February 29, 2008

Cocoa & Parmesan Throwdown

Cocoa & Parmesan are the theme ingredients for the They Go Really Well Together #9 event. According to Robert of lamiacucina, this month's host, this event challenges you to "create a recipe that pairs two (or three) ingredients that are not usually seen together. The theory is that if two ingredients have chemical compounds in common, then they should go well together in a recipe. With the blogging event we get to put the theory in practice."

I was talking about this event one day, and it evolved into a little battle, Iron Chef style. That is, I challenged the winery Port Club members to a Parmesan & cocoa throwdown. Three of us brought our creations to the winery last night and let the others (plus a couple customers & some people from the restaurant across the street) choose a winner.

After considering several different recipes (chocolate ravioli with pumpkin filling & a Parmesan-sage butter sauce, chocolate-dipped Parmesan crisps, chocolate shortbread topped with Parmesan chunks & balsamic syrup, cheese coins dusted with cocoa, Parmesan risotto with cocoa nibs), I finally decided on Cocoa-Nibby Parmesan Biscotti.

I originally wanted to use plain cocoa nibs, roasted cocoa beans that have been separated from their husks and broken into small bits. But, I could only find dark chocolate-covered nibs. No worries, though, as that seemed to work out just fine!

Here is the recipe I used, inspired by Gourmet magazine's Parmesan Black-pepper Biscotti...


4 cups all-purpose flour.
2 teaspoons baking powder.
2 teaspoons salt.
4 tablespoons dark chocolate-covered cocoa nibs.
2 1/4 cups (4 1/2 oz) Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (buck up and get the real stuff!).
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes.
4 eggs.
1 cup whole milk.



  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Mix flour, baking powder, salt, nibs, & 2 cups cheese in stand-mixer with paddle attachment.
  • Add in butter & mix until it resembles coarse meal. I did this with my hands to break up the big chunks of butter.
  • Whisk 3 eggs & the milk in a separate bowl, then add to flour and mix until combined.
  • Tip dough onto a lightly floured surface, knead just to bring it all together, & divide into 4 equal pieces.
  • Shape each piece into a log. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet.
  • Whisk the remaining egg & brush over the logs. Sprinkle them with the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese.
I only divided the dough into two pieces, so I had bigger logs.
  • Bake for about 30 minutes, or until lightly golden brown and firm.
  • Remove from oven & cool logs on rack for 10 minutes. Lower oven heat to 300.
  • Cut the logs into slices on the diagonal. Put them back on the baking sheet, with cut side down, and bake at 300--turning over once--until golden & crispy (about 35-45 minutes).
  • Cool on wire rack.
You could really taste the Parmesan in this biscotti, which were a bit softer in texture than traditional biscotti, and the cocoa nibs added a pleasing hint of sweetness.

Jerad made Chocolate-Parmesan Popcorn, a simple recipe made by tossing popped corn with grated cheese and melted bittersweet chocolate & butter, a delightfully salty-sweet treat:


Sharon made Chocolate-Dipped Parmesan Toasts, which were ultra-buttery and really delicious:


There were 8 judges who awarded points for use of theme ingredients, originality, taste, and appearance. Out of 96 total points, Sharon was the winner with 86 points! She blew us all away with a recipe that she came up on a whim!

February 28, 2008

Eat This: Crockpot Oatmeal

Another snowy morning yesterday, another warming breakfast.


Steel cut oats cooked overnight in a crockpot with brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, & dried fruit results in a creamy, tender oatmeal...no crunchiness left at all! So delicious...you must eat this soon!


1 cup steel cut oats (not instant or rolled oats)
3-4 cups water, depending on how long the oatmeal will cook
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup walnuts halves
  • Spray crockpot with nonstick cooking spray. If you're planning to cook the oatmeal 8 hours or longer, use 4 cups of water. If you want to cook it less than 8 hours, use 3 cups of water.
  • Put all ingredients except nuts in slow cooker, cover, and cook on low overnight.
  • Just before serving, stir in walnuts & a splash of milk (if desired).
Of course, you could add any flavorings or fruits you wanted to. Fresh chopped apples would be good, as would dried blueberries or apricots...maybe some coconut. And you could top a bowl with sliced bananas, a drizzle of honey or maple syrup...the possibilities are endless!

February 27, 2008

I made bread!

Isn't she lovely?

In November 2006, American cookbook author and food writer Mark Bittman published an article about no-knead bread in the New York Times. Apparently, it's been all the rage since. I've come across no-knead bread recipes on dozens of food blogs and websites, and I finally tried one yesterday.

No-knead bread is a snap to make...all you do is mix a few ingredients together, let it rise for hours, then bake it in a Dutch oven.

I can't explain how much I was impressed with this recipe...and myself for making it! The round loaf was crispy & brown on the outside and light & airy on the inside...very much like something you'd buy at an artisan bakery. No doughy bricks like I've ended up with in my previous bread-making attempts years ago!


I will definitely make this again...with fresh rosemary and garlic next time!

I used the recipe from Apartment Therapy (see their page for tips on proofing your dough and Dutch oven alternatives), one that has a much shorter proofing time than the original recipe (which calls for an 18-hour rise) :

(Quicker) No-Knead Bread
makes 1 loaf

3 cups bread flour.
3/4 teaspoon regular yeast (not instant). I used "active dry" yeast.
1 1/4 teaspoon salt.
1 1/2 cups water.

