Thursday, August 31, 2006

Heinz's Thai Mean Beanz

While grabbing the canned mac and cheese from the selves of Waitrose, I also grabbed a can of Heinz’s Thai Mean Beanz for curiosity’s sake. Mean Beanz is a line of beans sold in the UK that add different ethnic spices to traditional baked beans. They also have Jalfrezi, Mexican, Sweet Chili, and Tikka.

Baked beans remind me of lunches prepared by my brother when he looked after me in the summer. Had I been born twenty years later, I think my parents could technically have been arrested for letting my brother baby-sit me. Never the less, when he wasn’t farting on my head or flinging ninja stars at me – bet you forgot about those bad boys - he would do sweet things like open a can of baked beans, throw in some cut up hot dogs, and we would eat beenie-weenies together. Good stuff!

After suffering a disappointment with the canned mac and cheese, I wasn’t too sure about the Thai Mean Beaz, but…they rocked! The beans were sweet like all baked beans, but had strong hints of ginger, lemongrass, and coriander. I can’t say the baked beans tasted anything like Thai food, but they had a very intriguing flavor. These are baked beans inspired by Thai spices. Good Stuff!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Don't Fear The Caper

I can’t say that I’ve encountered too many capers in my life. Restaurants claim to put capers in my food, but I’ve never noticed. I’ve actually never cooked with them until the other day. A jar of capers has been coldly glaring at me from the fridge door for about two years. I couldn’t take the evil eye anymore, so incorporated the capers in couscous stuffed peppers. (No, those capers aren't huge. The pepper is tiny.)

Photo by Stuart in Brighton
What is a Caper?
Oh, this is fun stuff! A caper is the pickled or salt preserved, unopened flower bud of a shrub (Capparis spinosa) originally from Western and Central Asia. Capers grow wild in the Mediterranean (a.k.a. weed), and are also cultivated in Southern Europe. When allowed to flower, the resulting fruit is called a caper berry. Caper berries are larger than capers and similarly preserved.

Flavor and Use
Capers contain bitter oil similar to those found in cabbages and mustard, and this flavor may peak through the pickling. Don’t let this put you off trying capers. Capers are slightly spicy, and tangy and salty due to pickling. Caper berries have a stronger flavor. Be sure to wash the brine from the capers to get a truer flavor.

Capers are most commonly found in Mediterranean cuisine. I like to think of capers as funny, little olives. Capers are peppery, pungent, piquant, tangy, and tart. They can be added to sauces, salads, meats, and vegetable dishes.
Caper Recipes

Size Does Matter
The smaller buds are tender and aromatic, while the larger buds are stronger in flavor and less aromatic. The smallest are Nonpareille (from France) and the largest, Grusas (from Italy), are the size of a fingertip.

Nonpareille – 0 to 7mm
Surfines – 7 to 9mm
Caupcines – 8 to 9mm
Capotes – 9 – 11mm
Fines 11-13mm
Grusas 14mm and larger

Other Edible Unopened Flower Buds
The most familiar are artichokes, and the tops of broccoli and cauliflower. Cloves are also unopened flower buds that have been dried. Not so commonly eaten unopened flower buds are pickled daisy buds, pickled nasturtium buds, pickled chicory buds, dried dandelion buds, dried daylily buds, and steamed sunflower buds.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Evil Weevil

Pantry half empty?
I found weevils in my pantry today while I was baking. Maybe they were beetles? I didn’t fish out my hand lens and kill jar for scientific exploration. I just opened up all sorts of packages and ditched those crawling with critters, then emptied my pantry and cleaned the shelves.

This happens every few years. Throwing away food is more of a disappointment than finding the bugs is a shock.

Perfectly good food – well, minus buggies - thrown away:
2 bags of all-purpose flour
1 bag of flour made from southern wheat (I can’t replace this until I visit home.)
1 bag of whole-wheat flour
1 box of grits
1 bag of nutritional yeast
1 bag of sushi rice
1 box of long-grain rice

Or pantry half full?
My pantry is now clean and better organized.

Bug i.d. for future entomologists and control for aspiring domestic engineers.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Toscana and the Fig Pizza

Pictures are poor due to low light and my refusal to use a flash at restaurants.

A while back I thought I would make a fruit pizza. My imagination and efforts resulted in a sugary pie of repulsiveness. I held hope that a fruit pizza – something other than pineapple - could be pulled off. In my next experiment, I let someone else try their hand at melding fruit, cheese, and bread into a pizza.

