12.08.2009

Beer!

Ugh, it's been a month since my last post. Sorry for such a long delay, but I've been preoccupied with finding a job and getting my portfolio site setup.

My husband's hobby of home brewing is starting to rub off on me. This past month I brewed two beers: one we call Gwenirium Tremendous (a Delirium Tremens clone) and an organic brown ale (a test batch for the organic chai ale for my sister and her boyfriend).

The Gwenirium Tremendous was brewed a couple weeks ago (I think?) and we bottled it into beautiful 750ml Belgian beer bottles, complete with corks and cages. The beer is in our attic "cellar" working on it's carbonation, in the meantime I will work on designing labels. I hope to have it all put together to send out for the holidays, and will hopefully be fully (or mostly) carbed in time for consumption on Christmas!

The organic brown ale doesn't have a name yet because it's still a wee little one. Last week I brewed a three gallon batch using grain instead of DME (that's dry malt extract...what you get from grain, then dried). The brewing went very well and my original gravity was almost spot on.

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Original gravity is a measure of the sugar content before fermentation (density of fermented beer - or wort in brew terms - compared to the density of water). With this number you can determine the approximate amount of alcohol after fermentation and how much residual sugars there will be. Lower sugar...less alcohol. More sugar and either the yeast will consume most of it to make a high alcohol beer or the yeast won't be able to consume it all and quit, leaving more residual sugar. All depends on the yeast strain. That's my limited knowledge of gravity...read more here.
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The organic brown now resides in our closet and is mostly done fermenting. We had a taste of it tonight and it has a very pleasant brown sugar taste to it. Not sure what we'll transfer it to when it's done...bottle into 12oz bottles ooooor perhaps put it into our little corny keg to keep on tap in out mini fridge. Now all I need to do is come up with a name for it...any suggestions??

Sorry...no photos this time. Fermenting beer is not very photogenic! I'll post photos of the Gwenirium Tremendous when I have labels on 'em.

Next post will most likely be Christmas related...my mother-in-law is kidnapping me to help with holiday prep work which will involve food, food, and more food!

11.04.2009

Pasta


I want to try making staple pantry items, so I've started with pasta. Seems easy, right? Well, without the aid of a pasta maker, rolling out the dough proved to be very tricky.

The Ingredients

2 cups AP flour
3 eggs
Pinch of salt

The ingredient list is so simple, but you can jazz up the pasta with things like spinach, tomato, squid ink...I'll get into flavored pastas in another post, after I've had time to test them.

The Process

1. On a clean, dry surface, mound up the flour and make a little well in the middle.
2. Crack eggs into a separate bowl. Check for bits of shell. Pour into the well. Sprinkle with salt.
3. Beat the eggs using a fork. Start drawing in flour from the edges of the well.
4. Continue drawing in flour until all ingredients are combined. If the dough looks dry, add a little water, if the dough look wet, add a little flour.
5. Knead dough for 10 minutes. This can also be done in the mixer with a dough hook.

Now here's were methods diverge...

If you have a pasta maker and know how to use it...USE IT!

I didn't have one so I used the manual method. It is necessary to pull the dough with one hand as you roll it out with the other. This helps to break the elasticity of the gluten so that you can roll it out flat without it snapping back into a blob.

This was very tricky and gave my arms a good workout!

Once the dough is thin enough - about 1/8 inch - use a pizza cutter to cut the dough into a rectangular shape. Next, you can use a straight edge - i like the edge of a flexible cutting board - cut the dough into desired widths. When cutting by hand, it is easier to make wider pastas like linguine.

Right away, or save for later?

If you want to use the pasta right away, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add salt - not a pinch, a couple tablespoons - and cook the pasta, stirring occasionally, for 3-5 minutes. It doesn't take long for fresh pasta to cook so keep an eye on it or else it will turn to goo.

If you want to save it you have a couple options. Drape the pasta over a skewer or chop stick supported by two tall glasses. You can let them dry and store in a zip-top bag for later use.

-Or-

You can wrap a several strands of pasta around your fingers and layer them between waxed paper in a resealable container. You can either stash them in the fridge and use in a week, or put them in the freezer and use in a month.

Enjoy!

10.23.2009

Ack!

Ok, ok...I'm sorry! There will be taste bud tantalizing posts in the near future. I promise!

Vaughn and I are mostly unpacked. I've been trying to find work and going through my nesting phase of the move. Unfortunately I seem to have misplaced the USB cable for my camera when we moved.

And what's a food and photography blog without delicious looking photos?!


...just a bunch of words.

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On another note...

Today I was flying home via Columbus from a lecture at Ohio University. I was making my way through security and just before I got in line for the metal detectors, my cousin Beth pops up! She was with her sister Kim and were enjoy a cup of coffee before going through security. I got out of line and sat down to chat for a little bit. We got onto the topic of cooking because they both love to cook and enjoy checking out this blog. They suggested that I write a cookbook and take photographs for it, so I've been kicking that idea around in my head since then.

If I were to write a cookbook, it would have to be titled Gwen in the Kitchen. I'm no five-star chef whipping up masterful creations with top-quality ingredients. Just an everyday person in the kitchen, armed with self-taught culinary knowledge and the essential tools of the trade.

I want to share with others my passion for food without the fuss. Delicious, simple recipes that anyone can make. I want to show people how to eat consciously by knowing where their food comes from and how it impacts the world. There will be an emphasis on vegetarian, flexitarian, seasonal, sustainable, and local ways to enjoy food.

Who knows if I will actually write it, but it seems like a fun goal to work towards.


9.20.2009

On hold

Just for a little while.

My husband and I have been caught up in our relocation to Milwaukee. Vaughn was recently hired to work at a home brew store that is opening a new location in the Milwaukee area. For the past couple of weeks we have been taking trips up there and scouring the area for apartments. We finally found a second floor flat in a very nice neighborhood. And the kitchen! Very nice compared to the other apartments we have lived in and looked at. Here's a photo...


