Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Suburban Garden

When Dave and I bought our house, it was the first time in years that I had a backyard. I'd spent many years living in an upper floor apartment where my only plants were in pots on my minuscule deck, where I struggled not to water our downstairs neighbors' stuff.  At our house, we plant herbs in the one area of the backyard that gets a lot of sun, and then plant other stuff in the shade and hope that we can keep it alive. I don't have a black thumb per se, but I definitely have very limited knowledge of plants other than "living plant = (dirt + water) - squirrels."  When fall comes around, we generally harvest the last of the herbs and then ignore everything until the following spring. This year, I learned that parsley is a biennial and that sage, lemon thyme, and oregano are perennials. Because this is what my herb garden looked like after being dead during the winter:
In post-apocalyptic suburbia, parsley and sage shall take over the world.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Comfort Pasta: Orecchiette with Asparagus, Red Onion, and Goat Cheese

"Orecchiette" is the hardest pasta to spell.  It's also pretty hard to find decent orecciette recipes.  This one's a keeper though.  It's simple, vegetarian, relatively light, and a great way to eat asparagus. This pasta doesn't have a ton of sauce on it, so it's great with a salad when you want a quick dinner.  It would be a great meal to enjoy out on your patio or deck. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chicken with Apple Cranberry Chutney and Wild Rice

Part of the reason I started this blog was to give myself an incentive to create my own recipes instead of always relying on a cookbook or something shiny I found on the internet.  A few days ago, I saw one of the challengers on Iron Chef America toss some apples into a pan and flambe them in some kind of booze that I don't normally drink.  I was inspired!  I decided to try my hand at making an apple and cranberry chutney with some brandy in it.  No flambeing was involved, and for that my eyebrows and face are grateful.  I read some basics about making chutney and gleaned that most chutneys are sweet and sour with a ratio of vinegar, sugar, and water or broth with some garlic and/or ginger and fruit.  I figured that since I was using two types of fruit (and the dried cranberries had added sugar already), that I could omit the sugar and used a combination of vinegar, water, and the cheapest brandy I could find to make my chutney.  The result of my experiment was most definitely food, but I can see many ways that I could improve upon it by making a few small changes. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bison Meatballs with Cilantro Yogurt Sauce

The White House Farmers Market is back!  Last year, I discovered the Gunpowder Bison and Trading Company.  I love bison!  It's leaner than beef and very flavorful.  The trick is to not overcook it.  I found this recipe for Middle Eastern bison meatballs when the farmers market first opened.  I bought the bison first and then needed to figure out what to do with it.  These meatballs are fantastic!  The recipe has a lot of ingredients and the meatballs themselves are pretty labor intensive, so this isn't for a work night unless you've got a partner in the kitchen.  Plus, it creates a lot of dirty dishes.  The sauce has a lot of ingredients, and the recipe says they should be chopped before tossing them in the blender.  But, if you've got a blender on steroids, it's fine to just toss everything in whole or very coarsely chopped.  The toasted ground seeds surprisingly add a lot of flavor to both the meatballs and the sauce, definitely don't leave them out if you make this.  The sauce isn't cooked, so I used nonfat Greek yogurt instead of whole milk yogurt and it was fine.  I think this is a great summer dish because the sauce is cold and light (and a fun color!).    

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mapo Tofu

Mapo tofu is a staple dish in my house; I've been making it since I found the recipe for it on Appetite for China.  It's really easy to buy some ground pork and freeze it in 6 oz portions.  Three of the ingredients (black bean paste, chili bean paste, and Sichuan peppercorns) require specialty shops, but they don't go bad for a long time, so one you've gotten them, you're fine.  I can never find fermented black beans, so I buy black bean paste from my local Korean supermarket.  I buy the chili bean paste there as well.  I get the Sichuan peppercorns from Penzeys.  The sauce is a great mix of spicy and savory, and the Sichuan peppercorn provides an interesting tingle on the tongue.  That said, don't overdo it with the peppercorns or your mouth will feel strange.  I don't think this dish is terribly wine friendly, so I drink almond milk with it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Dessert Inspired by Game of Thrones

Look everyone, I made a dessert!  Try not to faint.  A fellow George R. R. Martin fan showed me Inn at the Crossroads, a blog about the food in Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series.  If you haven't read the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, buy it immediately!  HBO made A Game of Thrones into a mini series and I've been watching it live every Sunday night like a good little nerd.  While browsing Inn at the Crossroads, I came across a dessert that sounded fabulous.  The list of spices reminded me of mulled wine, which I've always associated with the Middle Ages. I was inspired to make it last night to eat while watching Game of Thrones.

