Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Winter's Meal

Winter has completely settled into Desertville. We've been mostly snowed in for a few days now. It is strange to see the desert plants under blankets of snow, but very beautiful.

Husband and I are somewhat addicted to Top Chef and watched it this week despite having to go out to scrape snow and ice off the satellite dish a few times when the picture started to degrade. I like cauliflower, so Ariane's winning cauliflower puree intrigued me. She seemed so proud that it didn't have any butter when guest judge Martha Stewart commented that it was swimming with butter. I was curious.

It turns out that she cooked the cauliflower and potato for the puree IN HEAVY CREAM. Yes, as in boiled the veggies in the cream. I can think of almost nothing that wouldn't taste good cooked in heavy cream. I, however, had neither the cream supply nor the inclination to cook the veggies in cream. I compromised and cooked them in a combination of milk and water. I used a half cup of heated heavy cream to puree it and added a small knob of butter for good measure. I was only missing the fresh thyme, and that would have been lovely.

We all liked the puree, and I'll make it again. It is a nice accompaniment to a strong-flavored dish. Tonight, I made pan fried tofu with a lemon-caper sauce. Little Girl adores capers. She loves tofu. She was lukewarm on the puree, but ate some of that along with some leftover peas and mushrooms.

Although I did get a nice brown on the tofu, this was still a pretty bland-looking meal, so no photos tonight. But I hope to gain points for following and linking to an actual recipe.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Orange Salad

The economy being what it is, I figured some rice and beans type meals are in order this winter. Doesn't hurt that I like them anyway. One of my favorites is black beans (cooked with garlic and a halved orange in the cooking water) and rice with a hot salsa and a cool orange and cilantro salad. The oranges are dressed just with olive oil mixed with salt and pepper and make a really nice contrast to the rice and beans.

In other cooking, it is the season of recipes, as it is the season of baking. I haven't done too much yet because we got snowed out of Husband's office party before I'd gone too far with the cookie platter. Of course, I had already made the flourless chocolate cake we were giving away in the gift exchange. Snow prevented a shopping trip for the gift exchange and since everyone in his office knows the cake, I figured it would go over well. So now I'm low on butter, having used a pound in the cake. I need to make at least two kinds of cookies, though, so I have enough goodies to make up tins for Husband to take to work and for our postal workers.

I may be making bread, too, if we can't get to a store tomorrow, which is possible. I don't mind -- it makes the house smell SO good.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

On The Joys Of Natural Pectin

Husband had to work on Thanksgiving Day and Little Girl and I picked him up from work and instantly started the 3.5 hour trek to his parents' place for the rest of the weekend. Their feast was long over (and the leftovers weren't veggie-friendly), so no Thanksgiving meal that day.

On Saturday, we had a late celebration with Husband's father at my B-I-L's apartment. B-I-L had, of course, already had Thanksgiving meals with his family, his wife's family, AND with their step-siblings. Three meals, two days. Whew! Needless to say, they were not excited by the idea of cooking yet another turkey-and-trimmings feast on Saturday and my F-I-L wasn't interested either, having had a traditional Thanksgiving meal at his work. So B-I-L made meatloaf and some sides, and I made roasted potatoes, roasted veggies, and some baked salmon.

This has left Husband and I without a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Obviously, we don't eat the turkey part, but I am extraordinarily fond of bread-and-sage stuffing and Husband is equally fond of what he calls "leftover sandwiches". Therefore, yesterday, I made the trek into town to buy two Quorn roasts (not being fond of Tofurkeys at all). Today is all about the cooking, which brings me to the title of this post.

First thing I made was the cranberry sauce. I like to keep it simple, so it was a bag of cranberries (sniff! not enough of my hand-picked wild ones left for this!), half a cup of apple juice, half a cup of water, a cup of sugar, a pinch of salt, and a teeny dash each of cinnamon and cloves. I let it cool a little in the pan, then transferred it into a tupperware to cool completely before putting it in the fridge.

Even without refrigeration, it is now a solid block of whole-berry jelly. I could slice it and it would stay in formation! I am always amazed at the jelling power of high-pectin fruits. Life would hold so much less joy and mystery without them.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Garden Inspiration

So, other than the very kind, encouraging comments here (thank you!), the inspiration for my garden-preparation is stuff like this: lettuce I picked from Husband's coworker's garden just hours before we ate it all up. I mean, really, to go and pick gorgeous greens like these in November -- who wouldn't want that? I want it, and I'm willing to do the work to get it. Fresh greens make such a difference in a salad. In this case, it was a full-meal salad with red pepper, avocado, toasted walnuts, and my newly arrived Maytag blue cheese. Delicious!

