Thursday, November 13, 2008

Peru Triumphant!

Occasionally, I crave Peruvian food. I crave its soft textures, its rich sauces, its bright colors, and its ability to justify the eating of rice at any given moment.

Living away from my boyfriend has meant more than one hardship in my life for the past three months, not the least of which is the fact that I don’t get to see his parents very much now. No more weekends in the stifling humidity of Ft. Lauderdale. No more late-night trips to the beach. No more home-cooked Peruvian meals. That one is probably the worst. Every time I drive down with Cliff to see his parents, they see to it that we are constantly well-fed (see La Casita de Carmencita for more on this). My all-time favorite non-ceviche dish is aji de gallina, a stew made from boiled and shredded chicken, yellow spicy aji peppers, and bound together with a thicker-than-thick sauce of Parmesan cheese (a vestige remnant of Italian settling in Peru and Argentina), walnuts, evaporated milk, and bread. This is all seasoned with onions, garlic, and plenty of saffron-hued turmeric. Most recipes call for hard boiled egg (one of the only foods in the world that I hate), and kalamata olives. I like boiled red potatoes. Aji de gallina is to die for and is very easy to reheat again and again.

So – I was craving. I haven’t seen Carmen and Hugo since July, and it was high time that I learn to make the aji. I have a Peruvian cookbook that I trust about 50% of the time. And 50% just wasn’t going to be good enough. I needed aji de gallina, and I needed it to be stellar. I needed it to taste like the comforting, yellow food I have come to look forward to when I drive the four (sometimes grueling, sometime quick, depending on how hungry I am) hours to South Florida.

I found another recipe on that received 4.5 stars. You can find it here: Aji de Gallina. I printed it out and checked out the nutritional information. I tend to do that these days, now that I work at a nutritionally-conscious food magazine with stringent guidelines for its fare. The single serving of aji de gallina contained 333 calories (not horrible), but the kicker was the 14 grams of fat, and I’m sure a bunch of it is saturated. Ugh. No thank you. But looking at the list of ingredients, I saw that it would be very easy for me to “lighten up” if I wanted to.

I wanted to.

Instead of using one whole loaf of white bread, I switched to half a loaf of whole-wheat bread. The halving of the amount was for two reasons, one: whole wheat bread has a higher gluten content than white bread, so the thickening agents would be more powerful – therefore, less was necessary; and two: someone on the discussion board for the recipe said it tasted too bread-y. Now, I don’t know about you, but every time I’ve had a fragrant bowl full of aji de gallina, the last thing I’ve tasted was the bread. So I took her advice.

I also honed in on a can of fat-free evaporated milk that I found at The Pig. Great find. Will use again.
The aji de gallina tasted great. No bread-y ness. Still that lovely smoky, depth of flavor from the walnuts, turmeric, chicken, Parmesan, and garlic. It’s in my fridge now, waiting for me to come home and sing to it and eat it again. The recipe makes 12 servings, so I have a feeling I’ll be eating it for a few days. Not that I’m sad about that. I’m actually really happy about that.

When I got back to the office this morning, I entered the information for my new recipe in ESHA, the nutritional software most often used to analyze the nutritional value of a recipe. I was incredibly happy with the results of my lightened version of aji de gallina that I almost shouted for glee and did a jig in my dead-quiet office. Even with the addition of a few boiled red potatoes, the meal only cost me 141 calories and 4 grams of fat. Unbelievable.

Now just add some long grain brown rice, and you’re set for life.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Eating Your Feelings

I've been noticing a pattern sneaking up in my posts. I'm obsessed with comfort food.

Since I started this blog in 2006, I’ve posted 7 entries on the subject of comfort food. Here they are (with links), from most recent to oldest:

1. Stock Market Crash Comfort
2. Paula Deen and Me: The Lady & Sons Review
3. Beyond "Baby Food": Comfort Restaurant Review (Richmond, VA)
4. Catfish Johnny’s Review (Lake Panasoffkee, FL)
5. Grandma Food
6. Comfort Me With Collard Greens
7. Comfortable Food

Maybe it's just that this particular time in my life has been stressful, and the only things I’ve been able to turn to are the classic foods that I remember as a kid being completely obsessed with. The friends that I still have from my childhood, the ones that remember growing up in the Kapherr house as much as I did, still characterize the dinners around our table as “some of the weirdest food I ever ate.” But none of them deny that it was good.

For most of my childhood (HA! I just wrote “childfood!”), we had a Moroccan student live with us. So, my idea of comfort food might not be the same as yours. The smells of curry and roasting chicken and saffron couscous are the aromas that bring back the memories of home for me. Maybe for you, it’s meatloaf, oatmeal (my latest obsession), spaghetti and meatballs.

Whatever it is, tell me. I want to know what you crave when times are hard. Because, as sad (or as beautiful) as it is, we all eat our emotions.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Comparing Apples and Oysters

Sometimes I wander aimlessly around my kitchen deciding what to put in the food processor.

And sometimes, I end up putting a million things in the food processor.

And sometimes, it tastes amazing.

This happened today.

I was flipping through my favorite cookbook, Jamie Oliver’s “COOK: With Jamie,” and I found an interesting combination of anchovies and rosemary pureed together with lemon juice and olive oil to make a sauce for salmon. I, honestly, had never heard of such a combination. But now that I think of it, the combination is just-so-South-of-France it makes my head spin.

I didn’t have anchovies, which, I must admit, is unusual in a kitchen that I inhabit. I generally have a good can of anchovies around in case of emergency oily-salty-fish craving or in the event that there happens to be a frozen pizza around when my boyfriend isn’t. When he is there, he covers it with whatever meat products are in the refrigerator, leaving no room for the humble anchovy.

Instead of the anchovies, I chose another South-of-France ingredient just as salty and briny as the anchovy: capers. I like capers because you can pronounce my last name to rhyme with them, although my last name is actually pronounced with a short “a” rather than a long “a” sound. But no bother. The caper allows my name to be used in limericks, and thus, I love it.

So, I went out to the garden to pick some fresh rosemary from the bush that runs along the path to our fountain. That makes me sound very Jane Austen-y and provincial. And I love it.

I dumped two tablespoons of drained capers into the 150-year-old Cuisinart food processor, owned by my roommate (who is NOT 150-years-old at all) and whizzed it up with the rosemary leaves, a tablespoon or so of olive oil and some ground pepper. It smelled…well…like Nice. And Aix-en-Provence. At the same time.

At some point, I had decided to make cauliflower, because cauliflower is white, and I have only been eating white foods for the past week. It has to do with the stock market. Read the post below, and you’ll understand.

You would think that cauliflower, because it is white, would have no nutrients, or be fattening, like other white things like butter, cream, flour, lard, etc. This isn’t the case, though. (This is going to be a long blogpost, I can already tell.) Cauliflower is actually in the same family as broccoli, broccolini, cabbages, etc., and thus very high in nutrients and very low in calories. Yay! Thus, we can make up the calories in other ways.

When the cauliflower had been steamed, and had turned a lovely and comforting shade of translucent white, I dumped it in the food processor with the caper/rosemary/France mixture. I poured in a half cup of milk. And a half teaspoon of butter (see also: calories). And I processed everything into a creamy, fragrant mess. It tasted insanely good, especially after adding a half teaspoon of salt. It needed something, though. Green apples…something with some tang. I pushed the apple thought away, believing myself to be temporarily insane.

My roommate brought me back to earth, thankfully. “Is that going to be your entire meal?” she asked. I guess I should have something protein-like, huh.

I’d been saving a half-tub of shucked oysters in the freezer for some homemade biscuits and Southern Oyster Gravy, but it was becoming more and more apparent, that I would never have time to make the gravy, let alone homemade biscuits. I barely have time to paint my toenails, which is a much more important duty than making biscuits, surprisingly. So I took the oysters out of the freezer, defrosted them, and put them on the stove.

Soup, I thought.

When the oyster likker started to steam slightly, I poured in my beautiful cauliflower mixture and added another quarter-cup of milk, just to make it soupy. I brought it to a good temperature slowly, being careful not to cook the oysters too much. As I always say (I actually DO always say this), the only thing worse than an overcooked shrimp is an overcooked oyster/mussel/clam. Shellfish is not to be overcooked.

