Monday, October 31, 2005

What Would Edith Wharton Eat?

I know I still owe a post about my book club's Hungarian dinner--I'll get those photos ready soon! But in the meantime, we're reading House of Mirth, and we're stuck on what to serve for dinner in conjunction with the book next Monday. So far, we've only come up with a tea party. Any other ideas?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Luscious, autumnal grilled cheese

Try this: it's heavenly. Saute a sliced granny smith apple in butter with cardamom, cinnamon, and sugar. When it's nice and soft, make a grilled cheese sandwich by placing it in between two slices of havarti cheese and two slices of good bread. Not dill havarti, or jalapeno havarti--just simple, creamy havarti. Yummers. I had always liked sharp cheddar with apples--but the effect of cooking the apple and pairing it with the havarti has made me a convert. (Thanks to the Wisconsin Cheese Board for the recipe idea.)

Monday, October 17, 2005

It was Mr. Tart in the Kitchen with Basil!

Mr. Tart is a great cook when he has time to devote to it, and he has a soft spot in his heart for homemade pesto, especially now that our modest garden produces bunches of basil. Tonight, tired of the usual combination of oil, pine nuts, parmesan et al., he set out to break tradition and ended up creating a bright, spoon-lickable new variety: citrus pesto. He says it's the first recipe he's ever invented! Here's what he did:

Put 2 cloves garlic, 2 Tbsp pine nuts, 2 oz grated parmesan, and 1 c tightly packed basil in the food processor and whir away. Drizzle in 1/8 c olive oil, 1/8 c fresh lemon juice, and 1/8 c orange juice.

We freeze our pesto in one-tablespoon increments in ice cube trays and then defrost as needed until the following summer.

Any other pesto variations that y'all are partial to?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

L.A.: A fast-food rite of passage, and a cornfield as art

On Saturday, Mark and I went to Los Angeles for the day. On our way there, we made our first visit to the venerable California institution known as:

I'm not much of a fast-food sort of person, but we figured this was one of those things we have to do once while we're living here. At In-N-Out, the employees are oddly cheerful and the menu has a quaint simplicity:

Unless, that is, you know about the secret menu. (The Internet sort of takes the fun out of this sort of thing, doesn't it?)

Apparently this is a place that native Californians crave when they leave the state, sort of like what Valentino's or Runza are to Nebraskans who leave. My burger was good for fast food, but again, I'm just not much of a fast-food burger person. But it was good for what it was (In-N-Out kitchens are said to have no freezers or microwaves in them -- everything is fresh).

Anyway, on to L.A., where we visited the Not A Cornfield project. It's 30 acres of corn, planted in the heart of the city as, yes, an art installation. (Isn't there an old Talking Heads song that goes "This was a shopping mall, now it's nothing but flowers"?)

The land it's planted on is in a sort of decaying industrial neighborhood; warehouses line one side of it and the Metro zips past on the other. According to the website, this plot of land in particular sat neglected for a decade. So this is all about reclaiming land in a city that's famous for lacking focus, that's all sprawled out and centerless and is always covering up traces of its past. I also can't help but think that if Nebraskans knew about this thing, it would just be further proof to the pragmatic Midwestern mind that California is a goofy place. :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

a nice soup to go with that beer bread

Melissa's beer bread posting inspired me to make some soup, Southern California's lack of crisp fall weather be damned. Forgive the lack of photos of the finished product -- frankly, I was in a bad mood when I made it and wasn't thinking about blogging about it. (I cook to cheer myself up. I feel much better now, thank you.)