In other news, we had our first winter rains! Two nights of heavy rain, followed by grey, damp, cool days. Good, soaking rains, too, without a lot of run-off. It was great!

And in still other news, I love Marcella Hazan's comments today in the NYTimes. I'm a cook. I was a cook when I cooked professionally for someone else and I was a cook when I ran my own kitchen for a living. I'm not a chef and I don't pretend to be one. I haven't run into the phenomenon of home cooks calling themselves (or being called) chefs, but I love that Marcella Hazan makes the distinction, even among professionals. I don't have anything particularly profound to say; I just enjoyed the article and the sentiment behind it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Garden Of The Future

This photo is a) probably not the kind of photo you're missing, Mimi, and b) not all that current, but it is the one I have of my garden space. I took this during the fencing-in process, which is still not completely done because I haven't decided what I'm doing about a gate yet. We have serious rodent issues, which is why the fence is buried. There's an additional layer of (also buried) hardware cloth. I worry sometimes that I'm just providing an elaborate ladder for the climbing variety of local fur ball. If that proves to be the case, I'm prepared to add a layer of roof flashing for a slippery first several inches. In the meantime, I'm concentrating on keeping out the crawling/hopping/digging fur balls.

It's not a huge space, but my plan for next year is herbs, greens, tomatoes, and a couple other things yet to be decided. I don't need tons of space for such moderate goals. If it goes well AND it looks like we'll be here for another year after next summer, I'll work on an expansion. The space this time around was determined by two things: the space the previous occupants had leveled for their above-ground swimming pool and the length of the fencing that was sitting here waiting to be around my garden.

Over the next few months, I'll be pounding sun-baked free-range cattle poop and trying to score used coffee grounds and spent grain from a brew-pub to get the soil ready for spring. And, with luck, I'll make one very small corner of Desertville bloom.

Monday, November 17, 2008

In Which Recipes Are Followed Left and Right

I seem to be on a recipe-following streak these days. New recipes, mostly, too. I'm pretty proud.

The most recent recipes were for Baby Girl's Happy Birthday cake. She's now two, so maybe not quite a baby anymore. She had some very specific ideas about what should be present at a birthday: cake, candles, balloons, hats, song. Anything else was just gravy, but those were repeated frequently. After the actual event, where the presents were all opened by an older cousin (four-ish) because my Girl didn't quite get the point, presents will always be a part of the list for future birthdays.

I wanted to make sure the cake was sufficiently cake-like that it wouldn't be confused for the favorite muffin, but not completely unhealthy for a very low-sugar-consuming small one. I decided on an applesauce spice cake with lemon cream cheese frosting. The recipes came from the classic Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that was on my M-I-L's shelf when I went looking. I followed them ALMOST to the letter. I increased the apple sauce quantity a little and the lemon was an addition to the frosting, which also went short by about a cup and a half of sugar to keep it a little less cloying. It was a hit with both kids and adults, which was the goal.

I've recently followed a couple other recipes, but I can't quite think of what they were. I swear that I did it, though. Husband and I have both put on a little weight since the shorter days set in, preventing late evening exercise time. So I'm thinking that I might try to make super-healthy soups twice a week to provide some vegetable-rich, filling, but lower-cal dinners and leftover lunches for the winter. I happen to have six or seven quarts of home made stock in the freezer right now, so that will provide some good inspiration. I have plenty of soup-rich cookbooks, so more recipes will probably follow.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen...

...the next President of the United States.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Vote! Vote! Vote!

Yes, this is my get-out-the-vote post. Please, no matter how long the lines are, no matter the weather, go vote tomorrow!

What does a Jack o' Lantern themed cake have to do with voting, you ask? I made it for Husband's work event last week and it was voted best dessert. Besides, you don't want to make that face the day after tomorrow if your candidate loses by only a few votes and YOU didn't make it to the polls. The cake, by the way, is a flourless mocha fudge cake from the Frog Commissary cookbook. Well worth a try; it is easy and delicious.

So get out there and vote! Eat good food while watching the returns come in! Be a good citizen!

(I recently followed another new recipe for a cauliflower bread pudding...I'll try to be a good blogger and share details soon! I really do try to keep up with my blog. I've got garden-to-be pictures somewhere, too.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Slivered Salsa

I've been having troubles with my internet connection. We have mobile broadband and the signal is much worse here in Desertville than in Desolationville. Who knew that there was something good about Desolationville?

Anyway. In an attempt to do a little catch-up, I offer this photo of some "salsa" I made a couple weeks ago. I wanted crunch and I wanted slivers rather than chunks. I added some cabbage after this photo was taken, and we ate it with black bean soft tacos. Very tasty.

