Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fennel and Red Cabbage Slaw

I love how colorful this easy slaw looks on the plate. I served this for dinner as a side dish, but it would be delicious as a lunch with some grilled sliced chicken or something thrown in as well. If you haven't used fennel much, this is a good recipe to try it in - its slightly licorice crunch really complements the tang of the red cabbage.


1 large fennel bulb, sliced very thinly
About 3 cups of red cabbage, shredded
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
1/2 cup Vidalia or other sweet onion, sliced very thinly

1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup white balsamic or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon snipped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon coarse-grain brown mustard or Dijon-style mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste (about ½ teaspoon ea.)

  • Chop/shred veggies and dump in a large bowl. Stir to combine.
  • In a smaller bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. Stir into veggies, and toss to combine thoroughly.
  • Let sit at least 15 minutes for flavors to mingle. Serve at slightly chilled or at room temperature.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wino Wednesday

I ain’t no wine snob. I don’t know hardly anything about wine except what I like – and what I don’t like. So if I sing the praises of a white zinfandel or wax eloquent about a Little Penguin merlot, then you’ve been forewarned. But I do like to drink wine and I’m trying to train my taste buds a little bit more to distinguish the good from the nearly-vinegar. ‘Course, if you drink enough wine, it all tastes just fine…
Palo Alto Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2008
Price: $13-14 (It’s on sale at Sainsbury’s for £4.99, for my UK readers)
Red, White, or Pink?: White
Pairs with: lighter seafood dishes, salads
Maggie’s Grade: B-

If there’s one thing I can be certain of in my skimming through reviews of the Palo Alto Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2008 from Chile, it’s that nobody agrees. I’m getting the feeling that this is true with a great many wine connoisseurs – or those who style themselves as such.

This pale white wine hails from the Maule Valley in Chile, is made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes and aged 2-3 months in stainless steel tanks, and is 12.5% alcohol. It won the 2009 Wines of Chile Awards Bronze medal and the 2008 International Wine and Spirits Competition Bronze medal. Good on it! Oh – and it’s got a screw-cap. I think we’ve gotten past the point where the type of stopper/topper indicates the quality of the wine, but it’s worth noting.

So the web sites I skimmed with reviews of their own of this wine list words like:
“refreshing acidity”
“almost no acidity”
“lime, lime, lime”

I definitely tasted the citrus, but not the hay. (Hay?! Lord, wine people are weird.) It’s a crisp, light wine with not a lot of body – to me, there’s not a lot of there there. There’s just…not much to it. It doesn’t linger on the tongue particularly, nor does it provide any nice flavor burst at the beginning. There’s an almost-floral bright grapefruity citrus note right in the middle of the taste, and then in fades to nothing except a memory of the alcohol content.

My conclusion: it’s maybe slightly above average, but not much. You can probably find a more fun sauvignon blanc for the retail price – roughly $13-14 – but it might be worth getting on sale if you’re having a light salad or seafood dinner or don’t want anything too heavy.

La Couronne des Plantagenets Vouvray 2007
Price: £5-6 ($9-10)
Red, White, or Pink: White
Pairs with: dessert, aperitif, heavier seafood
Maggie’s Grade: A-

I really enjoyed this wine. It’s a little bit sparkly, with some rich honey notes – definitely on the sweeter side (the bottle says “demi-sec” - half-dry). The taste is complex; the honey notes linger on the tongue. For once I agree with the few other reviews I’ve seen – complex, drinkable, reasonably priced, and refreshing.

The packaging notes: “this medium-sweet wine comes from the appellation of Vouvray – situated on the north bank of the Loire…Produced from the Chenin Blanc grape…the resulting wine possesses a honey and apple aroma with mellow fruit flavors, balanced by a refreshing acidity.”

Yeah, I’ll buy that.

Conclusion: Nomnomnom. More please.

Sainsbury’s Corbières
Price: £3-4
Pairs with: anything, if you drink enough of it. Or use it in cooking. It’s certainly cheap enough.
Red, White, or Pink: Red
Maggie’s Grade: C

The Sainsbury’s Corbières is pressed from Grenache, Syrah and Carignan grapes from the limestone hills between Carcassonne, Narbonne and Perpignan in the south of France. Reviews use words like “plummy” and “meaty” to describe it – I didn’t get that at all. What I did get was a big ol’ mouthful of tannins that even leaving the glass to breathe for a couple of hours didn’t fix. To me, this wine was far too tart – to the point of being vinegary. I didn’t care for it at all. I’m even wondering if the particular bottle I got was somehow off. I really enjoy a full-bodied red – this seemed…well, it needed some more meat on its bones to be classified as the kind of Rubenesque that I appreciate in reds. It almost tasted burnt.

My conclusion: I may try it again, because the price was ridiculously right, and other reviewers have such a different opinion of it that I wonder if it’s maybe me.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Crème Fraîche - Ooh La La!

On a recent visit, my friend Kim passed along a recipe for crème fraîche, which I made and got rave reviews for at an Independence Day BBQ.
Despite its complicated diacritical marks and general air of French aloofness, crème fraîche is remarkably easy to make. It's also delicious, versatile, and an excellent bulk-builder for those of you trying to gain weight (seriously - it's 28% butterfat. Which is why it tastes so good!)

Cool things about crème fraîche :
  • You can whip it, whip it good (thank you, Devo, for leaping unbidden into my head)
  • You can use it in sweet or savory dishes
  • It won't curdle in recipes - although you should still add it at the end of cooking, and don't use light crème fraîche for cooking.
  • It keeps for 7-10 days in the refrigerator
Crème Fraîche Ingredients:
2 c. heavy (or "double," in the UK) cream - NOT ultra-pasteurized!
3 T. buttermilk
  • Heat the heavy cream verrrrry gently over a low flame until just warmed.
  • Stir in the buttermilk.
  • Transfer to a glass jar; leave for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
  • Stir, then put in the refrigerator for a few more hours, to cool.
  • Whip with a bit of sugar and a dash of vanilla; mix in savory ingredients for a delicious chip dip; stir into borscht, asparagus soup, black bean chili, scoop over baked potatoes - basically, anything you'd use whipped cream or sour cream for, you can use Crème fraîche.
*Note: My crème fraîche became increasingly thicker as time went on, so by the time the Bald Guy and I ate the last of it, it was very thick indeed - like softened margarine. Still absolutely delicious!

Friday, July 3, 2009

WokkyWokky Steamed Bok Choy Plus Peanut Saucy Noodles

I just like saying that.
Bokkybokky! bokbokbok. Also fun to say!


