Wednesday, May 31, 2006

yet another photo of homemade frozen treats

So tonight I attempted to make green tea gelato. I should have taken a photo of the botched result, but I could hardly bear to look at it, much less share it with you all. It was ugly.

It didn't sound all that hard: you steep the tea in the milk, then whisk that into egg yolks and sugar, then cook until it thickens a bit. After that, you chill it, add the cream, and put it in the ice cream maker, but the cooking step is where I screwed up. I think I let it cook just a couple minutes longer than I should have, because it was thickening nicely and then suddenly, with no warning sign that I was aware of, I just had a curdled mess. Oops. So no green tea gelato tonight.

But I really just didn't want to go to bed tonight without having made ice cream, so I started over. Except this time I decided I should do something with the leftover basil I had from the margherita pizza I made for dinner, so I made this intriguing-sounding basil ice cream. The technique was almost identical, so this time I just took it off the heat sooner and that seemed to fix the problem. Here it is, almost ready to come out of the ice cream machine:

The flavor was really light and refreshing -- suddenly, basil makes perfect sense in desserts. This would be great, I think, after a spicy meal, say, Thai food.

One question, though, for you veteran ice cream makers: Do all ice cream recipes make you cook it up like a custard first? It seems like just a bit more work than I'm inclined to do on a typical weekday. This is going to sound really lazy, but aren't there any where you just dump stuff into the machine? Or do they taste better the first way?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

just go to the bakery

Yesterday, I attended the requisite Memorial Day BBQ. Sunday night, W. suggested we make tres leches cake. Why? Neither of us had actually had tres leches cake, but we'd both heard about it, and something about sponge cake soaked in a bunch of milk just seems delicious. I looked for recipes and found one in an old issue of Everyday Food (which meant it would probably be easy) and one in the Gourmet Cookbook (which meant it would probably be difficult). I picked the one from Gourmet. Why? why? I was tempted by the addition of coconut milk to the standard combo of condensed milk, whole milk, and cream. It may have also been that the Gourmet recipe included rum.

I won't recount the various failures of this cake--it's just to painful. But instead of a spongy cake full of milky goodness, I ended up with a panful of cakey slop. It was hideous, too hideous to picture here. I think that since I got croissants right on my first effort I have an inflated sense of my baking prowess. This effort has convinced me that I have no idea what I'm doing. Did I not beat the eggs long enough? Did I get the oven temperature wrong? Did I misread the amounts? I'm not sure where I failed, but I most definitely failed.

Today, I was working with a group of ESL students to put together a collection of recipes. Since we were talking about food and many of the students are from Mexico and one of them owns a restaurant, I was certain that someone would know the secrets of pastel tres leches. No one had ever made it and someone replied to my query with a suggestion to "just buy it at the bakery." Very good advice indeed.

Monday, May 29, 2006

coconut-mango sorbet

We just got an ice cream machine as a wedding gift, so today I officially broke it in with a batch of coconut-mango sorbet, a recipe chosen because I already had all the ingredients on hand. You make a sugar syrup, chill it, and then puree it with mango, orange juice (the recipe said pineapple juice, but I had OJ in the fridge), the cream skimmed off a can of coconut milk (the recipe called for cream of coconut, i.e. the pre-sweetened stuff used to make pina coladas, but as should be clear by now, laziness was the order of the day and I had coconut milk in the pantry), lime juice and lime zest.

Half an hour in the ice cream maker and this lovely concoction was the result:

I am so loving this ice cream maker. My next batch, I've decided, will be green tea gelato. Stay tuned.

coffee granita

On hot summer days, I always find myself craving cold coffee in the afternoon. Since my apartment is surrounded by coffee shops, I don't have to go far to satisfy my craving for iced lattes or frozen mochas. The only trouble is that I shell out a lot of money. Thus, my solution of coffee granita. What's better than flaky caffeinated ice? This stuff also tastes great with vanilla ice cream. I love making granitas in the summer--so simple, no special equipment required, and just about anything tastes good frozen (especially when it's 90 degrees outside).

Saturday, May 27, 2006

competitive eating!

Last weekend, Will and I trekked off to Fruita, Colorado, for the Mike the Headless Chicken Festival, an event that Tara knows well. The culinary highlight of the trip was our feeble effort to enter the world of competitive eating.

Will participated in the wings eating contest, and while he seemed like an eager competitor. . .

All he was really interested in was getting some free wings. So while the petite winner downed twelve wings in one minute. . .

Will daintily ate six.

