Friday, December 4, 2009

Crab Cakes With A Side Of Guilt


The commercial crabbing season started this week in Rain City. I bought my first (pre-cooked, 'cause that's what was first offered) crab the day after opening day. The docks have been completely transformed from pretty empty parking lots with full boat-slips to jam-packed parking lots. Boats come in and out all day. It's a hive of activity and you can buy live or cooked crabs right from the boats or from businesses on the docks. It's pretty crazy and can apparently last through January in a good crabbing year. Last year was not a good year and people have told us that there's a four or five year cycle of good and bad crab years.

My crab weighed just over two pounds and I managed to get 9.3 ounces of meat out of it. I need to ask around to see if my crab-picking skills are up to par. I was proud of the jumbo-lump quality of my picked meat. The shell and tiny claw-ends are now in the freezer to make stock at a later date, 'cause when the ocean offers up this succulent a treat, I feel like I should make the most of it.

We enjoyed our first Dungeness crab in the form of crab cakes with slaw on the side. The cakes were very, very basic. A little mayo as a binder and a quick dredge in seasoned flour. That's it. Since we had a lot of perfect crab, I didn't want to hide it at all.

Now, for the side of guilt. Those of you who are happy omnivores and don't want to change the "happy" part of that equation should feel free to skip my musings on omnivory.

I've recently been rethinking my eating habits. For the last many years (following a long period of strict vegetarianism), I have eaten fish and seafood occasionally. "Occasionally" has varied, from a few meals a week to a meal or two a month, depending largely on availability of high-quality locally fished choices. In Isolationville, we ate a fair bit of salmon and halibut because they were locally abundant and grocery stores weren't. In Desolationville and Desertville, we lived in a desert. Not a whole lot of local fisheries action. We didn't eat much seafood (Daring Cooks challenges aside!).

Now, here we are living once again near the ocean. We are a mile from the beach and only three miles from an active commercial fishery harbor. The fishery here focuses on tuna, salmon (both a river-based season and a fall ocean season), and crab. Husband loves crab. Husband could live on crab, I think. I love a good crab cake, but not quite in the same way as Husband.

So what do we do? There have been two opinion pieces in the NY Times in the past few months about the ethics of meat-eating. The most recent was written by an ethical vegan and spoke more to animals raised for food rather than wild-caught (or hunted) animals. In October, there was a powerful exploration of one person's journey to vegetarianism. It explored a lot of the same reasons I became vegetarian. Fiction, also, has conspired to make me think about my choice to eat fish. I recently finished reading Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood, which hammers home a strong vegetarian message from a dystopian future.

My journey to vegetarianism started because I was horrified by the idea of raising animals to eat them (being a friend to all animals, as Husband calls me), and particularly horrified by the way animals are raised today (or in the mid-80s, when I stopped eating meat). Over the next several years, my vegetarianism was solidified not out of ethical concerns, but out of environmental ones. The higher we eat on the food chain, the more energy is required to produce a pound of food. Environmentally speaking, eating meat is very, very expensive. And in this century, the environment is a major ethical issue. Being vegetarian (or vegan) is one of the most powerful things an individual can do to slow down climate change.

But where do wild animal foods come into this equation? They are still higher on the food chain. There aren't the same ethical issues surrounding the way they lived, but there are still the ethical issues surrounding killing another animal to eat.

I've written before about my love of foraging, which is just another word for the "gathering" part of hunting and gathering. Hunting and gathering produced the diet that our hominid ancestors ate for at least a couple million years (allowing for scavenging at the very beginning of the lineage). Humans are just one among many omnivores and, of course, pure carnivores. We evolved as predators and predators are a necessary part of any ecosystem. Is there any reason why we shouldn't play the predator role ever? Is there a moral obstacle to my participation in the "hunting" part of hunting and gathering?

I don't really know. I've been leaning away from eating fish recently, but it seems foolish when there's an abundant, sustainable fishery minutes from my house. Dungeness crabs are considered a best choice option by Monterey Bay Seafood Watch. Is it better to get protein from a local crustacean or a non-local soybean-processed-into-tofu?