I don't actually own a wok, but I have a very wok-like pan. Anyway, this recipe calls for a wok but not for the high temperatures normally associated with the Asian cooking tool staple.
I made pork chops (average. Sigh.), wok-steamed bok choy, and noodles with peanut sauce tonight. I was disappointed with the pork chops, and the method I used to cook it was nothing extraordinary, so we're skippin' the meat and going straight to the sides.

I got the bok choy recipe from this amusing site, with only very minor tweaking - steamykitchen.com. Her photos are much better than mine and document every plot twist and turn in the steaming (steamy?) saga.

Bok Choy Ingredients
1.5 pounds bok choy or baby bok choy (I used baby bok choy)
1.5 T (or a couple of swirls around the pan) of olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced (I used jarred garlic - a teaspoon)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (Hell yes, I used jarred ginger!)
3 T broth, water, or a splash of wine and a tablespoon or so of water
Salt to taste
1/2 t. sesame oil

  • Trim the stem off the bok choy - just the end. Separate the leaves but keep the tender center intact. Clean leaves under running water.
  • If you use fresh garlic cloves and/or ginger, grate with a microplane grater.
  • Add garlic and ginger to the pan with the oil. Turn heat on to medium-high. Cook the ginger and garlic gently until they become fragrant and light golden brown, then add the bok choy leaves.
  • Toss very well to coat each leaf with the garlic/oil.
  • Pour in broth/water/wine.
  • Immediately cover and let cook for 1 minute.
  • Take off the heat and put on a plate! Very important - otherwise your veggies will continue cooking by the heat of the pan and you'll end up with bleh-k choy.
  • Season with salt and drizzle with a bit of sesame oil on top.
I found the following yummy peanut sauce recipe at another blogspot.com site, cookingwithamy. I'm not sure who Amy is yet, but I'm sure I'll continue checking out her informative site.

Peanut Sauce Ingredients
1/4 c. peanut butter (natural, no sugar added)
2 t. soy sauce
1 T. brown sugar
1 T. fresh lemon or lime juice
1/4 c. coconut milk (can use lite coconut milk or substitute water)
1/4 c. water
red chili flake to taste
chili garlic sauce to taste, or 1 clove crushed garlic

sesame oil
curry paste
rice wine vinegar
fish sauce
grated ginger

Dump everything into a saucepan over low-to-medium-ish heat. Stir until sauce begins to bubble and thicken, and peanut butter has smoothed out into the sauce. Toss with your favorite noodles. Or spoon over ice cream. Or eat it on Ryvita toast. Whatever makes your little peanut-sauce-crazed self happy.

Not-Feelin' Guilty Confessions: I used bottled lemon juice, water instead of coconut milk, and added sesame oil, fish sauce (just a LEETLE BIT!), and jarred minced ginger, and tossed it with regular al dente thin spaghetti, and it was delicious.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Butternut Squash Risotto

(Note on the photo: I took this photo after the risotto had been sitting out for a while; it was actually much moister in person. (heh.) (sorry. can't help it.))
This dish is probably more appropriate for winter, rather than the steamingly hot Yorkshire summer day we had yesterday. OMG you guys! It was 85 degrees! That's, like, SUMMER! I haven't had one of those since I lived in South Carolina. Sorry, Alaskans - 70 degrees is not summer, no matter how pretty it is. Talk to me when you need to take another shower the minute you step outside.

The well-written and homey SimplyRecipes.com is my source for this one-dish vegetarian meal. My husband was skeptical - it's vegetarian, it involves...squash...and...did I mention the squash? But he took one bite and made a noise that prompted me to check and make sure there were no Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editions lying around.

Risotto is labor-intensive but not particularly time-consuming. The hardest part for me was figuring out how to "finely dice" a butternut squash. I had to microwave the dang thing just to get it soft enough to the point where I could cut it without a Sawzall - and then the bits were too hot to handle well. Also: how does one go about peeling a butternut squash with any success? There are several web sites devoted to this theme (here's one), but unfortunately I'd already grabbed the knife by the...handle...and proceeded apace, so what I got was a bit of a hacked-up mess. My sins admitted and forgiveness requested, I actually think it turns out better to have up to a 1/2 inch dice on your butternut squash, rather than fine-dicing. As my husband pointed out, he likes to be able to identify what he's eating. Also: if you don't get all the peel off, it won't kill you. I promise.

Also a time-saver: I used frozen diced onions. But I don't know if I'd do that again - the onions really should be finely chopped - I can't say the risotto didn't taste great, but I think the idea is to minimize the impact of other textures and flavors. There's not even any garlic in this recipe! The horror!

One thing I did not skimp on is vegetable stock - I actually made my own. Making vegetable stock is ridiculously easy, but it takes about an hour, so if you want to go that route instead of using pre-bought chicken or veggie stock, budget the time for it. There's a great, easy-to-follow recipe on allrecipes.com - but the short answer is:

  • cut up a couple of onions, carrots, celery stalks (minus the leaves), peppercorns, and a whole bulb of garlic (with cloves peeled)
  • toss, along with maybe some potato scraps or leftover veggie peelings, into a big ol' pot with a bunch of water
  • bring to a boil
  • turn down the heat to low and let simmer for an hour (not too much longer, or the stock will taste...wilted)
  • strain and use.
Risotto Ingredients:
6-8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
5 T. unsalted butter, divided into 4 T. and 1 T.
1 small onion, finely chopped (ha!)
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and finely diced (whatever.)
2 cups arborio rice (can substitute medium-grain white rice, but you should use arborio. It will make you feel chic and sophisticated. Or at least poorer.)
1 cup dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc (I think I used a Pinot Grigio - it was el cheapo)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 T. chopped chives or garlic chives*
Salt to taste
  • Heat your stock or broth up on a burner turned way down low, just to keep it warm.
  • Melt 4 T. of butter in a large saucepan; add onion and butternut squash. Cook over medium heat until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.
  • Add rice to onion and squash. Cook 1-2 minutes. Add wine. Cook, stirring constantly until wine has been absorbed by the rice or evaporated. This will make your kitchen smell like the back-end of a bar, but I'm tellin' you, it's worth it.
  • Add a few ladles of stock, just enough to barely cover the rice. Cook over medium heat until broth has been absorbed.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat - keep adding stock and stirring and waiting 'til the moisture's absorbed, adding a little bit at a time...cook..stir....cook...stir....etc. until the rice is tender but still firm. This should take about 15-20 minutes.
  • During the last couple of minutes of cooking, add that remaining tablespoon of butter, about 1/3 cup Parmesan, your chives, and salt to taste (I used about a teaspoon of kosher salt).
  • At this point the rice should have a creamy consistency. I'm not even going to bother attempting an off-color joke with that one - it's too easy.
  • Serve with remaining grated Parmesan.
*Looking back over this recipe and the results, I think I would add another herb besides or instead of chives - chives kind of get lost in the taste, to me - but maybe that's because I used dried chives (which I don't recommend, btw - they taste like pencil shavings, only less aromatic). Maybe a wee bit of dill? Thyme? If anyone makes this recipe, let me know the herbs you used. It needs something colorful, that's for sure.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

breaking through a blogging rut, and blogging last night's dinner: the shake n' bake edition

