Sunday, March 30, 2008

Food news

Fresh ricotta desserts in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Includes good shopping tips on which brands to buy for which recipes.

Buying a good popcorn popper at Slate.

Growing blueberry bushes in the New York Times.
This is already on my summer to-do list.

Homemade lemon curd in the Chicago Tribune.

Honey desserts from the Los Angeles Times.

Perfect picnic guide at Mighty Goods.

And here’s one fun non-food-related story:
Learning to play the Irish tin whistle from the Wall Street Journal.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Homemade sandwich bread

I’ve lived in Columbus for four-and-a-half years, and during that time I’ve been unable to find a bakery that makes good sandwich bread. To be sure, it’s not that there isn’t any good bread around: The batards from La Chatelaine make excellent crostini and the rustic round loaves from Tasi/Eleni-Christina are welcome at my dinner table anytime. But for my sandwiches I’m looking for something entirely different: a whole grain loaf that’s hearty, yet still slightly soft. And a bakery with an electric slicing machine is an added bonus. (As a writer I prize precision, so I derive some satisfaction from a uniformly sliced loaf.)

Sadly, this bakeshop trifecta is not available within an acceptable driving distance of my house. On most of my trips home to Michigan I’ve loaded up on loaves of oatmeal bread from Sarkozy’s and Scottish struan bread from Mackenzie’s, but if too much time elapses between these trips, my supply runs out.

I found myself in such a situation over Easter weekend, so I decided to try my hand at baking my own. I found a promising recipe for easy multigrain bread in an old Cook’s Illustrated, and I swung into action. The whole process was incredibly satisfying and easy. It was a most-of-the-day affair because of the time required for repeated rising, but the hands-on time totaled only about 30 minutes. The only mistake I made was using quick-rise yeast rather than the instant yeast that the recipe called for. (Are they the same thing? I'm still not sure.) My two loaves didn’t puff up as much as they should have, but the results were still wonderful. I cut my first slice when the bread was still hot from the oven and slathered it with butter. The result? Bread that tasted exactly like what I had been looking for.

“Don’t plan your day around your bread, but plan your bread around your day,” say bread-baking experts. The upshot of that advice is, if you’ll plan on being home most of the day working on other things, you probably have time to make homemade bread.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Black bean soup

When our friends Brian and Rebecca mention a good recipe, my ears perk up, because I know they have impeccable taste. On the Saturday when Columbus was blanketed with its record-setting snowfall, we ate dinner at their house and they mentioned their great black bean soup recipe. I was intrigued, because it had come from a chef in New Mexico who had a flair for combining the tastes of traditional French cooking with the flavors of the American Southwest.

Days later, I was still thinking about the soup recipe and I asked Rebecca to send it to me. Last night, I gave it a try. I was initially skeptical of the instruction to puree the soup, but it gave it a nice velvety texture. I also loved the accoutrements that eventually are sprinkled on top: goat cheese crumbles and a squeeze of lime juice. The tart, tang and creaminess all worked so well together.

I didn’t take a photo because black bean soup always has that pallid looking shade of gray — I didn’t want you to judge this one based on its appearance. I hope you’re able to give it a try before soup season slips away.

Black Bean Soup

1 lb. dry black beans
1 med. onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 carrot, whole
1 bay leaf
1 qt. chicken stock
1 qt. water
1 sirano or poblano chili
1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. coriander
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 c. heavy cream (I used whole milk)
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper
6 oz. goat cheese
1 lime

Soak beans overnight. Drain. Saute garlic and onion. Put beans in with onion, garlic, carrot, bay leaf, chicken stock, water, chili, cumin, coriander, and oregano. Bring to a boil and simmer on med-low heat for 45 min. Increase heat and boil off as much liquid as desired to make soup desired thickness. Remove carrot and bay leaf. Puree the rest. Return to pot, add cream, salt & pepper, and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil. Serve topped with crumbled goat cheese and a squeeze of lime juice.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Easter links

Even though it's St. Patrick's Day, I wanted to post some links to some Easter treats:

Easter baskets for grownups at Mighty Goods. This made me smile; Easter baskets are still big in my family. My grandfather received one right up until he died at 89.

Crispy chocolate eggs from L.A. Burdick.

Artisan chocolate eggs at Moonstruck. Filled with peanut butter crispies!

Bunny egg cups from Sur la Table.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Finally, I'm back!

It's been a long time since I've logged on here, but I have a very good excuse -- I've been writing up a storm. Usually January and February are nice, quiet months for me, but this year I found myself inundated with freelance work. Life got a little frantic there for a while, and I even had to scale back on cooking, which I hardly ever do. But now that the frenetic output of articles is behind me, I've been able to sit back and enjoy the finished products that have been steadily making their way to the mailbox. For me, one of the most magical parts of being a writer is savoring the fine work of the editors and designers who work so hard to make articles read smoothly and look fabulous on the page. I particularly appreciate the work of the editors at U.S. Catholic, which is one of my favorite magazines to write for. I was so sad when my colleague and friend Heidi left U.S. Catholic to teach journalism at a nearby university, but I'm also happy that she's got such an exciting new professional opportunity ahead of her.

Here's where you can find some of my recent work:

The sipping news, Columbus Monthly (March)
Wine shops are welcoming novice consumers eager to hang out, taste different varieties and find their own favorites.

Guided tours: Four routes to the ultimate destination, U.S. Catholic (March)
A guide to some of Catholicism's richest spiritualities: Ignatian, Benedictine, Carmelite and Franciscan.

Green isn't just for Ordinary Time, U.S. Catholic (April)
A look at how parishes can lead the way to greener communities

Beautiful Women, The National Catholic Reporter (March 7)
A review of a Cincinnati exhibit honoring the 1,000 women peacemakers who were collectively nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.