Plenty of cabinets and counter space. Newer appliances - big side by side fridge with handy ice/water dispenser. Glass top electric stove, which will take some getting used to. At least the heating element in the oven is at the top...the gas stoves in other rentals I've lived in had the heating element on the bottom, so browning anything was a nightmare and broiling took place too close to the floor for comfort. Ick.

We move in on Thursday (huzzah!), so I can't promise much in the way of posts until we get set up. Perhaps a few blurbs here and there.

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This weekend we are visiting our friends in Athens and will be eating at our most beloved restaurants and drinking at our usual bars.

We headed straight for the Union when we got into town late last night. The Union has a newly renovated bar downstairs for those who just want to hang out and drink, and a bar upstairs in their venue space so you don't have to run downstairs for a drink and miss a band's set.

When I first came to Athens, the Union was filled with burly biker punks up to their necks in tattoos with cigarettes dangling from their lips. The scene has changed over the years and is now a popular haunt for the "hipster" kids to hang out, listen to bands and drink pitchers of PBR. This is probably a result of ACRN, the university's student run radio station, hosting numerous shows at the Union. That's alright by me though, the burly biker punks can hang out at the Smiling Skull Saloon, which has the reputation of being a biker bar anyways.

Later today I will be meeting friends at Jackie O's (formerly O'Hooley's and still sometimes call it that). They are proud to be Athens' only brewpub and offer a wide and ever changing assortment of craft beers, as well as delicious food including their beer batter fish and chips and handmade pizza on spent grain crust.

Through the back there is a beer garden, perhaps the best in town because it's filled with locals and a laid back crowd instead of frat dudes and sorority chicks. It became one of our favorite spots this past year for post-class lunch (or dinner) and beer outings. Post-class...I swear! Especially wonderful after my 1pm-10pm days of back to back art classes. No break for lunch, or dinner, and I was quite frazzled by the end of the day. Beer me!

That reminds me, Jackie O's bought the space next door, where Skippers Bar and Grill used to be, and have begun working on the space. This is great because Jackie O's currently has eight booths outside and four booths, two tables and a handful of bar stools around a tiny bar inside. The are installing a long bar with many taps (20 maybe? not sure) and a lot more seating. It will be much more comfortable, especially on nights when there's a game on.

That's all for now, but probably another post later this weekend. Stay tuned!

9.04.2009

Summer Berry Trifle

Got day-old French bread? Make something other than French Toast...

Fresh pint of heavy cream from Blue Marble Family Farm...purchased that morning from their booth at the Evanston Farmers Market.

Vaughn didn't want a traditional cake for his birthday, so he decided on this Summer Berry Trifle from Fine Cooking Magazine. Best thing is...you don't need to turn on the oven.

Summer Berry Trifle
Serves 10-12

1-1/2 quarts mixed fresh berries (hull and quarter strawberries), plus extra berries for garnish
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbs. granulated sugar
4 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1 lb. day-old French bread, crusts removed, crumb cut into 1/2 -inch cubes (5 to 6 cups)
1/2 cup Grand Marnier or Cointreau
1-1/2 cups heavy cream

Heat the berries and 3/4 cup of the sugar in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until they start to release juice but are still whole and intact, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger and pour the mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet to cool.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss the bread with 5 Tbs. of the liqueur. In a chilled metal bowl with chilled beaters, whip the cream with the remaining 3 Tbs. liqueur and 1 Tbs. sugar to almost-stiff peaks.

In a 2- to 2-1/2 -quart clear glass bowl, layer in the following order: 1 mounded cup of bread cubes, 1 cup of berries and juices, and 1 cup of whipped cream. Repeat 3 times—you should have 12 layers total. For the final layers, use all the remaining bread, berries (and their juices), and whipped cream.

Cover and refrigerate until the juice has completely softened the bread, at least 4 hours or overnight. Garnish with fresh berries before serving.

Enjoy with good friends...

8.27.2009

Beer Tasting: IPAs

Vaughn and I had a very informal beer tasting last night...we were mostly just enjoying new beers and taking a few notes as we sipped. I'm not as educated in beer as Vaughn is, but I took a stab at sounding like I knew something. Here goes nothin'!

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Mikkeller Warrior Single Hop IPA: 6.9% ABV, color of orange blossom honey, faintly hoppy nose with slight malt aromas, starts with a bite and ends with a caramel finish.

Mikkeller Cascade Single Hop IPA: 6.9% ABV, same orange blossom honey color, clearer (bottom of the bottle last time), sweet bottle conditioned Vienna malt in the nose, starts with a bite that doesn't fade quickly, funky earthy flavor like figs that aren't quite ripe (sweet but green), we don't think it survived the journey judging by the funk.

Southern Tier Un*Earthly Imperial IPA: 11% ABV (!!), smaller, tighter head, paler orange color, citrusy nose, sweet sweet sweet, slight brown sugar taste, very complex flavor from the hop bill however thin body, pretty easy drinking for the alcohol and hop content.

8.26.2009

Sweet Tomato Tart with Rosemary Apricot Glaze


Hooray for rainy days!

A couple weeks ago Vaughn was working on a beer and I was making pie crusts. I took a big scoop of his spent grain and incorporated it into the wheat pie crust that I was making. The crusts went into the freezer for a rainy day...like today!

Sue, my mother-in-law, bought a couple pecks of tomatoes at the Evanston Farmer's Market this past Saturday and needed to use them soon before they go bad. Flipping through Barbara Kafka's cookbook, Vegetable Love, I came across an interesting recipe for a Sweet Tomato Tart. How could I resist? The pie dough recipe is my own since I couldn't find a recipe that incorporated spent grain. It turned out very well!

Whole Wheat Pie Dough with Spent Grain
Yield: 2 8-inch crusts

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2-1 cup spent grain
1 cup unsalted butter, chilled
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
1 Large egg yolk, beaten
1/2 cup ice water
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Combine AP flour, WW flour, spent grain, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until combined.
2. Add chilled butter and vegetable shortening. Pulse until it resembles course meal.
3. With the food processor running on low, slowly pour in the ice water until the dough starts to form into a ball.
4. Remove the dough and place into a zip top bag. Form the dough into a ball and press into a round disc.
5. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
6. Place dough on a floured surface and roll out until about 1/4 inch thick.
7. Place dough in a pie or tart pan and refrigerate for 30 minutes or seal with plastic wrap and freeze for later use.

