Saturday, December 23, 2006

Top 5 Songs - #1

#1) Art Brut – Good Weekend
Whoa, I just realized there’s way too much estrogen up in this Top 5! Let’s knock the bitch level down a bit with Art Brut – sexy beer-tits and all.

OK, Art Brut’s album, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, was released in the UK back in 2005, but not in the US until 2006, but I don’t care. It’s soo good. I rocked it all 2006, and I’m gonna rock it into 2007. Try and stop me! The clever, cheeky lyrics accompanying the art-post-punk music are so enjoyable; you’ll know them all after two listens. I can’t help but laugh on the inside and sing along every time Eddie Argos shouts, “I’ve seen her naked twice!” This song charmingly captures the excitement of having a new girlfriend/boyfriend. So, once you’ve got the lyrics down, GO SEE A SHOW. It’s the most fun you’ll ever have. Just watch out for my flailing arms and bouncing body - I can be a petite powerhouse when motivated.

Happy holidays! See y’all in the New Year.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Top 5 Songs - #2

#2) Lily Allen – Nan, You’re a Window Shopper
This song gets the #2 spot because it’s currently in my head. This is Lily Allen’s hilarious – and much better – parody of 50 Cent’s song, “Window Shopper.”

Lily Allen is also at the top because she managed to get another song stuck in my head this year, as well. “Smile” was in my head this summer when I was in the UK; she was top of the pops and all over the radio. When I got back to the States, I looked her up. At the time she was streaming her entire, unreleased album on MySpace. Brilliant, love! Lily, will you be my girlfriend?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Top 5 Songs - #3

#3) Cansei De Ser Sexy – Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death From Above
CSS is the cutest, most dancy-ing band from Brazil. Their whole self-titled album is one big dance party. I was torn between posting this song and “Alala.” I finally decided. Gather tissues now for the following sob story.

I won tickets to see CSS (Exciting because I haven’t won tickets to a show since I was, like, 15), but missed them because I was dining and showed up an hour after the doors opened. What band ever starts early? Well, apparently the band they opened for made them start way early. I was sooo mad. Now, I religiously check their web site to see when they’re coming back to the US; no dates in sight. No CSS for me, but you lovely people got a restaurant review out of the evening.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Top 5 Songs - #4

#4) Peaches - Rock the Shocker
I love Peaches entire album, Impeach My Bush, but this song is the one that got stuck in my head. You can’t help but sing the song and make the hand gestures like a perverted cheerleader. Warning to the citizens of Wilmington: I sang these lyrics while at work; thankfully I don’t work with people, but squirrels were eavesdropping and taking notes. The squirrels of Wilmington now know how to rock the shocker. *No animals were hurt during the singing of this song.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Top 5 Songs - #5

I’m about to take a Xmas break, and I usually leave music up when I’m out of town. There are 5 days left until I drive my ass 12 hours to South Cackalacky…Lets all stop here and say a prayer that I don’t kill a rabbit, have my car explode, cry, get a fever, get diarrhea, puke at a truck stop, tow my car behind the largest U-haul available, and have the U-haul break down like the last time I drove home for Xmas. Anyway…I thought I’d do my own obnoxious end-of-the-year music list. I’m kinda tired of writing about food, anyway. Personally, I can’t believe I kept this food charade up for almost a year!

Starting today, and up until I depart, I’ll post a song a day from this year that made it into heavy rotation on my computer and on my car stereo - no ipod; chain saws and floppy wires don’t mix. More specifically, these songs got stuck in my head.

#5) Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Turn Into
Karen-O, you rock girl! But it’s the “pretty” song that got stuck in my head. The album, Show Your Bones, was played non-stop in my car for about 3 months at the beginning of the year. Thanks to some internet shenanigans, I got a copy way before the album was officially released. Yay, internet!

Monday, December 18, 2006


Every once in a while I’ll get on a kick where I find some food at a restaurant that I like. Then I eat it. All the time. I stop this habit when I get sick of the food, feel guilty for indulging, or am embarrassed that the employees recognize my face and know my order. I’m currently indulging in the vegetarian turkey subs at Capriotti’s and feeling guilty. I’m not sick of the subs, yet.

Capriotti’s is a chain of Italian sub shops that started in 1976 in Wilmington, Delaware. In fact, the shop I’ve been frequenting on Union Street in the Little Italy section of Wilmington is the original location. Most of the stores are located in Delaware and Las Vegas, but a handful of stores are also located in Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Arizona, California, and Florida.