I’ve been thinking of trying Toscana Kitchen and Bar, an Italian restaurant in Wilmington, on recommendations from a friend. It has taken me almost two years to get there because I don’t get too excited about Italian restaurants. Why? Because I’m jaded. I once dated an Italian chef. I’ll tell you right now that, with few exceptions, food at a "great" Italian restaurant is humdrum. I don’t know if they’re keeping secrets or if they’re just churning out what Americans think is Italian food. (The one Italian restaurant that I can truly recommend is La Ruota in the tiny Chesapeake Bay town of Chestertown, Maryland.)

Back to Toscana…I had heard that the restaurant was kind of happening and could be busy on Fridays and Saturdays. The restaurant has a snazzy bar, but who doesn’t? The dinning room certainly had many diners, but was not full. This brings me to my gripe of sitting couples at two-top tables. Two-top tables are very small. Once you get water glasses, wine, and appetizers on the table, all must be arranged like a jigsaw puzzle to fit. Bring out the oversized entrée plates and you’ve got a puzzle that can’t be solved. So, please don’t sit me at a two-top unless the restaurant is truly crowded.

Toscana not only sat me and my partner at a two-top when there were plenty of other tables open, they sat us in a corner behind the wall of the server’s computer station. I’m not that ugly, nor was I inappropriately dressed.

While perusing the menu, we started with a bottle of wine that took it’s sweet time arriving. We chose an appetizer special of smoked mozzarella that the server hyped by telling us it was flown in from Italy daily. I can take mozzarella or leave it. It doesn’t have much flavor, but how could we resist really special mozzarella. The mozzarella had no smokiness that we could detect and the really fresh stuff is quite squishy.

I ordered their figaro pizza. This pizza comes with fig puree, Gorgonzola, crisp pancetta, and truffled honey. I passed on the pancetta. The pizza set down in front of me wasn’t actually mine. Another server apologized and whisked it away to return with my fig puree pizza. With the first bite I could taste and smell the honey and Gorgonzola. I actually like this combination. The honey and cheese together was subtly sweet. The fig puree did not cover the pizza entirely, thank goodness. The pizza would have been too sweet if it had. The fig puree combined with the honey was verging on too sweet for me, and I like sweet things. One of the two, honey or fig puree, needed to be removed from the pizza.

My partner had the fettuccine with English peas, Gorgonzola cream, and shaved Reggiano. There could have been stronger flavors of Gorgonzola in the sauce, as it tasted more like a bland cream sauce. Reaching for pepper to spice the fettuccine, he found no salt or pepper on the table. We scanned nearby tables thinking that our table was just too small to include such standards, but there were no shakers to be found. We had to ask for pepper and our server had to grind it for us. Please don’t make me ask for pepper and salt. Salt and pepper is not exotic, so I’m not falling for the haute image you’re trying to create. Plus, it makes me feel like a child.

Toscana – it’s an Italian restaurant. Probably better than most, but I’m jaded.

Review addendum. I changed my mind. I can do that.

Toscana Kitchen and Bar, 1412 N. DuPont St., Wilmington, DE, 19806, 302-654-8001
Lunch: Mon.-Fri. 11:30a.m-2p.m., Dinner: Mon.-Wed. 5p.m.-10p.m., Thurs.-Sat. 5p.m.-11p.m., Sun. 5p.m.-9p.m.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Collecting Coriander Seeds

Do you have cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) in your herb garden? If you do, you also have coriander. When eaten, the leaves of this plant are called cilantro, while the seeds are called coriander. If you can refrain from eating all of your cilantro, you’ll also reap the rewards of coriander.

An even better reason to let your plant go to seed is to grow more cilantro. Cilantro is an annual with a very short life span. The best way to assure a steady supply of cilantro is to plant seeds every few weeks. You can harvest cilantro leaves about 40 days after seeding. A clump of cilantro will produce lots of seeds that mature in about 120 days after seeding. These seeds are easily harvested and also germinate easily.

You’ll collect a lot of seeds, so will need somewhere to store them. I store seeds in either Chinese envelopes I purchase at Asian markets or origami envelopes that I make myself. I actually make origami drinking cups instead of origami envelopes. I like the cups better than envelopes. After filling the cup with seeds, just take one of the flaps of the cups and fold it over the top to seal the seeds in. Tape to seal unless you want seeds spilled everywhere. The packets then go in the refrigerator. The cool environment preserves the viability of most seeds for up to five years.