  • Mix all the ingredients in a big bowl. It will be a thick, slightly goopy dough. Mark Bittman calls it "shaggy." Cover with a towel or some plastic wrap and leave it in the warmest spot in your kitchen for a 6 to 8-hour rise. I put mine in the oven with the light on, since I have a fairly drafty kitchen.
  • After the dough has risen, lightly oil the counter or a cutting board and turn dough out on it. Shape it roughly into a ball, drizzle a bit of oil on top & rub it around, and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Let proof for at least another hour.
  • Put an oiled Dutch oven in the oven and heat to 450°F. I let mine heat up about 10 minutes. Put the dough in the pan. You may have to pour it, pry it off the baking sheet, or just roll it in - the dough is very wet. Don't worry if it looks a mess.
  • Cover the pot with a lid and bake for 30 minutes. Remove lid and bake for another 6-15 minutes to let it brown. Mine only took 7 minutes to brown, but the bottom was a little burnt.

I ate a piece warm with butter, and I couldn't get over the fact that I'd made bread from scratch!


You could easily make this any week day...just mix the dough in the morning, let is rise another hour as soon as you get home, then bake it while you prepare dinner. I don't think a dough can over-rise, so don't worry too much about that 6-8 hour time frame. I let mine raise another 45 minutes or so at first.

And there are whole-wheat versions out there too!

I am so excited about this recipe...and so looking forward to the pounds I am bound to gain now that I can have fresh bread whenever I want it!

Stroganoff in the Kitchen

There are not many foods that I hate, but I absolutely loathe beef stroganoff--or at least I used to--even though I've never actually eaten it.

You see, when I was a kid my mom once made beef stroganoff. This was during my smell-every-bite-of-food phase, and I just couldn't get over how it smelled. I thought it smelled like puke and refused to eat it. My dad got angry and sent me to my room without dinner. Ever since then, I've avoided the stroganoff.

I don't know what my mom made that day. I am guessing it was Hamburger Helper, because real beef stroganoff sounds pretty tasty...browned steak with sauteed onions & mushrooms all in a creamy sour cream sauce poured over egg noodles. How can that be bad?

A few months ago I decided to try beef stroganoff for the first time. I had planned to order it at Gentelin's, the nicest restaurant in town. However, once I got there I noticed they had taken the stroganoff off the menu. So, it was going to be up to me to make it.

Last night, I followed Simply Recipe's version, which seems to be the truest version (some recipes substitute yogurt or creme fraiche for the sour cream):

(serves 4)

6 tablespoons butter.
1 pound of top sirloin or tenderloin, cut thin into 1-inch wide by 2 1/2-inch long strips.
1/3 cup shallots or onions, chopped.
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced.
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg.
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, chopped.
1 cup sour cream, room temperature.
salt & pepper, to taste.

  • Melt half of the butter in a large skillet on medium heat. Increase the heat to high/med-high and add the strips of beef. You want to cook the beef quickly, browning on each side, so the temp needs to be high enough to brown the beef, but not so high as to burn the butter. You may need to work in batches. While cooking the beef, sprinkle with some salt and pepper. When both sides are browned, remove the beef to a bowl and set aside.
  • In the same pan, reduce the heat to medium and add the shallots. Cook the shallots for a minute or two, allowing them to soak up any meat drippings. Remove the shallots to the same bowl as the meat and set aside.
  • In the same pan, melt the rest of the butter. Increase heat to medium high and add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 4 minutes. While cooking, sprinkle the nutmeg and the tarragon on the mushrooms.
  • Reduce the heat to low and add the sour cream to the mushrooms. You may want to add a tablespoon or two of water to thin the sauce (or not). Mix in the sour cream thoroughly. Do not let it come to a simmer or boil or the sour cream will curdle.
  • Stir in the beef and shallots. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve immediately over egg noodles.

Ok, so, beef stroganoff does not smell or taste like puke (though, it still kind of looks like it!). It tastes like sour cream. The beef was tender and the sauce was rich. It was okay, but not something that I'd make again (If I did make this again, I'd add more than just sour cream to the sauce...maybe some beef broth & white wine). Though, my dinner guests seemed to like it...they cleaned their plates and there were no leftovers!

February 26, 2008

Foodie Spotlight

I just noticed that
I am in the "Foodie Spotlight"
on Foodbuzz today.

February 25, 2008

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Oatmeal

I was never much of a breakfast eater. I mean, sure...I loved going out for breakfast on a lazy weekend morning, lingering over pancakes and coffee. But, I hardly ever ate breakfast at home...most of the time just a yogurt or bagel to eat in the car. You see, I'm not usually much of a morning person; I can't get motivated enough for a proper breakfast.

However, over the past year I've come to appreciate a heartier breakfast...waking up earlier to cook up a few eggs, maybe some bacon, and actually sit down to eat. And now, I am a mess all day if I don't have breakfast.

On Friday, before I went to work at the winery, I made a small pot of oatmeal inspired by a recipe I saw at Veggie Terrain. We'd had snow, sleet, and cold temperatures for a few days and I needed something warm and soothing to start the day.

I'd never eaten steel-cut oats before, the kind that are supposed to be really good for you but take forever to cook, so I decided to use those for my breakfast.

Here's what I did:

Stir 1/2 cup of steel-cut oats & 1/2 cup raisins into 2 1/2 cups of briskly boiling water. When it begins to thicken, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a bit more water, when needed, to retain creamy texture.

When the oats are tender, remove from heat and stir in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 tablespoon brown sugar (or more to taste), dash of cinnamon, & 1/4 cup chopped walnuts.

Put oatmeal in a bowl and top with milk.


The steel-cut oats are a completely different texture than rolled oats. They are little nubbins of oats that, despite cooking for a half hour, retain a chewy "al-dente" kind of texture.


The texture was a bit odd at first, but the flavor was great (just like an oatmeal cookie!) and I quickly finished off the entire pot!

February 21, 2008

Pantry Raid!

