Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Green Tea Cake

I just TJ-hoarded…again! That’s what one must do when one fears the demise or long absence of a product at Trader Joe’s. And the sad thing is that I hoarded without even knowing if the product was going to be good. Luckily the green tea cake mix I just found on the “New Items” end cap turned out to be good.

Always check the “New Items” end cap to see interesting new arrivals. (Like the dried hibiscus flowers that I’ve yet to use.) These items may make it into the regular rotation, or TJ’s may make it walk the plank.

My intuition tells me that this is not going to be a smashing hit with the general public, and will disappear when the initial lot is sold. Ppsh, the general public does not know what is good for me! I love green tea flavored anything. My survival instincts kicked in and I hoarded.

The mild green tea flavored cake would be excellent with ginger sour cream frosting. The cake looks greener than the picture on the box and the picture I took, so would be excellent for a funky cake.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Challah Back, Yo!

The Jewish High Holy Days are going on this week, so I made my boyfriend challah. Challah is traditional Jewish sweet bread often eaten on Shabbat and on holidays. Always wanting to make braided bread, I figured now was the time. Although not Jewish, I do worship French toast - challah’s second calling.

Challah is typically braided, but during Rosh Hashanah it is baked in a spiral to symbolize the cyclical nature of life, and the hope that the coming year will be complete and unbroken by misfortune. The addition of raisins is common and represents the sweet New Year, but I was drinking and dancing in the kitchen so forgot to add the raisins. Damn, I already screwed up my Jewish New Year. Oh well, my intentions were sweet.

I used the challah recipe in Baking with Julia and all went well. The bread rose higher than any bread I’ve made, but deflated when I applied the egg wash with my hands. I need to work on “gentle touch” and purchasing a pastry brush. I’m such a beast.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Food History

I added a most fascinating site under the Tools heading in my sidebar – The Food Timeline. This is a site created by a reference librarian with a passion for food history. You can click on a food item on the timeline and view it’s history. Hours of educational fun for the whole family!

It amazes me that someone thought to harvest wheat, grind the seeds into flour, add water, and heat the dough to make bread. So much more tasty than chewing heads of wheat.

Not nearly as in depth, but worth a peek, is the Smithsonian’s Key Ingredients: America By Food. (Not in sidebar.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I'm Not In Kansas Any More

While at the bluegrass festival I tried two things I’ve never had before. Fried pickles and Indian Tacos. (Sorry, no pictures of either.With my vodka i.v. in place and thousands of people surrounding me, I didn’t think it wise to break out the camera. I have a tendency to drunkenly misplace my camera.)

Fried pickles are reportedly a Southern tradition famously enjoyed by Elvis. I’ve never had them or even seen them in the most hole-in-the-wall soul food joint in the South. I’m sure fried pickles are out there, but don’t think that people eat these things regularly. Why? It ain’t fried chicken, people! It’s just a pickle with fried batter - essentially a hot pickle that makes your hands greasy. Recommended if you’re fond of pickles and you salivate for greasy bar appetizers.

Indian tacos are fry bread smothered in beans, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese and other traditional taco fillings. Fry bread is a Native American, fried, unleavened bread made from wheat. Not bad for festival grub.

I also stopped at Sonic for a lemon slush and tatter tots. This is the first time I’ve actually eaten anything at Sonic, but I used to suck on lemon slushes in the 100-degree summers in SC. My summers here have been void of lemon slushes. There aren’t five Sonics in every town around here like in other parts of the US. The closest one to me is 50 miles away.

The piece de resistance… two versions of mac and cheese made by my boyfriend’s mother! (Hi Evy.) One was made Southern-style and topped with onions and crumbs. The other was made with a cheese sauce and topped with horseradish and crumbs. Unfortunately, she has set the precedent and I no longer will accept invitations to dinner unless I get two pans of mac and cheese. Don’t worry if you can’t cook. I’ll begrudgingly accept a box of chocolates, too.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Chermoula Butter

Summer’s almost outta here and I’m shedding a tear. I love the heat and hate the cold. My fingers, toes, nose, and ass? get cold the second the thermometer hits 74ยบ. I sniffle non-stop until next spring. I’m an annoying, whining, sniffling ice cube for six months straight. I have to listen to annoying, whining, sweating people the other half of the year, so it’s all fair.

With the end of summer I say goodbye to my favorite vegetables. Bye tomato. Bye cucumber. Bye Okra. Bye corn. Bye green beans. Love ya. Miss ya. See you next year.

The peak corn season is past for most of us, but you might still be able to find a few local ears of sweet corn. If you like butter on your corn (I like mine straight-up), here’s a Moroccan influenced chermoula butter to slather it with.

Chermoula Butter

1 stick of butter, softened
1tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
zest and juice of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon paprika
2 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ cup cilantro, chopped

  • Place softened butter in a bowl and mix the remaining ingredients into the butter.
  • Place butter in a serving bowl or wrap butter in plastic wrap and roll into a log.
  • Chill butter in refrigerator until hardened.
  • Skip the serving bowl and refrigeration if you just can’t be bothered about presentation and are ready to eat that corn right now.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Mushroom Festival

When I first moved to the Northeast for school / work, I moved to Kennett Square, PA – otherwise known as “The Mushroom capital of the World.” This weekend, I went to the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival.

Kennett Square and the immediate surrounding area in Southeastern, PA produce 40 percent of the mushrooms consumed in the United States. Most of these mushrooms get slapped with a sticker from Dole - the main distribution company - so don't disclose their PA origin.

