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!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Update: No longer open.

For two days straight I was having naughty thoughts involving baba ghanoush from Shouk. Naughty as in good.

Shouk is a Middle Eastern restaurant and shisha lounge located at 6th and Bainbridge that specializes in small plates of Israeli food. Shouk opened February 2006, and, by coincidence, my partner and I were strolling past the first night the restaurant and lounge opened. The glowing sign of a hookah (a.k.a. shisha) hanging over the sidewalk enticed us. We were escorted past the mosaic dining tables downstairs and lead upstairs to a dark, plush, Moroccan-esque shisha lounge. As we smoked fruit flavored tobacco, hunkered comfortably in cushions, friends of the owners showed up to celebrate the opening and generously shared their wine with us.

Back at Shouk the other week, we ordered a handful of reasonably priced small plates. Let me exclaim that the baba ghanoush is dreamy! It has a smooth, creamy texture with subtle, smoky flavor and not a trace of bitterness from tahini. I would love to get this recipe. Can I pretend to be a famous magazine, call them up, and get the recipe?

Halloumi is on the menu, so we had to get that. We also ordered beet and feta salad, and tomato and carrot couscous. Everything was spectacular! The couscous was good, but probably the blandest and most ordinary dish we ordered. I was trying to see what was in the couscous, but the lights were so dim, that I could not make out the colors of the ingredients. The brighter colors of the other dishes were distinguishable, though. I wouldn’t turn the lights up, as low lights combined with alcohol (they have excellent martinis), tobacco, and hip music make for a great date.

It’s not everyday that pineapple is on a restaurant’s dessert menu, so we ordered the homemade pineapple tart. Excellent, but the side crust was a little too thick. Now, I’m just being picky! Feed me pineapple tart any day!

I can’t wait to go back to Shouk, gorge myself, smoke a hookah, and make out…with the baba ghanoush!

Shouk, 622 S. Sixth St., Philadelphia, PA, 19103, (215)-627-3344
Tues.-Thurs., 6-11pm; Fri.-Sat., 6pm-midnight; Sun., 6pm-11pm

Saturday, October 7, 2006

New Potato Pizza

I ate a lot of pizza last month, thanks to the handy-dandy pizza dough at Trader Joes. They offer plain, whole wheat, and herbed dough. Stick with the plain. The whole-wheat dough is too heavy and the herbed dough competes with toppings.

Pizza #1 – Caramelized Sweet Onions and Brie. The dough was brushed with olive oil and topped with Brie and two large, sliced, caramelized onions. (I would eat this again!)

Pizza #2 – Spinach and Feta.
The dough was topped with tomato sauce, sautéed onions and spinach, sun dried tomatoes, and feta. (Kind of ordinary. Take it or leave it.)

Pizza #3 – New Potato, Port-Salut, and Rosemary. The dough was brushed with olive oil and topped with thinly sliced new potatoes, Port-Salut, and rosemary. (The winner! This one is dinner party worthy. I was very sad when the leftovers were gone.)

New Potato Pizza

pizza dough
5-8 new potatoes, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic head, roasted and mashed
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
6 ounces Port-Salut cheese, diced or sliced
salt and pepper to taste

  • Slice potatoes and boil for 5 minutes or until just done.
  • Mix olive oil, garlic, and rosemary in a large bowl.
  • Add potatoes to bowl with olive oil mixture. Toss to coat.
  • Top pizza dough with cheese, potato mixture, and season to taste.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Luscious Young Pig Livers

I just finished off a Ziplock bag of frozen strawberries picked and given to me by my friend. Everyone reuses Ziplock bags. I’m all about recycling, but I’m not sure about this one.

I snickered when I saw the label of the previous contents. Not only did this bag once contain pig livers, but they were luscious young pig livers. Now, that’s some sweet meat!

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Raisin Kugel

I bring you the kugel – something I’m unfamiliar with. My first and only kugel was from the Famous Fourth Street Deli in Philadephia about a year ago. As far as I can tell, kugel is Yiddish/Jewish for casserole, but not just any casserole! Kugels can be sweet or savory. Kugels can be made from noodles, farfel, potatoes, or matzo.

At the beginning of the week I experimented in making a savory kugel with noodles, mushrooms, and leeks. After proudly presenting these to the boy, he said that this wasn’t right. His exact words were, “They’re OK. I can tell you made them.” Well! You could eat my fist instead!

He prefers the sweet kugels and said that savory kugels are usually made with farfel or potatoes. I guess you shouldn’t mess with tradition. I think sweet kugels taste like dessert, but they’re usually eaten as part of the main meal. I grew up eating sweet potato soufflé (essentially sweet potato pie without a crust) during the main meal, so have no space to balk.

Raisin Kugel

16 ounce package wide egg noodles
12 ounces sour cream (reduced fat works, too)
12 ounces small curd cottage cheese (reduced fat works, too)
6 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup raisins
2 cups corn flakes, coarsely crushed
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter, melted

  • Cook noodles and drain.
  • Combine sour cream, cottage cheese, eggs, sugar, and raisins in a large bowl.
  • Add cooked noodles to wet mixture in bowl and coat noodles thoroughly
  • Combine corn flakes, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl.
  • Drizzle melted butter on corn flake mixture and combine.
  • Place noodle mixture in a greased 13x9x2-inch pan. Top with cornflake mixture.
  • Bake for 1 hour in a preheated 350 degree oven.