I woke up this morning to freezing rain, school cancellations, and "don't leave the house if you don't have to" warnings. So, I canceled my classes...we were just meeting in the library today anyway. Besides, I've been having some brake problems with my car (I am taking it to the shop on Monday) and the road in front of my house is covered with sleet. Cars aren't even able to get up the road. I decided not to risk it.

Since I'm homebound today, I figured it would be a good time to make something for Eating Out Loud's Food Fight event...a pantry raid! The rules are simple: Pick a random day (preferably not after you've just completed a shopping trip), take a picture of your pantry, then prepare a dish with several key ingredients from the pantry.

Easy, breezy.

Here's what my pantry/food cabinet looks like:


At first, I considered making something with pasta, beans, & tuna (things I always have on hand), but it was only 1:00 and I wanted something more "brunch-like," more rib-stickingly filling.

So, I made tomato herb polenta & poached eggs with:

2 cups water
1/2 cup corn meal
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 garlic clove, crushed
salt & pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup marinara sauce
2 eggs
olive oil, for drizzling
  • Bring the water to a boil in a non-stick saucepan.
  • Stir in the polenta, and stir until it thickens.
  • Add the herbs, garlic, a pinch of salt, & a couple cranks of black pepper.
  • Put a lid on the pan and cook on low for 5 minutes.
  • Poach the eggs in simmering water, drain.
  • Remove lid & stir in cheese & marinara sauce.
  • Spoon polenta into 2 bowls. Drizzle with olive oil. Add an egg to each.
  • Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a bit more oregano & cheese (if desired).

Better with Booze: Vodka-Laced Mango Cupcakes

"It's better with booze" has always been a personal motto of mine.

Plain ol' pot roast for dinner? It's better with booze!

Boring baby shower? It's better with booze!

A cold winter night? It's better with booze!

Church? It's better with booze!

So, when I saw that the theme for this month's Cupcake Hero event was booze, I decided to whip up some liquor-laced goodies because....DESSERT IS BETTER WITH BOOZE!

I actually invented a recipe for this event, one which I am very proud of because--as I've said before--I'm no baker. I knew I wanted to do something with Absolut New Orleans, a mango & black pepper flavored vodka. So, this is a vanilla cupcake with a vodka-soaked mango center and vodka buttercream icing.


Never heard of Absolut New Orleans? It was released last fall, the first in a series to honor American cities. The flavors are supposed to represent the cities' cultural spirit, and all proceeds are donated to those cities.



For the cupcakes:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
1 ripe mango
1/2 cup Absolut New Orleans vodka
  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Peel and finely chop mango. Marinate mango in the vodka (use enough to cover completely) for 1/2 hour or more. Drain but save the juice for cocktails!
  • Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  • Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat in extract.
  • Add flour & milk, alternately, to sugar mixture.
  • Fill 12 cupcake liners with 1 heaping tablespoon of batter.
  • Add 1 teaspoon of mango to each cupcake.
  • Top each with another heaving tablespoon of batter. Add more batter to each to fill liners 3/4 full.
  • Bake for 20 minutes or until cupcakes are done.
  • Remove from pan and let cool completely before icing.
For the icing:

1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
6 tablespoons Absolut New Orleans vodka
  • Cream butter, salt, & vanilla until light and fluffy.
  • Add sugar, gradually.
  • Add vodka, one tablespoon at a time, and beat until smooth.
  • If you're feeling sassy, add a couple cranks of black pepper to the icing.
  • Ice cupcakes.
  • Eat a bunch and catch a buzz.

February 19, 2008

I [heart] Meat Pies.

Taste & Create is "a gathering point for the food-blogger community to come and have their recipes tested by their peers." Each participant is given a food blogging partner. Everyone then has to cook one recipe on their partner's blog & blog about it themselves

For my first month participating, I was paired up with Chris & Lisa from We [heart] Food. These two seem to be very adventurous chefs, and I had a hard time deciding what to make from all their yummy looking dishes. At first, I considered the chipotle bean burgers, because I had already bookmarked that page. The seafood meatballs were tempting, too. However, I finally decided on the lahmajoun (Aremenian meat pies) because it was an ambitious recipe that would force me to [finally!] make dough.

I was really nervous about the making dough part, as I have no confidence in my baking skills and all previous attempts at dough-like foods have resulted in disaster. As I was kneading the dough, I kept thinking of how I'm always reading about how making dough is such a soothing activity. Not so! Kneading dough for just 10 minutes sucked ass! It was hard! The dough was firm, not the soft, pliable dough I expected. I was worried that I was doing something wrong, that it wouldn't rise correctly, and that I wouldn't have the promised meat pies for my guests. So, I came up with a "Plan B" in case I screwed it all up...making patties or balls with the meat mixture, then shoving them into pita bread with some cucumber sauce (which, I think, would still be pretty tasty!).

However, I was so impressed with my results, that I may attempt [gasp] bread soon! Dough isn't so hard after all!

Anyway, these meat pies involve rolling the dough (after mixing, kneading, and rising for 2 hours) into thin circles, topping each with an herby, spicy meat mixture, then baking until crisp. I served them with a cucumber/dill/yogurt sauce similar to the salad Chris & Lisa posted.

Kelly says:
I can't believe how good these turned out! Yeah, me!

Jesse says:
Mmm, these are really good. The meat is so flavorful.

Jerad says:
Yeah, and it actually tastes better with the cucumber stuff on it...and I don't even like cucumbers--or dill--usually!

Sara says:
There is a lot of meat left over; you could make meatballs with it!

Jerad says:
Or meatloaf.

Kelly says:
Meatloaf, schmeatloaf, double beatloaf.

Jerad says:
Meat pie, schmeat pie, double beatpie.