We were chatting, and my roommate told me she felt like she had seen the oyster/cauliflower combination somewhere before. A quick Google search revealed a New York Times recipe for Cauliflower Soup with Oyster Garnish. There it was. Green apples. Right there in the recipe. I was not insane. I was a genius. Or perhaps both.

I quickly took the bag of chopped up Granny Smiths out of the Ziploc where they were being held in the crisper, and dumped them into, what else, the food processor. I pulsed several times until the apples were small chunks, perfect for lying atop a bowl of white oyster and cauliflower chowder.

It was an elegant soup. Elegant in a comforting way. Like Princess Diana. If she had a soup, it would be this one.

Cauliflower, Rosemary, and Oyster Chowder with Apple Garnish
For the elegant and comforting women of the world, with admiration

2 cups cauliflower florets
Leaves from a sprig of rosemary
2 T drained capers
2 T olive oil
8 oz shucked oysters in their likker (juice)
½ t butter
¾ cup 2% milk or half-and-half, divided
½ Granny Smith apple, seeded

Steam the cauliflower florets in a little water until translucent.

Pulse capers, rosemary, olive oil in food processor until blended. Add steamed cauliflower, butter, and ½ cup of milk and process until creamy.

Add cauliflower mixture to a pot on low heat and add oysters in their liquid, as well as the rest of the milk. Heat slowly until the soup reaches desired temperature, about 8-10 minutes. Stir often.

Dice Granny Smith apple with skin on into 1” chunks and pulse in food processor until apple is in small chunks.

Ladle soup into bowls and top with a tablespoon of apples. Drizzle with walnut oil if desired.

Serves 2.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Stock-Market-Crash Comfort

The easiest way for me to say this: we're in trouble. After Congress, led by the House Republicans, voted down the $700B bailout proposal, the stock market plummeted yesterday, losing more points in one day than ever in history - almost 10%. Granted, the stock market isn’t the economy, but it sure as hell isn’t completely disconnected to it.

I left work yesterday channeling Wall Street – in a slump. I’ve been a bit bored lately, coupled with my father’s health problems, and my complete lack of inspiration for writing my thesis, I felt like the only thing that would cheer me up in the least (outside of a surprise visit from my boyfriend, Cliff, a.k.a. the man who makes my world go ‘round), was some serious comfort food.

I forced myself into the car after I got home and fed the cats, feeling the drain of getting an hour and a half of sleep before and 8-hour workday after an 8-hour drive and looking forward to a 12-hour sleep to come. After cruising through the aisles at Publix (yay Publix!) in a half-asleep daze, I ended up with a carton of organic milk, some (full-fat) Colby Jack cheese, a couple of cans of Ro-Tel (more about this later), and a rotisserie chicken.

A note about the chicken: It was the last one under the heat lamps and about five other people were on their way to snatch it.

I won.

I was not about to wait another ten minutes for more chickens to come out of the rotisserie. That’s ten minutes I could have been asleep.

Upon arriving at home, I put some water on the stove an boiled some whole-wheat rotini pasta and started scalding some milk…

A half hour later, I sat in front of half of my lemon-pepper chicken and a mound of steaming, creamy macaroni and cheese. Comfort food is white. That’s just the way it is. I felt bad that I hadn’t steamed some green beans or made a salad, but after listening to Marketplace and the exceedingly dismal economic conditions and projections, I got over it.

Macaroni and cheese from scratch is probably the only thing I’ll actually take 30 minutes to make after getting an hour and a half of sleep the night before. Just letting you know.

Stock-Market Slump Mac and Cheese

8 oz pasta of your choice
2 T unsalted butter
2 T all-purpose flour
1 ½ c milk (fat content of your choice)
8 oz shredded Colby-Jack cheese/Sharp Cheddar
½ t salt
½ t white pepper
Dash Tabasco

1. Boil pasta until al dente, drain, keep warm in a pot.
2. Melt butter in a small pan.
3. When melted whisk in flour and cook 1 minute to a paste. Remove from heat.
4. When milk comes to a boil, add flour/butter roux and bring back to a boil.
5. Cook milk until thick, stirring constantly with wooden spoon or whisk.
6. Add cheese and stir until completely melted.
7. Add salt, pepper, and Tabasco.
8. Pour cheese sauce over drained pasta and stir to coat completely.

Enjoy with other white foods: chicken, mashed potatoes, etc, and large glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or (for extra comfort) extra-light, extra-sweet coffee. Be comforted.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Blast from the Past

I can't help it. I love blogging, and I can't stay away from it.

I recently (5 seconds ago) found this deep, deep in my My Documents folder, tucked away where no one would find it for years. 7 years, to be exact. It's an assignment from my Humanities class in high school (Go Wildcats!) that my friend Jennifer and I wrote to show the world how funny and smartassy we were when we were 17. I thought you might enjoy it. I love the last sentence. And for those of you who didn't know Jenn or I when we were 17, that's a picture of us from our Senior Prom. We had matching bangs. I love that girl.

Holly K.
Jennifer B.
Humanities 1
September 8, 2001

How to Really Cook Greek Like a Pro….Wrestler

Rice Pilaf with Mushrooms (Pilafi me Manitaria)
Makes 6 servings

1 medium sized onion, large enough to make a grown man cry
¼ cup butter
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons chopped bad-smelling Italian-style flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, or if you’re ghetto, dried thyme.
1 cup long grain white rice that doesn’t get soft, no matter how much water you put in it
1 ½ cups of chicken broth with the gross fat floating at the top
½ cup (or as much as you feel is necessary) dry white wine, or cooking sherry
1 pound mushrooms
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Using a heavy metal saucepan, sauté the onion in two tablespoons of the butter. If this doesn’t make you cry, you are a heartless bitch. Add the garlic, parsley, thyme, rice and mushrooms and sauté 1 minute. After you do this, realize that you were not supposed to put in the mushrooms, and cry some more. Add the water and sherry/wine, until someone cries out in despair “HOW MUCH ARE YOU PUTTING IN THERE, HOLLY!?” Then, laugh, and add more rice. Meanwhile, wash and stem some more mushrooms. Melt the butter and add the lemon juice and mushrooms. Sauté quickly, 2-3 minutes, just until hot. Add to the cooked (but still crunchy) rice, and fluff like a cloud, and sprinkle with cheese. Then act surprised when it tastes good, and swear on the fact that it does because of how much alcohol is in it.

Greek Cheese Pie (which is actually just a quiche…)

The Dough
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons oil
½ spoon oregano
“dash” of salt

Mix ingredients, which look like they’ll never come together, but finally do, and knead for about 2-3 minutes, adding flour to it until it doesn’t stick to the hands. Complain continually, until this step is complete, and then separate unto 3 equal parts.
The filling:
A couple of chopped green shallots, or if you feel it is appropriate, you may use green onions.
1/3 cup of finely chopped parsley
2 cups wonderfully salty feta cheese, crumbled
½ cup freshly grated Romano cheese
½ cup whole milk, or, better still, half and half. If you don’t know how many pints are in a cup, get the big one.
3 eggs
salt, pepper, thyme

Beat the eggs senseless. Place them aside, and chop and mix all other ingredients, running around like crazy because everything is happening too quickly and you didn’t chop everything BEFORE you put it in the pan. Heat until the cheese begins to melt. Add salt and too much pepper, balancing it by adding too much thyme and yelling “BAM!” at the top of your voice. Allow to cool at room temperature; then mix in the eggs.

Some assembly required:

Look for a rolling pin, and settle for a glass, out of frustration, when you can’t find one. Roll out the 3 dough balls, complaining routinely about how much time it takes. Make each on a bit bigger than your baking pan(s). The amount of dough will give you the right thickness…so we hope.

Place the first layer on the greased pan, with ends hanging over the pan rim – add the first layer of the filling. Follow on with the second dough layer, add the rest of the filling, okay? Finish off with the last dough layer; fold the dough layers together. “Pluck” a few holes, making sure you go through the second layer of dough, too. Bake for 45 minutes, or until you’re done resting. If a burning smell follows your resting, and you opening your eyes to the smell of smoke. Call 911, and never cook again.