Here's an animated tutorial on making an origami cup.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Happy Birthday, Mayonnaise!

Unless you were tuned into NPR this weekend, you might be belated in wishing mayonnaise a happy birthday. In celebration of this vinegar, oil, and egg emulsion, I actually got a present in the mail!

A new, 32-ounce jar of Duke’s mayonnaise arrived on my porch this past Saturday. With only minor jeering from an ex boyfriend in South Carolina, I requested a jar of mayonnaise to restock my fridge. See, it is wise to remain friends with exes.

Let’s tally my mayo consumption for this year. I brought two 32 ounce jars home with me at the start of the year from my Christmas travels, my mom shipped me two 16 ounce jars this spring, and I’m currently working on the 32-ounce jar from my ex. That’s a total of 128 ounces, or 8 pounds of mayonnaise. I’m the only person in the house, so a “household” is not consuming this …and the year is not over yet!

I couldn’t find data on the average amount of mayonnaise consumed by one person in one year. I’m suspecting that I consume more than average. I did find sites praising and warning against the oils and fats in mayo. This site not so subtly hints that mayo makes you fat, but I’m proof that mayo does no such thing. I just eat the light version and go on with my merry, mayo-inclusive life.

Happy Belated Birthday, Mayo!
Love, Taylor

Monday, August 14, 2006

Canned Mac and Cheese

Curiosity got the better of me, so I purchased the can of Heinz macaroni and cheese that called to me from the shelves of Waitrose. I knew it couldn’t be good, but maybe it would surprise me and be not bad.

What was going to be in the can when I popped the lid off? Would it be fluorescent orange like mac and cheese from a box? Would it be gelatinously creamy like Velveeta? Oh my god, what if it looked like homemade and had real hunks of cheese! Wouldn’t I be sorry that I bought the small can?

I pulled back the pop-top lid with excited nonchalance to be greeted by elbow macaroni swimming in whitish, pale yellow, goopy sauce. So, it’s going to be more of a creamy Velveeta experience, I thought. The suspense was killing me, so I forwent the heating process and dove in with my fork.

My first flavor recognition was of metal! I have fond memories of the tinny taste that metal cans impart due to my love of Del Monte pudding that used to come in those little cans. Pudding now comes in plastic cups and just doesn’t taste the same.

Other than the metal taste, I’d have to say that the mac and cheese experience was rather bland. I can’t say it tasted like cheese and the texture of the sauce was like watered down cream of mushroom soup concentrate. This mac and cheese is comparable to hospital food or cafeteria food. I don't even think Heinz's suped-up recipe could save this product.

Yep, my pessimism served me well. I’m so glad I didn’t buy the big can. The only great thing about this product is that if you were stranded without a can opener or other tool, you can pop the top and not starve to death.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Find Local Food

Since row homes aren’t conducive to vegetable gardens and I don’t see myself moving in the near future, I’m stuck without a garden. The few ornamental vegetables I sneak into my client’s gardens and one client’s abundance of apples – Who the hell plants an orchard at a residence they visit 20 days out of the year? – can’t replace the joy of having my own glut of produce.

Farmer’s markets are an option. The really close ones to me are during the week and have midday hours, which is great if you are unemployed! I can’t get there and I even work for myself and can do what ever I please! I'm more sensible than that, so I go to work.

I’ve been digging the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) option, thanks to the introduction and experiences at Café Cyan. If I’m invested in a farm then I have motivation to pick up my produce. Plus, CSA farms usually have convenient Saturday pick-ups for the employed.

I looked around on the computer for local CSA’s and came up short. I found some, but they were a little far away. Thanks to an article this week in City Paper (a local Philly rag) about eating locally, I found a good tool to locate CSA’s, farmer’s markets, food Co-ops, and U-pick farms across the nation. Well, wouldn’t you know it? There’s a CSA farm two miles from my house!! Here’s the tool.

Looking at the dot-density map, you’re shit out of luck if you live in the middle of Nevada, but the good news is that you don’t live there!

Monday, August 7, 2006

Ginger Granola Bars

I adore ginger. Ginger jam on bagels, pickled ginger with sushi, Moravian ginger cookies, chocolate covered ginger… You get the idea.