*Before using the crust, blind bake in a 400 degree F oven for 10-15 minutes.

Sweet Tomato Tart
Yield: 8 servings

4 large beefsteak tomatoes, sliced thin (I used 8-10 plum tomatoes)
2 tablespoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons orange zest (I didn't have oranges so I sprinkled orange juice over the layers)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons currant jelly (I used rosemary-apricot jam because it was on hand)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

1. Slice tomatoes and let drain in a strainer or colander
2. Combine lemon zest, orange zest, and brown sugar in a bowl.
3. Layer tomatoes in the bottom of the cooled crust. Start from the outside and work your way in, overlapping slightly.
4. Sprinkle half the zest/sugar mixture over the first layer.
5. Add a second layer of tomatoes
6. Sprinkle the rest of the mixture over the second layer.
7. Add the third layer.
8. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool slightly on a rack.
9. Turn the broiler on low.
10. Heat the jelly in a small pan over low heat or in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
11. Brush the top of the tart and crust liberally with jelly.
12. Place under the broiler until the jelly just starts to bubble.
13. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before serving.


Hope you enjoy this recipe!

8.25.2009

Off to Belgium in Our Minds

My husband Vaughn's birthday is this Saturday and plans are in the works for his special dinner. We were thinking of going to the Hopleaf, but since there will be six attending we figured it would get too expensive. So instead, we are going to cook a Belgian feast and accompany the spread with Belgian brews.

Why Belgian? First, Vaughn brews beer and the Belgians are renowned brewers. Second, Belgian food is delicious. The food has a strong French influence, with a hint of German and Dutch cuisine...mostly French, but it lacks all the pretentiousness.

To prepare, we have been looking for Belgian recipes and cookbooks. We ordered Everybody Eats Well In Belgium by Ruth Van Waerebeek and Maria Robbins. This book sounds delicious and gets rave reviews, even from people who live or have lived in Belgium. Bonus: it's in English and the measurements aren't metric!

We also found The Belgian Cook-Book by Mrs. Brian Luck and published in 1915. It has authentic recipes, although some of the terms are a little hard to get used to. For instance, she writes "pips" instead of "seeds". We enjoyed this quote from the preface:

"A shelf of provisions should be valued, like love-making,
not only for itself but for what it may become."

I will write more once we figure out Saturday's menu and I'll most likely post some photos, so check back soon!

8.24.2009

Recollections of My Childhood and Thoughts on Seasonal Produce


No matter the season, it is always summer in the produce section of your neighborhood grocery store. Even on the coldest days of winter, when the mercury dips below freezing, you can find a plethora of produce that makes you forget there will be a foot of snow waiting for you on the car by the time you get through the checkout. We have become a season-less nation thanks to imports from warmer countries, hydroponics, and hothouses.

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Growing up, I was well aware of the seasons. I grew up on a a small farm on the far side of east Cleveland. There were no chickens scratching or pigs wallowing (at least not when I lived there), but there were fruit trees - hundreds of them.

My dad was hired on in the early 1980's to help take care of small farm for the owner, Marian Ginn Jones, daughter of Frank Hadley Ginn and wife of William Powell Jones. We lived on the farm in the little gatehouse at the end of the drive. Mrs. Jones, a wonderful old woman, let us roam around, climb the apple trees and eat any of the produce. Growing up on the farm spoiled me rotten when it came to food.

In the spring I would climb into my favorite apple tree by the drive and look out over my domain. Little pink buds unfurled their petals on the tips of gnarly gray apple branches to cast a rosy haze over the farm. This was the first and most exciting sign of spring.

Early summer warmth coaxed the petals to drop and blanket the ground with a carpet of pink and white. Little green apples began to form in their place and we would watch with anticipation as the green slowly turned to vibrant reds, yellows and blushed greens.

When the first of the apples were ripe, we would shimmy up the trunks and perch in the shade of the leafy branches as we munched away at the sweet, juicy, sun-warmed flesh. We would bash the fallen apples on the fence post and share our bounty with the horses, our little hands stretched out the way we were taught so the horses didn't mistake our fingers for carrots.

Apples were plentiful well into the chillier months of fall. My dad would load up the truck bed with bushels upon bushels of apples to take to the local cider presser and the fruit was magically transformed into thick, hazy, brown cider. "The good stuff" as we called it. A few years ago the presser was forced to close because of new pasteurization laws. Since it was a small operation, the owner just didn't have the funds to purchase the new equipment. No more of the good stuff.

Throughout the winter my dad would bring up gallon jugs of cider from the basement freezer for a treat. After spending hours in the snow making forts and throwing snowballs, we were greeted with mugs of hot cider and spent the evening around the fire.

Late winter and early spring was pruning time. My dad would spend the entire day, or as long as he could stand the cold, pruning back the trees. He would often greet us at the end of the day with a chilly hand down the back of our sweaters.

Then the cycle would repeat itself. There's something comforting about the repetition of the seasons and watching an apple go from bud, to blossom, to baby, and into my mouth when ripe.

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To my readers, I challenge you to step back from the produce at the store and think about what you are about to buy.

Ask yourself: what's in season, where did the produce come from, will it be at its peak freshness and ripeness?

Shop your local farmers market or participate in a CSA program. That way you can be sure that the food you are buying is the freshest it can be instead of picked, packed, stored and shipped from another country halfway around the world .

Take your kids - or grand kids, nephews, nieces, cousins - to a pick-your-own farm so that they can experience where their food comes from. If you live in the Cleveland area, I highly recommend visiting Patterson's or Eddy's fruit farms - I would go there every fall with my family, friends, or on class trips.


Thanks to my dad, Dennis Mastrangelo, for the photos.

8.10.2009

Photo Shoot with Chef Sophia Boesenberg

On Saturday morning I made my way to Skokie to meet up with Chef Sophia Boesenberg to take photos of her food. Sophia, a young professional personal chef, recently moved to Chicago from Portland where she received her culinary arts degree at Le Cordon Bleu. This was a great opportunity for the both of us - she needed photos for her cooking portfolio and I needed photos for my...well...photo portfolio.