Sara says:
Taste the meat pie. Smell the meat pie. Sense the meat pie. Love the meat pie.

Kelly says:
We should write an ode to meat pies.

Jesse says:
Yeah, and it would begin with "An Ode to Meat Pies, I love thee so. You are so crunchy, with your dough."


For the dough:
1 cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 tsp sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 tbsp olive oil

For the meat topping:
2 tbsp olive oil
3 medium onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef (or lamb)
2 large tomatoes (seeded & chopped)
3 tbsp tomato paste
1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp mint, finely chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses (reduce unsweetened pomegranate juice)
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp cumin
salt, pepper, and red pepper to taste

  • To make the dough: Pour 1/2 cup of the water into a small bowl and sprinkle it with the yeast and sugar. Let the mixture stand about 3 minutes, then stir to dissolve the yeast completely. Place the bowl in a warm, draft-free place for 5 minutes or until the mixture becomes foamy.
  • In a large bowl combine the flour and salt. Make a well in the center and add the remaining 1/2 cup water, the yeast mixture, and the oil. Blend the mixture until it forms a dough.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead about 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic, sprinkling with just enough additional flour, if necessary, to keep it from sticking. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat with the oil. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let stand in a warm, draft-free place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the meat topping: In a medium heavy skillet heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft but not browned. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl combine the meat, tomatoes, and tomato paste and mix well.
  • Add the parsley, mint, and pine nuts, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, mixed spices, salt, pepper, & red pepper.
  • Drain the onions of oil and add to the meat mixture.
  • Knead the mixture until it is thoroughly blended. Divide into 16 equal portions and set aside.
  • Punch down the dough and divide into 16 equal pieces. Form each piece into a smooth ball and arrange the balls 2 inches apart on a lightly floured board. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes.
  • On a lightly floured surface roll out each of the balls into a circle that is no more than 1/8" thick. Arrange the circles slightly apart on large, lightly greased baking sheets.
  • Top each circle with a portion of the meat mixture, spreading evenly to the edge. Bake the pies in a preheated 450 degree oven for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.
Kelly says:
I think these would be really good with some cheese (feta!) on top or mixed in with the meat.

February 16, 2008

Whine & Food

I must be in a funk or something, because everybody and everything is getting on my nerves...especially winery customers.


“Hi,” I say to a younger couple as they come in the front door. “Would you like to sample some wine?”

“Sure,” the girl responds.

“What kind of wine do you like?” I ask.


Oh, god. Here we go. As if I've never heard that before.

“Well,” I probe, “What would you like to sample today?”

“Um, do you have any sweet wines?”

“Sure, red or white?” I ask.



“Which do you prefer?”

“Sweet reds or pinks,” she says.

Of course.

“Well, I’ll start you with a red muscato from Italy.”

The girl looks at the clear bottle of bright, ruby-red colored wine, picks up her tasting cup, and asks...

“This is a red wine?”


I seriously don’t know how to respond to people like that. After an entire afternoon of “we like it all” and “do you have any sweet wines?”, I finally snapped at a customer.

This one had brought in a small piece of paper with the name of a wine written on it: “Lambrewsko.”

“Do you have this?” she asks.

“Lambrusco? No. But a nice attempt at spelling,” I say.

“It’s spelled wrong?”

“Um, yeah. I’m an English teacher, so stuff like that really bothers me.”

They didn’t think it was amusing, but I didn’t care. It was my funk talking.

To top it off, both of the schools where I teach were in the news today. Students at both schools were arrested for making threats. One student brought weapons on campus (he was actually in my class last year!), and another tried to recruit someone to help him with an NIU-style attack.

These school shootings scare the shit out of me, so that doesn’t help with my funky mood.

So, what’s the best way out of such a funk?

Some soup. Some matzo ball soup.

I made a pot of chicken stock earlier this week; I simmered it in the crockpot for nearly 24 hours, producing a clear, flavorful broth. I wanted to make something to highlight the stock and not pervert it with veggies and noodles. So, I decided to finally try my hand at matzo balls.

And, they were a cinch! I used the recipe on the back of the matzo meal container as a guide:
  • Stir together 2 tablespoons melted butter with 2 eggs, 1/2 cup matzo meal, & 1 teaspoon salt. Mix in 2 tablespoons chicken stock. I also added about a teaspoon of fresh rosemary & some cracked black pepper.
  • Cover & refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, bring a pot of water (about 1 1/2 quarts) to a brisk boil. Heat up chicken stock in a separate pot. You could cook the matzo balls in the boiling stock, but I did them separately in water to keep the stock clear & flavorful. I also set the stock to a simmer the whole time to reduce it a bit and concentrate the chickeniness.
  • Form the matzo mixture into 1-inch balls, reduce the flame under the water to a simmer, & drop balls in. It should make 7-8 balls.
  • Cover pot & simmer 30-45 minutes. You want them to be soft throughout, so check ofter 30 minutes or so. And by check, I mean cut in half and taste.
  • Place a few matzo balls (they puff up a lot during cooking!) in a bowl & ladle in some hot stock.
The matzo balls were dense but light in texture, and the rosemary added a nice hint of flavor. Overall, it actually kind of reminded me of the garlic bread soup I made recently...though, with a much different flavor.

When I first started this cooking project last April, I made a list of the foods & dishes I'd never cooked before. Matzo ball soup was on that list. But, I can't believe I'd always thought this was going to be a difficult, labor-intensive thing to do. It wasn't at all!

But, did it help pull me out of my funk? It did. I believe there isn't much--be it a mood or a feeling, an illness or an ache--that a bowl of chicken soup can't soothe.