I cheered him on despite the lackluster performance and waited for my turn at the Peeps eating contest. Anyone who knows me knows that I love, love, love marshmallow peeps, so a sight like this nearly had me delirious with sugar-laden joy:

Most of my competitors were in the k-6 age bracket

but luckily a few adults joined up. I, however, started laughing a few seconds into the competition and ate a pathetic 2 1/2 peeps in 30 seconds. The winner (a man in his mid-thirties) ate 10. I did get to keep a box of peeps (which is all I really wanted anyway) and I got a lovely ribbon.

I was thinking that I might take on a rigorous training program this year, but since the International Federation of Competitive Eating "is against at-home training of any kind," I may have to rethink my ambitious plans. Sadly, it doesn't look like Will and I will unseat Richard and Carlene LeVevre as the reigning couple of competitive eating.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

my confused aunt

During a mini family reunion in Saint Louis this weekend, I asked my aunt what she thinks of our blog. She admitted to not reading it very often--infrequently enough, in fact, that she had forgotten that there were three separate authors. (And she never noticed our names at the bottom of the posts.) Over the past few months, she's been increasingly disturbed by the number of out-of-town, nay, out-of-state trips that I've been taking with men who aren't my husband. "I didn't know you had become such a backpacking and camping afficionado!" she said to me. "And why is Ed's nickname Will? And when did he become a vegetarian? And why did you go to California with a guy named Mark?" Perhaps we should put a blurb in the margin with an explanation of the three tarts and the Three Tarts!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

the annual tea party

Last year, I started a tradition of a yearly tea party with all the girls in my family. I think it's a tradition that I'll have to keep because not only did my niece talk about last year's tea party all this year ("remember the tea party, when I ate all the sugar?"--which she did), everyone was already making menu suggestions for next year.

For me, it's a good way to welcome spring and bid farewell to the academic year (and it allows me to postpone obligatory grading with some culinary excess). This year's menu included four kinds of tea sandwiches, two kinds of scones, lemon curd, and three kinds of tarts (of course!).

We all felt very refined and sophisticated (even though we ate more than is really reasonable).

My niece was so pleased with the baking, she gave me an award (ok, it was from her dance recital the night before but I deserved it!)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

more small-town foodie festivals

Y'all know about the Lafayette Oatmeal Festival, but would you believe that this area here just east of Boulder (Lafayette, Louisville, Erie, and Superior--all smallish towns) supports all sorts of other food-related celebrations? According to the local paper, which recently published a list of upcoming summer events, about half of them are all about eating and drinking: Lafayette Wine Festival, Lafayette Peach Festival, the Celebrate Lafayette with a free pancake breakfast (and a perfomance by the Nacho Men), the Erie Town Fair with food vendors, ditto for the Louisville Downtown Street Faire, the Louisville Picnic in the Park, the Spaghetti Open Golf Tournament, Erie's annual Biscuit Day, the Fourth of July Pancake Breakfast, and the Chili Fest. Whew! I'm tempted to go to Biscuit Day just because it's called Biscuit Day.

This plethora of food festivals makes sense, though: food and culture are inextricably linked. Few celebrations occur without food and drink involved. Comme summer, people want to picnic and grill and eat local produce. (Local? Peaches don't actually grow in Lafayette nor biscuits in Erie. But it still sounds good.) We want funnel cake from a stand and snow cones that turn our tongues unnatural colors and roasted corn on the cob. We want summer festivals, even though we're towns so small that no one outside the Denver/Boulder metro area has ever heard of us, and we want food with our festivals, thank you very much.

Monday, May 08, 2006

vegan adventures in L.A.'s Little Ethiopia

Friday night we went to the L.A. Farmers Market, having heard there was going to be a Cinco de Mayo party. As it turns out, the "party" entailed one roving mariachi band. But that's OK, because a trip to the L.A. Farmers Market is never a trip wasted. I think I've blogged about this before, but for the uninitiated: this particular market has been around since 1934 and is really more like a foodie food court than a farmers market in the traditional sense. It's semi-enclosed and the vendors are permanent; my friend Shirin likened it to a Middle Eastern market.

You'll find a butcher, a produce stand, several bakeries, Korean BBQ, a Jewish deli, a falafel stand, great coffee and donuts, a wine bar, a cheese shop, Brazilian food and a Cajun place, just to name a few. Shirin and I sampled the latter two. Unfortunately, I forgot that I had my camera with me.

At the Brazilian place, we could've had crazy huge kabob-type sticks of grilled meat (I think there's a word for this. Churrascaria? I'm pretty sure that spelling isn't right), but because it was midafternoon and we planned to have dinner that night, we opted for a little sampler plate of plantains, squash, and salmon salad with coconut milk and tomatoes. It was all good, but the plantains were especially good.