Monday, September 15, 2008

We interrupt this holding pattern to...remember David Foster Wallace

I can’t help but be saddened and disturbed by David Foster Wallace’s suicide this past weekend. Wallace hanged himself on Friday at his home in California, found dead by his wife, at the age of 46. He was one of the greatest writers of contemporary fiction to date. One of his novels, Infinite Jest, a sprawling work over over 1,000 pages (which I haven’t read, but which is on the never-ending to-read list) was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Greatest Novels of All-Time. His postmodern style kept readers interested, and he wrote about ironic themes, mostly about our culture and its addiction to pleasure and materialism in the search for happiness.

In an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air broadcast, Wallace explained that the reason for his themes stemmed from his realization that though he and his friends had life much easier and were much better taken care of than the previous generation, they were still very sad. He wanted to know why. I only hope he found out.

It makes me wonder, all of this, why so many writers are unhappy and why so many take their own lives. What do they want to accomplish? Is it that they can’t bear the cruelty or the irony of the reality that has tortured them since their creative inception? Is it that they just can’t wait for the posthumous immortalization that awaits any great thinker or artist? What has the stereotype of the tortured artist done for (or to) these tortured artists?

I am happy; I am an artist. Can those two things be put together, separated only by a frivolous semi-colon? But for me, it is true. I am happy. But, then again, I write about food. I wonder if that is what separates the writers of fiction from the writers of non-fiction, and food in particular. Food makes me so happy. Here’s my reasoning for not succumbing to the fate that so many writers before me have suffered: I’m not sure if I can eat in the afterlife, so I want to live as long as possible so I can continue to eat and to be happy.

I also have an insanely amazing boyfriend, who I could go on about forever (but that’s another blogpost), but David Foster Wallace had a wife. They were happy together, from what I have read, so maybe that’s not a qualifier.

I’m going to share with you some of my deepest pleasures – some of the foods that make me so happy to be alive. And make me grateful for the ability I have to realize how happy I am, and how much I love life.

1. Falafel
2. Eating way more than one fortune cookie and passing the fortunes around the table to the person we feel needs it most at the time.
3. Nutella out of the jar (instant gratification meets instant happiness)
4. Any seafood stew (Bouillabaisse, Cioppino, Parihuela, etc.) coupled with crusty garlic-rubbed bread slices.
5. Cote de Gascogne wines, Colombard and Ugni-Blanc varietal blends – crisp and fruit-heavy, perfect for everyday, all the time

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Holding Pattern

Hello everyone! For the time being, I’m suspending On Food and Eating from new postings. I know you’re all devastated, but it’s for a good reason. Before December ends, I need to have a book written. Yes, my friends, my Master’s thesis. It’s in the developing stages right now, but I need to get some words on paper, which means focusing my attention on my thesis and its attempt to make sense out of my obsession with ethnic and fusion food. Never fear, though, I will be writing, and prolifically, about the restaurants and foodways I encounter in the next three and a half months. They’ll just all appear at the end of the semester.

In all honesty, I probably won’t be able to resist a mini-post or two about some cool thing I ran into at the grocery store, on a menu, etc, but no full-fledged posts. Check back periodically if you’re all that interested.

That being said, enjoy your Fall months, and I’ll be back after the holidays! Until then, eat up!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cover Band

Every once in a while there’s a magazine cover that I can’t stop looking at. It’s provocative, risky, eye-catching – not your typical O: The Oprah Magazine cover with a curly-haired black woman laughing back at you, mouth gaping, eyes twinkling. It’s not your typical food magazine cover either, the sliced pie or the cross-sectioned sandwich overflowing with cheese, meat, some kind of heirloom tomato, and maybe a baby hydroponic lettuce. Sometimes, the magazines go out on a limb, and sometimes they hit a home run.

Today I received the September issue of Gourmet magazine and the cover of this month’s issue stopped me dead in my tracks.


I’m not just saying this because it’s the “Paris on a Budget” issue and because my love of Paris, Parisians, Parisian food, etc, is more than well known, having lived there for a cumulative total of 11 months. I’m saying this because…well… it is GORGEOUS.

The photo, below, is a market stand in one of the fresh-air (plein-aire) markets on a typical Parisian street, with cardboard signs announcing the amount of each kilogram of whatever food it is. These stands are gorgeous, much like the food stands lining Main St. in Flushing, New York (which I recently visited, explored, and fell in love with).

The funny thing is, I JUST took a picture like this at one of the markets in New York, on the outskirts of SoHo called “The Garden of Eden.” I’ll post both the picture of the cover and the picture I took at the market side-by-side so it becomes more and more obvious to you why I should work at Gourmet in the future.

No. Seriously.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Omnivores Hundred

from Chocolate and Zucchini blog:

"The Omnivore's Hundred is an eclectic and entirely subjective list of 100 items that Andrew Wheeler, co-author of the British food blog Very Good Taste, thinks every omnivore should try at least once in his life.

He offered this list as the starting point for a game, along the following rules:
1. Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2. Bold all the items you’ve eaten (I've added an asterisk for the items I'm particularly fond of).
3. Cross out any items that you would never consider eating. (I've used italics, since Blogger is kind of lame in its formatting)
4. Optional extra: post a comment on Very Good Taste, linking to your results."

1. Venison

2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare*
5. Crocodile (but alligator is a favorite)
6. Black pudding* (in the form of boudin noir)
7. Cheese fondue (Hooray for birthday dinners in Switzerland!)
8. Carp
9. Borscht*
10. Baba ghanoush*
11. Calamari
12. Phở** (one of the great things about living in VietTown in Orlando)
13. PB&J sandwich (I had one during my first trip to the US when I was 15; I did not quite understand its appeal)
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart*
(a.k.a. Dirty Water Hot Dog)
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (strawberry wine is SO good)
19. Steamed pork buns*
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes (so many this summer, I'm almost tomatoed-out)
22. Fresh wild berries*
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans (having a Latino boyfriend, it's necessary)
25. Brawn, or head cheese (I'm sorry. It's just too gross)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (I'm not sure I see the point)
27. Dulce de leche* (In coffee, it can't be beat)
28. Oysters** (Nothing better than a fresh oyster with lemon and a dash of Tabasco)
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas (They don't really float my boat)
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi (I've had mango; I think I'd like the salted version)
34. Sauerkraut**
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (I'll take the cognac, but hold the cigar)
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O (It'll take a lot for me to do Jell-O shots again)
39. Gumbo*
40. Oxtail*
41. Curried goat (I've had this in the Sierra Madres in Mexico prepared by Indians. Kinda gross)
42. Whole insects (I would try them, but they'd have to be dead, and cooked)
43. Phaal (I'd try a forkful, but wouldn't order it for myself)
44. Goat’s milk (I'm not a fan of milk in general, so I prefer it in yogurt or faisselle form)
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/€80/$120 or more (I probably wouldn't order it, but I'd drink yours)
46. Fugu (I don't think I'd take the risk)
47. Chicken tikka masala**
48. Eel* (I've only ever had it in sushi)
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi (I've recently bought a jar, but have yet to open it)
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal* (guilty passion)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine (but if I ever make it to Montreal, I'll try it)
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (again, I'm not sure I see the point)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian (I've seen it, but never tasted it)
66. Frogs’ legs*
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake** (fried dough = love)
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain* (ditto Latino boyfriend comment)
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette**
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini*
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill (I think I'd be so horrified I'd lose my appetite)
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail* (yum)
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum (I may think about making this tonight)
82. Eggs Benedict**
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant (someday...sigh)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate*** (if you could see me right now, I'm standing and clapping)
91. Spam (I was raised in the South. Enough said)
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

I may think about making my own list sometime. I'm sure it would be different. But for now, I'll just bask in the glow of my eating prowess and set some goals to eat my way through the rest of the ones I haven't tried. Do the same!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Oodles of Noodles

My dad is Italian. By no means, however, does this mean that he has any special ability whatsoever in the kitchen. He can eat like an Italian, but put my father in front of a stove, and he’ll probably open it up and figure out how it works rather than light it up and make food. So when my mom was in the hospital for a few weeks when I was seven years old, our diet was limited to two things: Campbell’s Condensed Split Pea soup, and a concoction that somewhat hearkened back to my father’s Italian roots – using the word “somewhat” as loosely as possible.