So I got my knickers all in a wad these last few weeks because I developed blogger's anxiety. No, that's not in the DSMIV, but I contend that it should be diagnosable - that dreaded feeling of having nothing worthwhile to say really turns a girl off of sharing her innermost thoughts about pork products (nom.) or rhubarb (possibly nom.) or cauliflower (ew). I kept thinking, who'd want to read my meanderings about cooking? I'm nothing special when it comes to the kitchen. There are millions - possibly billions - of people the world over who are better cooks than I. I'm inexperienced at best; I make lots of mistakes. I don't know things that other cooks learned in their cribs. You know - like how to boil an egg.*

But then, the words started getting bottled up and I had a couple of minor culinary successes and I started to re-evaluate why I started this blog in the first place. So let me set some things straight, just for my own amusement if nothing else:

I didn't start this blog because I'm good at cooking. I'm sharing the process that I'm undergoing because I'm relatively novice at the ol' applying-heat-and-chemistry-to-food-substances thing, and each day really is kind of a discovery. I'm going to make mistakes and give you the chance to laugh at me. I'm going to act all excited over a "discovery" that you might have learned when you were three. I'm going to use substitute ingredients; I'm going to use short-cuts. I may even use the microwave occasionally.

And I'm going to write about it. And people might read it, or they might not. They might get bored or disgusted and wander off to go do something more productive with their days.
And that's okay.

Because I'm not writing this for anyone but myself.

That was an important realization - or reminder - for me.

So, as Ellen DeGeneres says, "Aaanywaayyy..." Now that we've got the Manifesto out of the way...Last night, I fixed a pretty amazing meal. Oven-fried buttermilk chicken breasts, fried potatoes, and Brussels sprouts.

This is my favorite bald guy, trying to parse out what was in that amazing chicken:
It was fairly easy - the whole meal was done in about half an hour, minus the sittin' time for the poultry.

Chicken Ingredients:
A couple or three boneless skinless chicken breasts
About 1/2 c. buttermilk
A few tablespoons of cornmeal
1 T. salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper
1/2 t. each (or to taste) paprika, garlic powder, cumin, fenugreek, cayenne pepper (go easy on that one)
1 T. fresh rosemary, finely chopped (or 1/2 T. dried)
1 T. fresh thyme, finely chopped (or 1/2 T. dried)
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees (about 180 C)
  • Plop the chicken breasts in a bowl or something and pour the buttermilk over them. Let them sit for about half an hour, stewing in the buttermilk. I don't know WHY it works, but it makes the chicken breasts nice and tender and moist (insert inappropriate joke about breasts here).
  • When you're ready to cook, combine all ingredients from cornmeal down in a bowl that's big enough to scoot the chicken breasts around in.
  • Kinda shake the excess buttermilk off each breast and dredge the chicken around in the cornmeal seasonings. Put yer now-coated breasts (heh) in a baking dish of some description (darker pans require shorter cooking time, so be careful. I used a 9x13 pyrex baking dish). You might want to spray the pan with PAM or some grease equivalent to keep 'em from sticking.
  • Stick the chicken in the oven for 20 minutes. Then flip 'em over and bake for another 10-15 minutes (approx. time based on my experience with a convection oven - for food safety, check your chicken's internal temperature with a meat thermometer; it should register no less than 165 degrees. Food temperature information can be found at the USDA's web site).
  • Nice, crispy-on-the-outside, tender-and-moist-on-the-inside chicken breasts are now yours!
Potatoes Ingredients:
Uh, potatoes. I used Jersey Royals new potatoes, but use whatever waxy, not-too-flaky potatoes you want (in other words, steer clear of the giant Russet baking potatoes, because those will just fall apart). I used 6 smallish (child's fist size) potatoes, and it fed 2 people pretty well.
3 T. all-purpose flour
salt, pepper, a little chili powder if you're feeling bold, mebbe some herbs, but not too much (I used zahtar, because it's one of my favorite "secret" ingredients) - about 1/4-1/2 T. each
About 2 T. olive oil (a couple of swirls around the skillet)
Spray oil or an extra T or two of olive oil
  • Wash your potatoes and scrub any little unpleasant bits off. Poke a couple of holes in each with a fork and microwave those suckers until just tender - about 2:30 or thereabouts.
  • While the potatoes are sizzling and whining away in the nuke-box, mix your flour and seasonings in a bowl big enough to accommodate the cut-up taters.
  • When the potatoes have finished cooking, remove them carefully and cut until 1/2 inch chunks (you need asbestos-coated fingers for this, or just be patient and wait 'til they've cooled off a little)
  • Heat your skillet to medium-high heat and add your olive oil.
  • Spray the cut potatoes with oil - or toss gently in a bowl with the extra olive oil, depending on your preference.
  • Toss those greasy potatoes in the flour mixture, just to coat.
  • I then (and this is an extra step born of expediency that you may not need to do) dumped the coated potatoes in a sieve/colander, just to get the extra floury bits off of them, so it didn't all end up in the frying pan.
  • Dump the taters in the pan, and cook over medium-high heat until nicely browned - about 10 minutes.
Brussels sprouts:
Simplest thing in the world. I used frozen Brussels sprouts. Steam them (about 8 minutes) until just tender and bright green, and toss with butter, about 2 T. balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
Bingbamboom dinner.

*So about this boiled egg thing. Ever since I moved to England, I've had serious trouble getting eggs to boil so that the shells are easy to remove. I end up with eggs that look like they had an unfortunately bad case of teenage acne that left them pockmarked and socially awkward. I've tried many recipes - starting from cold water, plunging them into boiling water, bringing the pot to a boil and then turning it off and letting it sit, adding a teaspoon of vinegar to the water...all of those things, and STILL shells that refuse to peel off genteelly. I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't the eggs I'm buying or something - I don't remember having this trouble back in the States. If anyone has any thoughts about stubborn boiled egg-shells, lemme know. I'd be most grateful.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Blueberry Lemon Loaf

Yeah, sure. I don't bake. Unless, as mentioned before in the short little annals of this blog, I'm feeling social anxiety.

So, dear Reader, what the hell do you get somebody for a birthday present that you don't know very well? Personally, I bake. Because it's a) (more or less) guaranteed to please (if it turns out okay. And if you don't include known allergens); b) it's inexpensive; and c) it takes time and energy, which, in my mind, is one of the better presents you can give someone.

