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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Happy Everything!

Today is our wedding Anniversary. Dear Husband has earned the distinction of being the most romantic male I have ever met!  He is (generally) very good too, about remembering dates/events, and doing the most remarkable gestures to commemorate the occasion.  So it should be no surprise that when I arrived to work today, this is what greeted me. It's good to be in love after all these years....

Purple passion-tastic! I have to remind myself, this is why I married that man!  Ok, that's not the only reason, but as you can see, it definitely ranks right up there in the benefits department.  Stay tuned for my latest adventures in Barbecue, and how I'm going to get to play foodie traveller, and soon! Eat, (and love) well my friends.....

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hummus a little tune....

Occasionally, I like to make treats for my friends at work.  I enjoy this both because they appreciate it, and it is a good excuse to flex my culinary muscles, and take the temperature of the tastebuds around me, so I know my cuisine still "has it".

I decided a lovely, healthy treat would be in order (and would counter-act the blondies I was bringing as well), so I began the Hummus funnus by infusing extra-virgin olive oil with fresh garlic and fresh rosemary, thyme and Italian flat leaved parsley.  In the bowl it all went, with a little sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Then, as it sat on the cutting board, getting all herb-a-licious, I assembled my meeez (mis en place, to culinary geekoids like meself), in preparation for the hummus.  I substitute peanut butter and sesame oil for the tahini, since I don't use tahini for anything else, and it would go to waste.


I then cut pita bread into wedges, and got my pastry brush busy painting on the infused oil.  I left the garlic chunks in the oil, as they would have burned. I was after the garlicky goodness, not big chunks of incinerated and bitter garlic.


Look at the money shot of the herby, olive-oil love going on up in here!

Here they are at the end of the process, plated for maximum color contrast on a lovely black platter.....


And yes, they taste as good as they look here. In fact, I was so impressed by the ease of making these, that I thought of a Mexican-themed version for guacamole, or salsa.  Or an Italian-themed version for bruschetta, or caponata.  It is easy to customize something, or tweak it to match certain cuisines. Let your imagination be your guide.

What surprised you by being so easy to make?  What are you most proud of creating?

The final beauty shot after the hummus ingredients took a dizzy ride in the food processor, and were taste-tested and adjusted as necessary... (and apparently, judging by how many times I snacked taste-tested...it needed a lot of adjustments lol)....



Oh yes, victory is mine!  I brought all of this to work today, along with nice bite-sized sticks of carrot, celery, red bell pepper and cucumber. I may end up spoiling my coworkers, or GETTING A RAISE!!! Eat well, and stay tuned for the Barbecue story.......

Friday, August 20, 2010

Texas Time......

Techincal glitches such as OUR COMPUTER COMPLETELY  DYING, and the new desktop NOT having a slot for a memory card oh, and the handy dandy cord that goes from camera to computer is handy-dandily in the storage unit, probably in a box so far down it's in Narnia - have kept me from posting pictures from my Texas business trip, and other foodie fun.  Was that a run-on sentence enough for you grammar police? Of which, I am a card-carrying member, but clearly do not play by the rules.  First, the pretty passable broccoli beef with the calamari appetizer...

The portion, as you can see was, ummmmm let's just say "healthy". I am well known for wanting to eat it all, but blessed with the stomach capacity of, say a walnut.  I have to say, though, that I did a respectable job, and yes, the broccoli was the first I've had in a long time that was not mushy or overcooked.....and that was delivered, no less! The restaurant is called "Asia", and I'd link you to it, but alas, no website. Look them up when you are in Austin...just don't order the szechuan chicken. K?  On to what I was REALLY looking foward to...when in Texas...

EAT BARBECUE! I had the rib and brisket sampler platter from The Green Mesquite and let me tell you, waiting has never been more richly rewarded.  The meats were full of smoky goodness (shout out to my friend Smoking Hobbit - get a load of these!), and the sauce was not overly sweet, and had a good zing to it.  I did not think I would actually despoil the brisket by making a sandwich with the bread, onion and pickle, but I decided to make a small sammy of it, and to be honest, what a combo!  I loved the crunch of that onion (and was grateful that I was alone in a hotel room due to imminent intestinal apocalypse). The beans were tender and flavor-ful, and the extra container of sauce - total brownie points - they know my secret all too well.  It was a good thing indeed that I was in a hotel room, as I needed a bath towel-sized napkin to remove all the saucy evidence from my joyous visage. I loved my trip, picked up some great knowledge from a wonderful lady (JD), and as you can see and read, had some culinary fun as well! Thank you, Austin...your people were kind, your foods were good, and I will come back some time.

