Uh-mazing. I'm not even hungry, and my stomach growled in agreement while I was typing that.

dessert course:
So, here's the thing. The chef's dessert pairing was an Orange-Buttermilk Creamsicle house-made ice cream with lavender, white chocolate shortbread and orange salsa. But, they let us peek at the complete dessert menu, and I was overwhelmed with choices. I went with the Meyer Lemon creme brulee (and Barbara got the Molten Chocolate Cake with cashew ice cream and black pepper-cherry coulis). It was good, but not quite as tart as I like. Plus, I just wished I would've stayed with the chef's suggestion since I think the interplay between courses is one of the great things about a tasting menu. I couldn't help it, I looked at the list of desserts and couldn't think straight anymore.

But, anyhow, the service was fantastic, the food was utterly phenomenal, I had a really delicious glass of vino (2006 Chateau de la Vieille Tour Bourdeaux Blanc), a beautiful dinner companion, and a lovely evening out. It doesn't get much better than that.

Eleven on Urbanspoon

Okay. Amen. I have much more to say and many more topics I'd like to write about, but I've reached the end of my block-o-time. In the meantime, check out the E-dawg's new blog. She's a fantastic and interestingly introspective writer.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Susie's brownie recipe

I wanted to follow through on my promise of sharing my favorite brownie recipe that was given to me by my good pal Susie. She's a great baker, and since she moved to California last year, I've missed her treats. Luckily I got this recipe out of her (and her recipe for banana bread) before she split town. I love this recipe for the intense chocolatiness and the ease of preparation. I'm not sure if she made this recipe, or if she just knew a good thing when she saw it, but it's definitely a good thing. Without further ado...

Easy Cocoa Brownies (a la Susie)

Preheat your oven to 350 (F).

1/2 c. melted butter
1 t. vanilla
1 c. sugar
2 eggs, beaten

Mix butter and sugar thoroughly. Stir in vanilla and beaten egg mixture.

1/2 c. all-purpose flour (EK note: I made these once with WW flour, and didn't like the texture as much. Now I usually use King Arthur)
1/4 t. aluminum-free baking powder
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa
1/4 t. salt

Sift together, and mix with the wet ingredients.

Spread in a greased 9" square pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until brownies start to pull away from the edges of the pan or when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.


For the version I made for Saturday's rampin' road trip, I used just slightly less sugar (maybe reduced by 2 T.), and added a vanilla buttercream frosting with a few drops of red food coloring to make it a soft pink fluff color.
I used:
3 c. powdered/confectioners sugar
1 c. softened butter
1 t. vanilla
2-3 T. half and half (you could use milk, that's just what I had on hand)
3-ish drops of red food coloring
some colored sugar sprinkles, if you wanna

It makes a lot. Use the leftovers to make your girlfriend "icing balls" (don't ask), or refrigerate for about a week or so.

Stay tuned next week for tales of my fantastic dinner last night with Barbara at Eleven. Wowza. Up there with one of my all-time favorite meals. Fresh, seasonal, interesting, delicious. That is what I'm talkin' about.