Capriotti’s excites me because I can walk in and order a vegetarian turkey sub. This is not a big deal if you live in a larger city with exclusively vegan and vegetarian sub shops. I could order any variety of vegetarian subs at a half dozen or so restaurants in Philly no prob, but Capriotti’s is a manly, no-frills sub shop in middle-of-no-where towns in Delaware…that serves vegetarian turkey subs!!

Vegetarians can also order veggie burgers subs or eggplant Parmesan sandwiches. I hear these are good, but why order these when veggie burgers are the standard vegetarian option at bars and restaurants, and eggplant Parmesan sandwiches can be had at any Italian joint.

Capriotti’s, and the fact that they sell vegetarian turkey subs, is not new to me. I’ve eaten a few over the years. I just never find myself in the area of a Capriotti's during eating hours. I take snacks to work, and don’t really take a lunch break, so these things don't help the probability of me eating at Capriotti’s. Recently though, their vegetarian turkey subs have been my food kick, and I’ve been going out of my way to eat there.

The real turkey subs are Capriotti’s mainstay. They don’t use processed deli meats, but roast fresh turkeys daily and hand carve the meat. The star of their menu is the “Bobbie” – a Thanksgiving inspired sandwich with turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing. I’d love to try this with veggie turkey, but the stuffing isn’t vegetarian. Ahh, you can’t have it all!

I’ve been eating a sub constructed with veggie turkey, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, sweet peppers, and Russian dressing. I order my sandwich to go, run home, and pop that baby in the microwave to warm the turkey and cheese. It’s pure love. Big love, too. The small is 9 inches. I could eat half for lunch and the other half for dinner...if I possessed self control.

I’m running out to get a sandwich as soon as I finish writing this. I’m not kidding, either. This love affair is starting to get embarrassing.

Capriottis, mine is open Mon-Sat,11am-7pm, but call your location.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Tale Of Two Cookies

It’s not Christmas if I don’t make sugar cookies exactly as I did when I was a child. This means the exact recipe, rolling pin, cookie cutters, and sprinkles my mom used. Absolutely no frosting allowed!

One of my first cooking memories is of making Christmas sugar cookies with my mom - creaming the sinful combination of sugar and shortening in a bowl; rolling blonde, soft dough with a heavy wooden rolling pin, flouring green and red plastic cookie cutters shaped like candy canes, Santa Claus, and snowmen; pressing the cookie cutters into the dough – hopefully none stick, but some do; sprinkling green and red colored sugar crystals over the cookies and into the depressed patterns left by the cookie cutters; baking until the edges hint of gold; then eating warm, sugary cookies straight from the oven.

I found myself making rugelach the same day I made sugar cookies. I have no memories to share of rugelach, but I can share my recent experience of baking rugelach for Hanukkah. Rugelach is definitely fancier than the sugar cookie and the process is much more involved.

As I chilled the dough for eight hours; divided the dough into four; rolled the dough into perfectly thin rectangles; spread the rectangles with jam, raisins, walnuts, and cinnamon sugar; tightly rolled the dough up into logs, all the while taking the softened dough in and out of the refrigerator to chill, I wondered if this cookie was too difficult for a small child to make? Do people have fond memories of making rugelach as a child like I have of sugar cookies? At first I didn’t think I would put a small child to the task of making a cookie so involved, but then I countered that children enjoy copying and participating in their parent’s activities. If your mother made rugelach, you made rugelach along side her. And, of course, you have fond memories – it’s a cookie!

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Boiled Peanuts

Listen up, 24-hour party people! I know you’re in the midst of partying your brains away during this holiday season, and are out of ideas for hor d’eouvres. Bet you never thought of boiled peanuts! Don’t retch. It’s good. I swear. And it’s as addictive as chocolate covered crack. Mmm.

Boiled peanuts are common in the Deep South; sold at roadside stands and gas stations, and served at backyard parties. The best ones are ladled from pipin’ hot kettles and eaten while still warm.

Boiled peanuts are made by boiling green peanuts (a.k.a. fresh or raw; not roasted) with salt in a large pot for a few hours. When ready you crack open the shells and suck out the warm, soft, salty peanuts. If you like peanuts or sucking edamame from their shells, you’ll like boiled peanuts. In fact, I don’t know of a single person that doesn’t love them. Don’t believe me? Make some and watch your friends frantically pop boiled peanuts in their mouth like cracked-out fiends.