Tonight, if I can find the energy to grill, we'll be having a garlic ciabatta with grilled portabellos, zucchini, and onions, with a cream cheese-pesto spread. It is technically junk food night, however, so I can get away with much, much less work, and I might. Husband was away part of this week, so I'm a tired person. Little Girl runs a person ragged these days.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Chapter 2: A Belated "Update" On The Finished Product

So, I had thought to post as I proceeded yesterday, but having a toddler underfoot prevents such things from happening sometimes. I ended up not tweaking the recipe, except for the addition of a tablespoon of butter at the very end for extra creaminess. I had my doubts about the tomatoes, but I recognized my own biases; seafood and tomatoes are just not my thing. It might have to do with a lot of time spent on Cape Cod feeling around the sand for clams with my toes. Cape Cod clams do not spend time visiting with tomatoes.

And don't get me wrong...a good tomato is a treasure. I have sixteen of them sitting about five feet from me right now, thanks to the garden-raiding from yesterday. Homegrown tomatoes after two summers in frozen Isolationville -- it's a miracle. We ate five for breakfast.

Back to the risotto-making...I kept the tomatoes in the mix. I'm not sure my liquid adding-and-stirring technique was completely solid and I think I cooked it just a couple minutes longer than I should have, but it was declared a taste success by all who tasted it, especially the new parents. I forgot to take a picture of it, but quite frankly, it wasn't the most photogenic thing I've ever made anyway.

Perhaps the best part was the delivery: we had been there only a few minutes when another B- and S-I-L showed up with their two small ones, making it the first time that all four grandkids were in the same room together. We had a very happy and proud Grandmother and missed only Grandfather, who was still at work.

So there you have it: I followed a recipe for seafood risotto and ended up with...seafood risotto! A good day.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Chapter 1: In Which I Begin To Follow A Recipe

That's right. After blogging last month about my apparent inability to choose a recipe and follow it, more or less as written, I have just finely chopped one cup (!!) of shallots for a seafood risotto recipe. My brother- and sister-in-law just had a baby last week. Yesterday my M-I-L and I made a big pan of enchiladas and she took it to them last night. Their request, however, was for seafood risotto. Not being a huge rice fan (I used to be more of one, but having a non-rice-loving Husband has put a damper on what rice love I had), I've only made risotto once before and that was a long time ago. So, I needed a recipe.

I found one on Epicurious. It was from an RSVP column and of the 76 people who reviewed the recipe, 93% said they'd make it again. Now, of course, almost all of them tweaked it in one way or another, and I MIGHT give one or two very, very small tweaks based on the reviews, but mostly, I'm going to actually follow it as written.

My next step is to peel and devein my shrimp. I want the seafood to all be a similar size, so I might also cut the bay scallops in half to match my "rough chop" of the shrimp.

Oh. And I think I've decided on Desertville as my new location-name. We are really, truly in the middle of the desert now, with few other distinguishing characteristics. I considered Noneighborville, but it looks awkward and I didn't want to keep typing it for the next couple years. It would also be accurate, though. We can't see our nearest neighbor; not by a long shot. And, as far as I know, we only have one part-time person who anyone would really consider a neighbor at all. Some of Husband's work colleagues are probably the closest full-time residents to us and they're five or six miles up the road.

I'd love to make it Dessertville, but Husband is more of a savory-food person. It might make him feel left out. Much like the name "Bitches' Ditches" was ruled out as the name of my family's short-term farm many years ago; my mom felt that it ignored my father's contribution.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Busy and More Isolated Again

Well, since last writing, we have moved again. Desolationville was just too depressing to live there for much longer, so we picked up and moved 43 miles east and 3000 feet higher. Whew! The mornings and evenings are actually pleasant now and midday is at least not deadly.

We have no neighbors and our new 'ville consists of a single building that functions as part-time post office and store combined. There are no other buildings or businesses at the intersection that qualifies as the 'ville itself. But it is much, much better than living in Desolationville for even another day. I will be starting over with garden plans that will have to include some anti-bunny planning. BabyGirl is quite keen on the large rabbit population, but I suspect my tender greens would have different feelings on the subject.

In the meantime, I actually have a restaurant review to do when we get back to our new home! We were scheduled to go on vacation just a few days after moving and we're still on the road. This Isolated Foodie will be trying to write more regularly once we're settled into our new kitchen.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Some Food For Thought

As I think I've mentioned before, I originally planned to write a blog about food and agricultural policy and then realized that a food blog was what I really wanted to write. But every once in a while, I come across something that I feel compelled to mention.