I didn't ask for any kind of compensation since I'm just starting out in this whole food photography venture, but she did feed me and send me home with a partial wheel of Camembert! And I must say, the food was delicious.

Look up Sopie if you're in the Chicago area and in need of a personal chef for your next special dinner!

Here are the photos from the shoot:
(please note: display colors may vary)











8.05.2009

Nectarines!



I don't get it. Some of the images I upload get funky looking and are lot nicer in the original file.


8.03.2009

Peaches!


It's so hard to buy a good peach from the grocery store these days.
They always look promising, but end up being bruised and mealy.

Fortunately, on our trip through Michigan, Vaughn's mom lead the way to a little fruit stand called Fruit Acres Farm Market & U-Pick. The stand is located in Coloma, conveniently located right off of I-94 at exit 39.

There was a bountiful selection of fresh, local fruits and veggies at very good prices. There were also imports, like bananas from Columbia and avocados from Mexico, but we were there for the local goods.

We picked up a half bushel of early peaches for an astonishing $10. What a deal! These were the juiciest, sweetest, most delicious peaches I have ever tasted (besides the ones from the farm I grew up on).

I spent a good chunk of the day prepping the peaches for freezing since we can't eat an entire half bushel before they spoil. Here's how I did it:

1. Wash the peaches, no matter how clean they look!

2. Blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds to soften the skin for easy peeling.

3. After removing from the boiling water, submerge peaches in ice water to stop them from cooking all the way through.

4. Quarter peaches and remove pit and skin.*

5. Slice into desired widths.

6. Place peaches into a labeled zip-top freezer bag.

7. Sprinkle citric acid, ascorbic acid, or lemon juice** over the peaches, zip up the bag, and toss to mix thoroughly.

8. Unzip, squeeze out all of the air, and re-zip.

9. Place bag into a baking dish, cookie sheet or whatever fits into your freezer and place the lot of it in the freezer.***

Notes:

* There are two kinds of peaches: free stone and cling stone. The pit of the free stones will be easy to remove. If you find yourself with cling stone peaches, just cut around the pit with a pairing knife. If you try to pry the pit out of a cling you'll just end up mangling the fruit.

**Acid will keep the peaches from browning. I like Ball Fruit-Fresh Produce Protector. Follow the directions on the package.

***Why? So the bag doesn't conform to the wire rack in the freezer and get stuck. Also serves as a safety net just in case there are any holes in the bag.

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I put five cups of peaches in each gallon bag. One bag = one pie! I have enough to make five pies...but that can get boring. Perhaps a cool peach smoothie made with yogurt and fresh mint and basil. Or a peach and mango salsa to serve on grilled chicken or pork. Better still, a bowl full of frozen peaches, slightly thawed, to munch on in summer's sweltering heat!

My next step: prepping pie crusts and freezing them!



7.29.2009

My Thoughts About Food

On our road trip to Lake Erie, my husband Vaughn and I started listening to Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. Between buzzing through Chicago traffic and meandering through mundane corn and soybean fields, my mind focused on Pollan's thoughts on food.

I started to think about why I eat the way I eat, and why my views are changing...

Why do I use butter instead of margarine?

Why do I eat so much salt?

Why am I so picky about where my food comes from?

More to come on this topic...

7.25.2009

Pie Extravaganza!

This morning I dragged myself out of bed a little earlier than usual to go to the Evanston Farmers' Market with my in-laws Gary and Sue and my husband Vaughn.

Oh the plethora of goodies!

The market was in a parking lot behind a parking garage and in front of the building where Sue works. There were about 30+ vendors from Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. It was about double the size of the Athens Farmers' Market!

Vaughn and I were amazed by 1) the amount of produce 2) the variety of produce that each vendor had. We bought several kinds of lettuce that we had neither tasted, seen, nor heard of before. To or bag we added little golden plums that both Vaughn and I mistook as huge golden cherries.
Cherries

Plums

The other things we bought were shitake and crimini mushrooms, various cuts of beef, some raspberry jam, and sour cherries and tart Lodi apples for pies.

After picking up a fabulous cherry pitter and a silicone baking mat I set to work pitting the two quarts of cherries while Sue went running.

When she returned I made dough for the crust (following Alton Brown's recipe) and Sue prepped the cherries and apples for pie stuffage.

The cherries were surprisingly sweet for being sour cherries. The recipe called for ... 1 1/4 cups of sugar! We nixed that only added a half cup, which was plenty!

Here's the result:


Something fishy is going on with the color and quality of the photo on here. This upload looks a lot different from the image on my computer...

Once I figure that out and fix it I'll post a new one!

7.24.2009

Chocolate Pasta

Rossi Pasta of Marietta, Ohio makes pasta in a wide variety of flavors.

50 and counting...

While browsing the local section of Kroger in Athens, Ohio I spotted a delectable rarity. Their Chocolato Cabernet Tagliarini is concocted with dark cocoa powder and Cabernet Sauvignon grape seed flour for a flavorful finish.

Chocolate and wine packed in pasta form is much too hard to resist!

I bought a package and looked up recipes online when I returned home. Much to my dismay most of the recipes were for dessert preparations doused in chocolate syrup and piled high with raspberries! I must confess that I'm not big on sugary sweets - GASP! - unless really in the mood for them.

I took this as a challenge and decided to create my own recipe that incorporates this pasta varietal.

After my first sampling of duck at Méchant Boeuf in Monteal and my recent encounter with quail at the Hopleaf in Chicago, I realized that either bird would be a tasty accompaniment to the pasta. Both have very rich, succulent dark meat that leans toward the sweeter side, more so the quail though.

I have also recently tried whole fresh Mission figs and discovered their delightfully light, slightly sweet and almost grassy flavor.

While browsing through the Joy of Cooking today I came across a recipe for Pan-Seared Duck Breasts with Fig and Red Wine Sauce.

Perfect!

