Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Presto, Pasta

After a long week of writing papers, sometimes settling down to a bowl of pasta just feels so right.

I had an entire day set aside for roasting garlic with my new toy earlier this year, so I've been enjoying the fruits of my labors (and the lack of garlic smell permeating every pore of my kitchen) ever since. The Roasted Garlic Express actually works really well for those of us who live alone and don't turn on the oven very often (both for heat and economical reasons). The resulting roasted garlic was frozen into cubes and comes in way handy for instances like this.

Pasta with prosciutto, roasted garlic and (long-awaited) asparagus. Top with cheese and enjoy! Y'all can figure out how to do that, right? :)

Review: That Popcorn Place

Mr. O's roommate stumbled upon a gift certificate which he deemed 'a chore' instead of 'fun opportunity', so I had the chance to check out a place I've been meaning to try for a while (but, you know, it requires walking and stuff).

That Popcorn Place, specifically the location on 1914 Guadalupe in Austin, hosts a veritable barrage of popcorn flavors.

Popcorn laying in the greenery at the University of Texas campus... yes, people were staring. All in the name of food bloggery!

That Popcorn Place is a family-run business that's trying to make it on the cutthroat food industry strip known as the 'Drag' to locals. When I was there, they had a ton of orders, so it looks like they're doing all right!

I had a lot of trouble determining what flavors to try, but I tested them out on my class and the favorite by far was the following:

Yes, I know. Dill Pickle? It's their best-seller. Salt and vinegar and dill (all natural flavorings) come together to make a very memorable popcorn flavor.

Other flavors I got included Funfetti (fruit flavors and vanilla, the vanilla being pretty addictive as well), Kettle Corn (unmemorable after all the other awesomely strong flavors!), and toffee (a very sweet candied popcorn reminiscent of sweet, sweet toffee flavor).

My favorite, on the other hand, was their new sopapilla. Look at the cinnamon!

A sickeningly addictive blend of honey and cinnamon flavors, the bag is almost gone. And my stomach hurts, but in a good way. I give this one about seven stars out of five.

$1.50 for a generous 'snack' bag, delivery available. Also comes in chocolate-covered flavors, though on the day I went it was a bit too hot to fathom them lasting more than a few minutes in the sun.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Macaroons go Meyer

I like seeing if I can use up all parts of an ingredient at once when I am cooking. If I leave something in the fridge these days, it will probably ruin before I get a chance to make something out of it.

I had an inkling to use up that lovely Meyer lemon from the last post, and searched the ever-awesome Tastespotting for 'Meyer lemon'. The macaroon recipe I found looked really good! I had part of a vanilla bean left after making my other recipe, and so used it as well. I love the specks of bean in the final product! They came out gorgeous and crunchy and sweet but stuck to the silpat something awful.

I got this recipe from alpineberry. Also, I am debuting my new cake plate which was available at Kohls dot com but is no longer available... seeing as it arrived in about thirty pieces the first time, I understand why it was discontinued. It was supposed to be here for Easter... but it's here now, so all is good.

Meyer Lemon Coconut Macaroons
adapted from alpineberry who adapted hers from Gourmet Magazine

2 large egg whites
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp finely grated Meyer lemon zest
2 tb fresh Meyer lemon juice
1/2 vanilla bean
pinch of salt
1 3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 325F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone sheet.

Stir egg whites, sugar, lemon zest, vanilla beans (scraped from inside pod) and salt to combine.

Add the coconut to egg mixture and mix well.

Scoop out 15 mounded tablespoons onto baking sheet, spacing them about 1.5 inches apart.

Bake at 325F for 16-18 minutes until the tops are light golden brown in spots.

Allow to cool on baking sheet for about 10 minutes.