Today's case in point? George Monbiot's article from The Guardian about the productivity of small farms. Anthropological studies of small farmers have shown this to be true over and over again: per unit of land, small farms are more productive than large farms. It is true even when you look at the very same farmers; if a farmer has access to lots of land, that farmer will grow less food per unit of land than if the same farmer has limited access to land. In areas of highly restricted land availability, farmers plant multiple crops in the same space during the year, grow plants closer together, and find other ways to increase their harvests.

And -- this is key -- they virtually always do this without depleting the productivity and fertility of the land. Usually, this is because they integrate both animals and plants in one system, using the animal manures to keep up soil fertility. Anyone who has read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma is familiar with some of the ways this can be done. But his Virginia farmer is just one example of the immense creativity of people who are working to feed their families off the land.

What Monbiot does not really touch on is that there are cultural downfalls of large-scale farming as well as the agricultural and environmental woes. When newspapers talk about towns on the Great Plains dwindling down to 15 or 20 elderly residents, or disappearing altogether, a lot of it is the result of increased farm size. In a county where two or three hundred farms have been consolidated into two or three farms, run with very little human labor because of machinery, there aren't many families needed.

Most foodies don't need reminders to support local, small farms. Unfortunately, many others do need not only reminding, but convincing. Superior productivity -- and production of actual food products, not commodities -- is yet another reason to buy from local farmers whenever possible.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Failed Goal

Well, I had planned to make something with choux pastry by today, but we ended up going to visit Husband's family for the weekend, killing my prime days to have a big cooking project. Now I have to find another recipe-bound challenge for myself.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Recipe Thoughts and Roundups

I'm sure this article is going to provide fodder for lots of food blogs this week: The NYTimes printed an article today about Recipe Deal Breakers. What ingredient, technique, or phrase will make you walk away from a recipe without trying it? Both the article and the accompanying reader comments are worth some perusing time; I agreed with some of the deal breakers, but thought that others were crazy. For example, a one-word comment said, "Cilantro." I love cilantro! Can't imagine giving up all the varied dishes that contain it.

But that's just a question of personal taste, so it's an agree to disagree sort of situation.

My bigger problem is that I seem to have walked away from almost all recipes in the past few years. I used to be reasonably good about looking for and trying new recipes, but I almost can't remember the last time I actually followed a new recipe (or even an old one, by actually looking at it) from start to finish. And I think this is good and bad. I even think I might know where it comes from.

Living here in Desolationville, I get to a grocery store once almost every week. Sometimes, we go ten days, but that's about the longest stretch we've had, I think. In Isolationville, we went MONTHS. After first arriving there, I spent six months without going more than sixteen miles from our house. And, believe me, there were no "real" grocery stores within a sixteen-mile radius of our house. So I had to make do with what I had stocked up on, what could be ordered on the internet (you'd think almost anything could be, but Amazon wouldn't ship food products to Isolationville and neither would a number of other mail-order purveyors), or what happened to show up on the shelves of our gas-station-convenience-store-sized "supermarket".

This automatically made following recipes, especially any that included fresh produce, extremely difficult, and I think I just stopped trying and haven't really started again. I cook a lot from scratch, even trying new things, but recipes aren't often involved. On the one hand, it means that I can almost always come up with something for dinner based on what's already in the kitchen, which is good in the day or two before a shopping trip takes us out of Desolationville.

On the other, though, I do think my cooking more generally is diminished by not trying new recipes created and honed by others. I have a good friend who almost always tries a new recipe when I visit. The last visit, she made a favorite, but she still had the cookbook (Moosewood Lowfat, a favorite of mine, too, for healthful foods without stupid concessions to commercial lowfat products) sitting open to the recipe on the counter. The same cookbook had inspired a foodie friend of mine (almost a decade ago) to try every recipe in the book. I think my cousin was pretty close to considering the same attempt.

I guess this is a way of saying that I need to find ways to try new recipes. I've been thinking of doing this month's Donna Day choux challenge, and that will help; I've always wanted to make choux, but never have, and I'll definitely need a recipe.

Speaking of food blogging events, a couple roundups have been posted recently for the Sandwich Festival and the Beautiful Bones event. There are a lot of great recipes -- maybe some I'll even follow!

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Good Deed and A Good Meal

Meals are less planned in my life than I would like sometimes. It would make shopping trips easier if I was able to decide in advance what our week's menu will be. It just never happens. Some days I wake up with a firm plan about what we're eating that night (today, for example, I am pretty sure we're going to have pad Thai) and then BabyGirl has a really bad afternoon or Husband has to work a little late so that some prep work doesn't get done or I have a late-in-the-day hankering for something else.

The problem is that living so far from stores, we generally shop for fresh stuff just once every week to ten days. Anything that is quickly perishable has to be used in the first few days (which is why pad Thai is on the menu tonight; I bought bean sprouts over the weekend and they don't stay good for more than a day or two). Makes it difficult to have multiple dishes in a week that have delicate ingredients.