This creation that we ate for dinner four nights out of seven was called, in accordance with my dad’s predilection for sing-songy names about pretty much everything, “oodles of noodles,” from the classic Italian dish “molto pasti.” You can see the resemblance.

It was a simple dish, one that combined slightly overcooked noodles (the term “al dente” never seemed to make it into my dad’s Italian verbiage), dried Italian seasoning, butter, salt, and LOTS of Kraft Parmesan Cheese in the cylindrical container. It was white, it was greasy, and it was good. One family video we have is of me terrorizing our enormous, 25-pound orange cat (so named, Purr-Purr), while my dad mixed the Oodles of Noodles.

The day my mom was released from the hospital was the last time I ever saw my dad cook anything that wasn’t popped in the microwave.

Recently, my dad had a mild heart attack and had a Pacemaker installed in his chest. Saying that makes him sound like a 1990 Ford Taurus with a bad alternator, but the truth is, he truly believes that he’s the Terminator.

Now that my dad isn’t top notch and I can cook for him, the next time I go home to visit, I’ll make him my own version of Oodles of Noodles:

Spaghetti with Bread Crumbs (Oodles of Noodles revisited)

½ lb thin spaghetti noodles
½ T extra-virgin olive oil
¼ c Italian-style bread crumbs
¼ t crushed red pepper
1 small garlic clove, minced
½ cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
zest of ½ lemon
Block of Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese

Boil spaghetti noodles until al dente, drain and drizzle olive oil over noodles. Toss to coat. Transfer noodles into a large serving dish. Mix next five ingredients together and add to spaghetti. Toss to evenly distribute mixture. Serve topped with large shavings of cheese.

Serves 4

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Whippet Good

I was just privy to a tri-cubicle debate on the semantics of Reddi-Wip whipped cream. The problem: we can’t actually use the brand name “Reddi-Wip” in the recipe.

It’s not like Reddi-Wip is one of those brand-name-turned-proper-name issues like Kleenex or Xerox. In those cases, any photocopier could be a Xerox or any light paper used for the ejection of nose monkeys could be called a Kleenex. In this case, Reddi-Wip connotes a particular brand. And we can’t have that.

But what do you call it, if it’s not Reddi-Wip? We threw around the words aerosol, pressurized, canned, and my favorite: spray. None of those words, unfortunately for our Copy Editor, were all that appetizing. But come on, what’s so appetizing about heavy cream solidified by liquid nitrogen? Every time I hear that signature shhhhhhluck! sound, all I can think about are the interminable nights behind the counter at Seattle’s Best where we passed the time only by doing whippets (Google it, if you don’t know what whippets are) in the back room. Talk about nostalgia.

The cold, hard reality is that Reddi-Wip is gross. So gross that they couldn't even spell EITHER of the words in the name correctly. But would Reddi-Wip be any better if it were called Ready-Whip? I'm not sure, it would probably still be chemically processed whipping cream set with liquid nitrogen. Do you really want to put that in your body? I really feel that any food sold in an aerosol can, akin to hair spray or wasp repellent, should be obliterated from grocery store shelves, and from diets in general. I'll attach my favorite REAL whipped cream recipe below. Eat real cream. Maybe just a little of it, especially if you're watching your fat, cholesterol, etc. But, please, for the love of all that's holy, don't eat liquid nitrogen.

I think the copy editor finally settled on using “can of pressurized whipped cream, such as Reddi-Wip” in the recipe, which is fine since we’re just suggesting Reddi-Whip and not actually endorsing it.

The food semantics around here are incredible.

Favorite Whipped Cream

1 c heavy whipping cream (the real stuff)
1/2 c powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 t vanilla bean paste (preferably Madagascar paste)
zest of one lemon

In a cold mixing bowl, beat whipping cream on high speed with an electric mixer until soft peaks form slowly add powdered sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest and continue to beat just until stiff peaks. Don't overbeat, or you'll have some really sweet butter.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Fleeting Fig

On a blistering Saturday, a few weeks ago, my roommate Donna and I were strolling through the Birmingham Farmer’s Market. Among the verdant (ha!) baby zucchini, the flimsy white boxes overflowing with field peas, and the slices of buttercup yellow watermelon being passed around, my eyes latched on to one of my favorite fruits of summer. The elusive fresh fig.

They were round, plump, juicy-looking, not like the poor little anemic ones we see in the markets in Orlando. These figs, whose ruby-red center lay glistening with clear nectar, were Alabama figs, probably plucked from the tree hours before arriving at the Farmer’s Market. I gravitated toward them while Donna admired a box of Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes.

As I leaned down to the green cardboard box full of the little figs to inhale their unique floral aroma, I heard Donna behind me, “Don’t buy figs. My neighbor has a TON.”

Okay, then. I spent my four dollars on a tub of local goat cheese. Good trade off.

When we got home, we walked next door to Kim’s house. Her tree was weighted down with the heft of so many juicy Brown Turkey figs, each holding a fleshy center full of fragrant syrup and tiny seeds. I had forgotten to bring a bag, so I hiked up my dress and gathered the tiny morsels Hungarian-potato-picker-style in the skirt of my dress. Of course, I ate about as many figs as I collected.

As I bent down to pick a few from the bottom of the tree, I caught the unmistakable smell of rancid fruit, decaying at the root of the enormous plant. I should have taken that as a warning.

I had grand plans to make a fig upside-down cake – a gorgeous concoction of sautéed figs in a cast iron skillet with lemon-scented cake batter poured over them and baked for 25-30 minutes and then turned over on itself, revealing the caramelized fresh figs. It seemed too good to be true.

I remember reading somewhere that fresh figs are extremely perishable – meaning that they begin to decompose very quickly – and they weren’t kidding. The next day, only five of those figs were salvageable, and as I leaned over to pick the non-fermenting figs out of the bowl, another waft of that rancid fruit smell pierced my nostrils.

Lesson learned: The next time I pick figs, I will use them immediately.

Friday, August 01, 2008

First Full-Lengther

While I'm preparing for:

1. My boyfriend to come visit me this evening from Orlando so he can eat more than just eggs and sausage.
2. My next blogpost on my new obsession with fresh figs,

I'll just post a link to my first full-length review that was published in Orlando Weekly on July 23, 2008.

Enjoy, and stay tuned!

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Verdant Movement

This morning I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR (National Public Radio, aka the source of my daily cup of delight) and I heard an announcement of support from The MacArthur Foundation. Their tagline is “to help build a more just, verdant and peaceful world…etc.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m all about the “Green movement.” My top five food-related favorite things about it:

1. More farmers markets, which means more local produce and more local goat cheese (at least in ‘Bama). Hooray!

2. An excuse to buy and carry around really cute bags with silk-screened sayings like, “Live. Love. Green.” on them under the premise that they are environmentally-sustainable grocery bags that cut down on waste like CRAZY.

3. The ability to run my car on used frying-oil from local restaurants. I haven’t quite figured out how to modify my engine so I can do this, but believe me, I’m thinking.

4. I save a lot of money on bottled water because I don’t buy it anymore. 30,000 plastic water bottles are dumped into Miami landfills EVERYDAY. I’m having Wall-E nightmares already.

5. Smart cars!

Okay, so the last one isn’t food-related, but they’re so dang cute! I want one.

Anyway, back to The MacArthur Foundation. I just got a kick out of their use of the word “verdant” to replace the word “green.” I understand their extreme commitment to intellectual pursuits, but seriously, I don’t think “The Verdant Movement” is going to catch on. Or maybe their point was to shun the “trend” label, yet still be perceived as environmentally friendly.

This doesn’t really have anything to do with food, I’m realizing, so I’m going to tie the subject matter in immediately.

One of my favorite summer vegetables is squash. You name it, I love it. Zucchini, yellow squash, and especially pattypan squash. These little jewels are light green (verdant) and excellent when roasted, sautéed, or grilled. I made a nice salad last night for dinner that encapsulates the word “verdant,” and will make a nice addition to this blogpost. Eat more squash.

Grilled Pattypan Squash with Dill and Lemon

1 pound pattypan squash, blossoms removed
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper
3-4 sprigs of fresh dill
juice of ½ lemon
zest of ½ lemon

Ignite your grill to the hottest setting and put a grill pan on the top rack if you have no grill, a 450-degree oven works just swimmingly).