I bought rechargeable batteries for my camera today, but the damned things aren't charging correctly. So...to satisfy your voyeurism, here is a pic of matzo ball soup that I found online:


Mine pretty much looked like that, only in a red bowl.

February 15, 2008

Lentils & Sausages, Slater-Style

Last fall I made a lentils & sausages recipe from Nigella Bites, a recipe that says to cook the lentils with onion in water, cook the sausages separately with wine & garlic, then add the sausages “and their garlicky, winey gravy” to the lentils. Sounds good, right?

Not so much.

The lentils were bland, and the sausages didn’t create enough “garlicky, winey gravy” to add anything special. I don’t know if the recipe or my ingredients were to blame; I used standard supermarket-brand brown lentils & smoked turkey sausages with sun-dried tomatoes. I was so unimpressed with it that I didn’t even bother to blog about it.

I vowed to try another sausage & lentils recipe some day.

Well, that day was Tuesday.

I made “Sausages with Salami & Lentils” from The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen with Nigel Slater (the recipe featured on the cover of his book as pictured above), and this time I used green French puy lentils & fresh Italian sausages from Whole Foods.

Before I give you the recipe, let me explain how much I adore Nigel Slater. I read his memoir Toast last year, and I’ve been obsessed ever since. His writing is superb; his cookbooks read like fiction (seriously, I’ve read them cover-to-cover just as I would a novel); the pictures are breathtaking. If you are not familiar with Nigel Slater, I suggest The Kitchen Diaries (part journal, part cookbook, part food porn) & Appetite (a must-have cookbook).

What I love most about Slater’s writing is how he describes food. For example, he includes a recipe for “a lovely, wobbly mayonnaise” in Appetite. He loves preparing food, and it shows in his writing. He’s very inspiring.

Of his warming, satisfying take on lentils & sausage, he writes:

A rough-edged casserole that gives the impression of having been cooked for hours, but which is pretty much ready to eat in 45 minutes. You could put it in the oven if you prefer, in which case you should let it cook for about an hour at moderate heat. This is the sort of food I like to put on the table for Saturday lunch, with a bowl of rocket [arugula] salad by the side. Then you can swoosh the salad leaves around your plate to mop up the last bits of tomatoey lentil sauce. Serves 2 with seconds.

You'll need:

2 medium onions, peeled & cubed.
2 tablespoons olive oil.
2 garlic cloves, peeled & sliced thin.
6-7 ounces salami, peeled & cut into “fat matchsticks”.
12 ounces fresh Italian sausages. (I used four.)
3/4 cup green French lentils, rinsed.
1 3/4 cups crushed tomatoes.
2 cups water.
2 bay leaves.
1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard (optional).
  • Warm the oil in a heavy-based casserole, add the onions and let them cook over a moderate heat until tender.
  • Meanwhile, peel the garlic, slice it thinly and add it to the onions. Stir regularly.
  • Add salami to the softening onions and leave for a couple of minutes, during which time the salami will darken slightly.
  • Start cooking the sausages in a nonstick pan. You only want them to color on the outside; they will do most of their cooking once they are in the sauce.
  • Tip the crushed tomatoes into the onions. (I love that Brit-speak!)
  • Add the lentils and stir in water. Bring to a boil.
  • Remove the sausages from their pan and tuck them into the casserole with the bay leaves. (I also added a pinch of dried oregano & thyme and some black pepper.)
  • Cover the pot with a lid and leave to simmer gently for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and cook an additional 10 minutes to reduce & thicken the sauce a bit. (Check to see if the lentils are soft.)
  • Stir the mustard (if using) into the lentils. Check for seasoning. You may find it needs little or no salt.
This stew was much better than the other version I tried. The cooked salami--while lending a smoky, rich flavor--developed a weird chewy texture. I'd suggest dicing the salami into smaller pieces. Next time, though, I'll use pancetta or bacon instead of the salami.

February 14, 2008

Happy V-Day!

February 14th is more than just Valentine's Day. It is also V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls inspired by Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues. (If you've never read or seen the Monologues, I suggest you do so. It is truly amazing!) Each year around February 14, colleges and women's organizations put on performances of the Vagina Monologues. You can find more about V-Day and local performances HERE. Eve Enlser is planning huge performance in New Orleans in April to celebrate the 10th anniversary of V-day (I wish I could go!).

A big part of the whole V-Day movement is becoming comfortable with the word vagina. Unbelievably, some people see that as a dirty word. A couple years ago, just before a performance of the Monologues at the college where I teach, a woman objected to the signs around campus promoting the event. She thought the word vagina was offensive. University officials changed the signs to read "V. Monologues" to appease the woman, a move that demeans the whole point of the performance in the first place.

I had the priviledge of performing in the Vagina Monologues at the university for the last two years. (Unfortuately, I don't think they put on a show this year since I haven't heard or seen anything about it.) I've read "I Was There in the Room," a monologue written about watching a woman give birth, and "The Vagina Workshop," about a woman who learns to appreciate the wonder of her vagina.

My favorite monlogue, however, is the one called "Reclaiming Cunt," that empowers women to take back that word and one that--if performed correctly--has the audience chanting "cunt, Cunt, CUNT!" While most people hate the word cunt, I am rather fond of it. It originates from the Goddess Kunti. So, it originally meant goddess!

So, in celebration of V-day and vaginas everywhere, here is recipe from Half of Me for Vagina Muffins...


(too funny!)

...and a recipe for a "Carolina Vagina" drink:

1/2 oz coconut rum
1/4 oz coffee liqueur
1/4 oz Irish cream
splash grenadine syrup
1 maraschino cheery

Shake liquids in a shaker. Drop cherry into shot glass. Strain mixture into the glass.

Remember to please always be vagina friendly!