When I returned to Alaska, we had one of those rare and precious things - a weekend day that was sunny. My boys up in de house loves them some Gazpacho, that wonderful cold soup from Spain. I have a favorite recipe from a cookbook I bought many moons ago, The Victory Garden Cookbook. Since I love gardening (growing organic vegetables), and cooking, this purchase was a gimme. Here is how I plate the soup for service..

I float the bowl in a larger, stainless steel bowl filled with ice cubes and water, to keep the crunchalicious and  freshy-freshington soup cold. My boyz loved it, and it did not last until the next night.

Well, what's supper without dessert, right?  So, in addition to a fine Syrah, I made these.....

Sweet happy ending...without paying through the nose for a certain rhyming-ly named chocolate-dipped berry company, as usual, I made my own.  Yes, I could have made some white chocolate or icing to drizzle decoratively over the strawberries, but let's face it...we just wanted the good part.

What "famous" dish do you copy successfully? Tell me how good it is!

Eat well my friends, and happy Friday!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kale, Kookieness and Kompassion...

When I returned from our recent bankruptcy trip to the grocery store, I realized that the bunch of kale I had purchased was the most beautiful, fresh, unblemished specimen I had EVER seen!  Here's a shot next to a half gallon of milk just to give you some perspective on the SIZE of this beauty!




The kale just dwarfs that half-gallon container of milk!  It was literally, larger than my head! I knew right then I would be making caldo verde, the famous Portuguese "green soup" with its thin, filament-like shreds and glorious taste. It is a snap to make, and is more of a method than an actual recipe. I saute garlic and onions in extra-virgin olive oil, add chorizo and brown for a little bit, then add broth, the thinly shredded kale and toward the end, some diced potato.  It is glorious, and much-needed throughout the year up here in nightmare-ish lovely chilly Alaska. Speaking of which, after a record THIRTY-TWO or so days of rain, the sun (what IS that big yellow thing, and that blue stuff all around it?) has finally, blessedly appeared. If you live in the rest of the good old U. S. of A., and you think that your co-workers get a little excited on a nice-weather day, let me tell you, you've not SEEN excited. Everyone gets this dreamy look on their faces, and you just know that you are not the only one who needs to get out into that vitamin D producer, and quickly!

On to the kookiness. My good friend HappyAly made me crazy happy and laughing with a faux-informational letter that she sent her husband. It read something like the following;

"Dear Husband,
Attached is a picture of the house I want. Make it Happen.
Love, conditionally,
Wife"

I cannot tell you how much giggle-time that single letter has given me. Could it be that it sort of  resonates with how I wish I could speak to people? I don't know, and am not in any mood for self-analysis on this miraculously sunny day.  It did spawn a new game which I shall call:

"POINTLESS LETTERS TO NO ONE IN PARTICULAR"

I then crafted my own version of the game, all about food, of course...mine went like this;

"Dear Mother Nature,
Please stop making arugula grow. I love it so much, that I eat waaaay too much of it, then funny things happen to my tummy. 
Thank you,
Allison"

Do you have a borderline-pointless letter to the world you would like to see here? Send it! Keep it clean, though, and try not to use real names, might save you some heartache in the long run...just sayin'

On to the Kompassion part of the story. I don't know why, as I get older that I am becoming less tolerant vs. more so. Things that would normally not even blow my hair back, almost enrage me nowadays. I am trying to deal with a situation in my personal life that is sort of stretching my admittedly low tolerance levels to the limit, and having difficulty. That would be my wish-o-the-week, to try to find that space in my heart to give a little room, for a short time, to a soul in need.

Do you have issues with control, or letting someone get on your last nerve? What do you do about it?

Eat well, my friends and ask for strength and sunshine in your own lives as well.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Clean Sweep

I was a productive little pixie this weekend, making a 100-year old recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies, making my favorite vegetable frankie recipe, my lovely, chewy and refreshing tabouli, and generally cooking my tushie off! I was a little smarter this time though, and made sure to separate out some tabouli to take to lunch with me this morning.  Here's what it looks like....