Where do I find green peanuts?
If you live in the Deep South, you’ll find them at the grocery store. Elsewhere, look for them at ethnic markets. I’ve had luck finding them at Asian markets and Latin American markets. They’re not available all the time, so snag them when you see them. Can’t find? Order some.

Boiled Peanuts

  • In a large pot, cover green peanuts with enough water to compensate for water boiling off.
  • Add salt. A rough guide is ½ cup salt for 4 pounds of peanuts. Salt levels are subjective. Add less to start, and adjust to taste.
  • Simmer for 3-4 hours. Individual peanuts will soften at different rates, so sample to see when to stop cooking. You want the peanuts to be soft, but not mushy.
  • Drain and serve.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Progressive Dinner

Photo by caryn74

OK, call me sheltered, but I’ve never heard of a progressive dinner. At first, thoughts of a dinner set to a tortuous avant-garde jazz soundtrack entered my mind, but not so. Instead, imagine if a potluck had a baby with a pub crawl.

I was introduced to a progressive dinner this weekend by a couple whose neighborhood association puts together the event. The idea of a progressive dinner is that the dinner progresses from house to house, and from course to course. One house hosts the first course; the next house hosts the next course, and so on. Host houses, how many courses, and the length of each house visit are determined beforehand. The work is kept minimal for each household, the party moves on, and things stay fresh. Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of this – or at least hear of this?

A progressive dinner would work well in a neighborhood where people know each other, or as a way to get to know your neighbors. December is pretty much the get-drunk-and-party month of the year, so you might want to think about giving the progressive dinner a try. Just attaching the word “progressive” to your party will make it that much cooler.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Govinda's - Philly Cheesesteak

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Govinda’s on South Street in Philly. Govinda's is a puzzling mish-mash of vegetarian Indian dining upstairs (Govinda’s Vegetarian) and a vegetarian sub shop downstairs (Govinda’s Gourmet To Go.) I was completely confused the other day when I walked into Govinda’s for a sandwich and found the lower sandwich shop gone, but the upper Indian restaurant still open. I walked out disappointed, hopped in the car, pulled around the corner, and, to my delight, found that the sandwich shop had relocated a few doors down at the corner of South and Broad streets. I’m not sure when the relocation happened, but better signage - or any signage - at the original location of Govinda’s would be a smart idea.

The new Govinda’s Gourmet To Go has a long counter with sandwich fixings behind the glass partition, an open grill on the back wall, and a small glass case filled with vegan desserts. Adjacent to the counter are a handful of two-top tables and a beverage refrigerator. Govinda’s looks like your basic, no-frills sandwich shop with the exception of a small, more formal dining room at the end of the building.

Taking my sandwich to go, I hung around to watch the sandwich being made. The sandwiches at Govinda’s are delicious, but my one gripe is skimpy fillings. In the past, I would scrape the innards of my sandwich from one half of the hoagie roll and put it on the other half to create a better filling to bread ratio. I had no filling to bread ratio gripe this time. The sandwich constructor hollowed out the hoagie rolls and filled the sandwich liberally.

I’m still not convinced that the Philly Cheesesteak is a great sandwich, but, in the spirit of assimilation, I keep trying them. I’m pleased with Govinda’s vegetarian Cheesesteak, but the house gravy that is ladled on the soy meat and peppers while on the grill has a mysterious flavor. The flavor is reminiscent of Chinese Five-Spice, but I’m not sure. The sauce is tasty, but I don’t think it would be considered a traditional Cheesesteak sauce.

The chicken salad sub with soy meat, celery, and soy mayonnaise is my favorite, so I ordered one of these, too. Again, props for substantial fillings. They must have been out of celery that night, as I was disappointed to see bell peppers instead. The peppers provided the necessary crunch, but, in my opinion, it’s not chicken salad without celery.

I’m so happy that Govinda’s sandwich division didn’t disappear. Now that I know exactly where you are, I’ll be back for the yummy, fat sandwiches. Stock up on celery, though. Thanks.

Govinda’s Gourmet To Go, 1400 South St., Philadelphia, PA 19146
Phone 215-985-9303
11:30am-11pm; Fri-Sat: 11:30am-Midnight; Sun: 11:30am-10pm

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Cranberry K-nowledge

Photo by bcmom
- Raise your hand if you can tell me which US state produces the most cranberries.
- Ooh, ooh, me, me! New Jersey!
- Sorry, that’s incorrect. Can you name another state?
- Ummm. I give up.