Cut each pattypan squash into 1” pieces depending on the size of the squash. For the really tiny ones, just half them.

Toss in olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour squash onto hot grill pan and shut the grill top. During grilling, move squash around on the grill pan every few minutes to ensure even cooking on all surfaces. Make sure some browning occurs, so don’t stir too prematurely.

While the squash are grilling, chop fresh dill, zest and squeeze lemon and combine ingredients in a large bowl.

Remove squash from the grill and dump them into the mixing bowl with the dill, lemon zest, and juice. Toss to coat evenly.

Serve with grilled meats or even on its own. Great warm or cold.

Viva la verdant!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

La Casita de Carmencita

Here is one of the best falling-in-love stories I’ve ever heard: A woman and a man were at a party. Not together. They were both just there. Fate put them there.

The music blasting a rhythmic salsa, pisco sours being passed around, the part is rip-roaring. The woman, stunningly beautiful with almond-shaped eyes and jet black hair, ducks into the kitchen to escape the din of the chatter. In the quiet kitchen, she finds a man with skin the color of caramel, slicing raw fish. He seems at home among piles of lemons and limes, red onions, salt, hot peppers, and pale yellow cancha, Peruvian corn with kernels the size of nickels. He hums while he works, a lock of black hair falling over his furrowed brow, lined with tiny sweat beads.

He is making ceviche, which happens to be the woman’s favorite food. She is instantly smitten. They have been married for almost thirty years, now.

I love this story because the man and the woman are two people I have come to adore for the past seven months. They are my boyfriend’s parents, Hugo and Carmen, and food remains an important part of their marriage and family now, just as it was the catalyst that brought them together.

Every time I go over to Mama y Papa Alejos’ house in south Florida, I leave full. Very full. We usually wake up to the smell of Italian sausage sizzling in the pan, and stumble to the dining room, where we can see Hugo making omelets in a prehistoric black pan, one he refuses to give up, so warped that its smooth surface has been replaced with grainy black bumps – one for each omelet that has come out of the pan. The coffee on the table, is Folgers, but for some reason, it tastes like a fine French Roast from all the love that has been brewed right in. I’m a croissant and espresso girl, usually content to eat enough to quiet my hunger until lunch time. But in their house, I fill a fluffy slice of Cuban bread with as much sausage, egg, and hot sauce as I can muster and chow down. Inevitably, Hugo will consider what we will have for lunch while we’re at the breakfast table.

Since I’ve been dating Cliff, I’ve been to a plethora (yes, a plethora) of Peruvian restaurants between Orlando and Miami, but the food that Hugo and Carmen put on their table is better than any dining establishment. Chunks of slow-cooked beef or chicken is simmered in thick, verdant cilantro sauce to make a seco. Shreds of chicken swim in spicy yellow aji pepper paste. And of course, there is ceviche. Half of the oval serving plate is for Carmen, a notorious hand-smacker if she sees one of us reaching for too much of her favorite dish, the other half of the dish is for the rest of us to fight amongst ourselves.

I always admire the way the family sits around the able for every meal. Not once in the dozen times I’ve been there has anyone eaten in front of the television, in their room, or on the porch. There are always jokes, stories, and laughter around the table. An atmosphere that I’m used to, and though my grasp of the Spanish language is pathetic at best, I can always laugh heartily with the rest of the family and exclaim, “Que rico!”

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Quality Coffee Catches a Break

The first good thing to come out of our failing economy was announced today: Starbucks is planning to close 600 stores, a hike from its original announcement of 100 stores. It seems that the coffee giant has taken a hit from our monetary downturn, and people are turning to homebrewing rather than drinking the abomination that comes from the Starbucks spout. Here's the whole story, a blog from Fortune Magazine: Starbucks Has A Bitter Plan

If you know me at all, you know how opposed I am to coffee from Starbucks. After working at Seattle's Best Coffee (which at the time was about to be absorbed by Starbucks Corp), and watching person after person fork over $4 for a 16oz. cup of water filtered through second-rate beans, I got jaded. Really jaded. Without batting an eyelash, women carrying babies, the homeless person on the corner (Borders is a haven for the homeless...I guess it's better than the ABC Liquor), and 15-year-old high school kids ditching class from Lake Highland Prep would come to the counter and demand a latte (Note: How many of you know the difference between a latte and a cappuccino? 95% of my customers didn't.) because that's what they'd seen on TV, and instead of buying their children a gallon of milk, they gulped down a mouthful of chemicals and caffeine.

I'm sorry, do I sound worked up? I am.

Not to mention that the three-week training I recieved was more exhaustive that CIA Special Ops boot camp. I can tell you pretty much anything about coffee, the history of Seattle's best, and the original blends of Seattle's Best and Starbucks coffees.

You would think that spending $4 for something liquid would have to render it absolutely AMAZING once it hit your tongue. The Thai spice martini I had at Dan Marino's Tavern on the Lake was $10, and it really was insanely good, which makes me not so angry for having paid $10 because I still rave about it. Not so with the ubiquitous green overhang. Have you tasted the new Pike Place Blend?? My mouth puckered like someone had just squeezed a lemon on an inflamed taste bud. The new amalgamation of bottom-of-the-barrel wholesale, over-roasted beans is too tangy and smells burned. If that's all their brewing at your local Starbucks, if they're not soon to be closed, ask them to brew something else. Or go somewhere else. Like these places in Orlando, all of which I love.

Drunken Money Coffee Bar
- If you get a chance, be hungry when you go. Chef John'ssoups border on heavenly.

Infusion Tea, Edgewater Drive or Pine St. - No coffee here, but the assortment of teas will make you forget all about the boring Joe. A hippie/mod place with a clean vibe that place excellent 80s new-wave alternative.

Daily Grind Coffee House and Cafe - Right downtown so it's perfect if you're just in and out. Between 8 and 9am, it's packed, so try some in between time.

600 stores is only 8.9% of Starbucks' 7,100 total stores, so there's a lot of work to do. Brew at home (buy a Tassimo!!). Drink tea. Support local business ventures. Or just drink juice. Organic juice.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Puns and Penalty Kicks

On Friday, June 13, teams from France and Netherlands played for a spot in "The Group of Death" in the UEFA European Cup soccer match. The Netherlands' team, known as the Mechanical Orange, beat the pants off the French team, runners up for the World Cup championship in 2006, 4 goals to 1.

At the 90th minute when the game was over, ESPN commentator Andy Grey (a portly man with an amazing Scottish brogue) proclaimed Holland the victor by brilliantly observing:

"It's a Dutch oven, and the French are toast!!"

Anyone want to bet that he'd been waiting the whole match to say that?? To honor the French effort and th Dutch victory, I'll include my recipe for Cheese Danish Stuffed French Toast. I like using baguette instead of regular white bread because it's heartier and great for stuffing.

Cheese Danish Stuffed French Toast (serves 2)
4 1.5" thick slices stale baguette
3 large eggs
1/2 c milk
1/4 c sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 package cream cheese
1/4 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix the stuffing ingredients together with an electric mixer and refrigerate. In a separate bowl, mix eggs, milk, nutmeg, and cinnamon together. Dunk the baguette slices in the egg mixture and fry on a non-stick skillet over Medium heat until golden brown on both sides. Make a slit in each baguette slice with a knife to make a pocket about 2" wide. Place a heaping spoonful of cream cheese stuffing inside the bread slice. Serve two of these per person and top with berries, maple syrup, powdered sugar, or whatever topping you like best.

Bon appetit and Geniet van!

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Saddest News I've Heard Today: From

Tonight for dinner, my father and I went to an Italian (snooze) restaurant called "Trattoria Alberto." Not a bad place (for an Italian restaurant, of which there are SO few creative ones), somewhere between F and G Streets on SE 8th Avenue in Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C. may be our nation's capital, but I can safely say that it's not a food capital. Not even close. That's all I have to say about that.

Regardless, SE 8th Ave is really cute and has lots of promising restaurants (though most end with the word "pub," indicative of at least two kinds of chili cheese fries on the menu) and Trattoria Alberto was pretty decent.