Signs of Summer

I went to the grocery store this week and was delighted to see some very important signs of summer. As always in April, the graduate student goes into hiding in order to complete projects and generally gawk at added expenses (three reams of paper? Two spools of cd-rws?) throughout the semester. As the end of the month approaches, however, the mammal comes out of hibernation to witness the arrival of sunshine and natural vitamin D intake. The grocery stores here bear such gifts as strawberries, citrus fruits, and the first inklings of a long watermelon season begin.

The advent of personal-sized everything leads to a personal-sized watermelon craze. They cost the same as a regular watermelon, but are (substantially) smaller than the fifteen to twenty pound mammoths that can land around these parts.

In addition, I managed to procure some Meyer lemons that the grocer was keeping in the back. There was one on the shelf (one?!) but they had an entire carton ripe for the picking in the storage area. I tried one and was pleasantly surprised at their sweetness, but honestly I was expecting something much more sweet in the end. They are sweet enough that they can be eaten as-is with no pucker, but still have that lemon punch.

I'm looking forwards to many months of watermelons. I'm only sad that they're not as readily available in the city as they are in the country--on the back end of a pickup, on the side of the road among the wildflowers.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sundae (Sunday) Pleasure

I have a theory that certain graduate school seminars are kind of like drinking games: the more you mention certain subjects, the better your score is (and the more confused you are in the end). Certain words might include "provenance", "ubiquitous", or the most popular, "I heard that on NPR". NPR is like cocaine for acedemia: anybody who's anybody does it.

I found myself succumbing to NPR's sweet siren song on weekends, when A Prairie Home Companion comes on before Mr. O heads over for our Saturday night date. On the way home on the bus, the afternoon news helps me stay on top of current news so I'm not left out in discussion. Or, sometimes while I'm cleaning on Sunday afternoons, I listen to Selected Shorts. A certain "short" struck a chord with me last weekend and left me stunned and shocked. A reading of Alice McDermott's "Enough" by Kathleen Chalfont hit a deep nerve. Catch it while you can, because I'm not sure how long the podcast will be up.

Enough is about a women with a voracious and detailed appetite for pleasure. Her early love of ice cream transcends to various experiences in life, only to return late when she can no longer experience those things which made her happy in-between. It got me to thinking about how we often deprive ourselves of things in life in order to make our lives "better".

But how much better can a restrained life be? I mean, moderation is key in everything. However, when is the line between moderation and restriction drawn? When does it go from indulging in an occasional dessert to not having dessert at all? From needing to lose a little weight to a complete disregard for what's healthy? How does this make life better? When a person makes a decision to stop doing something 'in order to make my life better', they sacrifice something that they once loved.

When I was in my early teenage years, I was short, chunky and lined with more correctional metal than you can shake a stick at. I have distinct memories of harsh lighting in department stores and an inability to find any jeans that fit. For about twenty minutes in high school, I was thin (because I had grown) and then I went back to a state of chunk. I was uncomfortable in my new body and never knew how to feel. I don't think that many women ever are comfortable in their bodies.

Recently, I lost a fair amount of weight due to illness. My friends tell me that I look really good! and thinner! and all sorts of pleasant things, but all I see is bicycling uphill from now on against a disease that wants to make me tired, sad and generally really crappy. Even though I look like I've made an effort to lose weight, I cannot take the compliments because it is not through my own doing nor is it a sign of health. After many months, my thin hair is growing back in droves, and I see it emerging much like the small buds in my herb garden are embracing the Spring sunlight - new and kind of crinkly, unsure as to where to go just yet.

I want to live to be as old as the protagonist in Enough, and I hope that when I am her age I will be able to eat ice cream with as much pleasure as she does: down to the last fudge ripple.

Tonight, in hope for the future and in acceptance of the present, I made a sundae for myself with homemade ice cream and fresh whipped cream on top. It's a distinct pleasure in a world that is sometimes not so pleasurable at present.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Chicken a la Corn Flakes

I was stumbling through this month's new issue of Bon Appetit when I saw that Orangette is getting her own column. How exciting!