For now, the long-term answer isn't clear to me, but I think this season's crabs will be part of my diet. Next year? I don't know.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Daring Cooks Shouldn't Move

That is my lesson for this month: If you want to be a Daring Cook or a Daring Baker, you should not plan to move from your current home any time soon. Although I've been in Rain City (not really a city; population about 5000) for almost a month now, I still had to scurry like a trapped rat to get the challenge completed in time. The moving-in process is approaching completeness. Or so I like to tell myself until I reach for one of the two sushi mats I know I own and find that they must still be in a box in the garage.

The November 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was brought to you by Audax of Audax Artifex and Rose of The Bite Me Kitchen. They chose sushi as the challenge.

I love sushi, so I really wanted to participate and I slowly found the most basic ingredients in various and sundry of the stores in Rain City. I've made sushi before (but not for a really long time; see below), so I thought this would be fun and relatively easy.

Half-way through the preparation of all the parts.

The reality? Not so much on the easy. I could not find any sushi-grade fish of any kind (except for a two-pound chunk of albacore this afternoon, way too late to thaw it). My solution was to coat a tuna steak from the supermarket in black sesame seeds and pan sear it. I couldn't lay hands on my rolling mats, so I was rolling on a kitchen wash cloth. I managed to seriously undercook my rice for perhaps the first time in my life and we had rice with very hard centers. The wasabi I bought was the worst tasting wasabi I have ever met, but it was my only choice. And, as always, I was rushing to finish it while Little Girl was slurping miso soup desperate to eat her real dinner, so I couldn't take a lot of time to make it look pretty and do helpful things like hold together well.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that I completed the challenge with a dragon roll stuffed with cucumber and baked tofu; the spiral roll with cucumber, asparagus, and tofu; and nigiri with baked tofu and a black-sesame-seed-crusted seared tuna. It was all quite tasty if you could ignore the occasional rock-like grain of rice, and after Little Girl had eaten what she was going to eat, I made another roll with tuna and avocado. Yum! I unfortunately did not have the camera quite as ready to hand as I usually do, so there aren't many pictures and virtually no pictures of the process. The tofu was designed to replace the unfindable eel we were supposed to use for the dragon roll. I dearly love it, but I made the tofu with as much similar flavor as possible and it worked well.

The finished platter of rolls and nigiri.

The other good news (I hope you agree) is that you get another story of the dating trials of Husband and me. The last time I made sushi was on our first date-like event*. We were both taking the worst course ever offered by our otherwise-wonderful graduate department. One week, there was a lecture (of real interest) that overlapped with this class and I joked that I was going to get the professor to cut class short so we could go. Husband said that if I got class cut in half, he'd take me out to a movie.

I called the professor and made the suggestion. She very happily said that this got her off the hook because she was going to have a hard time getting to class that day, so she'd just cancel it altogether and send out an email about the lecture.

I walked back to Husband's lab and asked what he'd do if I got class canceled. Dinner and a movie, was the answer. Well, huzzah! A few days later, we made sushi together because he wanted to learn and I'd made it a couple times before (this is why I have TWO rolling mats) and then went to see Chocolat. We got to our seats, the movie started, chocolate started appearing on the screen in large and delicious-looking quantities. And Husband pulled out a fancy box of chocolates, which had been hiding in his coat. I swooned, but he didn't notice because it was a dark theater.

That sushi definitely didn't include fancy inside-out, avocado-covered dragon rolls, something I am very excited to know how to make. So, many thanks to Audax and Rose for inspiring a new era of sushi-making in my kitchen! We all love it, there isn't a sushi restaurant in Rain City, and there is a tuna fishery here, so we'll be making it again, with fully cooked rice.



*Not an actual date; that wouldn't occur for almost another year. It just sounds like something people would do on a date.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Daring Cooks Do Pho

Morning, October 7th

This month, the Daring Cooks are visiting Vietnam via a bowl of steaming noodle soup. I love Vietnamese food and flavors. I dream of bahn mi chay with double tofu from Banh Mi So No. 1 in St. Louis on a frequent basis. This was a dangerous dream while I actually lived in St. Louis because it was literally just around the corner from my house and I ate there or got take away too often for the good of my pocketbook. It's cheap, but it's not cheap enough that getting banh mi chay three or four times a week after most of our kitchen tools were on their way to Alaska was a prudent financial move. But it was a very delicious move.

Toasted coriander seed, cloves, and star anise.

And now, my kitchen is full of wonderful Vietnamese restaurant smells as my stock for this month's challenge pho simmers gently on the stove. Shrimp, toasted spices, charred onion and ginger, dried shitakes and fresh cilantro stems are playing nicely with the sugar and fish sauce in the water. Or, at least they smell like they're playing nicely with each other.