Our server told us the specials, and I immediately ordered the seafood linguine (I was already sad that there wasn't a seafood linguine on the menu, so I jumped at it as soon as the words died on her lips). It was a beautiful plate, I must admit - linguine in white wine sauce piled high with calamari rings (no doubt frozen), butterflied scampi, mussels (mmm...), a few overcooked scallops (retch), and the crowning jewel - half of a lobster.

Which brings me to my news article. Over 60,000 pounds of lobsters died today. That makes me doubly sad most of all because I have a very soft spot in my heart for the crustacean (following a tragic episode in my youth - but that's another blogpost), and also because that's SO many people in the United States who would have been eating the succulent little creature, but now won't be able to afford it. Since the loss, there's no doubt that the Market Price per pound is going to sky rocket.

So here's the article. If you want to feast on a hard-shelled crustacean, try blue crab instead. They're in season.

The Great Boston Lobster Fire

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tough as Nails: Part 2 - Slow and Low

The idea of a roast conjures images of Sunday evenings when a hunk of fragrant meat emerges from the oven in a transparent Pyrex dish, surrounded by potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery, then placed on the countertop to both rest the meat to retain the juices and to permeate the air with the smell of home, calling all to the table to feast. Once rested and sliced across the grain, the juices infuse the meat with rich and unique flavor.

Likewise, a one-pot meal in a Dutch oven cooked slowly over low to medium heat recalls images of the French paysanne (peasant) style of cooking, like the uber-traditional dishes coq au vin (rooster marinated in red wine with vegetables and served over egg noodles) or boeuf bourgignon (chunks of beef marinated in red wine and served with vegetables), both of which Alton Brown affectionately refers to as “big bowls of France.”. Every culture has its own one-dish braised meals, Peru has its seco de carne, Italy has osso bucco, and Mexico has mole.

These are two methods of tenderizing otherwise tough and/or gristly cuts of meat: the dry roast and the braise. Both have their merits, and both work in similar ways.

Dry roasting involves a large hunk of meat – a London broil, a large turkey/chicken, a rump roast of pork, or my favorite, a leg of lamb. The meat may be rubbed with spices or herbs before being subjected to the oven. Dried herbs usually work best because the delicate fresh herbs like basil, chervil, or parsley, when put in the oven, tend to burn easily and turn bitter. The exception to this is rosemary, which is stiffer and holds up better under the heat. The meat is then roasted without liquid for a generally long period of time, over an hour in most cases. The best recipes for this? Pork or brisket (see Mealtime in Melbourne for the address of Burrito Beach, where to find the best brisket burrito in the world), leg of lamb rubbed with garlic and rosemary, and Boston butt roast, studded with cloves and rubbed a paste of cinnamon, cayenne pepper, cumin, and coriander mixed with a little olive oil and S&P. The great thing about the dry roast is its versatility – not only can something be roasted in the oven, but a grill is also a great place for roasting, especially over smoke or charcoal to impart that woodsy, earthy, smoky flavor. The oven or grill is at a low temperature, breaking down the striated proteins in the meat and encouraging tenderization.

The braise is a similar method, the only difference being the use of a liquid (which, after the braising is over, can be reduced or thickened into a sauce for the meat – fabulous!) The meat, sometimes cut into chunks, is placed in a vessel along with some kind of liquid (called braising liquid) and then covered to avoid evaporation of the braising liquid and the gathering of moisture from steam coming from the ingredients. The best example of a common braising practice is the use of a Crock Pot. The Crock Pot cooks things for a long time over slow heat using a liquid to tenderize and infuse flavor. The great thing about braising is that there is not only a permeation of flavor from the meat, but the meat becomes like a tofu – sucking up whatever flavor is are surrounding it. Peruvian seco is a great example, chunks of (relatively inexpensive) chuck roast surrounded by a verdant cilantro sauce (also available from Goya in a fantastic bottled version that cuts down on time and is a great substitute), making for an explosive flavor along with extraordinarily tender meat. Braising goes where no dry roast has gone before – not just in the oven or on the grill, braising can happen on the stove, on low heat, of course, for over 45 minutes.

There is an ongoing war about whether or not the meat should be seared in a pan before going into the oven. Most professional and in-the-know at-home cooks will swear that yes, you must sear the meat before it goes into the oven or the heat is lowered for braising. I’m one of those people. There are several reasons why the meat should be seared before the low and slow cooking happens – there’s something really technical and scientific called the Maillard Reaction that happens to meat when it is seared, but you can read that on your own – there’s a great entry in On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee (the chef’s Bible) about it. Simply put, the meat caramelizes to create a hard dark crust on the surface of the meat. This not only imparts great flavor to the dish, but also seals the juices into the meat, which is very important in dry roasting, where the absence of liquid can make for a very dry product if the juices aren’t properly sealed in. The other option, especially if working with a piece of meat that is far too large to be seared, such as a turkey or lamb leg, is to jack up the heat on the oven to about 450 degrees Fahrenheit to cook the outside of the meat (the skin of the turkey/chicken) to brown and crispy before reducing the heat to 275 or 300 degrees in order to cook the rest of the meat. Just do it somehow – sear it. You’ll be thankful you did.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tough as Nails: Tips for Tenderizing - Part 1

A few things have sparked my interest in cheaper cuts of meat and the best ways to get bang for your few measly bucks.

1. My aunt and I had a discussion about skirt steak today. She regaled me with an anecdote about how she wanted to make authentic fajitas for Cinco De Mayo, which feature skirt steak as the meat component. The steak, she lamented, was “as tough as nails.” Understood. Skirt steak comes from a highly-exercised part of the cow, part of the underside, or “skirt” of the cow. Because of this, the muscle in skirt steak is lean and tight, making for a characteristically tough cut of beef (for a really cool diagram showing where each kind of steak comes from, check out the Beef Map from Alton Brown).

I had to agree with her. I usually won’t order skirt steak on a restaurant menu because it’s just so easy to end up with something so difficult to chew that you’d rather throw it in the blender and have a steak smoothie. However, recently my boyfriend and I ate at a relatively new and wonderful restaurant in Orlando called Citrus on Orange Ave. He ordered the skirt steak, a bold move that solidified my current state of in-love-ness. When it came out, I couldn’t help but inch my fork over to his plate while he buried his nose in his raspberry-colored glass of Pinot Noir. I took a bite of what I anticipated to be a classic example of a meal-breaker, but instead the meat practically disintegrated on my tongue. I was floored. I asked our unbelievably accommodating server about it and I was told that the steak is marinated in balsamic vinegar for 17 hours. All I can say: go to Citrus and have the skirt steak.

2. According to the December issue of Gourmet magazine, third-world countries will pay 90 percent more for food this year than last year. That, to me, is unfathomable. That would mean, in this country, that, if last year, a loaf of bread cost $2.39, this year we would pay $4.58. I can’t say that I don’t see that happening, with the impending wheat shortages coupled with the fact that the price of eggs has jumped 70% since this time last year. Everyone is trying to get more for their money, so it’s no wonder that Americans are going to be drawn to cheaper cuts of beef. Usually, however, this beef comes from the hindquarters or the shoulder section of the cow, which are generally the toughest pieces of meat. However, if you know how to prepare these cheaper cuts in the right way, they can yield a lot more than a 6-ounce filet mignon could ever promise.

Over the next four posts, I’ll talk about the four laws of tenderizing meat. Four things to be used either on their own or in combination to ensure that when working with chuck, round, brisket, skirt or flank steaks, the end result will be juicy, flavorful, and fork-tender.

TIP #1:

Marinate: Like the skirt steak at Citrus, if you want to both tenderize and add mountains of flavor: marinate. I’m not just talking a ten-minute dip in the pool either. Hours, and hours of submersion in a slightly acidic liquid can unravel those muscle proteins and make for a tender steak. Try marinating flank and skirt steaks, though thinner (1-2 inch) slices of chuck or round will work as well.