This is the only season when fresh cranberries are readily available in the stores. Did you ever stop to think where they come from? When a friend brought me back a gift of cranberry confections from Oregon today, I exclaimed, “Who Knew!” I’m certain I would have known that cranberries grow in Oregon if I had grown up in the Northwest. Gawd, I hate failing tests.

Oregon’s not at the top of the list, though. Wisconsin blows everyone out of the water.

NASS 2006 forcasted cranberry production in barrels.

  1. Wisconsin -3,750,000
  2. Massachusetts - 1,750,000
  3. New Jersey - 490,000
  4. Oregon - 485,000
  5. Washington - 160,000
Ocean Spray’s live bog cam. Don’t fall asleep.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Mac & Cheese Finder

This site gets a lot of hits for macaroni and cheese recipes. I feel bad for these lost souls clicking on misleading search results, so I did a little legwork. Some of the queries are a little puzzling, but this is what people are looking for.

Martha Stewart - Basic one, but her site -duh!- lists many.
Paula Dean - Right here, sweetie.
Star Jones - This one was hard to find.
Rachel Ray - Recipe-o for M&C.
Elvis - Couldn't find; he's dead. You'll have to buy the book.
Betty Crocker - Not a real person, but...

Southern - See Paula Dean.
Soul - See Southern.
Deep Fried - See your doctor!
Greek - Who knew!
Cold Salad - See here and here.

Gouda - Smoked or Aged?
Havarti - Have at it.
4-Cheese - One, two, three, four.
Feta - See Greek
Cream Cheese - Just cream cheese or with cheese.
Cottage Cheese - Low-fat and not-so-low-fat.
Real Cheese - Put down the box.
Sour Cream - See Paula Dean.

Cornflakes - Crunchy tops here and here.
Mayonaise - Think pimento cheese and something else.
Coconut Milk - Intriqued? Scroll down.
Sundried Tomatoes - Here.
Rosemary - Here.
Curry - From scratch or altering boxed.
Sugar - Here and here.

Eggs - Stay away from Southern-style.
Grit - Again, put down the box.
Dairy - Here, here, and here.

Wine - It's actually on a chart. Scroll down to pasta.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Seitan Turkey

After last year’s tofu turkey left us wanting something meatier, we tried making a similar concoction, but with seitan. So, here we go...

I'd heard good things about VWaV seitan, so I made a batch. I turned the gluten dough out, and, great mother of God, if it didn't have fully developed left and right hemispheres!

Then I followed these procedures to make a turkey loaf. Press the doug
h out to form a rectagle.

Wrap the slab of dough in cheesecloth, covering the bottom, top, and edges. This is so the dough will not stick to itself when rolled up.

Roll dough, and tie loosely with string to allow for expansion.

Go back to the VWaV recipe and boil as directed - drop in cold water or broth, bring to a boil, simmer for 1 hour, and cool in broth for 30 minutes.

Pull it out of the
broth. Ooow, it expanded! Slightly.

Unroll the seitan and remove the cheesecloth. Crap! The seitan fell apart. There went my plan to make a roulade.

So, I just slapped it on top of the stuffing and tucked in the edges. Oh yeah, make about 2 cups of your favorite stuffing.

To immitate the texture of turkey skin, use those crazy-large sheets of yuba. I used frozen, so no need to hydrate the dried form.

Cut the yuba to fit your turkey and tuck the edges in. Use one or multiple layers of yuba, brushing each layer with butter or oil. I used two layers of yuba.

Glaze that baby! I made an impromptu glaze from tomato paste, orange marmalade, garlic, soy sauce, and something else? Use your favorite glaze.

Bake at 350 º for 1 hour. Slice it, serve it, and you should get something similar to the very first photo in this post.

*Whoa! That seitan was salty! I followed the VWaV seitan recipe, which calls for soy sauce in the dough and soy sauce in the simmering broth. I opted for vegetable broth instead of water in the simmering broth. That was salt on salt on salt. Next time I'd skip the vegetable broth or use a no-sodium vegetable broth.