Anyway...this is all a way of saying that sometimes, menus are planned for me. Husband has a colleague here from a Middle Eastern country, and he's here for a month and a half, living just across the way from us. He has no transportation yet, so we offered to take him to The City when we went on Saturday. I looked up shopping possibilities that might offer him some comforts of home and found a good Mediterranean grocery, so off we went. I had in mind some good Bulgarian feta (which I got!) and a few other minor treats. He was thrilled, especially as they bake their own pita, something he was really missing.

He was going to buy canned baba ganouj, which just seems an abomination, so I told him I'd make him some instead. The only eggplants I could find were already old, so I made it yesterday, giving him half and keeping half for our dinner. I hope that it was up to par, but we certainly enjoyed it either way.

Being that we were starting out with one Middle Eastern dish, I stayed with the theme, so we enjoyed baba ganouj and falafel with chopped salad and tahina sauce. All very tasty, although it wasn't the best falafel mix I've ever used. Not a bad way to plan a meal -- do a good deed for a temporary neighbor and gain cooking inspiration at the same time.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bowls o' Mussels

Last week, when we went to The City for BabyGirl's Well Baby checkup and shopping, I asked Husband for dining preferences for the week and he asked for mussels. Obviously, we ate them that night as I wasn't about to let mussels sit around for a day. He didn't think about that aspect, though, so all I got was props for making his request so quickly.

The only mussels on offer were bigger than I really like, but they were still tasty. I sauteed onion, red pepper flakes, and a mass of garlic in olive oil, added a can of drained, diced tomatoes and some white wine and let that cook down for a while. When a lot of the liquid was gone, I tossed in the scrubbed mussels (a lot of them had beards -- strange for farmed mussels) and covered them up until they had cooked. Then I added some reduced cream, tossed in some fresh basil, and poured them over oiled, toasted bread slices, with more toasted bread for sopping up the juices. The "sop" is Husband's favorite part of the dish, so I always make sure there's good broth involved.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Beautiful Bones Dinner

Susan from Food Blogga is hosting a calcium-rich event this month in honor of National Osteoporosis Awareness Month. She was looking for meals or recipes high in bone-building calcium. My dinner last night was a bit of a hodge-podge in its creation, but it definitely had a lot of calcium from multiple sources. For those out there wondering about calcium-packed foods, there's a good list in the event guidelines linked above.

I had a lot of veggies that I had meant to grill earlier in the week. Those plans were dealt a blow by our ridiculously high winds, so last night, I really HAD to grill a whole bunch of veggies or risk losing them. Quite honestly, I didn't know what I wanted to do with them once they were grilled, so I perused upcoming blogging events for some inspiration.

When I first read the Beautiful Bones description, I thought I'd do a main-course salad with lots of grilled veggies, goat cheese, and cooled boiled potatoes. But I was lacking motivation for washing greens and was losing focus more generally due to over-tiredness. Husband called from the other room to say that he didn't care what we ate; that we could have Boca Burgers for all he cared.

So we did.

The burgers went on the grill along with the rolls (Husband was in charge of this part as I had just spent a long while being seared in front of the grill). I had already cooked my potatoes and they are calcium-rich, so I wanted to include them. I pan fried them with some of the grilled onions and mushrooms, while marinating the roasted peppers in olive oil and fresh basil. Some of the excess oil and basil was drizzled over the spuds when they were done, and the burger was topped off with the peppers and a thick smear of goat cheese. We both snagged a few bits of grilled green veggies as a side.

By my count, we had four main sources of calcium: the burgers (being soy-based), the goat cheese, the potatoes, and the asparagus. We also had a variety of other nutrients, many of which no doubt either increase or decrease calcium absorption in the body. With any luck, it was mostly an increase and we were able to use most of what we ate.

Feed your bones, everyone!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Haiku Me, Baby!

So, as the winner of last month's Haiku That Blog event, I am the subject of this month's contest. I thought I'd just mention it so that anyone reading this who did NOT follow a link from the contest would have a chance to write a lovely little haiku about my blog. Just seventeen syllables...anyone can do it! If y'all need more information about anything, feel free to ask questions. The only things I won't reveal are the true identities of Isolationville or Desolationville.

In other news, Husband did indeed love the reprise of the grilled veggie sandwiches last week. I love a good sandwich, but Husband might actually outdo me on the sammich-love. Last night, I gave him two good meal options, a main course salad or a sandwich. When I said the S-word, his eyes lit up. I don't have photographic evidence, but last night's dinner was fake-bacon, avocado, lettuce, and chipotle-cheddar sandwiches. Very tasty little beasts they were, too.