Use this marinade for a little Asian kick:

1-2 cups low-sodium soy sauce

¼ cup sake

2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 tbsp sweet chili paste

1 tbsp sesame oil

Juice of two limes

Marinate a minimum of 6 hours, but preferably overnight to achieve the best tenderization and flavor absorption. Oh, and with this kind of marinade – for the love of all that’s holy – it’s summer: GRILL.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Favorite Food Poem

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

- William Carlos Williams

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Little Place, Huge Character

“I’m not an alcoholic, just a big personality,” says the woman behind the bar, as she pours us a basket of Funyuns and Bugles. Though she looks and sounds like an off-kilter version of Paula Deen, her endless supply of conversation livens up the quirky, art-fill bar in Sanford. Little Fish, Huge Pond is full of that personality, and, hopefully, will be full of patrons just as quirky and eccentric as the owner, who goes by the pseudonym Mo’ Wisdom.

Since Little Fish, Huge Pond moved to its new location at the corner of First Street in Sanford starting in March, things have changed. The café has closed (though Mo’ surreptitiously mentioned that she serves bowls of her homemade chili from Thursday thru Sunday), the liquor license is gone (though she serves a mean Champagne mojito and some pretty vicious sake bombs), and the patronage has sharply turned to patrons from the nearby restaurants who come by for a digestif from Winter Park hipsters. “You know, no matter how bad the economy gets, people will still smoke, drink, and…well, you know,” Mo’ comments, as she gazes around her still-empty bar. It’s 6 o’clock on a Tuesday. The crowd doesn’t get in until at least 9, she assures us.

The beer list at Little Fish, Huge Pond is as idiosyncratic as its owner. While I sip my Champagne mojito (a rose-colored concoction of simple syrup, lime, and mint covered in pink Champagne), my companion orders a Holy Mackerel, a Florida-brewed thick wheat beer that Mo’ says, “tastes like what Beowulf would have gotten drunk on at Stonehenge.” He’s sold immediately.

There’s no dearth of events scheduled for Little Fish, either. Every demographic is represented from a Buffett-style guitarist that night to an all-ages metal band in a week, Little Fish, Huge Pond is no respecter of art forms, everything is valued. Next time I head up to Sanford, I’ll be at the drag show Mo’ schedules once a month and I hope I won’t be alone.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Painful Truth

It's really unfortunate. You discover a great new place and the next thing you know, it goes under. Doors locked, maybe a going-out-of-business sale, dust starts collecting on the once-polished bar, a gem of the culinary skyline dies softly in the night.

Recently, Old Vines Wine and Food Bar in the Waterford Lakes Towne Center in Orlando folded. I was excited to find this wine bar on the UCF side of Orlando where chain restaurants dominate. It's hard to get college students to go anywhere they don't see on television, so in all honesty, the closing of Old Vines wasn't a huge surprise.

The ironic part of all of this, and the reason I bring it us, is that the week before it closed its oak and iron doors, I was assigned to review the chic little wine bar for the Orlando Weekly. The day before the column was supposed to run, my editor, Jessica, recieved an e-mail/press release notifying her that the bar was closing. I thought my review was a pretty decent piece of work, so I was a little disappointed. Plus, I just laughed so hard listening to my best friend, Veronica, pronounce the German word "Auslese," and the happiness that came from a romantic evening connecting with my sweetheart, Cliff, was so fulfilling that the times I spent at Old Vines were just too memorable not to share my review of this little business venture that, unfortunately, couldn't make it.

Here it is:

Not Just Wines at Old Vines

East Orlando isn’t exactly a wellspring of fine food. So when a place like Old Vines Wine Bar in the Waterford Lakes Towne Center comes along, take notice.

Opened by two guild-certified sommeliers, Old Vines carries an impressive selection and, unlike many wine bars, offers every wine on the list by the glass as well as by bottle. However, the red wine list is heavily skewed towards New World vintages, while the white list is much more centered and includes a killer German Auslese Reisling ($7.00), thick, low in acidity, and full of honey and herbal notes. It complements perfectly the flavor-packed toppings on the Oriental flatbread ($7.00), brimming with teriyaki chicken, vegetables, and peanut-soy sauce. It’s just too bad that the actual flatbread has less flavor and integrity than a matzoh cracker. The wine bar also offers a well-rounded list of fortified and ice wines, categories often overlooked by most bars.

Old Vines is a haven for the newly-trendy microbrew with over 25 selections available both on draft and in the bottle. The list of draft beers changes almost nightly, so if a menu favorite isn’t on hand, it’s likely they’ve temporarily replaced it with something better. Old Vines also offers the elusive “beer flight,” a value at $5.00, 3 ounce pours of any three draft beers, perfect for learning the new-fangled art of beer tasting. Include the Lost Coast Apricot Wheat beer from California with a distinct scent of dried fruit and a light, hoppy flavor.

Desserts aren’t made in house, but they are worth a fair look. The Marquise au Chocolat ($7.00) is unbelievably decadent - a tiny version of the spongy chocolate genoise cake, filled with chocolate ganache and topped with pistachios. It pairs well with the smoky, chargrilled nose from the Spanish Tempranillo featured on the “Crimson Tide” red wine flight ($8, also featuring a highly tannic Argentine Malbec and a classically smooth French Rhone perfumed with earthy minerals).

It may not be situated on the most posh of Orlando’s tree-lined streets, but Old Vines is a bastion for UCF-area wine lovers, and will hopefully set a precedent for the future of East Orlando’s dining scene.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Mealtime in Melbourne

On first glance, Melbourne, Florida might look like the sleepiest of sleeper towns. The antique shops line New Haven St., displaying their collectible rocking chairs and Hammond B3 organs and terra cotta planters, beckoning couples and groups of Red Hat ladies to browse a little and pick up a 1904 copy of Jude the Obscure. An elderly woman exits The Village Ice Cream Shop holding a cup of rose colored black-raspberry ice cream while her companion nibbles gingerly on a cone heaped with vanilla ice cream. Nothing would suggest that the city holds a deep, dark secret. Nothing would intimate that the food in Melbourne is stellar.

To be fair, I haven’t eaten at every restaurant in Melbourne, but out of the three meals I did eat there, three were worthy of note. It’s rare that I go on vacation anywhere and end up that the food I eat is 100% memorable, but this time, the impossible happened, rendering it, well, possible. And since it was the season for the impossible becoming possible, Cliff and I, die hard seafood fanatics, didn’t eat one full meal of any sea-dwelling creature the entire weekend. Though we did take a fruitless-but-well-fated trip down to Grant, Florida, a tiny coastal town with a killer Seafood Festival, to go to Ozzy’s Crab House, we were chagrined to find the words, “Be Back Soon!” on the marquee under the restaurant’s sign. Closed for the winter. Bummer.

That night, however, we did end up at Meg O’Malleys, an Irish pub full of Blarney-flavored comestibles and a guitarist singing the “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor?” jig. The décor in Meg’s was unbelievably kitschy, with Irish sayings on the wall in needlepoint, stuffed leprechauns hung from the walls, and shamrocks around every corner. The corniness was left behind on the menu, though, with Bangers and Mash heading up the list of Irish-style fare.

For those unfamiliar with Bangers and Mash, let me explain. Imagine: four mild rosemary-scented pork sausages chargrilled over a heaping mound of perfectly creamy mashed red potatoes, topped with thicker-than-cement ooze of Guinness gravy. Bliss. If that’s not enough to get you through the Potato Famine, I don’t know what is. It’s served with a pile of buttered cabbage, so juicy and flavorful that you forget its cabbage. Also featured on the menu, potato balls, Chips and Gravy (French fries with Guinness gravy for dipping), corned beef and cabbage, shepherd’s pie, chicken pot pie, and just about every other tummy-filling comfort food you can imagine. Finish with a pint of Killian’s or any of the other 14 Irish beers on draught. That, my friends, is the pot of gold at the end of the day’s rainbow.

We turned the corner in the hot sun from A1A at the water’s edge to Indiatlantic Blvd in the beach district of Melbourne when my eyes were accosted by a bright pink building with a sign in front that could have only been a sign from the gods: “The Best Burrito You’ll Ever Eat.” Only a few minutes ago, I had thought to myself, “You know, I haven’t eaten anything that has blown my face off in a long, long time. Maybe I’ve eaten all there is to eat Maybe I’m jaded already!”

My body betrayed my cynical mindset and I pointed emphatically without saying a word at the cotton-candy-colored building. Cliff, perceptive young man that he is, recognizes this gesture to mean, “I want to eat THERE!” Cliff dutifully turned into the parking lot in front of the strange woman mannequin sitting on the teal wrought iron park bench, adorned in a coonskin Davy-Crockett style cap and a blank stare to the left.