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Begin by prepping the Fig and Red Wine Sauce:

Yield: 6 servings

This sauce can be made a week ahead and kept in a covered container in the refrigerator. If possible, use the large Calimyrna figs rather than the smaller, darker Mission figs.

Combine in a medium saucepan:
2 cups fruity dry red wine, such as a Zinfandel
1/4 cup duck or chicken stock or broth
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
One 2-inch strip lemon zest
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 bay leaf
Pinch of ground cloves or allspice

Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Add 16 dried figs, stems removed.

Return the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently until the figs are very soft but still retain their shape, about 45 minutes. If the liquid reduces to less than 1 cup before the figs are soft, add a little water.
Remove from the heat, and remove the lemon zest and bay leaf. Puree 3 of the figs with 1/3 cup of the poaching liquid in a food processor or blender, then stir this mixture back into the remaining figs. If needed, thin the sauce with wine, stock or water.

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The recipe for the Pan-Seared Duck Breast is as follows:

Yield: 6 Servings

Have ready:
6 boneless, skinless duck breast halves

Combine in a nonreactive bowl:
3 tablespoons raspberry or fruit-flavored vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons minced onion, shallots, or scallions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Add the duck breasts to the marinade. Turn to coat, then cover and refrigerate for 2-12 hours

Remove the duck breasts from the marinade, scrape off the solids, and pat dry. Brush both sides of the breasts and a large heavy skillet with olive oil.

Heat the skillet over medium-high heat until the oil begins to smoke. Add the duck breasts and cook until the first side is lightly browned, 2-3 minutes. Turn and cook for 2-3 minutes more.

Remove duck breasts from pan and let rest on a carving board for 5 minutes.

Slice each breast against the grain on the bias. Be sure to keep the slices together for presentation.

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Boil the pasta in plenty of salted water until al dente (for this pasta it only takes 3-4 minutes).

Drain most of the liquid off, leaving a small amount in the pan.

Add a portion of the prepared sauce to the pasta, just enough to coat, and toss together.

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To assemble the plates:

Twirl a mound of pasta around a large fork or tongs and place in the center of the plate of your choosing (removing fork).

Fan out slices of duck breast around the base of the pasta.

Remove figs from saucepan and nestle a couple onto the plate.

Drizzle duck breast with remaining sauce.

Garnish the top of the pasta with one long dark chocolate curl if you wish.

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I have not tested this recipe yet, but I will once I find a vendor who sells duck breasts. Whole Foods sells whole frozen ducks, but I'll save tackling a whole bird for a rainy day. When I get around to preparing this dish I will be sure to add photos to the blog and update the recipe if need be.

Feel free to test out this recipe, if you can find the ingredients, and let me know what you think!

7.21.2009

Pickles!


Homemade dill pickles are a delightful treat during the summer months! Whip up some pickles for your next barbecue or give them to your family and friends.

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Below is the recipe I used to make these pickles. I took it from my mom's copy of The Complete Guide to Home Canning, Preserving, and Freezing. This book from 1976 was put out by the United States Department of Agriculture as a reference guide for safe canning practices.

Fresh-Pack Dill Pickles
Yield: 7 quarts

17-18 lbs of cucumbers, 3-5 inches in length, packed 7-10 per quart jar
2 gallons of 5% brine (3/4 cup pure granulated salt per gallon of water)
6 cups (1 1/2 quarts) vinegar
3/4 cups pure granulated salt
1/4 cup sugar
9 cups (2 1/4 quarts) water
2 tablespoons whole mixed pickling spice

--Per Quart Jar--
2 teaspoons whole mustard seed
3 heads garlic, if desired
3 heads dill plant, fresh or dried
--OR--
1 tablespoon dill seed

1. Wash cucumbers thoroughly; scrub with vegetable brush; drain.
2. Cover with 5% brine (3/4 cup salt per gallon of water). Let set overnight; drain.
3.Combine vinegar, salt, sugar, water, and mixed pickling spices that are tied in a clean, thin, white cloth; heat to boiling.
4. Pack cucumbers into clean, hot quart jars.
5. Add mustard seed, dill plant or seed, and garlic to each jar; cover with boiling liquid to within 1/2 inch of top of jar. Adjust jar lids.
6. Process in boiling water for 20 minutes (start to count the processing time as soon as hot jars are placed into the actively boiling water).
7. Remove jars and complete seals if necessary. set jars upright, several inches apart, on a wire rack to cool.

*Notes at the bottom of the entry.

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I went to the Garden Fresh Market on Skokie Blvd. on Sunday and rummaged through the mound of pickling cucumbers to find 17 lbs of the best cukes.

That night I washed and scrubbed each of the cukes and tossed them into Vaughn's five gallon brewing pots to soak in a brine overnight.




On Monday I had a hell of a time trying to find Ball canning jars. I went to five different stores before I found them at a Jewel-Osco!

I started the canning process when I got home from the store. Barbara, the cleaning lady, and I struck up a conversation about pickles. She is Polish and she makes very traditional fermented pickles. Barbara told me she uses water, salt, a chunk of fresh horseradish, a whole stalk of dill from her garden, mustard seeds and other spices. I'll have to try that technique sometime!


Happy Pickling!

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Notes:

-I'm not sure how they fit in so many cucumbers per quart jar. I was only able to fit 4 in each (they were about 5 inches and very plump). I had to make another batch with sliced and speared cucumbers, which are much easier to fit in the jars. I ended up with 7 quart jars of whole pickles, 5 quart jars of pickle spears, and 2 pint jars of pickle slices.

-Pure granulated salt is non-iodized table salt. Make sure you look at the label before you put it in your basket. Here's an image of Morton's packaging.

-Water: I used tap water because it's convenient. But I highly suggest buying drinking water at the grocery store. Not distilled, not spring...drinking! It's just plain old water that has been filtered to remove heavy minerals and it is not treated with chlorine, fluoride and other chemicals like tap water.

-Use your favorite pre-packaged pickling spice (found with other spices in the baking aisle), or you can make your own. There are plenty of recipes for whole pickling spices online and in cookbooks. Just remember to use whole spices!

-The processing time is based on feet above sea level. Twenty minutes is recommended for those living below 1,000 feet above sea level.
If the recommended processing time is 20 mins or less, increase the time by 1 minute for every 1,ooo feet (i.e. 0-1,000 ft: 20 mins; 1,000 ft: 21 mins; 2,000 ft: 22 mins.)
If the recommended processing time is 20 mins or more, increase the time by 2 minutes for every 1,000 feet (i.e. 0-1,000 ft: 30 mins; 1,000 ft: 32 mins; 2,000 ft: 34 mins)

-You know your jars are sealed when you here a "ping" sound from each of the jars a few minutes after they come out of the canner and the lids are firm when depressed. If the lids are properly sealed (sealing compound on the lid fully adheres to the jar), the pressure inside the jar decreases as it begins to cool and creates a vacuum. The "ping" is the center of the lid being sucked in by the vacuum.

Test the seal by depressing the lid. If the lid gives then a seal has not been made. Immediately put the jars back into the boiling water and processes for another 20 minutes. If the lid does not seal a second time the contents of the jar should be thrown away. There is too much of a risk of contamination.

7.19.2009

Quail at the Hopleaf

Vaughn and I traversed the north Chicago streets to one of our favorite food and drink joints: the Hopleaf Bar on North Clark.

We started with their specialty: Belgian-style mussels steamed in Whittekerke white ale with shallots, celery, thyme and a bay leaf. One of the best parts about the dish (besides the delicious mussels) is the broth leftover in the cast iron pot. The broth is best sopped up with the pain d'epi that they serve up along side (a french baguette that is snipped with shears to look like a wheat stalk). With this I had the Three Floyd's Alpha King pale ale.

For my entree I had the pan-roasted quail with morel mushrooms, fava beans, asparagus, whipped potatoes and an Ommegang/bacon sauce. I was blown away. I've never had quail before (vegetarian since the 10th grade), but I would describe quail as a cross between turkey and duck, and all that big flavor in such a tiny package. The meat was juicy, sweet and rich. The Ommegang and bacon sauce paired beautifully and added another layer of flavor to the dish. Usually I love a big helping of dense, chunky, flavorful mashed potatoes, but the silky-smooth whipped potatoes were a much better match with the rich quail meat. I paired the entree with the Atomium Grand Cru, a delightful beer heavy on the orange flavor and aroma with a hint of coriander.

We ended our evening with dessert - a rarity because we usually stuff ourselves. We had the lemon curd served in shortbread tart cups laced with rosemary and a little dollop of strawberry rhubarb. I'm a sucker for lemon curd and this desert was delightful. The tanginess of the lemon curd, sweet and tart combination of the strawberry rhubarb, and the fragrant herbal flavor of the rosemary was refreshing. So long chocolate cake drenched in chocolate and more chocolate!

7.17.2009

More Food Photography

Vaughn's raspberry wheat beer.

A little green bowl of lychee fruit.

Wooden platter of fresh carrots.

7.13.2009

Food + Photography

I love photography and I love food. So the natural path to head down would be food photography. There's just one catch. I'm usually photographing food I cook for my meals. I would much rather eat it right away than let it sit around while I snap a few photos!

I need to find a chef who is willing to let me photograph their food. That shouldn't be too hard, right?

7.04.2009

Bonjour! Hi!


In search of dinner, Vaughn and I strayed from online reviews and guidebooks our first night in Montreal. We walked the cobblestone streets of Vieux-Montreal, peered into windows and scoured menus placed outside the door. It didn't take long to stumble upon a resto serving up food with an unpretentious French flair.

After greeted with the usual "Bonjour! Hi!" we were seated quickly at a window table. If it wasn't so drizzly the windows would be open to the street, which would have been lovely. The server returned promptly to take our drink order: Vaughn ordered a Griffon Rousse (red ale) and I ordered a Chaval Blanc white ale served with a slice of lime. Both were delicious.

Vaughn and I were excited by the menu: duck shepard's pie, game meat loaf with porto fois gras, fish of the day with chorizo and sauteed squid. However, we were even more tempted by their burgers. Vaughn ordered the lamb merguez burger (lamb sausage) and I ordered the halibut BLT.

I dove into the fries first. The fries were cut in-house, perfectly fried and piled high in an aluminum measuring cup. I loved that little detail. House-made ketchup and mayo accompanied the tasty fried morsels (Canada seems to love mayo). It wasn't your usual Miracle Whip or Hellman's. This was house-made with garlicky seasoning. Delicious!

To offer a healthy addition, the meal was accompanied by a heaping pile of salad topped with a savory vinaigrette. There were possibly six or seven different kinds of greens with julienned carrots and ruby beets. The only thing I didn't like was the frisée. I just don't like it. So picky.

The burgers were served on a deep golden brioche bun. Buttery, flaky, with beautiful fine crumb. The thick slab of halibut was unbelievably fresh and seasoned very well. A mild white fish like halibut needs a little help to bring out the flavor, and this one wasn't bland at all. The bacon was a delightful smokey addition to each bite without masking the delicate flavor of the halibut. And the toppings, well no on really thinks about the usual burger toppings, but the lettuce and tomato tasted like they were picked that day.

We highly recommend it to anyone visiting the city and trying to find a funky little resto offering simple, mouthwatering food. Vaughn and I will definitely be dining here again when we return to Montreal.

Bon appetit!

7.03.2009

Montreal: Coming Soon

I haven't been neglecting this blog...I promise! I have been super busy for the past few weeks. Graduated from college, prepared for my wedding, got married, and the new hubby (Vaughn) and I just got back from our honeymoon in Montreal.

BUT, after the 4th Vaughn and I go back to Athens to pack/clean the apartment then drive all of our stuff to Chicago. So...not a whole lot of time to update until we get settled in Chicago next week or the week after.

Next entry: Dining in Montreal...

6.03.2009

Salmon Cakes



I love salmon cakes! Last week Vaughn and I made salt baked salmon and had some left over. Leftovers are wonderful. I served these with a crispy potato flower and lemon caper mayonnaise on a bed of baby kale from my garden.

Salmon Cakes

Yeild: 10 small cakes

Ingredients:
2 cups cooked salmon, flaked
2 eggs, whisked
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tbsp. capers, chopped
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 lemon, juiced
salt to taste
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil

-Combine all ingredients, except butter and oil, in a mixing bowl.
-Shape patties into 2 in rounds, about a 1/2 to 1 inch high.
-Heat oil and butter in a saute pan over medium heat.
-Saute the salmon cakes for 5 minutes on each side until golden brown

Lemon Caper Mayonnaise

Ingredients:
6 tbsp. mayonnaise
2 tsp. capers, chopped
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp. paprika
salt to taste

-Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.

Crispy Potato "Flower"

Yeild: 6-8 flowers

Preheat oven to 400F

Ingredients:
2 small Yukon Gold potatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

-Slice potatoes into thin, uniform rounds *
-Toss the rounds with olive oil
-Fan out six rounds in a circle
-Sprinkle with salt and pepper
-Arrange rounds on a sheet pan
-Bake until crispy and golden brown

*A mandolin slicer would make slicing the potatoes super easy. I don't have one, so I used a cheese plane! Just flip it over and use the backside so you can rest it on the cutting board (watch your fingers!)

6.02.2009

Grab a napkin...you're going to drool

The garden where the ceremony will be


25 days until the wedding!

Vaughn and I are getting married June 27th...and we're so excited! Early on in the planning we decided to share our passion for great food and delicious drinks with our family and friends.

----------------

Karen Gorman and her husband Joe own the farm that we live on. Karen owns a catering company with Heidi Robb and generously offered to cater our cocktail hour in the gardens after our ceremony. Here's what she has planned for us:

Crostini
grilled with roasted asparagus tips, walnut crema and shaved Pecorino Tartufo
(Pecorino with black truffle)

Bruschetta
with sweet corn, ricotta and basil

Fresh Springrolls
with julienne vegetables, lobster and cilantro and mint sauce

Curried Chicken and Coconut Truffle
(she didn't want to call them chicken balls)

Baby Vegetables with Goat Cheese
(she has 3 pygmy goats on the farm. mini milkers!)

Apple Chip with Lentil and Hazelnut Pate
(thin apple slices soaked in simple syrup and baked until glassy)

Sugared Strawberries with Zabaione

Cuban Pork Quesadillas
(fully enclosed so there won't be any messes)

Herb and Lemon Infused White Wine

Strawberry Infused Vodka
may be served with soda on the rocks or as a chilled shot (homemade)

----------------

We scoured the area for a caterer that shared our views and found Marigold Catering. Phil, our event manager, is wonderful and helped us figure out the best foods for the reception. We nixed the plated dinner service (too formal) an opted for a buffet dinner spread. For the dinner reception we've chosen:

Plated Salad

Marigold Salad
Fresh Field Greens, Seasonal Berries, Mandarin Oranges, Almonds, Feta Cheese
Champagne Vinaigrette

Dinner Buffet

Beer Braised Boneless Beef Short Ribs
Chipolte au jus, Onion Wisps

Chicken Florentine
Light Garlic, Lemon Butter, and White Wine with Spinach

Vegetarian Penne
Marinara Sauce, Julienned Vegetables
Side of Shredded Mozzarella

Roasted Vegetable Platter
Balsamic Drizzle

Chilled Orzo Salad
Fresh Basil, Feta Cheese, Olives, Red Onions, Sun Dried Tomatoes

----------------

For drinks during the reception we will have an open bar with liquor and mixers, a selection of wines, beer from Great Lakes Brewery and Goose Island Brewery (my family is from Cleveland and Vaughn's is from Chicago...clever), and we will be highlighting several beers that Vaughn and I brewed including a hard apple cider, an IPA, and my mild brown ale.

----------------

Lastly...dessert!

Vaughn and I aren't very traditional, so we opted out of having a cake. We're having cupcakes instead! We found a great little cupcakery in Hudson, Ohio called Main Street Cupcakes. Their cupcakes are delicious! It took a long time to choose flavors since they have 170+ to choose from! We liked the cupcake approach better because we could choose four to six different flavors to serve to our guests. Our final flavors are:

Wedding Day White
Traditional white cake with a hint of almond covered in vanilla buttercream frosting

Lemon Drop
Traditional white cake made with zests of lemon and smothered in lemon zest buttercream frosting

Day & Night
Dark chocolate cake mixed with white chocolate chips covered in white buttercream frosting and topped with chocolate chips

You Must Be Chipping Me
Classic yellow cake filled with chocolate chips and topped with chocolate buttercream frosting

My mom is making a tower for the cupcakes. At the top will be a little 6 inch cake for Vaughn and me to either cut or save for our anniversary. I'm sure it will be devoured either after the reception or the next day!


I promise to post photos of all the food sometime after the wedding!

5.22.2009

Menudo...In Athens?


Vaughn and I were picking up some essentials for our Mexican dinner tonight. We love the "International" aisle of Kroger. It has so many great products and hard to find items, including this odd find.

I caught sight of the can out of the corner of my eye. It was tucked away behind a cardboard display for Ortega taco kits or something like that. I didn't know canned Menudo was available in cans. Not that I had been in a great search to find it. I'll probably never touch the stuff. I was more astounded that the Athens Kroger carries this product.

A traditional Mexican soup, in a can, in Athens where the Hispanic population (as of the 2000 cencus) was 1.41%. Not sure if that figure includes the student body. Sure there are probably a lot of non-Hispanic people who love tripe, but I highly doubt that there are many in Athens.

Maybe I'll ask Dave Shull, the general store manager, about it the next time I see him...

5.13.2009

Garden Update

Left to Right, Row 1-5

Broccoli, Basil, Cauliflower, ?
Cucumbers, Chamomile, Spinach & Lettuce, Hot Peppers
Fennel, Nasturtium, Pole Beans, Tomatoes
Zucchini, Kale, Swiss Chard, Beets
Cucumbers, Bush Beans, Potatoes

I Think I Found Heaven...


Gah!

While searching for books on food preservation at Alden Library, I stumbled upon a wealth of books about food, food, and more food.

That's it...I'm going to culinary school!