Tabouli (or Tabbouleh, as I have seen it spelled) is a Middle-Eastern salad that is refreshing, crunchy and chewy all at the same time, and has an added side benefit of.....um.....well, to be delicate, you will feel suitably "cleansed" after those whole grains scrub their way through your system.  I fondly call it COLON BLOW! (remember the old Saturday Night Live bit?). When I eat way too much of it, you guessed it, it's SUPER COLON BLOW.  Let's just say that when it comes to the time in my life when I have to get the dreaded colonoscopy, I think the physician will be able to see all the way to Poughkeepsie. Just sayin' :)

Anyway, it's delicious, refreshing and healthy and although it began as a simple wheat-berry and parsley salad, I enjoy putting mint, parsley, cucumber, tomato and scallion in mine for extra crunch. Extra virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and a little salt complete the dish.  I am going to try to continue to bring healthy lunch meals with me for at least this entire work week. Even if I have to forgo the baking for my terrific crew here at work. Oh, and in case you think I'm entirely too virtuous...BEHOLD!!!


Yep, that is EXACTLY what you think it is - a giant bar of chocolate. It's my favorite Cadbury fruit & nut bar I fell in love with when I lived in England many moons ago.  Hey, virtue is not always all it is cracked up to be!! 

What is your guilty pleasure? What do you sneak when no one is looking?

Eat well my friends, and treat yourselves nicely. We CAN be our own best friends, you know. :)


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cheese-y

This spring, while competing in the Real Women of Philadelphia competition, I went outside the box when it comes to recipe creation and experimentation. I've always been one of those chefs/cooks/ego-centric culinary Gods (hahahah) that believed that if I stuck to a certain coq-au-vin (chicken in red wine for neophytes) recipes, that I was attaining the ultimate in gastronomic magnitude....I was so very, very wrong.  Now, for a stubborn person like myself, admitting that I stuck to actual recipes for too long, is painful.  It is painful because like all 20/20 hindsight is it sharply, and not exactly flatteringly, critical. When one knows the basic theories of culinary knowledge, one should let one's creative instincts fly, right? No, no such free-flying, seat-of-the-pants endeavors for me! Which is why I am, potentially more than I should be, quite thrilled about one of the dishes I created for the contest.  It was a cream-cheese enhanced version of a Spanish favorite...Paella. The results, I must say, exceeded all expectations...


I have to say, having had such a history in the epidemiology of dish-creation in general, I have to say how pleased I was, both in terms of authentic-tasting flavors, and the incorporation of a heretofore unheard-of ingredient (cream cheese) in Paella. I DID IT! I----seasoned scaredy cat,  recipe follower, done did it! Ok, while my ego is still at less-than-Freudian levels, I should have baked it for a shorter time... (perfectionist, much?), I was still  quite chuffed (for Americans, thrilled) at the results.

My whole point here is that I had to go out of my limiting, recipe following self to allow the TRUE gastronome to emerge, take over, and realize that after thirty years of learning the rules, per se, that you CAN, in fact, create something that may have never been done before, and will still be delicious, and true to its culinary roots.

What did you do that was outside your culinary box? Tell me!

Eat well, my friends, and start trusting in yourself, too.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Restaurant Critic

A few days before I left on my very first business trip, Dear Husband and I went to The Milennium Hotel here in Anchorage, for an appetizer. He too, was flying away on business, so it was a bittersweet outing.  The reason for that is that we are quite simply still in love with each other, and cannot stand to be apart, even for just a night.  The Milennium is a sentimental favorite because it is where we stayed when as dewey-eyed Alaska newbies, we thought we were embarking on a great adventure.  More on THAT fubar later.

I know it is corny, but we do not take it for granted, and know all too many couples for whom the magic is long gone, and we value, cherish and work on our relationship - constantly.  Open (and frequent) communication are our watch words, and we instinctively know when our personal ship is headed toward a rocky coastline, and it is time to take the helm and get back on course. This was a lovely evening, without any need for personal course-correction, and we shared a couple of interesting dishes.  I ordered the steamed clams with a cilantro cream sauce and a roasted red bell pepper sauce as well.  Here's what the dish looked like.



The positives? There was only one dead clam out of a portion that was very large, and the clams were not over-cooked.  The negatives? Well, the pasta was extremely overcooked, and the combination of a "cilantro cream sauce" with a touch of "roasted red bell pepper sauce" was not exactly a marriage made in heaven.....like  mine, ahem.  Anyway, it was reasonably good, but if I shell out nearly twenty dollars for an appetizer portion, an eye toward taste, texture and which flavors actually work together, would be nice, ya know?

On to Dear Husbands' dish..he had the scallops.  Pricey as well, so I was expecting great things. Here's the artistic little plating of his dish....



Three.  THREE WHOLE SCALLOPS.  Now, Dear Husband said that the balsamic reduction sauce was quite good, the scallops were not over-cooked, and the flavors were pretty on point.  The trouble I think, comes when once again, you are paying near the twenty dollar mark, and this amount of food appears on your plate.  DH had to order a side plate of sauteed shrimp, just to have enough to eat to hold him until the airport.