So I brought this recipe to a recent shindig. I think it went over okay, once the birthday girl got over her confusion over getting a loaf of bread...hrm...

Beranbaum, Rose Levy. The Cake Bible. William Morrow & Company, Inc. New York: 1988
Bon Appetit Magazine, August 1991
Joy of Baking.com - recipe tweaked by Stephanie Jaworski

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (just nuke it 10 seconds or so)
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 t. pure vanilla extract (I bumped it up to 1 t. at least)
1 T. grated lemon zest
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Lemon glaze:
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 t. Cointreau, vanilla extract, or brandy (optional)

Preheat yer oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Butter (or spray with a non-stick oil spray) the bottom and sides of a loaf pan (9x5x3 inch, or 23x13x8 cm, for you Metricheads out there). Set aside. Don't let the cat lick it. EW.

I read in another recipe a recommendation to cut a piece of parchment or wax paper to fit the bottom of your loaf pan. I did that, but I didn't see that there was any real point to it. But if you feel like being uber-conscientious about getting the loaf out of the pan, you could try it. I found that tip here.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a little bowl, dump your blueberries and a couple of small handfuls of flour and gently toss the blueberries 'til they're coated with flour. This (supposedly) helps keep your blueberries from sinking to the bottom of your bread - thus avoiding the dreaded Blueberry Bottom, which is a deeply embarrassing personal problem. Just ask Violet Beauregarde.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, or with really good arm muscles, beat the butter until softened (about 1 minute). Add the sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract and lemon zest. Add the flour mixture a little handful at a time; between handfuls, add the milk a little at a time - you want to make sure that the flour's totally incorporated, but you don't want to OVERbeat, because then your bread will be tough. And then you'll have to cough up bail money and get it into rehab and pay for its psychotherapy and drive it to group work, and who wants that for anyone's bread, really.

Gently fold in the blueberries - use a plastic spatula or something. You don't want to squish the blueberries too much.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 55 to 65 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (or just slightly besmirched with blueberry guts, but not bready bits).

Meanwhile (back at the ranch), in a small saucepan, bring the 1/3 cup of sugar and hte 3 tablespoons of lemon juice and your little dash of something extra (if you choose to use Cointreau or almond or vanilla extract or whatever) to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

When the bread is done, remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Pierce the hot loaf all over with a toothpick or a leftover chopstick from Chinese take-out or some other pointy bit and then brush the top of the loaf with the hot lemon glaze. Cool the loaf in the pan for about 30 minutes and then remove from the pan to let cool completely on the wire rack.

As with the banana bread recipe I posted earlier, this recipe is very forgiving - you could add nuts, extra flavoring, etc. It takes about 20 minutes with the preparations, plus baking time, so you can have delicoius and not-very-good-for-you cakey-bread pretty quickly. And it makes you look like a jeen-u-wine bakerperson. Yay!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Black Eyed Peas, Rice & Burnt Onions

I discovered black eyed peas this week. I'd thought they were the kind of beans you had to soak overnight, which of course takes more prior planning and forethought than I usually put into dinner. But lo and behold, you can just throw these cuties into a pot, cook for 45 minutes, drain and go!

Black eyed peas are, of course, a staple of Southern cuisine. They were originally cultivated in West Africa and brought through the West Indies to the Southern United States by Africans; by the 1700s the crop was widespread through the South. It's very drought and heat-tolerant, which makes the plant easy to grow in the American South. The planting of crops of black-eyed peas was promoted by George Washington Carver because, as a legume, it adds nitrogen to the soil and has high nutritional value. Those little suckers have a TON of protein (9 g. per serving), fiber and calcium, and they're very low in fat! Yay!

When I was a child, my grandmama would cook the traditional black eyed peas and rice (they expand in water - just like your prosperity throughout the year) and collard greens (they're green, like all the money you'll make!) on New Years Day, for good luck. These "good luck" traditions supposedly date back to the "Recent Unpleasantness," or "The Wawar," as it was still known in my great-grandmother's household. The story goes that Sherman's troops would strip everywhere they went of all food, crops, and livestock, and sow the soil with salt - they'd burn and destroy everything in their path. BUT they wouldn't touch the black eyed peas - called "field peas" - or the corn, because that wasn't fit for human consumption anyway, just as cattle fodder.

(Side note: my mother would "clean my room" for me about once a year, which she called a "Sherman's March" - where she would throw away everything that was on the floor or out of place. She probably burned my sheets, too. I wasn't a very clean child. )

I found this recipe through one of my favorite foodie sites, Cheap Healthy Good. This recipe has also been sighted in this New York Times column by Mark Bittman; the emphasis is on the burnt, crispy onions. I like to think of the black eyed peas as being the star of this dish, but apparently burning onions creates a magical cacophony of flavor bursts in your mouth, so don't skip on 'em. I also spiced it up a bit - added two cloves of garlic, some fenugreek and fresh basil. You can tweak the seasonings as you see fit. This recipe is easily expandable, and black eyed peas and rice freeze well.


1 cup cooked brown rice
1 cup cooked black eyed peas
1 medium onion, sliced thin (or 2 onions, if you REALLY like onions)
2 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced (or you can mince them, but I like the more solid presentation in this dish)
2 medium carrots, diced
a couple of handfuls of baby spinach (about a cup)
2 T. torn fresh basil leaves
1 T oil (I used olive oil, but whatevs)
3 T balsamic vinegar, or to taste
Salt n' Pepa (no, not the band)
1 t. ground fenugreek
1/2 t. Vietnamese chili garlic sauce* or to taste (optional)

Heat yer oil in a pan over medium-high. When it’s good and hot, add the onions (they should sizzle). Add a little salt.

Cook onions, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown. Lower the heat a little, and keep cooking, stirring more frequently.

In the meantime, combine black eyed peas and rice in a big bowl. Add S&P to taste. Add balsamic vinegar, fenugreek, and chili garlic sauce, and set aside.

When the onions are pretty shriveled, about 15 minutes or so, add the garlic and carrots, and cook until onions are blackened and blistered in spots. (Add your carrots earlier if you like them more cooked.)

Stir in spinach to the onions, garlic & carrots, just until it’s wilted (like, 30 seconds. Seriously. Don't leave the stove.)

Add veggies to rice and beans mixture as a topping.

Say "Omnomnomnom!" as you wolf this dish down.