*Yuba! You're such a funny little guy. You feel like plastic and taste like nothing, hence I can mold you into what ever I want. The yuba picked up the flavor from the glaze and was given a nod by a meat-eater. Meat-eater said it was chewy just like real skin. I didn't give it a nod because it doesn't stick to the seitan like real skin. Cut the turkey and the skin slides a
ll over the place. I'd use yuba again as turkey skin if I could glue it down. Don't know how, though.

*Otherwise, this year's turkey was good.

Next Year
I'm going to try Bryanna's soy and seitan turkey. This woman has devoted her life to fake meats and probably has this one down. I saw this recipe after I had my plans, but could not bring myself to abandon mission. Must. Follow. Through.

Have a lovely Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Tofu Turkey

Tofurky Roasts allows vegetarians and vegans to take part in holiday feasts without feeling left out. Nothing worse than a crying vegan! Tofurky Roasts are dense, football-shaped loaves of gluten and tofu, filled with stuffing. Quite tasty, but a bit pricey.

Last year we decided to try our hand at making a tofu turkey. The recipe we used called for blending tofu and seasonings together, pressing the tofu into a mold, filling with stuffing, and baking. We nicknamed our tofu turkey “The Brain” for obvious reasons.

"The Brain" was an unappetizing color, even with a glaze. There must be some way to add color. Maybe a little soy sauce blended with the tofu?

While this recipe was flavorful after extra salt, garlic, and spices were added to the tofu, the texture was not meaty enough. To remedy the lack of meatiness, we vowed to make a seitan turkey in 2006. True to our word, we did.

Stay tuned for “The Brain of Seitan”…

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Massaman Curry

Want to make Thai curry that tastes like the ones you eat at restaurants? The secret is to use the same curry paste and tofu as they do.

Grinding curry paste with a mortar and pestle is a lot of work. Make life easy and use the Maesri curry pastes. That’s what restaurant’s use. I’ve asked.

You can’t miss the small cans of Maesri curry paste in the Asian market; there’s a picture of a woman on all the products. I like to think of her as the Betty Crocker of Thailand. (Be careful with these curry pastes if you’re vegetarian, as some contain fish.)

Go ahead and buy fried tofu, too. Because, unless you have a deep fryer, you’re not going to fry up tofu in a skillet and get the same texture you get at restaurants.

I wanted to be lazy and just link to a Massaman curry recipe, but I couldn’t find one as easy as the one I use. So, damn it, I have to write it out. Of course, I’m subbing Maesri Massaman curry paste.

The recipe is adapted from Thai Vegetarian Cooking by Vatcharin Bhumichitr. This beautiful book, filled with vegan Thai recipes, was given to me in the early ‘90’s. Unfortunately, it is out of print, but you can find it used. These recipes are the real deal - not hokey, vegan re-do’s of Thai food.

Massaman Curry

Massaman curry is traditionally made with meat, potatoes, and peanuts, but feel free to add vegetables. I recommend trying it without vegetables first. Use full fat coconut milk for the best flavor; it makes a difference. I use reduced fat coconut milk when I make it for myself, but full fat when serving the dish to others. It’s impossible to make food and not eat it right away, but save some for lunch. The flavors are vastly superior the next day.

2 tablespoons oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 ounces Maesri Massaman curry paste
8 ounces coconut milk
⅔ cup peanuts or cashews
1-2 potatoes, chopped into 1 inch cubes
1 ⅓ cups ready-fried tofu
3 shallots, sliced
1 tablespoon tamarind juice, or lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar

  • Heat the oil and fry the garlic until golden.
  • Add the curry paste, stir briefly, and then add the coconut milk. Stir well.
  • Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are cooked al dente.
  • Serve over rice.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Siam Lotus

I judge Thai restaurants by two things – Pad Thai and Massaman curry. Massaman curry is a Muslim-influenced, Thai curry that contains the aromatic spices cardamom and cinnamon. I haven’t had the Pad Thai at Siam Lotus, but I've heard it's good. The Massaman curry is one of the bests I’ve had. So many places do it incorrectly – usually too watery and no depth of flavor. Siam Lotus’ Massaman curry is thick, rich, and right on.

Siam Lotus is on an uninviting block of Spring Garden St. - not that any block on Spring Garden is attractive. At night, neighboring businesses are locked down, and you feel as if you're in a desolate area of the city even though you're only minutes from Center City. Get past this, and enjoy some tasty Thai food surrounded by schizophrenic decor - homey, cute wainscoting and mod, plush wall hangings. A small bar and a DJ table up front transform the restaurant into a nightclub. I just went for the food, though.