I know how jacked-up in general restaurant prices in Anchorage are, especially in the summer, and I know that this hotel in particular caters to a certain, moneyed crowd, but I really am very opinionated about portions, and getting value for the dollar.  The bottom line?  The dishes were just so-so, overpriced, and I could have done it myself for a fraction of the cost. Will I never learn?

Tell me your favorite restaurant that gives excellent food and service for the money, and that you visit from time to time. What are your favorite dishes there?

Eat well my friends, and get what you pay for!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Great Lasagna Adventure

A while back, apparently I decided that good ole' regular lasagne was not challenging enough for me. My good friend HappyAly is a young and healthy vegan kinda chickaroo, and I wanted to make her the beautiful white bean cannolini dish from Rhymes with Vegan. Just look at the photo of that dish! The white, creamy filling, the obviously fresh basil. Everything about it appealed to me. And, of course, one of my hobbies is to make my HappyAly dishes that she will enjoy.  I quickly smashed right into my first roadblock...I had no vegan vegetable broth.  No problem, I thought....I'm a cook here, right?  So, I quickly threw some carrot, celery, fresh Italian flat-leaved parsley, salt, bay leaf and peppercorns into a saucepan.

Presto! Totally vegan vegetable stock! The recipe was and is rather ingredient-heavy, so I thought it best to get my mise en place (French for "putting in place" - it means getting your act together before you begin cooking) ready.  I assembled some of the ingredients on my cutting board while the veggie stock was simmering. 



Sidebar conversation: I am still a bit of the environmentalist I was in the younger version of myself, and I faced a conundrum when it came to cutting boards.  I do not like plastic or glass cutting boards (although I do use a thin plastic overlay when cutting raw poultry, etc), they don't grip like wood does, the glass makes a lot of noise, and I just cannot go there. On the other hand, I don't like the thought of trees a-falling in the woods to make me a cutting board! The solution? BAMBOO! It looks and grips like wood, I can pour boiling water all over it when it's due for a good sanitizing, and it does not warp, and it is sustainable.  For those of you not into the whole eco-friendly verbiage, sustainable means (in this instance), when they cut it, it comes back! I am inordinately fond of my cutting board, and just needed to share with the class. :)

Back to the vegan venture.......as I cooked the white bean mixture to stuff into the pasta shells, I was feeling pretty pleased. The fragrance emanating from my kitchen smelled of garlicky Italian goodness, and I thought that this was going extremely well! I prepped the other ingredients, and got out my little immersion blender to puree the white bean mixture. That is when karma/life/past transgressions flipped me the big finger. The bean mixture would not thicken! Fine, I thought, I'll add another can of white beans, and enough of the other flavorings so as not to dilute the flavor.  Yeah, good luck with that..it still would not thicken. I even added a quarter cup of nutritional yeast, thinking its powder-like nature, and "cheezy" goodness would thicken the filling. Ummm, yeah, no go. I started cursing the beautiful photo of the dish I saw on the website, and added a can of garbanzo beans as well. I puree'd a little more, and the mixture, although delicious, was not going to be substantial enough to fill a cannollini or manicotti shell. What to do? Well, if life gives you non-thickened bean mixture, make lasagna! I began by layering the tins with some ripped-open manicotti shells, the bean mixture, and the tomato/kalamata sauce mixture.




I kept layering until nearly at the top of the tin.......




And, since I was going through all this to perfect something that should taste like traditional lasagna, without all the fats from meats and cheeses (and I love both, don't get me wrong), I made myself some, too.

I finished layering all, topped with additional sauce and nutritional yeast, and baked at 350 for approximately thirty to forty minutes, until all were bubbly, and the pasta began to get a little crisp.  The final result? Take a look....

Topped with a final garnish of chopped fresh Italian flat-leaved parsley, and ready to serve!

The moral of the story? Well, as a thirty-year veteran of the school of self-taught chef-dom, I must say that one of the more valuable lessons is to never, EVER give up! Yes, your souffle's may fall flat, your brownies turn to fudge, your omelet become overcooked - so what! Get in there, and keep at it.  The verdict? Well, my beautiful Aly loved it, and immediately asked which site I got the recipe from, I loved it, it transports and freezes well, and I achieved vegan vindication - YAY!

What was your worst kitchen disaster? Did you attempt the same dish until you conquered it?

Eat well, my friends and stay tuned for an interesting post on the ever-so-cosmopolitan Anchorage dining scene (ahem). Have a lovely Saturday, and get out there and cook something!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Business as Usual...