In the same issue, I noticed that Cat Cora, of Food Network fame, has sold her soul to McCormick and started hocking recipes laden with McCormick (brand) spices and of all things, corn flakes. It's almost "fried!"

Now, "fried" and I don't work together any more. If I tell my body I'm going to eat "fried" anything, I usually get sick for the next week. Sometimes I try to sneak it in in small doses, but these days it seems like things are heading for the worse. Any alternatives for "fried" things are better than no fried at all.

Instead of the usual egg-wash undercoating, I decided to bump up my fat intake for the day (which seems unaffiliated with the "fried" problems my body has decided to leap upon with vigor) and cover the chicken in ranch dressing first. I mean, hell, if we're cooking with Corn Flakes, why not add some other fine processed products as well?

Doused with sesame seeds, the final product wasn't half bad. The corn flakes add a nice crunch (though nothing like fried, thankyouverymuch) and the overall taste was more flavorful than bland. Not fried, but not bad.

Cat Cora herself recommends you add McCormick Brand sage, cayenne, mustard, sesame seeds and paprika to the final fixings. And maybe some Ouzo to finish.

Soup du jour

Okay, I admit it. The blog post I did over waffles with creamed mushrooms? I mainly ate the waffles. So I had a lot of creamed mushrooms left over.

Thankfully, the recipe from that turns into an excellent soup when added to milk and some chicken base.

I really just used this as a vehicle for croutons and gruyere. I subsided on gruyere when I spent time in Lyon. They had some interesting dishes, the gastronomic capital of France. Fish quenelles, fish in puff pastry, come to mind--though they were one of the tastier things I sampled while I was there. I developed a strong distaste for beaujolais nouveau and a near fear of sausage at the same time, but oh, the cheeses. Fried chevre on salads, huge chunks of gruyere on midday sandwiches, brie (2 euro for a half pound!) with bread on the run. Raw milk wins my heart over.

Oh, I was talking about soup?

Use the creamed mushrooms recipe and add 2-4 cups milk along with some chicken bullion. Add salt to taste, top with croutons and cheese if you like. Quick and easy!

Also, don't eat the decorative thyme on accident like I did.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Fluffy Clouds of Mallow

As I was scouring Tastespotting last night in a vain attempt to put off doing actual work, slashfood reminded me that I had been planning to make marshmallows for some time.

Brownie Points has my favorite recipe, mostly because her PDF has half-recipe recommendations written right in. Last night was a half-recipe night.

When you make marshmallows, my one recommendation is to liberally coat every surface that will even think about touching mallow in powdered sugar. As you are cutting mallows, throw them in with even more powdered sugar. This will ensure that you do not end up with mallow hands, unless that's what you're into.

Today as I was chopping mallow blocks in squares, I thought it would be fun to make some covered in chocolate. I successfully nuked a white chocolate bunny turned purple from the Easter holidays and began to microwave some dark chocolate. I became so enamored with the resulting purple blocks that I kind of forgot about the microwaved dark chocolate, and now it smells like burning in lunette's residence. No dark chocolate mallows are to be had.

You know what smells like burning in a good way? My lovely sister obtained for me the following gift upon the Christmas holidays:

Yeah, baby.

I love fire. I'm definitely a closet pyromaniac. Homemade toasted mallows are even better than the ones out of a bag. Just keep a strong supply of lighter fluid nearby and you're set with one of these suckers. (I'm not hardcore enough to get an AB-inspired blowtorch from the local hardware store).

What's toasted mallow without chocolate and graham crackers? Well, seeing as I had temporarily killed off my chocolate supply and am not about to traverse the mid-day grocery crowds for the sake of graham crackers, I rummaged around and found some Quaker Multigrain Honey Graham Minis. After torching the bites, they were topped with chocolate syrup. Almost as good as s'mores. No. Who the hell am I kidding? They weren't anything as good. They were okay, though.

Recipe here.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

"Next to fried foods, the South has suffered from oratory."

-Walter Hines Page