I've been working on my garden-to-be. The first time I tried to turn over the soil and incorporate some of my organic goodies, it was as hard as a rock. I'm reasonably strong and I could not get the shovel into the ground at all. So I swallowed my water-thrift-pride for a few days and watered my pile of grass to soften it up. It worked. Yesterday, I was able to get the shovel all the way into the ground and started the process of mixing the grass and coffee grounds into the sand. If only the Starbucks folks would recognize that I really do mean it when I tell them that I'll take absolutely every last speck of used grounds they have. I keep getting there to find that they've thrown out all that lovely stuff.

And finally, for inspiration, my own haiku sense of my blog's essence:

Weather, lack of stores
My food-gathering trials
Cook, isolated

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Sandwich Festival 2008

Last night, I grilled a bunch of veggies to go with our fairly uninspired mac-n-broccoli-n-cheese that was designed as a meal we could all three eat together. BabyGirl ate one bite of each kind of grilled veg. I think. She did, of course, eat quite a bit of broccoli and the peas that I added to her mac-n-cheese.

I was planning to have leftovers of both for lunch, which is what Husband took to work with him this morning. But then I remembered that there was a sandwich blog event coming up, so I looked that up and decided to have a grilled veggie sandwich instead. So please enjoy the sequence of photos of my entry to the Sandwich Festival 2008, hosted by Food-n-More.

I considered going vegan with my entry, as it would be easy to do with a grilled veggie base, but I've really been loving mayo in hot sandwiches recently. Or I just realized I liked it, at least. So I took a ciabatta-style roll and lightly coated both top and bottom with mayo. Then I layered on grilled red onions, asparagus, and zucchini, added some sliced oil-cured olives and sun dried tomatoes, and topped that with a little sliced mozzarella and red pepper flakes.

In an attempt to make it easier to eat, I grilled it with a cast-iron pan on top to press it down and make it flat. It worked! Very easy to eat -- I surprised myself!

What also surprised me was just how much I loved this sandwich. I expected to like it. I expected it to be a Very Yummy Lunch. What I did not expect was to moan through most of the bites and to revise my dinner plans for tonight. I would be in serious trouble if Husband did not get to partake in this loveliness. He is awfully fond of a good sandwich. So another roll with come out of the freezer as soon as I finish writing this and the mushrooms we were going to have with pasta might become a soup to accompany our sammiches.

This could easily be made vegan by omitting the mayo and cheese or replacing them with vegan versions. It could be vegan and maybe better than the original with a drizzle of basil-blended- with-olive-oil or a white bean spread or both.

And now BabyGirl says, "Why are you making me wait to get up from my nap, you mean blogging mama?"

Sunday, May 11, 2008

An Easy Supper

The other night, we were tired and only somewhat hungry. So I made a salad of red pepper, tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, green onion, and lime juice and we ate that with Trader Joe's cheese and green chile tamales. Lovely, salty cotija got crumbled over the top of the salad before serving.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Birthday Dinner And Soil-Building

Well, Husband turned a year older a few days ago and I tried to be a good wife and give him a good dinner, especially as a present hasn't happened yet.

There's not much more Husband likes than a good potsticker, so I reprised a version I made a few months ago with a scallop and shrimp filling. I kept it very simple: scallops, shrimp, ginger, and a ton of green onion. I really wanted to cook them all at once, so I pulled out my monster electric griddle and panfried both sides instead of steaming one side. It worked; they were delicious.

I served them with a modified version of the cabbage-and-raw-ramen salad. I read a bunch of recipes online, but none of them really thrilled me. I took the best-looking of them and replaced some of the "salad oil" with toasted sesame oil, subbed sweet chile sauce for some of the sugar, added about a cup of chopped cilantro, and just generally gave it more Asian flavors and heat. It was good. For dessert, I made a lemon cake with lemon-cream cheese filling and frosting. Husband's a citrus lover, and the cake went over well. I'm not much of a decorator, so no picture of my not-ugly, but not-pretty cake.

Today, the morning featured bearable temperatures during BabyGirl's nap, so I went out to start doing some soil-building in my future garden. BabyGirl and I made a trip to Starbucks before the nap to pick up some used coffee grounds. There was a big pile of grass clippings I'd had my eye on for a while, so I raked those into roughly the size and shape of the raised bed that will eventually exist. Here's my lush, green garden area.

Ah, the desert in springtime!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Pasta Squared?

Trader Joe's makes a lovely lemon pepper pasta that really tickles my tongue. It has a bit of a kick and really good lemon flavor. It stands alone with just a little garlic and olive oil, but the other night, I really wanted to make a one-pot sort of meal.