*Vietnamese chili garlic sauce (NOT sriracha! That stuff's for wimps. I mean this savory-spicy goodness) is one of my favorite not-so-secret ingredients. Go easy on it; it's got a kick that will sneak up and bite you on the tuchus if you're not very judicious in its application. I like it in everything from spaghetti sauce to eggs. Just...not ice cream. Wouldn't go well with ice cream. Blech.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ethical Foodie Blogging


I've wondered about the ethics of modifying, using and posting recipes online; where does one draw the line at crediting sources? Generally speaking, if I make something up off the top of my head, I'm not a good enough cook to have created something so spectacularly original that it hasn't been done before in many different ways (let me tell you about my baked chicken from the other night....oh, wait - are you snoring?). I'll often glance at several different recipes for the same dish and come up with something that's just slightly tweaked. Should a foodie blogger cite all potential sources? There are thousands of people who enjoy food who post recipes online around the world - where does the idea of creative commons come in? How much should we care?

Also of note: the section about reviewing restaurants and the link to the Association of Food Journalists online code of ethics.

I'm curious about your opinions.

Wild about Wild Rice: Mini-Review

Back from "vacation," which was more like "attempt to play referee between feuding family members and fail"-cation, along with "let's ride in pathogen tubes 30,000 feet in the air for 4 straight days!"-cation, with a dash of, "sure, another drink sounds like a SWELL idea"-cation. Not much foodie deliciousness was enjoyed during said trip to South Carolina and to Vancouver, with a notable exception:

Wild Rice in Vancouver is a pretty amazing place. Atmosphere, modern-casual. Service, friendly, cute, and knowledgeable. It's family-style Chinese tapas (I know! Yay for confusing cultural trends!). My dining buddy and I decided to order fancy drinks; he had a "Buddha's Caesar" drink, a deeply spicy concoction of horseradish infused vodka, clamato, cilantro, lemon and a dash of soy (which somehow I can't see the Buddha enjoying, but we took advantage of our non-enlightened status and slurped it up), while I indulged in an Orchid, which consisted of appleton rum, ginger beer, ginger ale, fresh lime and bitters. Delicious. But the real delight came when the wonton soup arrived - a revelation of complex miso flavour, hand-made dumpings with locally raised pork, and crisp spring onions. It will change your opinion about what wonton soup should taste like. The spring rolls (vegetarian, with a sweet grapefruit/chili dip) and the Beef Shanghai were both really good - but the soup topped it all. Our total bill, with frou-frou drinks, the soup and two mains, was $53.53 (Canadian). Slightly pricier than we'd intended, but I don't begrudge them a cent.

If you're visiting Vancouver, venture to Wild Rice. It's worth it.

Monday, April 13, 2009


I am so proud of myself!
Probably inordinately so, given the ease of this recipe.
Pita bread is filling, low-calorie, and ridiculously easy to make. It's a fun project for kids, too, since it can be done quickly and you get cute little pockety breads.

Mine didn't turn out perfectly - I think my whole wheat flour's gone off a bit (ew). I also think I'd roll out the dough a bit thinner, and cook a little bit longer. But toasting saved even the mushy ones, so it's all good.

Pita only calls for 6 ingredients, and the recipe is quite forgiving. You can use sugar or honey, 100% whole wheat flour or 100% white flour, or any combination thereof; I used active dry yeast, but if you don't want to bother with dissolving and proofing, you can use rapid rise just as easily. You can use whatever oil you have in your house, but if you want to be all authentic, use olive oil.

Makes 8 pitas.

3 cups flour (I used 2 cups white and 1 cup wheat, and that seemed just about right)
1.5 t. salt
1 T. sugar or honey
1 packet yeast (or if you're using rapid rise, 2 t.)
1.25 - 1.5 cups room temperature water
2 T. olive oil, vegetable oil, butter or shortening
If you're using active dry yeast, follow the instructions on the packet to get it going, then add it to your dry ingredients. Otherwise, mix the yeast in with the flour, salt and sugary-substance. Add the olive oil and water and stir together with a wooden spoon. All of the ingredients should form a ball. If some of the flour won't stick, add a tablespoon more water until you get the right consistency.

Once it's all in a big ballish glop, dump it out on a lightly floured work surface and knead the dough for about 10 minutes, or until your arms fall off. If you're using an electric mixer, mix at low speed for 10 minutes (I personally don't think it takes this long - I kneaded for exactly 7 minutes). You want the dough to become stretchy and elastic and smooth (so where it bounces back when you press it with your widdle finger).

Once the dough's been pummeled, form it into a ball and put it in a big ol' bowl that's been lightly coated with oil. Roll it around a little (or cheat and use a spray oil like I did) so that it's lightly coated with oil on all sides. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and set it aside to rise until it's doubled in size, approximately 90 minutes.

Once you've done the laundry, picked your nose, called your Aunt Millicent, run to the store to pick up tampons, taken a 20 minute nap, and yelled at the cat, punch the dough down to release some of the trapped gases and divide it into 8 mini-balls (heh). Cover the ballspawns with a damp towel and let them rest for 20 more minutes.

Meanwhile (back at the ranch), preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If you have a baking stone (I don't), put it in the oven to preheat, too. If you're a mere mortal and don't have a baking stone, turn a cookie sheet upside down and place it on the middle rack of the oven while you're preheating it.

After the dough has relaxed for 20 minutes (charge it spa fees), spread a light coating of flour on a work surface, take your balls (heheh), sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough, and use a rolling pin, a big glass, or your hands to stretch and flatten the dough. Roll those suckers out to between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick (I think on the thinner side produces better results). If the dough doesn't want to stretch sufficiently, slap it upside the head and let it rest another 5-10 minutes, then try it again.

If you have a spray bottle in the kitchen, spray a light mist of water onto your baking surface (i.e., the cookie sheet in the oven) and close the oven for 30 seconds. I have a "cat blaster" spray mister bottle that works really well for this. Getting the oven moist (heh heh again. I know - I'm terrible) reduces blistering on the outside of your pitas. You can skip this step if you don't have a spray bottle handy. No biggie.

Open the oven and toss as many pitas as will fit onto the baking surface. Bake 'em for 3-5 minutes. They should puff up some. Watch them carefully - my first batch was underdone, but you don't want them to be too browned, either. I did mine in batches because I couldn't fit all 8 in the oven at once. Given that they're done so quickly, it wasn't a big deal to do them in stages.

That's it! You're done! Don't burn your fingers when you pull them apart to put butter & honey, homemade hummus, or tuna salad in 'em.
This recipe is modified from this (very cool and informative) site: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/recipes/pitabread

Sunday, April 5, 2009

So here's a thought: Savory pancakes

The Bald Guy and I enjoyed a delicious Indian meal at Rajput Restaurant (http://www.rajput.co.uk/) on Friday night. The food was very tasty and reasonably priced, and the service, while a bit disorganized at times, definitely had a "we live here" feel; Perveen, the proprietor and Chef Emerita, conversed with our table for a good five minutes. So far, it's the only Indian restaurant in Harrogate that doesn't seem to be afraid to use spices. The mango pickle especially was delicious (though not to the Bald Guy's liking).

