Friday, April 28, 2006

What doesn't taste good with peanut sauce?

I'm kickin' it solo for dinner this evening, since my companion will be attending a dinner function for work. (Ha! Lucky him!) I've already selected a recipe for dinner: peanut noodles with chicken, courtesy of Robin Davis, my food editor at The Columbus Dispatch. Is there anything that doesn't taste delicious doused in peanut sauce? I have yet to find anything that doesn't. Here's Robin's quick-and-easy peanut sauce recipe:

6 garlic cloves
6 T. creamy peanut butter
6 T. low-sodium soy sauce
3 T. sugar
Hot sauce or hot chili oil, to taste
1/2 t. lemon juice, rice wine vinegar or cider vinegar

1)Mince the garlic in a food processor. Add peanut butter, soy sauce, sugar, hot sauce and lemon juice. Puree.
2)Toss with hot pasta, chicken, etc.

I suggest topping your pasta with some chopped peanuts and scallions too! Mmm...peanutty goodness!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Procrastination at the Library

I really prefer coffee shop-writing to library-writing, which surprises some people. When I write at Stauf's I'm focused and productive and caffeinated, whereas the library just provides too many distractions (and no java, which focuses my attention like a laser for whatever reason) with all of its magazines and journals and new books and downloadable books and fun bookmarks on display. One of my favorite distractions is Chicago magazine, whose "dish" section always provides some fun one-liners. Here are some from the latest issue:
  • When the lights perceptibly start to dim during dinner, just let it go. Yes, everyone notices, but that's no reason to talk about it.
  • From most to least tattoed: busboy, chef, waiter, sommelier, maitre d'.
  • Never trust a restaurant that rotates.

The same issue included the article "Why Everyone Loves Naperville," where my friend Jenny and her family are moving in a couple of months. Great job picking a fabulous city, Jen!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Maple Syrup Mystery, Solved

I spotted a "Grade B" classification on my Trader Joe's maple syrup this weekend, and curiosity about the label led me to this excellent maple syrup grade primer at Cooking for Engineers. If you're too lazy to read the article here's a hint: Grade A, Medium Amber maple syrup is the recommended grade for pancakes and waffles. I can't say enough about the taste benefits of using real, bona fide maple syrup. After tasting the real thing, you'll never go back to Log Cabin again. Yes, it's more expensive, but I always find reasonably priced bottles at, of all places, TJ Maxx! Just check out the specialty food aisle at your local TJ's and you'll find oodles of choices--even different grades!

Other hot news: in the coming weeks, check out the new foodie site Belly Du Jour, where I'll be a contributing writer. It's not completely up and running yet, but add it to your favorites now--it's going to be marvelous!

This is a busy week for me, with one of my elders visiting tomorrow on his way back from the Appalachian Trail (We're going out to breakfast--yay!) and two big writing deadlines next Monday. I do love deadlines--I live and die (and get paid) by them, and it's so gratifying to finally be able to stop reporting and start WRITING!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Cherry Hut

I recently picked up Jane and Michael Stern's new book Two for the Road, which chronicles the Sterns' rise to fame as roadfood connoisseurs. As I was reading it last night I laughed out loud several times (often laughing so hard I started snorting, as my companion pointed out from across the living room). Anyway, I was delighted to see the Sterns give some props to one of my favorite northern Michigan haunts (Up North, to those in the know). Yes, they wrote about The Cherry Hut!

Here's what they had to say about the Cherry Hut in their chapter on reading menus:

Every menu, even the most intrinsically boring one, is valuable, at least as cultural anthropology. But some are sheer joy. What foodie can resist a smile at the menu of the Cherry Hut in Beulah, Michigan? It is perfectly round and red, to evoke the signature creation of the 1920's-era roadside snack shack, cherry pie. The broad Happy Face on its cover is the face of Cheery Jerry, the Cherry-Pie-Faced Boy.

(When the Cherry Hut opened, the pies were made with the boy's face etched into the top crust, the eyes and mouth serving as vents. But at some point early on it was decided that the runny pie filling made the pies look too much like the boy's orifices were hemorrhaging blood, so the face was abandoned in favor of normal slits.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Post-Easter Cooking

The Easter Bunny was kind enough to leave a brand-new copy of Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals in my basket this year. (Better yet, Sara herself had signed it at Fox & Obel in Chicago!) Fox & Obel is one of those places where I could never afford to buy groceries, but I always stop there because I find it to be a great source of cooking and baking ideas. One of my favorite things to do there is to walk all the way to the back corner of the store, where there's a giant window looking into the room where all the pastry chefs work. I could watch them all day!

Anyway, about Sara's Secrets. So far, I've picked out three recipes to try: the Mexican Chicken Salad, Lemon Chicken, and Potato-Crusted Salmon with Red Wine sauce. I really appreciate the fact that the cookbook lists both hands-on time and total preparation time for each recipe. It's funny--for whatever reason I've never paid much attention to Sara before. Kind of like high school crushes, my obsessions with Food Network chefs come and go. First it was Rachael, then Giada, then the Barefoot Contessa. I'd say I'm still pretty obsessed with the Barefoot Contessa right now--she has this wonderful sense of how people like to eat. She can cook for the masses, but with such grace and style.