The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

We had a choice of a quick or long version and I went for the long, substituting shrimp and dried shitake mushrooms for the whole chicken required for the long version of pho ga.

Charred onion and ginger. The ginger required more time under the broiler.

Before I go any further, it's confession time. While I have my small addiction to Vietnamese food, I've never actually eaten any version of pho. Why, you ask? Well, I've been either a vegetarian or an infrequent fish eater for almost 25 years. And 25 years ago, Vietnamese restaurants were not exactly a dime a dozen in my neck of the (fairly rural) woods. So by the time I was properly introduced to this lovely cuisine, pho was not on my personal menu. I've only seen a vegetarian or seafood pho once, at a wonderful vegan Vietnamese restaurant near LA. I can't remember what I ordered that time, but it wasn't soup. So I'm anxiously awaiting my first bowl later today when everything's ready to eat.

Prepped ingredients for the broth.

Evening, October 7th

Ah, the flavors! The flavors! I am full of pho.

Unfortunately, as I almost always do, I just could not get my noodles cooked all the way through. I don't entirely understand it, but I follow the directions and they're always just a little bit harder than I'd like them, even with extra soaking time.

But never mind that, the soup was quite delicious. Hard to eat, but delicious. We slurped, we sipped, we added herbs. We both added a little too much sriracha, but again, never mind that -- the soup was delicious.

Mint, cilantro, onion, and lime for the soup, and a little sliced cucumber for eating.

The test of a recipe, of course, is, "Would I make it again?" And the answer for me is, probably not. The soup was delicious, but all I could think about while I was eating it, while the cilantro and mint and fish sauce and sweetness and spice were dancing in my mouth, what I was thinking was, "Hey, this is really similar to the broth in three-and-a-half-dollar-dinner!!! I could recreate the three-and-a-half-dollar-dinner!"

The finished pho broth with shrimp, herbs, and red onion.

I've already raved about one Vietnamese restaurant in St. Louis, but let me talk about another one that I could walk to from my house. I tried to look it up, but maybe it's gone out of business. Too bad, because it was delicious! Three-and-a-half-dollar-dinner consisted of vermicelli-type noodles, lots of fresh herbs (mint, cilantro, and basil at the very least), a few different kinds of leafy green or thinly sliced green veggies, and tofu, all in a small amount of very light broth. We first started ordering it because it was one of the only vegetarian choices, but after trying a few other things, we ordered only three-and-a-half-dollar-dinner because it was so dang good. I'm guessing you know how much it cost.

The flavors in tonight's pho reminded me so much of that delicious meal and I am going to be on a quest until I manage to recreate it perfectly. When I do, you can be sure that I will share it with you.

Now, Husband and I have a small fiction that the reason it took so long for us to become a couple instead of virtually inseparable friends is that I played hard to get. The truth might be a little different. But there came a time, about a year and a half after we first met, that Husband asked me on an official date. Two weeks in advance. Yes, sweet Husband asked me if, when the semester was completely over (we met in grad school), I would go on a date with him to try a Mexican restaurant that had been getting great reviews. I said yes, assuming that this meant I wouldn't see much of him outside of school until then because he'd be crazy with work.

But the very next night, he called to ask if I wanted to go out for three-and-a-half-dollar-dinner. I said that I didn't have any cash (which was true and the restaurant didn't take anything else). He said that he could pay for my dinner. I said, "Ok, I'll meet you there in ten minutes." He said, "No, I'll pick you up." He lived north of restaurant, I lived south. So. He picked me up at my house, paid for dinner, drove me home.

But it wasn't a date.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Blog Changes

I've made a big change with my blog: I've separated it completely from my other, less anonymous blog so that I can do more things with both of them without worrying about losing my (moderate) anonymity on this one. So my profile and such are works in progress while I establish this new Blogger account/identity for Isolated Foodie to live on.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gourmet Says Good-Bye

I haven't been very blog-y recently. Getting ready for a move will do that to me. But I just saw this news in the NYTimes and thought I'd give a quick comment.