I devised this recipe after being inspired by ginger granola bars I bought from the grocer in the UK. I’ll eat chewy or crispy granola bars, but I prefer chewy. These are chewy and don’t require baking – perfect for hot summer kitchens. One caveat: Keep these stored in the fridge if your kitchen is warm or the sugar/honey binder warms up too and the bars crumble.

Ginger Granola Bars

½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup butter

teaspoon cinnamon
1 ½ cup oats
1 ½ cup cereal (I used Kashi GoLean)
½ cup raisins (substitute dried fruit of choice)
¼ cup crystallized ginger, chopped finely
¼ cup sunflower seeds (substitute nut of choice)
  • Combine brown sugar, honey, vanilla, butter, and cinnamon in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 2 minutes or until sugar is dissolved. Cool completely.
  • Mix oats, cereal, raisins, crystallized ginger, and sunflower seeds in a large bowl.
  • Mix the brown sugar mixture into the oat mixture.
  • Spread mixture into a buttered 13x9 baking pan and press down firmly.
  • Refrigerate for 2 hours.
  • Cut into bars.

Friday, August 4, 2006

Homegrown Tomato Sandwich

Yay! My first tomato of the season ripened this week. These were hard to come by, though.

, I live in a second floor apartment. I’ve had a vegetable garden every year since I was a teenager. I now grow one tomato plant in a pot on my fire escape and one tomato plant in a square of dirt next to the front sidewalk. It’s a far cry from a vegetable garden, but I WILL have tomatoes.

Secondly, I didn’t start my own seeds this year, so bought plants from a nursery. I bought a cherry tomato and an early ripening variety. Or so I thought! Those cherry tomatoes kept growing into big tomatoes. God knows if the early ripening one was labeled correctly because nothing came early! First tomatoes in my area come around July 4. Despite the recent heat wave in everyone’s memory, this spring and summer was cool in my area– not good for speedy tomato growth.

Photo by jbweir
Thirdly, a tomato hornworm defoliated half of my tomato plant on the fire escape. In umpteen years of gardening, I’ve never been afflicted with these mythical monsters. They’re huge, have a hook on their ass, can defoliate an entire plant in 24 hours, and rear up to fight when you touch them. Mine went flying off the fire escape, although, I should have done this to the bastard.

Fourthly, I have tomato theft issues. Demented squirrels run off with the tomatoes on the fire escape. People strolling down the sidewalk pocket the ripe tomatoes out front, so these must be picked before they completely ripen on the vine. Even homegrown tomatoes taste like crap if they don’t ripen on the vine.

Defoliated tomato remains. Who says you need means to harness energy from the sun? Go tomato, go!

Sooo…you can see why I’m ecstatic. And I was in even more ecstasy as I ate my first homegrown tomato sandwich of the year. Mayonnaise (Duke’s of course), pepper, and tomatoes are all that go into it. Pure summer bliss! So good I ate two of them!

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Couscous Salad with Halloumi

This recipe is adapted from BBC’s Good Food magazine, which is quite nice. Sadly, a year’s subscription in the US currently costs £55.35 - a little more than $100.00. Sticker shock!

This was my second experience with Halloumi and my first experience with harissa paste. I liked this recipe a lot. I especially liked the yogurt dressing. I would recommend doubling the dressing just incase you like it as much as I did and want to smother the couscous with it.

Couscous Salad with Halloumi

2 cups couscous
2 cups water or vegetable stock
1 package Halloumi cheese
6 ounces plain yogurt
1-2 teaspoons harissa paste
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 roasted red peppers, fresh or from a jar
4 artichoke hearts, sliced
fresh greens to garnish

  • Poor boiling water or vegetable stock over couscous. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes until all the stock has been absorbed.
  • Cut Halloumi into ½-inch slices and grill or fry for 2-3 minutes on each side.
  • Combine yogurt and harissa paste in a small bowl to make dressing.
  • To assemble the salad, fluff couscous with a fork. Mix chickpeas, peppers, and artichoke hearts into couscous. Top with Halloumi slices and greens. Drizzle yougurt dressing over salad and serve.

Don’t have harissa paste? Make your own.

Don’t like spicy food? Substitute mint or some other herbs and spices for harissa paste.

Halloumi stuck to grill or pan? Make sure cooking surface is very hot before cooking. The cheese will release itself when it’s ready.