Anyhoodle. That's not the point.

We ended up with two containers of doggie-bag slop (which is also VERY unusual for English restaurants - the waiter even offered the take-away boxes to us! We were impressed). Last night, the Bald Guy had made a delicious Chinese-style stir-fry with the rest of our London Broil, but he made a LOT of it. So tonight was leftover night at the Love Shack. What to do with all this sloppy yummy Indian goodness, though? Rice = takes too long for hungry Loves. Noodles didn't seem quite right. So we decided to make savory pancakes. And lemme tell ya, they were great.

Now, confession time: we used Bisquick. Yes, I said it. Bisquick. Worse: it was generic Bisquick. I know, I know. Anathema. Whatevs.

So, modified from the Bisquick (or generic thereof) back-of-box recipe:
2 c. baking mix
1 1/3 c. milk (actually, I added a little more milk to make the pancakes thinner - probably more like 1.5 c. milk)
1 egg
1/3 c. cheddar or parmesan cheese
1 T. thyme
1 T. garlic salt
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Heat griddle (or large skillet) to 375 degrees F (or medium-high). Stir all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. I used a hand mixer, but I'm sure you don't have to - just make sure all the lumps are gone. Make sure you wipe off the coffee maker from all the splatters you've thrown across the kitchen using the hand mixer ill-advisedly, because you are a small-machine-impaired moron (oh wait. That only applies to me). Bake on hottish, lightly greased (I used one of those pressurized spray bottles filled with olive oil. They come in quite handy! I don't really recommend a whole lot of kitchen gadgets, but make-yer-own-oil-sprayer thingies get the Maggie Burned Thumb Up Seal of Approval) using a little less than 1/4 c. batter for each pancake. Cook until edges are dry and bubbles break towards the middle of the pancake surface. Flip, cook until golden, remove, repeat. Make a REALLY REALLY BIG ONE with the extra batter at the end (come on! You know you want to eat a gigantic-ass pancake!)

I served our leftover ethnic cuisine on little beds of savory pancake. Super delicious and relatively easy.

Or you can just make rice. How boring.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hunk O' Meat: London Broil

I loves me some cow muscle. I wish I didn't; I'm sure I'd be a much healthier and quite possibly richer person if the thought of consuming large portions of cow thighs and haunches and backs and sides didn't appeal to me so damn much. But there you have it: I'm a carnivore.

I got a London Broil (2.5 pounder) on sale at the commisary recently. Tonight the Craving took hold (Meat Meat Meat Meat Meat!!), so I marinated and broiled away. I made rice (average) and brussels sprouts (delicious! recipe to follow) on the side.

Ingredients for Marinade
1/4 c. oil (I used EVOO)
1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
3 T. tamari (soy sauce. I use the reduced sodium version)
splash of red wine, if you have it
3-4 cloves garlic, minced, plus an extra, sliced, just for giggles
3 T. brown sugar
1 onion, chopped or diced - cut up into little tiny hunks, however you want to define that.
1 T. jarred minced ginger
a whole buncha black pepper
a leetle salt

Take yer hunk o' meat (this recipe is specific to London Broil, but you can use any thick-cut cow product you'd like, I'm sure) and wipe it down real well, and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Let it sit a few minutes mooing at you while you prepare the marinade.

Take a big ol' plastic zipper bag. Dump all your marinade ingredients in it and squuush it around a bit, to mingle up the flavors and get it all nice and combined. Take yer meat and splot 'er in there. Close up the bag, pushing all the extra air out as best you can, and massage the meat (heh. Hehheh.) so that the marinade gets all up in its proverbial face. Now refrigerate the bag o' meat for as long as you can stand it - at least a few hours, or overnight if you can. I didn't start this project 'til mid-afternoon, so mine only marinaded about 3 hours, and it turned out fine, but I'm sure the longer you let it go, the better.

Heat your broiler to Superhot (gas 3 en anglais). When you're ready to cook, slop your Hunk onto a broiler pan-thing (mine has a little removable grill; I usually put a layer of aluminum foil underneath because I'm a lazy biatch who hates to scrub pots and pans). Make sure a portion of the garlic/onion bits are hanging out on top of the meat. Put it in the broiler for FIVE minutes (NO MORE!) Now take it out and flip it over. You may want to find some tongs for this - I made a bit of a mess trying to flip the damn thing with a spatula. Now broil the other side for FIVE minutes (NO MORE!)*

While the meat is broiling, take that leftover marinade, add an extra splash of red wine and maybe a bit of beef stock and heat it up in a skillet. I added some chopped mushrooms, because the Bald Guy thought it would be BRILLIANT to add mushrooms. As usual, he was right. Let the sauce simmer/low boil for a few minutes until it's thickened a bit.

Take your London Broil out of the broiler and let it rest for at least 5 minutes, and preferably 15. Carve into slices against the grain (IMPORTANT! If you cut with the grain, your meat will be tough and chewy. No, I don't know why. I only know it's true, having had my share of Meat Chewing Gum before). Serve the slices with the sauce.

*Okay, so maybe a little longer if your oven is not as hawt as mine gets. Food safety guidelines specify steak at medium should be no cooler than 160 degrees F, 145 degrees F for medium rare. Use a meat thermometer to get an accurate temperature.

Served with:
white rice (boring! It would have been better with roasted potatoes)
Lemony Fennelly Brussels Sprouts
(basic recipe: heat up some butter in a pan. Dump in some brussels sprouts when the butter melts. Add some fresh lemon zest, a little red pepper flakes, some salt & pepper, a dash of nutmeg, and about 1/4 t. fennel seeds. Cook over medium heat until done, stirring occasionally. I am not ashamed to say I used frozen brussels sprouts for this - a fraction of the preparation, and really, just as good)

Nomnomnom. Meatmeatmeatmeatmeat.

For a side dish, we had Cat Fricassee.Don't worry - we washed the cutting board. Stoopid cat.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Orzo Stuffed Peppers

When I asked the Bald Guy what he thought of when he pictured stuffed peppers (after he snickered at whatever Beavis joke was running through his head..."heheh...she said 'stuffed'" - we're such a perfect match), he pulled a Billy Idol sneer and described soggy green bell peppers filled with an unappetizing and oversalted mush of cheap ground beef, rice, and bland seasonings.

Well, said I. THIS stuffed pepper's gonna be different, By Golly!
And Gee Willickers!

And it was. There are so many ways you could tweak this recipe and get a fun, presentable dish, either for a light main course or an elegant side. I was pleased with the flavor of these, and the richness of the colour makes for a fun splash of vibrancy on your plate. A partial list of different optional ingredients is listed as well - you can put just about anything in these peppers!