February 13, 2008

A Rant & A Recipe

I'm trying to sell my house, and it's starting to stress me out. You see, my husband and I bought this house, our first, in September 2001. We weren't really looking for a house to buy; we just happened to see this one for sale by owner and decided to take a look. We were immediately in love with it.


It's a 100-year-old Victorian with stunning woodwork, tall ceilings, pocket doors, fireplaces, and loads of character. With over 3000 square feet, it was much too large for us, but we spread out and settled in.


Over the 5 years that we lived here together, we tore out carpet, painted rooms, installed new lighting fixtures, remodeled a bathroom, reworked the backyard, and started finishing the attic. It was a labor of love.


In the summer of 2006, hubby decided he wanted to look at new houses. I was hesitant, for a variety of reasons...one of which is that the house needed some work on the front porch. I was worried about it not selling with a porch that was literally falling down. Nevertheless, I agreed to look at houses and we eventually made an offer on one, a much newer & more expensive one. I was still hesitant and nervous about buying a new house before selling the current one, but hubby convinced me it would all work out.

It didn't work out. A few months after we moved into the new house, I moved back into the old one...where I've been ever since. I am still trying to sell it, and I am to the point of utter frustration...not because it isn't selling, but because I am tired of the comments people are making about it.

I KNOW the porch needs to be fixed! I KNOW the outside needs painting! I KNOW the wood floors aren't refinished! I KNOW all this, yet people keep pointing it out to me...as if I can't see those things myself.

If I could afford the repairs, I would do them in a heartbeat and stay here. I love this house. It's my home...the only "real" home I've had as an adult. Why can't people see that? Why do they insist on attacking it so harshly? It's not unlivable...far from it...it just needs a bit of TLC.

But, I can't afford all that work on my own and that's why I'm selling it. It's such a personal thing to sell a house. I am taking all the comments too personally, I know, but I've tried my hardest to make this into a comfortable home...especially now that I am back here, in different circumstances, with half of the furniture I used to have and with all the memories of another life here. And hearing about all the stuff that's wrong with it only makes me feel worse.


Anyway...for the agent open house today I made raspberry-almond blondies, a Martha Stewart recipe I adapted slightly, and they made me feel a little bit better!


You'll need:

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (plus more for pan).
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour.
1 teaspoon baking powder.
3/4 teaspoon salt.
1 cup light brown sugar.
2 eggs.
1 teaspoon vanilla.
1 cup sliced almonds, toasted.
1 small container of raspberries.
Powdered sugar, for dusting.
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a buttered square baking pan with parchment paper (or foil), allowing 2 inches to hang over sides. Butter lining (excluding overhang) as well. Martha suggests an 8-inch pan, but I used a 9-inch stoneware baking pan.
  • Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl, and set aside.
  • Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; cream on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla; beat until combined. Add flour mixture, and beat on low speed, scraping down sides of bowl, until well incorporated. Mix 1/4 cup almonds into batter.
  • Pour batter into prepared pan; spread with buttered hands (or a rubber spatula). The batter is very thick, almost like cookie batter. Don't be alarmed.
  • Scatter berries and remaining 1/4 cup nuts over batter in pan. Bake until a cake tester inserted into blondies (avoid center and edges) comes out with a few crumbs but is not wet. According to Martha, bake 55 to 60 minutes in an 8-inch pan, but I only needed 35-40 minutes for mine.
  • Let cook a few minutes in pan before using parchment to remove the blondies to a wire rack. Cool completely, then dust with powdered sugar before cutting into squares.
These are really good, something I will definitely make again. I think they make a nice Valentine's treat as well!

February 11, 2008

A Sandwich & A Soup 4 One

It's been a bitter cold day, with temperatures in the teens and twenties. Brrr! There's been rain, sleet, and snow. My house is freezing-ass cold. I mean, I've literally been shivering all day...even after I guiltily jacked the heat up 2 whole degrees to 68 (I have to pay a nearly $700 utility bill this month, so I've been stingy with the thermostat). Therefore, I made some comforting meals to try to warm my body.

Lunch was a quick cheese steak panini on my new pan. I am so happy that I've finally figured out the intricacies of panini making; it's best to use a thick, crusty bread & wrap it in foil before pressing!

For one sandwich, you'll need:

1/2 onion, peeled & sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
olive oil
1 ciabatta roll
3 or 4 thin slices of steak or roast beef (I used cajun roast beef from the deli)
4 slices provolone cheese
salt & pepper
  • First, saute the onion & pepper (seasoned with a pinch of salt & a few grounds of black pepper) in a tad of olive oil until soft & slightly browned. Remove from heat. (I also seasoned mine with dash or two of Emeril's seasoning.)
  • Put a panini or grill pan on the stove over medium heat to get hot. If you're using a pan with a press, put the press in the pan to heat also. If you don't have a press, get out a heavy cast-iron skillet, a big heavy canned good, or a brick.
  • Cut the roll in half and fill with 2 slices of cheese, the meat, a spoonful of the veggies, and the remaining slices of cheese. Wrap tightly in foil.
  • Place the sandwich on the hot pan and weigh down with the lid or other such heavy object. Leave for 5 minutes.
  • Flip the sandwich, replace weight, and leave another 5 minutes.
  • Remove from pan and check to see if the bread is crispy & browned (a few blackened grill marks are more than okay) and the cheese is melted. If it's not, rewrap and leave on hot grill (with burner turned off) under the press for a few more minutes.
Dinner was another quick meal...garlic bread soup adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe:
  • Mash three cloves of garlic & a small pinch of kosher salt to a smooth paste. (I used a mortar & pestle.)
  • Saute the garlic and 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil in a small saucepan over low heat. You want to gently cook the garlic. Don't let it brown. And be careful not to breathe right over the pot. Wowza! It's very pungent; stings the nostrils.
  • Add about 2 ounces of stale, crusty bread cut into bite-sized chunks. (I used half of a demi baguette that I bought a couple days ago.) Stir to coat bread with the garlicky oil. Don't worry if the garlic is starting to stick to the pan; as long as it's not browning, you're okay.
  • Add 1 small can of reduced-sodium chicken stock OR 2 cups homemade chicken stock. Stir to deglaze the pan.
  • Season with a couple cranks of black pepper, a pinch of dried oregano & thyme...but taste it before adding salt.
  • Heat until it's just about to boil. You don't want to cook it too long, because the bread will get too soggy. Cook it just so it is hot enough to eat.
  • Pour into a bowl & top with shredded Parmesan cheese and--if desired--a bit of chopped parsley. Eat while it's steaming.