Gourmet
is closing up shop as a cost-cutting measure for Conde Nast. A lot of the comments are from people who are shocked and sad that such a long-standing magazine is getting the ax. I am a little surprised, but I'm glad it will be Gourmet and not Bon Appetit. Several years ago, a friend gave me subscriptions to both, so I was able to compare them side by side every month and Gourmet had an astonishing amount of filler (or what felt like filler to me). I do like a little content about food travel and restaurants, but I don't want it to dominate in a food magazine and that's what I saw in Gourmet. Still, I'll miss browsing through it at libraries and seeing the drool-inducing covers at the check out counter.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Strip Mall Thai Excellence!

Several months ago, friends were in Las Vegas for a conference and being that LV is a lot closer to Desertville than Indiana is, we drove in to see them. We had some good dim sum, a nice visit, and got a recommendation from them for somewhere to eat. The night before, they had gone with a local colleague to a Thai restaurant that was delicious, most of all, but also had walls plastered with accolades from every possible source.

We tried going there a couple months ago, but we couldn't get through on the phone to make a reservation and when we got there without one, it was a 45 minute wait and Little Girl wasn't going to last that long. From that experience, however, we learned that the restaurant, Lotus of Siam, is in that strangest strip mall ever, along with a pool hall, a Korean church, several other restaurants, a few Asian groceries, and LV's LGBT center. Trust me on this one -- this is a weird, weird place.

Yesterday, we had to go to LV for some business-y sort of stuff. It's always a big deal to go because we get groceries, try to get some playground time for Little Girl, run errands, etc. One thing about living in the middle of nowhere is that every time you get somewhere, you have to take advantage of it. Because we're about to leave this part of the world, we decided to take advantage of being in LV and try Lotus of Siam. We made reservations the day before, so we were good.

The restaurant is nothing fancy. The decor could use some updating, the ceiling tiles are disgustingly dirty in many places, and there's a big, banged-up buffet station right in the middle of the whole thing (for lunch buffets during the week). But how could several years of Gourmet magazine, Zagat's, LA Times food section, the Rosengarten Report and everyone else who raves about this place be wrong? Lotus of Siam has been called the best Thai restaurant in the United States, it's made lists of the top fifty restaurants in the country -- this is big praise!

And all deserved. We had some some quibbles over service (no drink refills were ever offered for example), but the food was fantastic. We ordered pad Thai for Little Girl (and for ourselves as a standard test case). It was very good, although I like different noodles than they used. I know that this is an incredibly picky detail, but I just loved the way they cut their green onions, and the fact that they used small ones so the bites of green onion weren't bites of green onion.

I had a coconut milk based red curry with tofu. I meant to order the sticky rice (which costs $2 extra than the steamed rice it came with), but forgot. I love sticky rice. The curry had loads of fresh Thai basil and bamboo shoots and the fragrance was amazing. The flavor was excellent, too, and it was all gone before we left.

Husband, I think, ordered the winning dish last night -- thank goodness we had agreed to exchange part of our dishes before they actually came to the table. He ordered the pad sw-ew (how it appeared on the menu; I've usually seen it pad see ew) and it was to die for. Perfectly cooked Chinese broccoli and tofu squares among big broad noodles sauced to perfection. If we hadn't already been eating Little Girl's pad Thai, I'd would have seriously considered getting a second order of these noodles. They were just so good.

Unfortunately, their northern menu, which they are especially famous for, was pretty meat heavy. We considered ordering the spicy mushroom dip, but held off in part because Little Girl loves mushrooms and might not be thrilled about a mushroom dish that was too spicy for her to eat. We might try to get back there again before the move, but I don't think I'll hold my breath. We've already got a dinner date in LV coming up (and it includes a baby sitter!), and I can't imagine we're going to get there many more times before we leave.

Watch this space, though, for the next restaurant review, because Friday night, we're eating tapas!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Daring Cooks Go To India (And Become Vegan!)

And here it is ... the vegan, Indian food. Wait. No. Not vegan. Not Indian. Not made by me. That's the pizza back-up meal for Small Girl and Husband, who has been making faces all month every time I mention that the Daring Cooks challenge for September was an Indian recipe. Husband is not fond of Indian food. One big reason is the texture; he has a strong dislike for anything mushy. He also doesn't like cumin which can play a big role in the spice mixtures of some Indian dishes. So all the lovely Indian vegetarian things that I love (mattar paneer, saag paneer, aloo gobi, etc.) are just not Husband's cup of tea. So I bought a take-and-bake pizza for him. Small Girl was a mystery to me in terms of liking the dosa and as it happens, she ate as much dosa pancake and tofu as she did pizza. We'll get to Husband's reaction later.