Well, the long-anticipated first business trip ended last week, and I came home to a house guest, a computer that was down, and nine loads of laundry to play catch up with. Posting here had to take a back seat out of necessity, I'm afraid. 

Texas was warm, humid, and wonderful!  I was a basket case driving around in Austin, let's just say that the city does not quite look like it did in 1982!  Talk about growth!  Having endured three flights, getting my first rental car by myself, and driving around what had become a strange city to me, I think I did a splendid job! A certain airline managed to lose my luggage for nine hours, so I could not indulge my free Sunday swim I so desperately looked forward to.  That was frustrating as all get out, and my anger was only assuaged by the fact that everyone at my wonderful hotel was so kind to me.  I stayed at Staybridge Suites less than four miles from the airport, and it was just lovely.  A pool and a kitchenette were my only requirements, and they were met wonderfully.  Additionally, after I realized that I simply could not go driving around in a strange town with people whizzing past me at ninety miles an hour, the front desk person handed me a dining book, full of local restaurants that delivered to my hotel for a minor charge. The free Internet and printers were priceless as well, particularly when it came time to electronically check in for my flights, and print my boarding passes. Kudos to Staybridge Suites for a job well done!

The first full night there, I ordered from a Chinese restaurant, and gave them the hot and sour soup test.  Which is to say, if they make a decent one, they pass, and I will order from that restaurant, or dine there. I ordered the Vietnamese spring rolls, which were outstanding and had a butterflied shrimp, some rice noodles, cilantro, and vegetables, and came with a dynamite peanut dipping sauce. The hot and sour soup was, actually pretty good, with healthy portions of bamboo shoots and dried mushrooms as well as chicken and spice. It was not outstanding, but it passed the test. The main course, however, was a huge disappointment!  I ordered Szechuan chicken, as I love spicy foods, and what came out was more like a watery foo Yong. It had almost no spice, and was not worthy of cafeteria food. 

The second night, perhaps dreading take-out that was less than spectacular, I went to a local grocery store, and purchased the ingredients to cook in my little kitchenette. A nice rib eye steak, some salad from the salad bar, a couple red potatoes, and for dessert, a nectarine and some danish blue cheese and wheat crackers. I also picked up a tiny container of zingy horseradish sauce, since I'm saucy like that, and let me tell you, what a joy it was to make my own food, to perfection and cheaper than the restaurant delivery service! My steak was medium-rare, simply seasoned with salt and pepper, and tender as can be. I boiled the potatoes with skins on, and then broke them up and coated them with melted butter and salt & pepper.  My meal and dessert were outstanding, just the cure for my jet lag. My training was going well, and I met a wonderful new friend who I shall call JD, and she was a great trainer and example for our company!

Speaking of jets, one of the best meals of  my trip came at the very end of it.  On the way back to Alaska, a long layover in Houston put me right at the dinner hour.  Having foregone the pleasure of eating out in restaurants for the whole trip, it was finally time.  Airports have a nice array of interesting choices in terms of dining now, and I chose Bubba's Bayou Grill at the Houston Airport for my pre-flight supper.  My starter was a "cup" of gumbo.


This is not a very good cel-phone picture, but the crayfish and chicken were perfectly cooked, the broth was spicy, but not mind-blowing, and the portion was large for a "cup". My one and only gripe about the soup was the strange appearance, several times, of uncooked grains of rice...almost as though they had been added too late to cook completely.  Oh well on to the main course.....the "firecracker shrimp"



Any foodie worth their salt knows not to eat the toast garnish before the actual entree', it will make you overly full, and detract from your ability to enjoy the whole dish! First, the positive - there were at least a dozen, very large shrimp in that bowl, and they were cooked perfectly. I do have one issue with the dish, however, and that is if your claim to fame is that you are spicy, be spicy! Now I know I like things really hot, but, if I had to drown the shrimp in hot sauce from the table, they were not quite the BANG promised on the menu. 

This brings me to the subject of the good cook on the move.  What is an excellent cook to do about the fact that the great and grand majority of the dining public is subjected to mediocre food?  What do you do to make sure your dining experiences are stellar, even on the road, without spending a fortune? I'm really disappointed that the standard of cuisine in this country is basically low. We should demand freshness, accurate  preparation, and an enjoyable experience. Having said that, there have been major inroads made in the culinary standards in the last thirty years, let's just hope the trend continues.  The rest of my Texas food fun and descriptions to come later this week, stay tuned, and eat well my friends