My problem is that I don't really like long pasta shapes. These aren't bad because they're so wide, but spaghetti and linguine just leave me cold. I don't like to work that hard to keep my food on the fork. That's the sad truth. But since I don't use them often, I don't really know how to make veggies work for the shape. I mean, it seems silly to have long, wide pasta hanging out with chunks of broccoli or even onion. So I browsed in the fridge, saw my friend the zucchini, and decided that I could mimic the shape of the pasta and avoid all the angst.

Using my beloved Messermeister veggie peeler, I shaved the zucchini into long strips about the width of the pasta. I added them to the pot when the pasta had just about a minute left to cook. In the meantime, I had sauteed some garlic and capers in olive oil, added heavy cream and some finely chopped oil-cured black olives, and reduced that down a bit. I tossed the pasta/zucchini in the sauce, added a bit more salt, and served it up with some grated parm. It was very tasty.

Now, this dish still doesn't win any big awards for veggie-rich meals, but we did plan to have bowls of berries for dessert, bringing in a good serving or two of fruit. It just never materialized, however. Such is life sometimes.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

So Good To Cook Again

Between the move and the travels and the lack of even an Isolationville-sized grocery store here in Desolationville, I feel as if I haven't really cooked more than a few meals here and there for months. This week has been better, though. I've been making an effort to get planned dinners on the table every night and it's mostly worked. Last night was grilled asparagus (in season in this state right now) and a passable attempt at shrimp fried rice. It needed higher heat, of course, and my plan to use the big side burner on our grill failed because of ridiculously high winds.

A few nights ago, I was feeling the need to use up some eggs. I made a layered omelet (I like them, ok?) with some soy-based Italian sausage, sundried tomatoes, capers, and cream cheese. It wasn't the prettiest one I've ever made because the sausage chunks were too big and I should really have had one more egg. We ate it with creamed spinach and toasted slices of some whole-grain rolls I had in the freezer. It was a nice comfort meal.

Now the big question is what (and how -- secret shopping doesn't work well in our current situation) do I plan for Husband's birthday, which is coming up next week. I'm thinking that I'll take a cake to his work, but the dinner is still completely unplanned.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Yet Another Reason To Garden

Like anyone who cares about food and where it comes from needed any more reasons to feel that growing your own is a great idea, the NYTimes today provided another article about the distances that food travels. This article actually gave me new information. I didn't know that one of the reasons that imported food can be so cheap (imported to anywhere, not just the US) is that fuel for international shipping is not taxed! The EU is considering changing that, according to the NYTimes, but can you imagine what a shock it would be to the average consumer if food prices suddenly reflected a more realistic cost of bringing food from across the globe?

Anyway, it renewed my determination to get a garden bed ready for fall planting. I've been trying to get an agreement about where I can start working on soil improvement. I can't have an open compost pile, unfortunately, but I do have access to other organic materials. There's a big pile of grass clippings just thumbing its nose at me every time I see it. We can't buy much in the way of fresh produce without driving 60+ miles, so even greens and some herbs would be a great addition to our lives.

I'm thinking of doing lettuce in pots for the summer if I can get them to a decent size before they bolt in our heat. I also just gave someone else one of those hanging tomato growers and I'm thinking of trying to get a tomato plant to set fruit before the nights are too hot. A girl can dream, at any rate, and I'm working on keeping my dreams manageable. There are more possibilities here in Desolationville than there were in Isolationville, but the weather and wildlife will still keep some serious restrictions on what and how I can grow.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Haiku and A Healthy Eater

I really, truly am trying to blog more regularly here. I just got back from a long trip and my cooking has not been particularly inspirational recently. My camera has been hard at work taking pictures of wildflowers instead of food. My most humble apologies!

But today, I perused the food blog event calendar a little, and found a few things of interest, so with luck, I'll get some new pictures up soon. In the meantime, I wrote a short haiku for the Haiku That Blog event. Entries are placed as comments to the announcement, but here is my haiku representing Lunch Bucket Bento:

A blog of boxes
Small containers, filled just so
Lunch, separated.

In other news, BabyGirl, who is now not so much a baby as a toddler-on-a-mission, has decided that green vegetables are the BEST THING EVER. This phase, which I'm sure will be short-lived, started about two weeks ago when she grabbed green beans off my plate while completely ignoring her cheese ravioli. Tonight, I made her pasta with peas and broccoli and cheese sauce (with mustard...I have to make up for the low-salt somehow). She painstakingly picked out every single pea, including those that had stuffed themselves into the shells, then ate about half the broccoli, and then deigned to eat some of the pasta, too.