Siam Lotus, 931 Spring Garden St, Philadelphia, PA, 19123
Lunch -Tues.-Fri. 11:30AM-2:30PM; Closed Mon., Sat., Sun.
Dinner - Sun., Tues.-Thurs. 5:30-10:30PM; Fri.-Sat. 5:30-11PM; Closed Mon.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

New Food Sites

Yahoo! launched a food site, Yahoo! Food, last week. It’s full of recipes and celebs like Martha Stewart and the Rachel Ray – two women you hate to love, and love to hate. Yahoo has partnered with Epicurious, Food and Wine, Cook's Illustrated, and others. There’s so much going on with the site layout that it’s going to take me a while to get familiar with it.

Yahoo! Food will be a place to look up recipes. Try not to get sidetracked, because there’s way too much shit there. Chow launched last month, and aims for a more hip crowd with entertaining man-on-the-street videos and podcast interviews with Top Chef losers. They have recipes, too, and their already popular Chowhound forum.

Chow will be a place to get sidetracked; it’s a lot of fun. Look up a recipe while you’re there.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Green Tomato Pickle

I’ve been waiting to harvest the end-of-the-season green tomatoes that won’t ripen - not to fry them, but to make green tomato pickles. When I visit my dad, he always has homemade pickles, chutneys, and hot sauces in the pantry. He could survive forever on the many jars of pickles and cases of wine stored in his closets.
This is a sweet pickle he devised from a handful of recipes. Follow the recipe, and you’ll have enough to can. I’m not going into canning, but if you’re interested Not prepared to can? Reduce the recipe to make just enough for one container, and eat it within the next couple of weeks. That’s what I did, because when the apocalypse comes and the terrorists win, I’m looting! First stop: dad’s house.

Green Tomato Pickle
makes about 6 pints

1 peck or about 40 small green tomatoes, sliced thinly
4 cups onions, sliced thinly
4 cups sugar
4 cups white vinegar
2 tablespoons celery seed
1 bay leaf
1½ teaspoons ground mustard
¾ ounce mustard seed
12 whole cloves
8 allspice seeds

  • Alternate layers of tomatoes and onions on a large platter. Shake salt on each layer like you’re salting a meal.
  • Cover platter with plastic wrap and store overnight in refrigerator. Salt will draw moisture from the tomatoes and onions, so place platter on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any water that may spill.
  • The next day, drain tomatoes and onions in a colander.
  • In a large pot, add the tomatoes, onions, sugar, white vinegar, celery seed, bay leaf, ground mustard, and mustard seed. Place cloves and allspice in a cloth bag, and add to the pot.
  • Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.
  • Spoon into sterilized canning jars and seal.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Pesto Three Ways

I rarely eat pesto, so…I delved into a basil pesto project to see what I was missing.

Personal Findings
- I don’t really like pesto on pasta. I prefer pesto as a spread on sandwiches or thinned down as a sauce on vegetables. I also don’t like oily pesto. All the recipes I used/adapted called for minimal oil.

Classic Pesto – I used this recipe, but halved the amount of oil. Classic!

Vegan Tofu Pesto - I used the pesto part of this recipe and added sun-dried tomatoes. I liked the creaminess that the silken tofu added. Unexpectedly, the sun-dried tomatoes did not add much flavor. Red + Green = Brown ! Blech.

VWAV Hybrid Pesto – I combined the miso and cilantro from this recipe (There’s a misprint in the ingredient list. Mint should be cilantro) with the nutritional yeast and extra garlic from this recipe. The miso provides the salt and depth of flavor that Parmesan cheese would provide. Nutritional yeast also provides depth of flavor. In a re-do, I would omit the cilantro, since it’s flavor is negligible, and tone down the garlic.

Winner – None! They all tasted fine. Get the garlic, salt, and oil levels to your liking. The two vegan pestos did not lack anything that Parmesan cheese would provide. The addition of cilantro, sun-dried tomatoes, or other ingredients cannot compete with the strong flavor of basil. If you want sun-dried tomatoes, for instance, make a pesto heavier on tomatoes than basil.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Colorado Food. Ehh.

I would like to say that I ate something of interest while away, but I can’t. I ate airport food, a chicken-tainted burrito, a microwaved-to-hell burrito, a Dairy Queen Blizzard, food from a hotel breakfast buffet, and food from a wedding buffet. No pictures warranted.