Time for a reader poll: Who is YOUR current Food Network obsession?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

My Life in France

I just finished reading My Life in France, Julia Child's new memoir. It's lovely, and part of the reason I loved it so much is that it really is a vocation story, the story of someone stumbling upon a passion (French food) that took hold of her in such a compelling way that she decided to devote her life to it. I was surprised to learn that Julia didn't even start cooking in earnest until she was 36 years old! You never know what kind of turn your life will take. I highly, highly recommend this delightful book.

Some of my favorite quotes:

Chef Bugnard, Julia's instructor at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, after artfully cooking, of all things, some humble scrambled eggs:
"You never forget a beautiful thing that you have made," he said. "Even after you eat it, it stays with you--always."

Julia, on falling in love with French food and cooking:
"I had always been content to live a butterfly life of fun, with hardly a care in the world. But at the Cordon Bleu, and in the markets and restaurants of Paris, I suddenly discovered that cooking was a rich and layered and endlessly fascinating subject. I had never taken anything so seriously in my life--husband and cat excepted--and I could hardly bear to be away from the kitchen."

"What fun! What a revelation! How magnificent to find my life's calling, at long last!"

"I was thirty-seven years old, and still discovering who I was."

Monday, April 10, 2006

How to Shop the North Market

If you're like me, you go to the North Market on Saturday mornings and are completely overwhelmed with the feast for the eyes, the heavenly smells, the sheer number of scrumptious options. Sometimes it's hard to know where to go first. I've got my old standby products that I always buy, like pretzel rolls and olive bites from Omega Artisan Baking, flowers from Market Blooms and Jose Madrid Salsa. It's good to break out of food ruts every once in a while though, and the recent North Market newsletter, given to me by Jeni Britton (who always gives me such wonderful story ideas) offers some great hints on how to do that. The spring newsletter is chock full of culinary ideas inspired by a few North Market merchants' recent trip to Provence. The main point: You can eat lovely food, just like the French do, even when you live in Ohio! Yes, it's true! Columbus foodies, here are a few things to try courtesy of the creative culinary travelers:
  • Try a variety of European, cream-of-the-crop yogurts or cultured butters (higher butterfat and richer flavor) from Curds and Whey. Mike, the owner, also has the coolest business card you've ever seen. Be sure to take one from the counter!
  • Try a ham and cheese croissant from Omega, made with Bluescreek Farm ham.
  • Try some Gypsy Bees honey, and check out the ultra-cool beeswax candles the beekeeper makes in a variety of holiday-appropriate shapes.
  • Sarefino's Pizza and Italian Deli sells frozen balls of delicious pizza crust. Who knew?
  • Kay of North Market Cook Ware recommends a PepperMate peppermill based on its function and design, which includes a detachable cup.

Next time you're at the market, give these things a try!

Friday, April 07, 2006

White Bean and Asparagus Salad

I made this white bean and asparagus salad last night, courtesy of Gourmet's "Ten-Minute Mains." It only took me about twenty minutes, and it was wonderful. The asparagus tasted so fresh and spring-y (even though they were trucked in from Peru or some other distant locale) and the lemon vinaigrette gave an edge to the creamy white beans. I followed the directions pretty closely, except I heated the beans and asparagus at medium-high heat, covered, which cooked the asparagus until they were crisp-tender.

In other news, I have My Life in France--Julia Child's new memoir--in hand! I was the first to request it at the library, and now I've got to hurry up and finish reading it since it's only a 14-day loan. I can't wait to start it, but I've got a book of my own to worry about right now.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Wednesday Food News

No time to read the food sections today, but Columbusites might want to check out my review of Greek Corner in today's Dispatch.

Even if you're not too into the religion thing, you might find my interview with Jesuit priest James Martin to be interesting. I talked to him about his new book My Life with the Saints (published in March and already in its second printing) for Bustedhalo, and I really appreciated his take on all things saintly. Perhaps you will too.

In the way of an amuse for your mind, here's a fun little witticism from the "dish" section of Chicago magazine:
Smart: The French eat all they want and stay thin.
Smarter: Germans drink all they want and stay sober.
Smartest: The Swiss eat and drink all they want and stay out of politics.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Inversion

In my companion's younger bachelor days, he befriended a woman with whom he'd periodically go out for ice cream. For a while I think they both assumed they were fairly close in vintage, until one day, upon revealing their ages, he discovered that she was 32 and she discovered he was 23. Their ages consisted of the same digits, but in reverse order. Because of this, he started to refer to this person, in jest, as The Inversion.

I'm borrowing that moniker now as a name for a dessert I concocted over the weekend. I'm often inspired by dishes I try when we go out to eat, and I have fond memories of the summer berries drizzled with sabayon (a light custard made with marsala wine and egg yolks; "zabaglione" in Italian) that I had at Vino Vino last year in Grandview. Why not create an inversion of it instead of replicating it exactly? My version of The Inversion consists of two generous scoops of sabayon ice cream topped with homemade strawberry coulis. (Coulis is simply a thickened, sweet puree.) A wafer thin ginger cookie-cracker from World Market (soo good--Anna's Swedish Ginger Thins) makes for the cutest, tastiest garnish.