But first: Thanks go to Debyi from The Healthy Vegan Kitchen for choosing the dosa recipe for this month's challenge. She challenged us all to make Indian Dosas from the refresh cookbook by Ruth Tal. Part of the challenge was to make all three elements of the dish (pancakes, sauce, filling) vegan. Here's what it really looks like (not pizza):


And here's how I got to that plated product: As mentioned above, there are three elements to the dish. We had some leeway on the filling and I knew that Husband was not even going to try a mashed chickpea filling, so I changed that. The first element is a coconut curry sauce and I also changed that a bit, hoping that a very mild sauce might be approved by Small Girl. It was an experimental sort of sauce and it taught me a few things.

This is what I learned: If you're using powdered coconut milk, you should probably NOT reconstitute it in a blender to make sure there are no lumps. No. You should probably stir it into warm water on the stove -- as the pictograph instructions on the otherwise-all-in-Thai packaging shows -- or you will end up with froth. Froth that after simmering for an hour with onion, garlic, and ginger is still froth. I also learned that no matter how many times I tasted the sauce, if you don't add Thai red chile paste to it (because you're not cooking Thai food), it will never taste like a Thai red curry sauce. Sigh. In the end, the sauce just didn't do it for me on its own. It did add something nice to the finished dish, though, so all my stirring and adding of this and that and the other did pay off in the end.

I agonized over my filling for pretty much the whole month (did I already mention that I'm writing this an hour after eating it and this post has to be revealed first thing tomorrow morning?). I knew it couldn't be mushy. I wanted it to be flavorful without needing a lot of spice-as-in-heat (or curry) so that the other members of my family might eat it. I finally decided on a potato and tofu filling very reminiscent of the potato-based filling often found in samosas. Lots of onion and garlic and a great big handful of cilantro added at the end made for a very tasty filling.

Next up, the dosa themselves. Dosa are pancakes made with a wide variety of different flours or mashed lentils. I used half wheat flour and half chickpea flour. The batter came together very, very easily. The cooking was not quite as struggle-free. You know how the first crepe is for the chef? Or the dog, depending on whether you have a dog and how bad your day is going? Well, the first dosa came out quite well. The next three were for someone or something other than tonight's diners. Just a mess, mess, mess! I finally added some extra water and got into the groove of things.

My sauce just was not pretty, so I decided to plate that on the bottom instead of the top and started rolling dosas around the filling as they came out of the pan. Between the three burners I had going and the oven blasting to cook the pizza, the stove top was plenty hot to keep everything warm as I worked.


When I had four rolled (it seemed like plenty, given that I was the only guaranteed consumer), I topped them off with some of the extra filling and some cilantro. After they posed for their pictures, it was time to eat! I loved them. The pancakes were tasty thanks to the curry powder and chickpea flour. The filling was delicious, because how could it not be with all that cilantro?? And the sauce ended up providing just the right amount of extra moisture, salt, and fat needed to make the completed dish a success. I never get to go to Indian restaurants, so it was a real treat to have an Indian meal -- thanks, Debyi!

And Husband? He took half a filled dosa. To try. And then ate the other half. And then asked if he could take the uneaten one to work for lunch tomorrow with some of the extra filling. Apparently, his new take on Indian food is that IF I make it AND he knows what's in it AND it's not mushy AND he knows how it was made? He just might like it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I'd Lichen To Say Thank You! (Feel Free To Groan)



It might not be the traditional thank-you image, but I was looking through my collection for a good wildflower photo and this caught my eye. Lichen! I have a small fascination with it and I think it's gorgeous, even in understated greys. The range of colors on the rocks around Desolationville and Desertville is stunning.

Without further commentary on the algae/fungus symbiotic beauty, I am sending a big THANK YOU to Kris from Bake in Paris and the She-Who-Chooses-Not-To-Be-Named at Kitchenlander for presenting me with two blogging awards! Kris added Isolated Foodie to his list of Lovely Blogs and Kitchenlander picked Isolated Foodie as a Kreativ Blogger. Thank you both again!

Both awards come with a task. I now have to list 13 blogs that I think are One Lovely Blog and seven Kreativ Bloggers. No small task, when there are so many of both! But I think I am up to it.