This is a very rustic soup...and we all know "rustic" is fancy food speak for "ugly." However, it is pretty good. Very fragrant and soothing. Tastes just like garlic bread. A light supper to slurp solo while watching television.


February 10, 2008

Cucina d'amore

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and it seems like everyone in the food blogging world is writing about what to cook and eat on the holiday of love. So, here’s my two cents’ worth on how to prepare the perfect dinner for your lover...

Keep it light. Nobody feels sexy when they’re stuffed.

Keep it simple. Focus on fresh, flavorful ingredients, rather than fancy-schmancy, over-the-top foods.

Experiment. Try something new with your partner in the kitchen...a new cheese (or a few), some caviar if you’ve never had it, a different kind of wine than you normally drink.

Cook together. You don’t have to run around, frantically trying to get a meal on the table before your lover arrives. Prepare it together...or at least let your mate watch you cook. In his book Appetite, Nigel Slater says that “there is something slightly voyeuristic” about watching someone cook. He also calls cooking “one of the greatest pleasures you can have with your clothes on. [...] Feeling, sniffing, chopping, sizzling, grilling, frying, roasting, baking, tasting, licking, sucking, biting, savoring, and swallowing food are pleasures that would be a crime to miss out on.”

Eat with your fingers. There is something sensual about eating with you hands, and I’m not talking about bbq ribs, corn on the cob, or crab legs. That’s too messy. I’m talking, instead, about small bites of food that you can easily pick up (and, possibly, feed to each other). Let’s face it; there’s simply nothing sexy about a fork--a spoon, yes, but not a fork. Ever seen Nigella Lawson’s cooking shows? She’s always licking her fingers while cooking; it’s damned sexy.

Set the mood. Forget the candles, flowers, and schmoozy music. Instead, have a living room picnic in front of the fireplace, breakfast in bed (even if it’s dinner time), or dessert in the bath.

Save room for dessert. I believe that “less is more” when it comes to dessert. And you don’t always have to eat chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Try fruit (figs, raspberries, strawberries) & cheese, tangy sorbets, peaches in wine, prosecco gelatina, or--if you must--expensive chocolate truffles (better yet, make your own).

Don’t forget the wine. You don’t have to follow the “white wine with white foods, red wine with red foods” rule. Instead, serve lighter wines with light foods, and full-bodied wines with hearty foods. Or, serve wines that contrast the food you are eating. For example, foie gras goes excellently with sweet wines that cut the richness of the liver. And a lobster-stuffed avocado (recipe below) pairs well with a fruity, dry rose or even a mineraly pinot gris (again, something that contrasts the buttery texture of the dish). I also like something dry and bubbly with a sweet dessert. Oh, and, according to Eat Something Sexy, red wine will "boost your libido and that of your lover. When wine is used as an aphrodisiac the scent is key; those red wines that strike a masculine note (leather, tobacco, earth) are said to imitate the scent of male pheromones."

Enhance your performance. Serve your mate some aphrodisiac foods. You can find lists of them at Eat Something Sexy and Gourmet Sleuth. I read through these sites after I came across Mele Cotte’s Kitchen of Love event, which “celebrates Valentine’s Day and many food aphrodisiacs that offer endless possibilities to this affectionate day” by challenging cooks to “make an appetizer, dinner dish, or side item that includes at least one food considered an aphrodisiac.”

In creating a recipe for this event, I chose the following ingredients:

AVOCADO: The Aztecs called the avocado tree Ahuacuatl which translated means testicle tree . The ancients thought the fruit hanging in pairs on the tree resembled the male's testicles. This is a delicious fruit with a sensuous texture.

LOBSTER: Lobster’s history as a natural aphrodisiac deals mainly with its status as a symbol of luxury. Pamper someone you love with whole, steamed lobster or tails already lifted from the shell. It is a powerful enticement, no? Like all foods of the sea, the lobster’s aphrodisiac history can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, who believed their goddess of love, Aphrodite, was born of the sea and that all ocean creatures were her playthings in the games of love. Today we know that lobsters contain many of the nutrients necessary for peak sexual health. They are an ideal source of low-fat protein, much needed for a long night of seduction. They are also a source of zinc and B-12, both necessary nutrients for maintaining sexual desire.

PINE NUTS: Nuts are packed with protein, essential for bedroom calisthenics. Nuts are also considered a healthy source of fat and as such - listen up boys - help produce testosterone. To the Native Americans, pine nuts were the Viagra of the day. Zinc is a key mineral necessary to maintain male potency and pine nuts are rich in zinc. Pine nuts have been used to stimulate the libido as far back as Medieval times.