Watching a toddler with cheesy fingers try to pry peas out of medium-sized shells is priceless, by the way. Very determined little beings, they are.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Welcome Easter Surprise

Never, ever allow a stomach virus to descend on your household when you have visitors. That is my lesson from the last two weeks. Over the course of three days, all five adults and two toddlers under our roof got violently ill. Food was just not on the radar for quite a while.

And then Easter showed up. I had resumed eating small, plain meals, but I hadn't had the energy to plan something tasty for Easter. Not that we're big on the religious celebrations anyway, but it's nice to have an excuse for a good meal. But there I was, without a plan, without much choice in ingredients, without a huge appetite. Then, Husband comes home from work bearing large bags of fresh produce from his co-worker's garden. Yes, we have one acquaintance who has lived in the desert long enough to coax miracles from the soil. And he sent just the right things at just the right time: asparagus and fresh herbs, the vegetable world's signs of spring.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I opened one of the bags to find about a dozen good-sized spears of asparagus; asparagus that had been picked an hour before it entered my kitchen. I combined the asparagus with the grill my parents gave us as a combined Christmas/housewarming gift (a grill the illness had left untested until this moment), used the herbs to make a slightly-thicker-than-I-meant-it-to-be sauce, and cooked up a package of Fresh and Easy's spinach-cheese ravioli. Easter Dinner was born.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Short Post On Current Experiments: Pad Thai

Visitors have descended on Desolationville, so I don't have a lot of computer time, but they just went out to see if any of the gas station convenience stores carry reading glasses and Baby Girl is asleep, so I thought I'd slip in a quick post. Without visuals, unfortunately.

I finally got tired of being Thai food deprived and decided to re-embark on a quest to make a decent Pad Thai.

Sometimes, a girl needs noodles.

I had most of the necessary ingredients, but I was missing tamarind paste and it really does add a lot. Then I noticed some Mexican tamarind chewy candies at one of the above-mentioned convenience stores and, for 89 cents for a bag of them, I thought, why not? They have sugar and chile, two ingredients I'd be adding to the Pad Thai anyway, so I auditioned them for the role. They work perfectly. They dissolve reasonably well when mixed with a little vinegar and microwaved, they add the tang, and you don't have to mess with the sticky mess that is a block of actual tamarind paste.

I'm a complete convert. I recently bought some real tamarind paste and using it was the usual sticky job and I decided that unless the flavor was significantly better, I'd stick with my candies. The truth is that I couldn't taste the difference in the final product. That's good enough for me.

So the sauce (enough for 7 - 8 ounces of rice noodles) for my Pad Thai looks more or less like this now:

3 Tamarindo candies dissolved in 1 TBS of white vinegar and 1 TBS water
2 TBS fish sauce
1 TBS soy sauce
2 TBS palm (or brown, in a pinch) sugar

I know it's not all that authentic, but it IS tasty.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Slightly Less Isolated Foodie Returns

After months of silence (including some silence from my actual kitchen), I'm hoping to get back to blogging here regularly. Since my last post, we moved a few thousand miles from the distant shores of nowhere to just about the dead center of nowhere. So, an improvement, right?!

Well, maybe. Instead of an hour and a half flight to the nearest real supermarket, etc., it's now just over an hour's drive to not only a supermarket, but a Trader Joe's, a Chinatown, a CITY. This is a deceiving blessing. Because I can get good produce in an easy day trip, I feel like I should, like I have to, like it's preordained that I should do so on a regular basis. Thus, our new car has almost ten thousand miles on it in four months. Husband's 70-mile-a-day commute has helped, too, of course, but the fact that many weekends see us doing 200 mile road trips to shop doesn't help.

Our new town is about the same size as our old town, just over 500 people. It's very, very different in all other ways. In Isolationville, the biggest employers were the federal and state governments. Here, in what I'm dubbing Desolationville, the biggest employer by far is the fast food industry because Desolationville is a pit-stop on an interstate highway. I've gone from having one year-round restaurant to having more than a dozen; they just aren't the kind of restaurants I'd typically choose. On the plus-side, our traditional Junk Food Night has a whole new sense of self here. Isolationville, as you all know, was on the tundra. Desolationville is in the heart of the desert. There will be no wild salmon or gallons of berries to pick here.

I had none of my own kitchen stuff for the first month we were here and still haven't quite settled in to the kitchen. It's a fine kitchen. I HATE the counter-top, but there is a lot of it, so I can't complain too much. I'm finally cooking with gas again, which makes me happy, and there's a decent view from the kitchen, which helps ease the pain of giving up my river views from my kitchen in Isolationville.

Anyway. I'm back. I hope to get some new posts about food up and running soon. My cooking needs a kick in the butt and joining food blog events is one of the best kicks out there.