Then I tried beignets and chicory coffee at The Gumbo Pot. If we hadn't had dinner plans, I would've had a muffelata. Alas, another time. The beignets, I think, didn't go into the fryer until I ordered them, because they were piping hot. Yum, yum.

We have serendipity to thank for dinner that night, as we happened to discover L.A.'s Little Ethiopia neighborhood while driving down Fairfax on our way to the Farmers Market. We ended up at Rahel's, which claims to be the only fully vegan Ethiopian restaurant in the U.S. There were five of us, and we ordered an enormous platter that contained a little bit of every stew on the menu. Ethiopian food is basically utensil-less -- you scoop things up with torn-off pieces of injera, a flat, spongy bread with a sourdough-like tang. A few of the things we scooped up thusly: lentils stewed in red pepper sauce, other lentils seasoned with lemon and horseradish; potatoes; string beans and carrots; collard greens; broad beans with lemon. The communal nature of just digging into a big shared platter is a lot of fun, and I think Mark -- a vegetarian -- really enjoyed being able to chow down without having to ask questions about ingredients.

The next night, we found ourselves going back into L.A. to see a friend of Mark's who was in town on vacation. We had Thai food in Santa Monica. I decided to forego my Thai-restaurant standard -- drunken noodles -- and went for the more fusion-y part of the menu and had macadamia-crusted halibut with peanut sauce, bok choy, and coconut rice with black beans. For dessert, the four of us shared sweet roti -- crepes filled with a sweet, condensed-milk-based filling -- and sticky rice with mango, the only dessert Mark ever truly gravitates toward on a restaurant menu. It was heavenly.

(Then we all waddled down to the Santa Monica Pier to walk off our dinner.)

Monday, May 01, 2006

feeling our oats

Sarah, on the phone: And we're going to the Oatmeal Festival this weekend....

Sarah's hard-of-hearing grandmother: The what?

Sarah: The Oatmeal Festival!

Grandma: The what?

Sarah: The Oatmeal Festival, Grandma!

Grandma, confused: Can you say that again, sweetheart? It sounded like you said, well, an oatmeal festival.

Sarah: I did, Grandma! Lafayette has an oatmeal festival every year!

Grandma, incredulous: Well, I've never heard of such a thing! What do you do at, uh, an oatmeal festival?

Sarah: Well, I'm not sure, since this is my very first one. But there's an oatmeal baking contest, and lots of oatmeal to eat, and a race, I think.

Grandma, even more incredulous: Ed is going to run a race with oatmeal???

Sarah: Er, no. We're not actually going to run in the race. We'll just watch. And I don't think they bring the oatmeal with them when they run. But it sounds like fun, doesn't it?

Grandma, shaking her head: An oatmeal race? Wait till I tell the girls at the beauty parlor about this. My granddaughter's going to an oatmeal festival.

And indeed I did, along with Mr. Tart and his parents! After a 45-minute wait in very cold weather outside of the elementary school whose gym had been transformed into an oatmeal extravaganza, we entered the food line. The oatmeal ladies ladled up huge bowls of warm oaty glop for us (they ultimately served hundreds of gallons that morning)

and then we saw oatmeal heaven: what the promoters billed as "the longest oatmeal toppings bar in the world."

The toppings included just about every fresh and dried fruit you could think of (coconut, strawberries, pineapple, and much more), all kinds of nuts (even macadamia!), many syrups, lots of candies (including sour gummi worms), and Nutella. And then after we made it through the toppings line, with raspberries rolling out of our bowls and chocolate sauce snaking down the styrofoam, our plastic cafeteria trays groaning under the weight of all this sugar and fat--completely counteracting the healthiness of the oatmeal hidden under its colorful spread--we saw the oatmeal pancake table. And then the oatmeal muffins. And then the oatmeal bars! We crammed our way into a long aisle to find places to sit at a table decorated with oatmeal box vases.

Warning: It gets pretty nasty when you arrive at the bottom of the bowl. You have lukewarm oats swimming in a sticky sludge of a disturbing color, thanks to the maple syrup that melted the M&Ms. But it was tasty until then!

You're probably wondering, like Grandma, what one does at an Oatmeal Festival. You can see video footage from the oatmeal cam here. In addition to the 5K race--known as the "Quicker Quaker"--and the baking contest, you can visit the Oatmeal Spa

and see oatmeal-inspired artwork (sorry, we skipped that room) and do children's crafts with oatmeal boxes (we didn't) and have your picture taken as a Quaker

and have your picture taken with the Quakers

and finally, as all that fiber makes its way through your system, you can, at last, visit the oathouses.