This view of Pikes Peak from Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs was the best thing. Eat it up!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Trader Joe's Frozen Mac 'n Cheese

I spied a new TJ's product the other day – frozen mac ‘n cheese. Ya know I picked it up to give it the ol’ chew and review!

The visible cheese hunks in the picture on the box look enticing, and the ingredient list is simple: macaroni, milk, Cheddar cheese, Havarti cheese, Gouda cheese, Swiss cheese, flour, butter, rice starch, salt, and spices.

The recommended 25-minute bake time at 375º won’t cut it. At 20 minutes, I poked my head in and the dish looked almost identical to it’s frozen state – pale pasta and cheese not thoroughly melted. So, I cranked the oven up to 500º for the last 5 minutes. This made the cheese bubble and the pasta crispy around the edges. 1 or 2 additional minutes on broil to brown the top, and you’ve got something that looks homemade.

How did it taste? Pretty damn good! It has real cheese that you can see, and the four-cheese blend was strong enough to bring zing to the pasta. Portions are right on – two good-sized portions per box. I, of course, ate both! If I were jonesin’ for mac and cheese, I’d definitely buy this for a quick fix.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Freezing Basil

Winter is coming for my basil, so I better save it, too. Freeze or dry? Freezing preserves the flavor of basil well, while drying does basil no justice. Now the only problem is deciding how to freeze basil. What ever you do, know that frozen basil will never look like fresh basil. So, don’t even think about using it as a garnish or in a salad mix.

– Prevents basil from darkening when frozen. No matter what method you use, frozen basil will darken or blacken if you do not blanch it first. Drop fresh basil in boiling water for 10-15 seconds, drain, and shock with cold water. This sounds like a lot of trouble, but it only takes 5 minutes.

Not Blanching – What’s a little black basil in spaghetti sauce? Shouldn’t be a problem, unless presentation is a factor.

Whole - Stick whole leaves in a freezer bag or container in the freezer. Thaw and do as you please with them.

Chopped - Chop now, take it easy later.

Water - Another method is to freeze chopped basil covered with water in ice cube trays. Each cube yields easy to use portions of 1 to 2 tablespoons of basil. Freezing larger portions in larger containers is also an option.

Oil – Running basil through a food processor with a little oil, is another way to prepare basil for freezing in ice cube trays or larger containers.

Pesto – Don’t stop at oil, go ahead and make pesto to freeze. (Don’t add cheese until ready to use, as freezing changes the texture of cheese.)

My preferred method is freezing blanched, chopped basil in ice cube trays topped with water. (This may stain and impart flavors to the ice cube tray.) The cubes are handy when you don’t need a lot of basil, and basil without oil is more versatile and kinder to my ass.

  • Wash basil and drain.
  • Blanche and shock basil.
  • Chop or run basil through a food processor.
  • Pack ice cube trays with about 2 tablespoons chopped basil in each cube and top with water.
  • Freeze.
  • Pop frozen cubes out, and store in a container.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Stringing Chili Peppers

Winter is coming, which means doom, gloom, death, and destruction. Can you tell how I feel about the subject? Well, my peppers feel the same way. Don’t let your chili peppers freeze on the bush and turn into mush. Bring them inside to dry for use year round.

Last year I dried my peppers on the kitchen table. They stayed there. For a year. This year I took ten minutes out of the day to string the peppers. Much prettier!

Ripe chili peppers
Sewing needle

  • Pick ripe red peppers, leaving the green cap and stem in place. (Green peppers dry to an unpleasing color.)
  • I don’t wash the peppers until I actually use them, but you may pre-wash them if you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

  • Thread a sewing needle and tie a knot at the end. Um…how?

  • Pierce the pepper with the needle through the red flesh – not the green cap, as the cap may separate from the pepper when dried.***Push the needle straight through the pepper and the peppers will stick straight out to the sides. (Top row)Push the needle at an angle through the pepper and the peppers will point downward.(Bottom row)

  • Push each pepper to the knotted end of the thread.
  • When the strand of peppers is to a desired length, tie a knot at the top, leaving a loop to hang the strand of peppers on the wall.

  • Hammer a nail in the wall and hang up your strand of peppers in a cool, dry place. (I added a raffia bow.)

Note to self – Don’t hold needle in mouth. Hot!