The Kreativ Blogger Award comes with a second task: I have to list seven interesting things about me (difficult because how do I know what you would find interesting?). I'm going to get that one out of the way, because I have some serious thinking to do for the lists.

1. I have lived in or traveled to five of the seven continents.
2. I lived on a kibbutz for about eight months (and loved it!).
3. My daughter is named for a character in one of my most-favorite books, Pride and Prejudice.
4. My feet like to be bare (Kitchenlander, you're not alone in your shoe non-fetish).
5. I haven't eaten red meat or poultry since 1985 and avoided fish for many years as well.
6. Addiction would be a good way to describe my relationship with chocolate, but I managed to give it up for Lent this year despite having no Catholic connections.
7. I love the gathering part of "hunting and gathering". I am a proud forager of wild foods.

Now, for the lists. My list of Kreativ Bloggers is a little easier than the Lovely Blogs, in part because I only have to list seven, but mostly because I have a theme. In my three or four months as a Daring Baker, I have been very impressed with the creativity of the vegan and gluten-free bakers in the group. I've done quite a few vegan-conversions for desserts (many years ago), but they were much simpler recipes most of the time. Making something that is packed full of wheat, butter, and eggs into a gluten or egg and dairy free treat is one thing; making it into something beautiful and incredibly delicious is quite another, and the bloggers behind the following blogs do it month after month in the Daring Bakery.

1. Celiac Teen
2. Hey, That Tastes Good!
3. Gluten Free Goodness
4. Dog Hill Kitchen
5. Vegan Food And Fitness
6. The Peaceable Kingdom
7. Gluten Free Sox Fan (this one is for Husband, the Sox fan, and for a great blog)

It turns out that even with a theme, it's hard to pick and choose and decide. I'm saving the next list for tomorrow so I can ponder this overnight. In the meantime, I highly recommend checking out these blogs. They are well-worth reading even if you are a devoted carnivore-and-wheat-bread kind of person.

(Ooops! I almost forgot that I need to post rules for the Kreativ Blogger awards, so I'm editing to say: These are the rules:

1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.
4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers.
6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Dobos Torte Or, Why Toddlers Should Nap

My feet hurt.

This was the wrong day for my Small Girl to decide she didn't need a nap. I had a lot to do. Pizza to make (using a new baking technique that finally gave me the crust I long for). A big fat torte to finish. A (soon-to-be) new house to ponder. Six weeks of pre-move activities to plan. It's been a rough week and today kicked me to the curb and back.

But it's over and despite everything, I managed to make the deadline for this month's Daring Bakers challenge.

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caff├ęs of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.


I had good intentions this month. I was mentally prepared to make this lovely layered cake days and days ago, but I forgot my shopping list when we went to town last week and, in trying to recreate it, managed to forget all the things I needed for this month's challenge. I had less than half a cup of sugar in the house. Less than a cup of flour. It was pitiful that I didn't recognize that there were no back-up bags of either one. So the torte had to wait.

Using a template for cutting the layers.

Yesterday, I noticed that there were only two days left until the Daring Bakers reveal. That's some serious motivation. I had all (well, the store I shopped at on Monday didn't have hazelnuts, so technically, I didn't really have all the ingredients) the ingredients. I had a little bit of time. I had a relatively cool day. So I made the chocolate buttercream frosting. There are only three of us eating, so a half recipe seemed like plenty and that's what I did. The recipe yielded up a gorgeously light, smooth frosting and I checked that off the mental list.

This morning, I weighed out all the dry ingredients for the sponge cake layers and took out three eggs to come up to room temperature. I read through the instructions again. I prepared for battle. It was fine. Small Girl was fascinated by the changes the egg whites went through on their way to shiny, stiff peaks. Everything came together well. I had decided on a rectangular cake, so I was making two sheet pans of cake to cut into the layers.

The first sheet pan came out of the oven after it's allotted five minutes. It looked good. I inverted it, as directed, and then tried the next step: Sliding it back onto the parchment paper. It wasn't sliding. It wasn't moving. It was well and truly stuck and nothing was going to get it to budge. After three minutes of trying to gently scrape it, I realized that it was more important to make sure this didn't happen to the second -- and last -- cake, which would be emerging from the oven in two minutes. Scrape like mad. Wash. Pull another parchment sheet and dust it liberally with cocoa. