Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Thinking about Your Valentine...

With tomorrow being February 1st and all, I think tonight is a good night for a pre-Valentine post. For the foodies in your life, check out these clever little kitchen tools here and here. Or, perhaps these customized fortune cookies (via mightygoods) fit the bill.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Celebrating Chinese (Lunar) New Year

Our foodie friends Brian and Rebecca hosted us Sunday night for a Chinese New Year feast. I could tell you how much my companion and I enjoyed the food, but I think the fact that we each put on three additional pounds overnight speaks for itself. (My jeans are cutting me in half as I write this.) These people can cook, and they are great fun to be around. Brian lived in Korea for two years while serving on his Mormon mission, so we enjoyed a wide variety of Korean food, as well as a blessing in Korean before our meal!

This is what we ate:
  • Bulkogi: marinated beef wrapped in lettuce--a tastier, and probably more authentic version of what everyone eats at P.F. Chang's these days.
  • Chap Ch'ae: (So much fun to say!) noodles with meat and vegetables, not dissimilar to Pad Thai
  • Daenjan Chigae: a delicious bean curd soup, and even six-month-old Laura tried it and liked it!
  • Sigumchi: parboiled spinach with sesame, raw garlic and soy
  • Kim: a crunchy, wafer-thin piece of seaweed seasoned with sesame oil and salt

The piece de resistance had to be the dessert. Chocolate cake frosted with chocolate pudding. But chocolate cake isn't Korean, you say. We justified its inclusion by appreciating Brian's stories of concocting this dessert for his Korean friends. "They all loved it," he assured us, and thus a sufficent connection to the occasion was made, and we plowed into this amazing cake, which included 14 (!) tablespoons of cocoa.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Cooking for a Brotha

I'm reading the food memoir Cooking for Mr. Latte, written by New York Times food reporter Amanda Hesser. (More on the book another day.) Hesser talks about hosting guests for a meal, and writes that hosts usually serve guests a menu the hosts are excited about. I suppose that's true, but sometimes its really fun to think of a menu you know your guests will adore.

Such was the case with a visit from my brother this past weekend, whom I'll call Bro J. (Actually, that is what I call him.) My brother is the kind of guy who always selects the perfect sibling-bonding-meal restaurant when I visit him, whether it's a high-class Irish pub decorated with stones from every Emerald Isle county, or a great out-of-the-way Thai joint. That being said, he also enjoys hefty helpings of old school comfort food from time to time, requesting dishes like beef brisket and cooking up his famous "Big Bowl of Love" baby back rib chili.

So when I planned a weekend menu with my brother in mind, I knew that Cooking Light's (turkey) sausage breakfast casserole and some hot ham and cheese tailgate sandwiches were just the ticket. (Mud and Reesa and all my veggie friends, avert your eyes.) Both these recipes were fabulous, and I'd make the breakfast casserole again and again. It's a perfect food for a cozy, leisurely breakfast. (And oh, I made some great blueberry-pecan scones too! E-mail me if you'd like any of these recipes; I'm a bit too lazy to type them this morning.)

So thanks to Bro J for winter menu inspiration, and cheers to the weekend guests who inspire us to expand our repertoire!

In other news, Snoop Dogg recently launched a new line of supermarket hot dogs bearing his moniker. What's next, a new line of stuffed Huggy Bears for kids?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Life Has Given Me Lemons...

...and they are delicious Meyer lemons! Well, and to be precise, I sought them out at Wild Oats yesterday, since I plan to make some lemon bars this weekend. I love this time of year when Meyer lemons crop up in grocery stores. For the uninitiated, they are a cross between a lemon and an orange, and they are in season November-March. Meyer lemons are rounder and smoother than regular lemons, and their juice is sweeter and less acidic than that of regular lemons. Lots of food magazines have recipes specifically for Meyer lemons, but I just use them with good dessert recipes that call for plain-ol' lemons. You can taste the difference, and they're wonderful!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Wine, Deconstructed

I attended my first wine class last night at Gentile's wine shop, also the home of our favorite pizza in Columbus. My companion asked me if I had learned anything "cool" about wine, and after I thought about it, I realized that I'm far too uninformed about wines to be attending the kind of class where you learn something "cool." Last night was all about the basics. For instance:
  • "Old world" wines (Italy, Spain, Greece, Germany, France) are named after their point of origin (Bordeaux, Champagne, etc.) whereas "new world" wines (U.S.A., Australia, New Zealand) are named after the type of grape (pinot, shiraz, merlot, etc.)
  • You should drink most wines within three years; reds generally last longer than whites. What to make of those bon vivants who boast about their pre-war bottle of cab franc, stored at the perfect temperature in their cellar? Our instructor had a more crass way of saying it (which I'm opting not to repeat here), but basically: Like Lexuses and McMansions, it's for show.