Mark found this recipe online recently when he was craving a soup we had at a bakery in Lincoln once. It turns out this doesn't resemble it, really, but it sure is delicious. It's hearty and filling, perfect for that first day where you have to turn the heat on in your house. (Not that this is happening here. I have to just imagine what that must be like.) Anyway:

African Peanut Soup

Chop up some onions (a couple small ones or one big one) and two bell peppers (whatever color you'd like--yellow or green will be nice for the color contrast) and saute in some oil in a big stockpot along with 4 cloves of chopped garlic. When all is nice and soft, add a 28-ounce can of chopped tomatoes, juice and all, 8 cups of vegetable stock, and 1 teaspoon of chili powder (or some red pepper flakes will work too, just something to give it a little bit of heat). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.

Then add 1/2 cup uncooked brown rice, reduce to low, and cover. Cook until rice is tender, about 15-20 minutes. Then stir in 2/3 cup crunchy peanut butter. It'll seem gloppy at first, but the peanut butter will melt and you'll have a divine, creamy soup that I would imagine would go great with some beer bread! mmmm.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

some good fall bread

Fall is a good time to cook soup and bake bread, but it's easy to get dissuaded from baking bread because it's so time consuming. Well, here's your solution: beer bread.

Beer bread is a genius concoction that simplifies the bread baking process by using beer as a leavening agent. You can make this bread with ten minutes of actual work and about an hour of baking. This is not pretty bread, but it sure is tasty.

Here's the recipe:

Mix 3 cups self-rising flour, 1/3 cup sugar, and 12 oz. of beer. Put mix in a buttered loaf pan and bake at 345 degress for 45 minutes. Remove bread from oven and drizzle with 1/4 cup melted butter. Bake for another 15 minutes.

The type of beer you use will, of course, alter the flavor a bit. I really like porter because it gives the bread a nice sweet, salty, malt flavor. But any beer will do (even cheap, undrinkable beer).

I got the recipe from Karla, who was our cook when I taught at the Wilderness Field Station. On rainy northwoods days, we could eat stacks and stacks of this bread.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Mehregan, the Persian harvest festival

On Saturday, Mark and I went with our friend Shirin to Orange County's Mehregan celebration. Mehregan is the Persian harvest festival, and Southern California has a pretty good-sized concentration of Iranians ("Tehrangeles", as they say), so it was quite the happening spot. In fact, here's Shirin and I at the Hot and Happening Spot:

Oh, oh, the food. We had some delicious stuff, like this chicken kebab:

And here's Mark's falafel, also great:

But the star was the ash reshteh, this creamy, minty noodle soup:

Shirin tells me ash is a name that covers a bunch of different Persian soups (I think "ash" is Farsi for "soup"), but ash reshteh is this particular kind with the noodles. I'm not quite sure what all is going on in it flavor-wise, but it's very herby, sort of like a minty pesto. And the noodles are big and thick, like homemade chicken soup noodles. Shirin's going to give me a recipe for it. I can't wait to try it at home!

For dessert, I had rosewater saffron ice cream with pistachios. I forgot to take pictures, but it was great. Shirin and Mark both had pomegranate sorbet, I think. It wasn't like any sorbet I've seen -- it was translucent and pretty soft, with little bits of some kind of rice noodle in it. It was great too, if a wee bit too sweet after a while.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

a dirge for summer

Yesterday was not the last day of the farmer's market, but since I'll be out of town the next two Saturdays, it was the last day for me. I think I nearly cried knowing it was my last day to wander through the booths, buying more produce than I probably need, eating sweet pastries, and sipping coffee. I'm not sure what it is about the farmer's market that makes me so abundantly happy, but it's end makes me equally sorrowful.

Most likely, I associate the market with summer, and it seems appropriate that today is the first day that has really felt like fall. In honor of summer's end, I made a plum tart. The plums were overripe, so their juices burst through the pastry, but it was sweet and lovely all the same. And one bonus of fall is that my un-airconditioned apartment is cool enough to allow for good pastry-making.

As I was buying my plums, the farmers told another patron that next season there would be no more peaches or plums from them. On Friday, they cut down all of their trees and are selling the land to developers. Now, instead of fruit trees, there will be a row of identical houses. And knowing that made the plums taste even sweeter.