Inside, the aqua walls were adorned with signs and posters praising the likesof Led Zepplin, The Beatles, the Haight-Asbury district of San Fransisco, and just about every late-60s hippie/early-metal/drug-induced haze kind of memorabilia. Inside was Rita (we’ll call her) - a saggy, fifty-fiveish, bleach-blonde with a smattering of bright pink lipstick on her smoker’s lips and a frizzy side ponytail. She explained our choices of burrito in a husky voice that might have once been sexy forty years ago. Chicken, steak, fish, or brisket. The choices of sauce were just as varied – chipotle ranch, mango, and two others that I can’t remember (must have been the second-hand ‘shrooms).

Needless (well, maybe not needless) to say, I got my face blown off. It was, true to the sign – THE BEST BURRITO I HAVE EVER EATEN. If I could write that in the same kind of letters that were on the marquee, I would. It was unbelievable. The brisket (I know, the fish taco girl passed up tilapia for red meat), smoked for 17 hours in a dry smoker permeated the entire burrito and left me wanting more long after I felt too full to function. I chose the chipotle ranch sauce, which was a perfect complement to the smokiness of the beef and the heat of the chili.

Cliff, ever the seafood lover, chose the tilapia burrito with rice and beans and the mango sauce. It was sweet and tangy. The fish was flaky and juicy and had great grill char. This is a place you can’t miss on Melbourne Beach.

Saturday morning, we were craving a big breakfast. We stopped at the Beachside Café, right over the bride in Indiatlantic Beach. Settled in between some staple surfshops, Beachside Café is only open between 7am and 2pm, and only for breakfast and lunch (obviously). It’s uber-beachy, most of the waitresses’ bikini tops could be seen under their uniform shirts, ready to pounce on the shelly sand as soon as the restaurant closes. It’s gotta be the life.

After agonizing over both menus (I couldn’t just decide between breakfast and lunch right off the bat), I chose something not even on the menu, but written in tiny script on the Specials board across from our table. Greek Benedict. Two poached eggs piled atop a bed of runchy baby spinach leaves and toasted English muffins, slices of ruby red tomatoes, crumbles of brackish feta cheese, and a drizzle of probably the best Hollandaise I’ve had in a while. It was a recipe to be duplicated over and over.

Cliff’s breakfast was just as kitschy – corned beef hash isn’t something a Peruvian boy from Ft. Lauderdale eats very often (if ever), so I had to explain it to him. A deep-seated love of crispy hashbrowns over griddle-top corned beef hash is one of the many thing that makes me a Southern girl. It certainly wasn’t inexpensive, but it certainly was a great experience.

While Melbourne may not be the next great culinary capital of the world, it was fantastic that we could find some great fare without having to try. I had forgotten to plan our meals ahead of time (something I have learned to obsessively do before going somewhere new), but it didn’t seem to matter. We ate well on gut instinct. Pun intended.

Meg O’Malleys
812 E. New Haven Avenue
Melbourne, Fl. 32901
Tel. No. (321) 952-5510

Burrito Beach
315 Ocean Ave, Melbourne Beach, FL
Tel: 321-729-6244

Beachside Café
109 5th Avenue,
Melbourne, FL 32903

Phone: 321.953.8444

Review: Don't Bother Counting Calories at The Lady and Sons

It’s hard to believe that under this sedan-driving, Ann-Taylor-frequenting, champagne-guzzling exterior, that there’s a true GRITS inside of Holly Kapherr. It might take a little bit for the “ya’ll” to come out, but one sure way to uncover the hidden Southerner in me isn’t a trip to the mud pit, or a tractor pull, or a livestock auction. It’s a steaming plate of slow-braised collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and a steaming bowl of indulgent she-crab soup. The best place I’ve found so far for this event to occur is Savannah, Georgia.

I’ve watched The Food Network go steadily downhill with the rise of a certain big-mouthed lass from Saratoga and rerun after rerun of Unwrapped. There’s only so much I can comfortably stand of a graying, post-Double-Dare Marc Summers explaining the microhistory of Ding Dongs. The amount of food-related reality TV on the schedule is unnerving. Even Emeril Lagasse, the stalwart Cajun-Creole chef has declined to resign with the Food Network for his hit show “Emeril Live,” the first show that, while admittedly inane to hardcore foodies (seriously, how many times must the audience clap for more garlic?), brought The Food Network any kind of recognition.

But the decline and fall of The Food Network isn’t what this review is really about. It’s about Paula Deen and her ubiquitous stick of butter. Or two. Sure, Michael Chiarello, Bobby Flay (affectionately referred to as “Bobby Gay” by one of my culinary school chefs), and Tyler Florence may have Michelin-starred restaurants on their resume, but Paula Deen is the real success of the star-chefs.

One look at Paula Deen’s story of how she came to the kitchen is enough to hitch a handcart to, but her restaurant in Savannah, The Lady and Sons, is enough to pull a wagon train. I was fortunate enough to have dinner there last week during a last-minute detour home from vacation in almost-dead Myrtle Beach with my boyfriend. I’d had my eye on Savannah for a while, this restaurant in particular, and a reservation at the restaurant kept eluding my infrequent visits.

Situated in the heart of Savannah’s historical district, the restaurant, a three-story temple to mashed potatoes and gravy, draws the biggest crowd almost every night of the week. And it’s not just tourists, according to our server. Locals join the crowd frequently. The mayor is a regular. When politicians show up, the restaurant has something to say, and let’s face it, our civil servants are more likely to listen to their dinner than to their constituents – at least on non-election years.

Reservations don’t exist at the Lady and Sons (although I heard through the grapevine that as long as you have a valid Savannah area code, you can pretend you’re a local and make reservations. Will try next time and report on success or failure of the mission). Instead, they use a system of priority seats, where you have to show up at the restaurant, put your name on the list, and hope it’s not 9:30pm when you finally get a table. Cliff and I showed up at 7:30pm, and that was the timeslot allotted to us. Luckily, we had some things to do, so the wait didn’t seem too torturous.

As soon as we walked in for our table, the steam from the overflowing buffet line filled our lungs. The critic in me sprange to attention: What? A buffet in a celebrity-chef's restaurant? Something must be afoot! It was, and immediately the smell of buttered grits and red-eye gravy and cheese biscuits roused my Southern girl spirit and I ordered lemonade, completely ignoring my city-girl white-wine instinct. A few hours more and I would have gone straight for the mint julep. The sweetest and lemoniest lemonade appeared in front of me garnished with a mint leaf perched on the side of my glass.

I picked up the menu laid in front of my place setting – a paper doily. I was told once by a wise woman, whose name I cannot remember, never to underestimate the charm of a doily. There must have been 100 doilies in the restaurant that night, because the restaurant was oozing charm.

We ordered a lot of seafood. Cliff is a shellfish freak like me. Being both Peruvian and from South Florida, his favorite dish is a bowl of rice heaping with anything in a shell. That’s pretty much what we ordered, only we changed accents. We traded in our rolled Rs for elongated vowels and requested crab stuffed shrimp for me and two enormous “Savannah-style” crab cakes for him (on a bed of rice and black beans, it made him feel right at home).

Did I mention that Paula Deen isn’t exactly known for diet food? The “Shore-Is-Good” seafood dip came bubbling out of the oven and sat quite comfortably in our bellies, a mélange of shrimp and crab meat, parmesan cheese, and pretty much every other kind of cheese you could imagine. I’d never tasted so much richness in a tiny ceramic dish.

Next door to the restaurant is a charming store seeling plenty of beautiful Southern-style kitchen and tableware at big-city prices. One set of brass silverware (read: one knife, one fork, and one spoon) with gorgeous cherrywood handles weighed in at $50.00 each. That’s an expensive tablescape. Other things like the tiny kitchen timer shaped like an aluminum saucepan caught my eye and sold for $8.00. You can find the modest in the Paula Deen Store, but why would you want to?

The Lady and Sons is pretty much the opposite of pretense, which is exceptionally exciting, seeing as how Paula has several television shows, tons of great cookbooks, and a nationally-distributed magazine. I guess more than just hoppin’ john starts with just a stick of butter.