Other important insight: my olfactory sensibilities are worthless. As we poked our schnozzes into 10 different wines, I smelled buttered toast when I was supposed to smell bing cherry, peach and apricot when I was supposed to smell currant.

I've been working my way through Maureen Christian Petrosky's The Wine Club, and I realized last night how much I've learned from this excellent book, a month-by-month guide to different types of wine (January is all about champagne and other sparklers!) Admittedly part of the reason I like it is that it's written by someone my own age, but I also find her explanations to be quite helpful, and the suggested food pairings (along with recipes!) are spot-on. It's geared toward people who want to start a monthly wine club, but if you ignore the organizing tips there's plenty of other great information.

Petrosky came up with this book idea after her book club morphed into a wine club. That would never happen in my book club because: a)One of our members (and one of my favorite peeps) is Mormon; b)Every month we meet, someone else is pregnant.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Cooking for The Fam

There are few things more fun than cooking for your family, as I was reminded this weekend upon a visit from my elders and mon chere frere. I got to try all the recipes that are too extensive or large-portioned to prepare for just one other person (dishes that my companion and I would either be eating all week or pushing on the neighbors). So I've got lots of food news to report, and beaucoup recipes to share after this weekend!

First, here's a nice, easy one to warm you up today--a homemade hot chocolate recipe adapted from, of all places, the February issue of O magazine, which incidentally, also featured a fantastic quote from Thomas Merton that I'll be including in my book, and an interview with Maria Bello, who mentions that Dorothy Day is one of her heroes. Who knew? This Mexican hot chocolate features hints of cinnamon, orange and almond, and the only thing I'd do differently next time is to add a pinch of cayenne for some extra kick! I used skim milk for this recipe, but you can use whatever kind you normally drink.

Mexican Hot Chocolate

3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup sugar
2 T. instant coffee
1 1/4 t. cinnamon
1 T. finely grated orange zest
4 cups milk
1/2 t. almond extract
Cinnamon sticks, for garnish
whipped cream (optional)

1. Combine chocolate, sugar, coffee granules, cinnamon, salt, orange zest, and 1 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.

2. Stir in milk and almond extract; reheat but do not boil. Remove saucepan from stove; whisk hot chocolate until foamy.

3. Pour into mugs. Garnish with cinnamon sticks and top with whipped cream, if desired. Makes 4 generous servings.

Our good friends Emily and Brian gave us these great extra-long cinnamon sticks for Christmas, and they made for perfect drink stirrers. Thanks Em and Brian!

Painting Credit: "Drink Cup" by Wayne Thiebaud

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

More on Mr. Frey

The Onion's got some more embellishments from A Million Little Pieces.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Food Inspired by Literature...

...well maybe not literature, exactly, but I do draw lots of culinary inspiration from what I read. Inspiration for Saturday night's dinner came from, of all places, Saturday's Wall Street Journal, which featured a very doable recipe for pizza margherita. Reading the WSJ reminded me of a homemade pizza dough recipe I've been wanting to try for a long time. (Given to me by a Wild Oats cooking instructor when I was writing a story about cooking classes for Columbus Monthly--the best journalistic assignment. Ever.) Thanks to a mini-food processor given to me long ago (which I never thought I'd use) we made the dough faster than you can say "Boboli," with a simple ingredient list that featured only flour, water, salt, yeast and olive oil. I'd definitely make my own dough again, even for a hurried weeknight dinner.

We tend to make a lot of homemade pizza around here, and I daresay we've perfected the Thai, barbecued chicken, spinach-and-fresh-tomato, and arugula (my companion's favorite) varieties, respectively.

My other weekend read, besides the book I'm reviewing, was the hysterical Julie and Julia: 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen. If it were warmer I'd classify it as a great beach read. The pace is breathless, the wit is sharp, it's not War and Peace, but d&*^%, that was a fun read. At some points I laughed so hard I was crying. It's so great to read something smart and fun written by someone from your own generation.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Every Day I write the book...

January is a traditionally slow month for food-related news, since the media are temporarily tied up with coverage of low-fat, low-carb, no-trans, using-up-those-ugly-winter-root-vegetables-in-hearty-stew diets. I have no interest in any of the forementioned, so my food-related coverage on this blog for the next couple of weeks may be somewhat sparse.