Mushroom production in the area started more than a century ago with Quakers growing mushrooms underneath carnation beds. Italian immigrants were then employed in mushroom farms. Now, the descendents of those Italians own most of the mushroom houses and employ mostly Mexican immigrants. Mexicans, though, are beginning to own and operate their own farms.

Having lived in Kennett Square, PA and Avondale, PA for three years, I know what mushroom farms smell like. It’s not pleasant, if you’re wondering. Imagine a nose burning perfume of manure, rubber, and asparagus tainted urine. What smells is the fresh medium on which the mushrooms grow – a mixture of hay, manure and water.

While I was in school, I had the opportunity to tour some farms and learn about mushroom production. Quite fascinating! The Button, Portabella, and Crimini mushrooms most commonly found in stores are grown in shallow beds of compost in a sort of bunk bed system inside low, windowless, cinderblock buildings. The compost is inoculated with mushroom spawn. Mycelium (fungus roots) then grow. Little white mushrooms, or “pins” then appear. These tiny mushrooms grow into larger mushrooms and are then harvested about 4 to 11 weeks after the growing process starts.

"Pins" to the left and mycelium on the right.

Specialty mushrooms (Shitake, Oyster, Maitake, Enoki, etc.) are grown differently. After having toured the farms, I understand why these mushrooms are more expensive. Shitakes are grown on little composite loafs of oak sawdust and must be rotated by hand. Oyster and Maitake mushrooms are grown in plastic bags filled with sawdust. Enoki are grown in plastic jars. These loaves, bags, and jars take up more space, require different growing environments, and are more labor intensive – hence the higher price in the store.

Beech Mushrooms

Shitake Mushrooms

Grey Oyster Mushrooms

While at the festival, I indulged in fried mushrooms - something I rarely do - and cream of mushroom ice-cream! If you learn anything from Iron Chef America, it's that anything can be made into an ice-cream. Last time I went to the festival I had pumpkin mushroom ice-cream, but the pumpkin ice-cream was too spicy for me to taste the mushroom. This year I tried cream of mushroom. It wasn't bad. It tasted like sweetcream ice-cream with a hint of mushroom soup. There were, of course, hunks of button mushrooms in the ice-cream.

We left with three packages of mushrooms - Oyster, Pom Pom, and Maitake. We briefly thought about making mushroom fajitas, but with all the stroganoff being made out there, I knew exactly what I was craving. Damn, that VWaV stroganoff recipe is good. The only alteration I made, other than mushroom variety substitution, was to replace the soymilk with sour cream.

Friday, September 8, 2006

Kitchen Moonlighting With Etsy

Think your jams are jammin’ and your sweets are su-weet? Well, you can sell your goods right out of your home on the awesome Etsy site.

Etsy is sort of like Ebay, but sells only handmade goods and there’s no bidding. Most of the stuff on the site is crafty/arty, but homemade foods are also listed in the Plants and Edibles category. Anything from jams, cookies, fudge, dried herbs, tea blends, chocolates, and even recipes are for sale.

Things seem to be catching on over there.
When I first checked the site a couple of months ago, there were only about three pages of listings in the Plants and Edibles category. Now there are about 30 pages of listings.

Their shop-by-color product finder is so much fun. You'll be mesmerized by colored dots while waiting to see what matching items pop up. Have fun searching while you make money off the 40 jars of jalapeno jam you made.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Udon Noodle Salad

This meal came about because I had a lone zucchini in the fridge. I like to use fresh Udon noodles because they cook faster than dried noodles (severe patience problem). Other vegetables and other noodles may be substituted.

Udon Noodle Salad

1 pound Udon noodles
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon grated ginger
¼ cup chopped scallions
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 ½ cups carrots, zucchini, and cucumbers cut into matchsticks

  • Cook Udon noodles as directed. Rinse with cool water, drain, and set aside.
  • To make the sauce mix: rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, chili garlic sauce, sugar, grated ginger, scallions, and sesame seeds in a bowl.
  • Add carrots, zucchini, and cucumbers to sauce. Stir to coat vegetables with sauce.
  • Add the cooked Udon noodles to the sauce and vegetables. Toss noodles to coat.
  • Serve immediately or chilled.

Monday, September 4, 2006

Labor Day Pig-Out

I did some serious carb-loading this Labor Day weekend. First, I cooked a butt-load of mac and cheese -two large pans to take to two parties and three small pans to freeze for myself.

I tried out Paula Dean’s recipe for mac and cheese. It’s very similar to my mom’s recipe. In fact, Paula is very similar to my mom. Slap some black hair on Paula and give her a breast reduction and that’s basically my mom after she’s had one glass of wine. The only difference in Paula’s recipe and my mom’s is Paula’s inclusion of sour cream. I honestly couldn’t tell the difference. There were some other tweaks I added to Paula’s recipe - like more cheese and more milk. I could just tell that there wasn't enough cheese or milk.

I attended three! potluck-style dinners where I ate a month’s share of pasta salad. Oh, I loved it, though. I also ate coleslaw, deviled eggs, and loads of different homemade desserts - all my favorite.

Yeah, that’s what holidays are for! I'm fat and happy.

Saturday, September 2, 2006

Fun Food

I found some fun things to make this holiday weekend. First is faux-fun sushi made from cake and candy over at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories.Next up are the super cute caramel apple cupcakes at Cupcake Bakeshop.

One day I'll get to these, but not this weekend. I have about 20 pounds of mac and cheese to make for two parties. Yep, I'm getting my procrastinating ass off the computer right now!