ARUGULA: Arugula was a popular aphrodisiac among the ancient Romans and ancient Egyptians. It was quite often associated with Priapus, a minor Roman god of fertility. Today most proponents of arugula downplay its natural aphrodisiac properties, promoting the lettuce instead as an aid for digestion. Arugula is also said to help clear the mind. And although neither of these curative properties specifically raises sexual energy, they are both attributes that promote the right mood for romance. It should be added that this peppery spring and autumn lettuce is rich in vitamins A and C and many minerals that are essential for putting the body in its sexual prime. Just taste this delicate yet spicy lettuce and there should be no question of its natural aphrodisiac abilities.(Similarly, sweet basil is said to stimulate the sex drive and boost fertility. It is also said to produce a general sense of well being for body and mind.)

GARLIC: The 'heat' in garlic is said to stir sexual desires. Unlike most aphrodisiac foods, garlic is one that both lovers must eat for its magical properties to manifest powers of romance. The powers of garlic in which lovers should take note are not those that fight sleep apnea or winter sniffles, but its purported power to inspire extraordinary stamina and unbridled energy. (The ancient Greeks fed garlic to top athletes prior to Olympic competition to encourage peak performance).Under the scrutiny of modern science, it was recently discovered that the chemical substance creating garlic's aroma, which seems to cling to fingers that slice it and tongues that caress it with unnatural tenacity is also one of the chemicals present in female sexual secretions.

MUSTARD: In European history, mustard has long been considered a potent aphrodisiac. Throughout much of recorded time, monks were not permitted to ingest mustard for it was believed to lead the men of God down the path to temptation. It is mustard’s pungency that earns the seed its aphrodisiac classification. Its intense, spicy flavor is credited with causing a rise in adrenalin. According to the research of Australia's Dr. Max Lake, mustard causes “maximal stimulation of the pain fraction of taste.” It is this balance of pain and pleasure that brings eaters to gastronomic climax.

BACON: Ok, so, bacon isn't really an aphrodisiac...but who doesn't love bacon? It's so sinful, so naughty. Whomever you cook bacon for is sure to love you.

Lobster-Stuffed Avocado


You’ll need:

2 avocados (be careful that they are not overly ripe).
1 pound cooked lobster meat (shrimp or crab would work too), coarsely chopped.
2 slices thick bacon, cooked crisp & coarsely crumbled.
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted.
1 lemon, cut in half.
1 garlic clove, crushed.
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil.
handful of arugula (use basil if you prefer), roughly torn.
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper.
edible flowers (optional).
  • Slice the avocados in half & remove the pits. Using a spoon, hollow out of bit more of each hole left by the pit, so that you have room to add the stuffing.
  • Chop what you removed and add to a mixing bowl. Squeeze half the lemon over the avocado halves to prevent discoloring.
  • Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl, including juice from other lemon half. Taste for seasoning. Fill avocado halves with lobster mixture. Garnish, if desired, with edible flowers.
For more aphrodisiac recipe ideas, take a look at the Intercourses cookbook (The avocado & pine nuts pics above are from that book!).

Got a romance quandary? Let Ms. Foodie help you solve it with food!

February 9, 2008

February 4, 2008

A Day In The Kitchen: Dessert

I've been really into the whole cooking/blogging community, reading several different blogs each week. Over the weekend, I came across Culinate's Death by Chocolate contest. And I thought, "What the hell, I'll give it a go!"

Here's the deal. By voting, you and I could BOTH win trips to Napa Valley! Cool, huh? You see, Culinate will send one reader AND one blogger to the Copia Center’s annual Death by Chocolate Festival.

You can vote for me by clicking the icon above (you will have to register first, so that you are entered into the contest, too!).

When thinking about what to make, I decided on a flourless cake because I'd never made a flourless cake before. While researching recipes & techniques, I decided that I wanted to add dry red wine to the batter because red wine is my favorite thing to pair with chocolate. The dry fruitiness of wine goes so well with the bitter sweetness of chocolate. I decided to top the cake with a sweet and savory ganache that I saw recently on Martha Stewart's website.

I also chose this recipe because--my god--the cake calls for 2 sticks of butter, a pound of chocolate, and 8 eggs while the ganache is made with 9 ounces of chocolate and a cup of heavy cream. If ever there was a "death by chocolate," this would be the cause!

So, without further adieu, here it is...

Flourless Chocolate & Red Wine Cake with Chocolate Rosemary Ganache.

For the cake, you'll need:

2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
1 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped.
1/4 cup dry red wine (I used Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin).
8 large eggs.
1/4 cup sugar.
1 teaspoon vanilla.
1/2 teaspoon salt.
  • Preheat oven to 325.
  • Grease a 9-inch springform pan. Cover bottom & sides with foil and set in roasting pan.
  • Combine chocolate, butter, & wine in a metal bowl over simmering water. Stir constantly until melted & smooth. Set aside.
  • Combine eggs, sugar, vanilla, & salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until frothy & doubled in size, about 5 minutes.
  • Fold 1/3 of the chocolate into the egg mixture until combined. Repeat with another third, and then the final third.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan. Add boiling water into the roasting pan to come 1/2 way up the springform.
  • Bake until slightly risen & the edges are set, about 25-20 minutes.
  • Remove from roasting pan & cool springform on wire rack.
  • When cool, remove cake from springform.

For the ganache, you'll need:

9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped.
1 cup heavy cream.
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary needles.
  • Place chocolate in medium bowl.
  • Warm cream & rosemary in a saucepan on low. Bring just to a boil, then strain over chocolate.
  • Cover the bowl with foil for 5 minutes.
  • Stir to melt.
  • Pour over cake.

POSTSCRIPT: Be sure to chill the cake before serving, so that it firms up. I didn't do that originally, and the pieces were like pudding! However, it was delicious--rich, chocolately, with a hint of herby sweetness from the rosemary--when it was chilled!