So, for now, onto some writing news:
I'm taking my cues from Elvis Costello for the near future: Everyday, everyday, everyday I write the book...

My new book manuscript is due in May, so the next few months will be somewhat of a crunch time in that regard. I'm not too worried, as the winter months have traditionally been very productive times for me writing-wise. Plus, it's a book of daily reflections, so I don't really have to provide transitions between sections (bane of my writerly existence) or even complete whole thoughts, since each meditation is only 300 words. (Don't know what to write next? Ehhh, just move on to the next day.)

In an unrelated, ironic twist of events today, I have a dentist appointment followed immediately by an interview at a bakery.

Painting credit: "Pie Case", by Wayne Thiebaud

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

James Frey's Fiction Addiction

Coincidentally, my book club is scheduled to discuss James Frey's memoir A Million Little Pieces this evening. Due to these recent findings, first published by The Smoking Gun and yesterday picked up by major media outlets, I'm sure we will have a most interesting discussion. Adding to the local intrigue is that one of the incidents in question took place in the idyllic little town of Granville, less than an hour from Columbus. (My companion and I went apple picking last fall in Granville--that's the kind of place it is.)

In other book-related news, my first book, Getting a Life, has been translated into Chinese! I received two copies in the mail over the weekend, and I hope to post the cover on my web site by the end of this week. I'm sad to say I cannot read a word of it, but it does look cool on the coffee table.

Also on the nightstand these days: Barbara Kingsolver's Small Wonder (written in the aftermath of Sept. 11 with those events as a focus, but she does offer some incisive comments on the whole science/religion debate.) Ms. Kingsolver is a biologist by training. I'm also reviewing a new spiritual memoir that will be published in March. I'll save my specific comments for the review, (to appear on Busted Halo) but suffice to say that it's one of the most delightful, intelligent things I've read in a long time.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Hidden Kitchens

As a Christmas gift I received a copy of Hidden Kitchens, a book based on the National Public Radio series by the same name.

One chapter tells the story of the George Foreman Grill, and how many low-income and homeless people use this grill to cook in back of buildings, under bridges, in efficiency apartments with no kitchen, etc. The authors tell the story of George Foreman himself, who grew up in poverty in Houston. As a child George never got to eat breakfast or lunch. He used to pick up a greasy fast food bag from the trash and blow air into it to make it look like he was bringing a lunch to school like the other kids.

In the summer, even worse, mothers would call their kids in for lunch and tell George to go home. “These people knew I had no food at home. I’d hide and peek through the window at the kids eating, and the parents would peel the crust off the bread, and I would just sit there hoping that they would throw it out the window for me,” he said.

NOW, fast forward many years, and this is what George has to say about it:

“I never forget peeping through that lady’s window when she was serving lunch to her kids after she told me to go home. We’ve got to be there for those kids. We’ve got to be there for those kids, no matter what. I’m pushed, I’m compelled, I’m motivated because of that. If there’s a food bank, all they gotta do is ask George Foreman. If I can find a dime, I’m going to make sure you get it. I try to keep those little visions alive for myself. Feed them.”

I have to admit, I think I've been sellin' ol' Georgie short all of these years. Lesson learned: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." (paraphrase of Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria.)

(Btw, the book itself is a great read…if you are at all interested in cooking and how food brings people together, it’s marvelous! It’s part cookbook, part social analysis, and fascinating
. )

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Perfect Macaroni and Cheese

In three great recipes from The Times.

Winter doldrums be damned!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Catching up on holiday food news...

In my distress over Notre Dame's bowl game loss to Ohio State (and what an awful time to live in Columbus!) I temporarily lost the spring in my step, and thus the urge to think about food. Time heals all wounds, however, and by 11pm last night I was concocting a quick batch of blueberry muffins made from some Michigan blueberries stashed in my freezer. (My companion and I designate any baking that takes place after 10 p.m. to be "Extreme Baking," and I can whip up those blueberry bad boys in 15 minutes.)

So Extreme Baking was my remedy of choice in the face of a devastating Irish loss, and I'm feelin' better already.

Some post-holiday culinary highlights as of late:
  • Some handmade sushi (spicy tuna and salmon!) crafted by our friend Pat
  • Jeni's holiday ice creams (dark cocoa gelato and white chocolate peppermint) served in martini glasses on New Year's Eve
  • Fabulous "white chili" served up in Kalamazoo, then later re-created by my companion...I need to post the recipe soon, but I need to get permission from my source first, who initially swore me to secrecy!
  • My companion's homemade phad thai...spicy, peanutty, noodly heaven! I definitely married the right guy!