This recipe is significantly altered from one by Giada De Laurentiis.

Orzo Stuffed Peppers

1 can diced tomatoes, well-drained (OR one can fancy salsa with one diced fresh tomato, 'cause that's how I roll. And what was in the cabinet)
1 carrot, shredded (use a box grater, like you do for cheese)
1/2 c. shredded cilantro. Or mint. Or basil. Something fresh and green and...shredded. (DON'T use a box grater! Unless you want to lose your fingerprints. Use a knife or just rip the leaves by hand.)
1/2 c. parmesan or other flavorful cheese, plus more for sprinkling (I used a parmesan/romano mix inside the peppers and feta to sprinkle on top)
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil plus 1 T. for sauteeing
1/2 c. red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. salt
1 t. black pepper*
4 c. chicken broth
1.5 c. orzo pasta
4-6 sweet red or yellow bell peppers
(the number could vary depending on how many people you're feeding, how big the peppers are, and how much the gnomes that inhabit your pots and pans expand the orzo when you're not looking. I swear we had orzo for DAYS out of just 1.5 cups)

Optional Ingredients:
1 t. chopped fresh thyme
1/3 c. chopped pecans or walnuts or almonds
1/2 c. toasted pine nuts
Grated zucchini
Diced ham or chopped bacon
Flaked salmon
The tops and bottoms of the peppers that you chop off, finely diced

Preheat the oven to 400F.

In a small pan, gently sautee the chopped onion in a T. of oil on medium heat until just translucent (2-3 minutes), then add the garlic and sautee until the garlic is just golden (1 minute or so). Remove from heat and let cool for a couple of minutes.

In a large bowl, stir together the tomatoes, carrot, chopped fresh basil/mint/cilantro/whatever, cheese, olive oil, and the onion and garlic.

Meanwhile, bring the chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the orzo and cook for 4 minutes (which will be shorter than package directions). The orzo should be only partially cooked. Use a fine mesh sieve to transfer the orzo to join its yummy ingredient-mates in the large bowl. Imagine how the orzo greets the other ingredients in a high, squeaky voice. Say, "What??" defensively when your husband lifts an inquisitive eyebrow at your oddness.

Transfer some of the warm chicken broth to a 3-quart baking dish - enough to fill it about 1/4-1/3 full.

Slice the tops off the peppers and remove the ribs and seeds. Cut a very thin slice from the base to help the peppers stand up.

Fill 'em up with the yummy mixture and plop 'em into the baking dish. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil, sprinkle some cheese and maybe a few extra little shredded herby bits on top, and continue baking until the cheese is nice and golden, about 15 more minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully transfer the stuffed peppers to your plate, and then your belly.

*When I say, "ground black pepper," I mean get out your little pepper grinder that your well-meaning Aunt Tiffany gave you when you finally got your own apartment, and use it. If you're using pre-ground black pepper, you might as well be scraping the dust off the boxes in the back of the attic and using that as seasoning. I ain't picky about much, but using freshly ground black pepper's one of them.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies & Banana Bread

I have long been one to decry baking. Can't stand it. All that...measuring! And...timing! I never felt like I could experiment; there wasn't a sense of "creating" with baking - just with following directions. At which I've never been particularly gifted. It felt too much like chemistry, only with flour.

Lately, though, I've had a few minor successes in the baking area. I've baked challah bread from scratch twice, which turned out lovely, and this weekend, I made both banana bread and chocolate chip cookies from scratch. This baking extravaganza was mostly due to social anxiety - faced with a weekend alone with a bunch of Army spouses, I armed myself as best I could with baked goods. I also made hummus, but that's another post entirely. What is it about the prospect of confinement with a bunch of women I don't know well that sends me into a frenzy of food preparation?

The cookie recipe is from the original Nestle Tollhouse Semisweet Morsels package version, but tweaked slightly - I tripled the vanilla, melted the butter instead of just letting it soften on the counter, and chilled the dough before putting it on the baking sheets. These extra steps were gleaned from various foodie websites across the Intersphere - little tips and tricks here and there.

The banana bread recipe is much more forgiving; I added a swirl of Amaretto and an extra dash of nutmeg. You could also add chopped walnuts or pecans, or cranberries, or tricycles or old socks, but I don't think those would improve the flavour much.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 c. (2 sticks, 1/2 pound) butter, gently melted
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
1 T. vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 c. (12-ounce package) semi-sweet chocolate morsels (can also use Heath Bar bits, toffee bits, chopped nuts, or other small chunks o' sugary-chocolatey-goodness. I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to chocolate chip cookies)

COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in large mixer bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and bits (not "nits," as I originally typed. Crunchy, but the flavour's icky). Refrigerate dough for half an hour or so until slightly chilled. Drop by rounded tablespoon, leaving at least 1 - 1.5 inches between each, onto ungreased baking sheets.

BAKE in preheated 375-degree F oven for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely. Make sure you eat at least one cookie from each baking sheet to...you know...test for doneness.

Easy Banana Bread
3 or 4 ripe bananas, mashed (we'd saved a bunch of bananas that were just going off, and I pulled them out for this recipe. They thawed just fine)
1/3 c. melted butter
1 c. sugar (can easily reduce to 3/4 c.)
1 egg, beaten
1 T. vanilla
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. nutmeg (optional)
Pinch of salt
1.5 c. all-purpose flour
1 T. Amaretto, Tia Maria, or other liqueur (optional)
You could probably add nuts or other fun stuff to this recipe, too

No need for a mixer for this recipe. Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C). With a wooden spoon (I used a plastic spoon, and lightning didn't strike me down. Steer away from the metal spoons, though), mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, vanilla, spices and liqueur, if using. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour last, and mix. Pour mixture into a buttered 4x8 loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Unintentionally Blackened Pork.

Mistakes are just part of the game in cooking. Sometimes you want to slap yourself over the head with a large center-cut bone-in pork loin chop. Others are probably the fault of an over-zealous recipe. This little creation combined both. Sigh.

Things we learned:
  1. Make sure your pan is centered on the burner.
  2. When checking for doneness on the bottom of the meat, make sure you lift up more than just a corner.
  3. When a recipe calls for 24 hours of brining, take it seriously when it says to RINSE the meat before cooking. Otherwise you'll exceed your sodium intake for the next 2 years and your once-lovely pork chop will end up tasting like very old bacon.
  4. Marry a man who will eat ANYTHING. Wait - that wasn't a mistake.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

HAGGIS!! Or: Don't Think, Just Eat.

The Bald Guy and I enjoyed a short vacation to Edinburgh, Scotland this weekend to celebrate our one-year anniversary. We had a grand time poking around the back alleys of the Old Town, getting lost at Edinburgh Castle, marveling at Early European Masters at the National Gallery, and getting goosebumps during the ghost tour of Greyfriars Kirkyard. But by far the most fun we had was eating (and drinking) our way across Edinburgh, one bistro at a time.