Currently, I'm sitting on the floor of the aisle staring at all the glorious books with James Beard's Theory & Practice of Good Cooking in my hand.

I also found The Professional Chef, the 8th edition Culinary Institute of America textbook. It's so dense! Starts with the basics (tools and ingredients), then goes into full detail about stocks/sauces/soups, meats and fish, veggies, staple starches, and pastas, breakfast and garde mange, and ends with baking and pastry.

My goal is to teach myself EVERYTHING in this book. Start to finish. I know it will take me a while, so I made sure the book is available at the Northbrook Public Library (where I'll be living next). They have it, so I'm set.

So excited!



5.01.2009

Bamboo Shoots!



The bamboo that surrounds the garden is sending up new shoots -
time to make a stir fry!

When I was finished working in the garden I wandered around and pulled up a fist full of shoots. They're not like the store bought canned bamboo, and are not as big as the usual fresh bamboo that I've seen pictures of. But Art insists that this is an edible variety, even pulled one up and munched on it during class. He says the shoots are the most tender when under 6 inches tall.


To cook them I removed the leafy layers, trimmed their bottoms, and gave them a good rinse. Bamboo shoots taste a little bitter when raw, so I boiled them in water for 20 minutes to remove the bitterness. When finished, I sliced them in half lengthwise, sliced up carrots, green pepper and mushroom and stir fried it all with cubed tofu and an impromptu sauce. Served over a big bowl full of rice.

Mmmm...delicious!

My only gripe is that the bamboo shoots were a liiiiittle fibrous. But hey, it was an experiment!





4.22.2009

SpLatitude!


Ohio University's Latitude 39

Tucked into the southeast corner of Ohio, Athens is known for several things: Ohio University, the annual Pawpaw Festival, The Ridges asylum to name a few. What it's not known for is its "fine dining"establishments. Tonight I met up with Vaughn and Jason to sample the cuisine of Latitude 39, an extension of the OU Dining Services. Yeah, yeah. I know what you're thinking. OU Dining Services and fine dining don't (and shouldn't) mix. The restaurant was established in the new student union, mostly as a place for faculty, staff, and parents to eat. When it first opened there was a $50 steak featured on the menu. Jason worked in the kitchen for a while and gave it the loving nickname of "SpLatitude".

Tonight the restaurant was supposed to feature specials made with local ingredients for earth day, which is the reason we went. However, the server never made mention of this and a menu listed a few local farms that supplied produce to the restaurant.

I ordered the Lentil Cakes served with arugula, radishes, edemame, yellow curry vinaigrette, and
mango chutney. I chose to start with a house salad. The greens were fresh and crisp, no iceberg in sight, dressed with a simple balsamic vinaigrette and topped off with grape tomatoes, sliced red onion, and flavorless fried chunks of bread that turned to an oily mush in my mouth.

The entree was served and presented with a little mountain of arugula atop the three lentil cakes. The lentil cakes were wonderfully flavored, a good Indian dal in cake form, however the texture was, well...there wasn't much texture to speak of. Something reminiscent of a finely ground pâté. I would have enjoyed some of the texture of whole lentils for a little variety. I could have skipped the salad, there was a heap of arugula, radishes and red onions. When the flavors of the toppings - for lack of a better word - mingled with the yellow curry vinaigrette and mango chutney, my mouth was overwhelmed with flavor, but not in a good way. The strong flavors and acidic sauces did a number on my taste buds - my tongue is still tingling.

It was a mixed experience. I don't think I will be going back anytime soon, especially with my student budget. At least I can say that I gave it a try.

4.20.2009

It's the little things that matter...

In Alternative Agriculture (I'll call it Alt Ag for short), we are required to give a 20 minute presentation on a topic of our choice. I've chosen to present and demonstrate information about preserving the food that comes out of your garden. I think this is the only time I've been excited about giving a presentation of any kind.

Trese asked us to post our topics on the discussion board of the class's Blackboard site. Many of the topics are broad: solar power, wind power, hemp, fertilizer, etc. These are the cop out topics since there is so much information available and many ways they can present it. Then there are a few students who have specific topics with some thought and effort put into it: agricultural extension in West Africa (Ghana), micro financing in developing countries, and the use of public land for agriculture.

I feel a little silly with my topic, but this is useful knowledge that I want to pass along. If people want to live more sustainably, they need to start small. We're covering a great step toward sustainability in this class, which is growing a small organic garden. But what do you do with the excess crops that you can't eat right away? Preserve them of course!

Last summer, Vaughn worked for Rural Action and often worked at the Chester Hill Produce Auction. Local farmers bring their produce to auction off and anyone can bid on the lots. The auction is a great way to buy farm fresh produce and help the local farmers (farmers are the backbone of our society). Our kitchen was overflowing with peaches, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, and so much more. Since we could only eat so much of the plethora of goodies, I taught myself how to can and pickle the leftover produce.

Why buy canned, frozen, and dried food when you can make your own with produce straight from your garden?

4.15.2009

China King and the Crayfish

Be my craw daddy...

Today I met some friends at China King for lunch. The buffet menu is forever changing and always mislabeled. In the place I would normally find tofu, there was an interesting culinary surprise. Crayfish. The only two places I have seen crayfish (or "craw daddies" as I call them) were in the gorge next to my childhood home and in Kroger's "fresh" seafood case here in Athens.

A pile of bright red bodies with antennae and claws intertwined lay in a half pan under the sweltering heat lamp. I giggled and picked one out of the stack. I couldn't help myself. This little guy had one front leg missing and I wondered if he had it before he went into the pot.

I ate my noodles, crap rangoon, and everything else until it came to him. I picked him up and his little claw dangled. One of my friends instructed that I just break off the head and suck out the inside of the body then use the head as a puppet. I tried to break off the head but failed and cracked open the body. The green tomalley (the innards) oozed out.

I couldn't bring myself to crack open its tail for that little bit of meat. I just couldn't. Besides, I don't trust any seafood this far from a substantial body of water.

I think the only time I will eat crayfish is if/when I go to New Orleans. That way I can be sure they are fresh and done right.