This plum and honey mousse was insanely good and easy to make.  It smells wonderful!  The spice mix of ground cloves, nutmeg, and black pepper definitely made this taste like sweet mulled wine.  I used purple plums and loved the resulting color.  I am definitely making this again!  The dessert glass is frosty because the mousse was taking a while to cool so I put it in the fridge for a little bit.  I used star anise as a inedible garnish because it looks cool and the original recipe suggested candied anise seeds. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Larb Mu, aka Holy ($*#&!@ This is Amazing!

One of my favorite Thai dishes is larb gai, a spicy ground chicken salad with lots of lime juice.  I came across a recipe for Larb Mu (pork instead of chicken) on Appetite for China and decided to give it a try.  HOLY CRAP THIS WAS AWESOME.  I'd never heard of toasted rice powder before, so I followed the instructions for making my own with some jasmine rice.  This salad tasted exactly like the larb gai I've had in Thai restaurants, except with pork.  It was the perfect mix of spicy, tangy, and minty.  The rice powder added some crunch and a tiny bit of toastiness.  If you make your own, make sure you grind the rice really well.  I had a few bits in mine that were a little too crunchy.   Aside from the chopping, this dish didn't take long to make because the herbs don't need to be chopped.  I made a half recipe for 2 people, but otherwise I didn't change anything.  Definitely have some extra lime wedges for squeezing after the salad is served.  When I make this again, I'll probably put some lettuce or cabbage under it and make less rice to serve on the side. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Conquering the Cauliflower

Cauliflower looks like broccoli's undead cousin.  It's the zombie of vegetables. I've never cooked it before.  I have only one memory from eating in a high chair, and that is eating boiled cauliflower and then projectile vomiting all over the tray and nearby kitchen table.  We're talking The Exorcist here.  I don't remember how it tasted other than I thought it was vile.  Maybe I had a stomach bug that day?  Who knows.  But my little mind firmly associated cauliflower with barfing.  Regardless, after that, I considered it to be made of pure evil and refused to eat it. Over the years, I would take a bite of someone's cauliflower gratin and find it similarly nasty. 

In the last few years, I started eating at nicer restaurants with chef's tasting menus.  I was eventually confronted with cauliflower soup, when obviously I would never choose to order it from a regular menu.  As someone who prides herself in eating pretty much anything, I was too embarrassed to tell the server that I didn't want to try something as innocuous as cauliflower.  So, I ate it, and was shocked to discover that it wasn't as repulsive as I remembered.  But, it had been presented in a different way instead of boiled into mushy flavorlessness (and then boiled some more for good measure).  I actually kind of liked it, but I didn't think about trying to cook it myself at that time.

Last week, Dave and I spent a week on St. Barth, which is a French island.  Being French, all the restaurants there are appropriately foodgasmic.  One night, while we were having a glass of champagne in a restaurant's bar, we were served a plate of raw veggies with a mildly spicy dipping sauce.  Among them, the craptacular crucifer.  But, I decided to give it a try since Dave was eating it and not dying.  The weirdest thing happened.   I liked it!

So, I decided to try and cook some at home, for the first time ever.  I picked a recipe that involved onions and some heavy seasoning.  Here is the result:

Monday, May 2, 2011

Chicken, Vermicelli, and Lemon Soup

I'm back!  I was away on vacation last week and did absolutely no cooking whatsoever.  :)  This meal is from right before I left for my trip.  After a week in St. Barth, my cooking focus will shift to healthy meals for a few days since I need to make up for all of my gluttony.

This is a Turkish chicken, vermicelli, and lemon soup.  It reminds me a little bit of avgolemono since it has a similar egg and lemon flavor.  So many of my soup recipes admonish me to make my own stock, but I don't have time.  I use Kitchen Basics low sodium chicken stock and it works fine to make this quick dish.  This soup is very hearty because of the egg and noodles, and I sometimes prefer the vermicelli to the rice in avgolemono. Another thing that makes this soup interesting is that it uses grated red onion as part of the base, which I think gives it a complexity that avgolemono doesn't have. 


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