We can certainly recommend the following restaurants:
Hanam's Kurdish/Middle Eastern Restaurant (http://www.hanams.com/)
Try the bayengaan - Slow roasted baby aubergines, stuffed with rice, yoghurt & traditional spices. We also had the lamb tashreeb and the qaysi. But save room for dessert! My favorite was the saffron and cardamom ice cream. The Bald Guy didn't like it as much as I did, but then, I'm kind of a cardamom nut. It was delicious! And the whole meal came out fairly cheaply without alcohol.

Maxie's Bistro & Wine Bar (http://www.maxies.co.uk/)
Conveniently located right next to Hanam's, just off the Royal Mile near the Castle. Funky cellar bistro with great atmosphere - candlelight, Art Deco-style painted glass, pillows strewn about. The proprieter was very attentive, although we did have to go up to the bar to order. The port and honey was a good choice, considering the blustery day. The duck and mango salad were good, as was the lentil soup; my avocado and bacon salad was delicious (but then, I think anything with bacon is great), except for the liberal use of white onions and iceberg lettuce. Ick. The dessert, however, made up for it - rich, thick chocolate cake a la mode, with a fudge sauce over it. Prices were reasonable.

Vittoria's Restaurant On the Bridge (http://www.vittoriarestaurant.com/onthebridge/)
We were blown in here late after our ghost tour by a gale-force wind accompanied by driving needles of icy rain that was threatening to knock us off our feet. I may be impressed with the eateries of Edinburgh, but it can keep its bloody weather, thanks. A good restaurant with a moderate chain feel. I had the squid ink pasta with seafood, and it was very good. The Bald Guy enjoyed his beef stroganoff - it didn't look like the typical stroganoff my mother used to make, with its primary ingredient of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup (thank the jebus). A good wine recommendation of a very dry pinot grigio from our Italian waitress definitely prepared me to face the blustery evening again. There were at least 3 Italian families dining there (judging by overheard snippets of conversation and using the 3 nanoseconds of Italian classes I slept through in college), which, for an Italian restaurant, I'd take as a positive sign.

The Halfway House (http://www.halfwayhouse-edinburgh.com/)
Voted Scotland's Pub of the Year in 2005, and self-proclaimed Edinburgh's Smallest (and Friendliest) Pub, the Halfway House is tucked away in an alley between Market Street and the Royal Mile, a little gem hidden from tourists. We didn't eat there, but we did enjoy a beverage; I had the Talisker single malt whisky 18 Year(very peaty and smoky), and the BG nursed a pint of some dark bitter brew that he loved. Definitely worth a stop-in (if it's not too crowded - there aren't very many seats available!)

The Doric Tavern (http://tinyurl.com/bxm5pj)
We ate here for our one-year anniversary dinner. Probably the best restaurant we had the opportunity to visit on this trip. The bistro (or "gastropub") is upstairs. Nina Simone was on the stereo. There was only one other table occupied (it was a rainy Sunday evening). We ordered a bottle of pinot noir, which, given our criteria of "second cheapest on the menu," didn't surprise us with its mediocrity - but we still managed to finish the bottle. Our appetizer was HAGGIS! Actually, it was baked haggis filo parcels with plum sauce, which has quickly become the Edinburgh signature dish. It was originally created by Stac Polly, a fine Edinburgh restaurant institution (that we didn't get to because it's closed on Sundays, sigh). I was glad to see it on the menu at the Doric as well. If you're curious, the recipe can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/bkbo4c from Cooking the Books, a foodie blog by a Londoner named Joshua. The rest of the food was delicious (including the made-in-house vanilla & apricot cheesecake). We probably shelled out a little more than our other dinners, but we did split a bottle of wine, and the service, presentation, flavour and atmosphere made it all worth it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

foodie blogs unite!

I like this one: http://cheaphealthygood.blogspot.com/
I found it this morning, and it meets my self-imposed criteria of:

a) Funny. Very. Well-written, even.
b) About good food
c) Modifies recipes from other sites to make 'em at least semi-healthy
d) (Bonus) Encourages creativity, spontaneity, and other words that end in 'y'.

Here's what the contributors to Cheap Healthy Good say about the site:
"Cheap Healthy Good is a blog dedicated to the advancement of frugal, nutritious food in everyday life. All of our recipes, links, and articles go back to that main subject matter. Occasionally, we throw in some pop culture references for fun."
I have the feeling that I'll be adapting recipes from this site a lot - with proper credit, of course. Because plagiarism sucks. Even on the Intarwebs.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Green n' Cheap Kitchen Cleaner

Note: Some of my posts won't be about food. I know you're disappointed.

If there's one thing I hate, it's that fake-chemical smell of Lysol cleaners. If there's one thing I hate more, it's paying $4 for a bottle of the stuff. Plus, knowing I'm doing my little part to help make the planet a barren wasteland makes me oh so happy. So I poked around the Intarwebs, combined/tweaked a couple of recipes for "green" cleaners, and came up with the following combination. Vinegar has been proven in many studies to eliminate 99% of bacteria from kitchen surfaces. The smell makes me think of dyed Easter eggs, but it's better than Lysol. I used tea tree oil - which is also a powerful antibacterial - which helps mitigate the urge to argue with my sisters over who gets to use the purple food coloring and the white crayon.

Ingredients for Cleaner
1 part white vinegar (you know - the kind that's $.99 for a gigantic jug)
1 part water
3-4 drops dish soap (not too much!)
3-4 drops essential oil (I used tea tree, but you could also use lavender, bergamot, or other smelly stuff.) (optional)

Put all the stuff in a spray bottle (I took great glee in using an old Lysol Multipurpose Cleaner bottle) and shake it up a little.

Now go forth and...scrub.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Easy Healthy Vegetable Dip

1/4 c. Stonyfield Farms low-fat plain yogurt (or other plain yogurt of your choosing)
1/3 package Lipton Recipe Secrets Vegetable Soup & Dip Mix
1/4 t. curry powder (or to taste)
Leetle squirt of lemon juice

Mix all ingredients and let sit for a while. Say, an hour. Or a day. You want the flavors to blend and the dip mix to soften in the yogurt.

Serve with veggies or whole wheat pita triangles or something. You know - stuff you'd dip...into dip. I ate mine with celery and carrot sticks.

Makes 2-3 servings. Unless you lick the bowl. Tacky, tacky [wipes bit off chin].

Nutrition Information Per Recipe:
Calories 61
Fat 1 g
Sodium 337 mg
Fibre 2 g
Protein 3 g
Carbohydrates 8 g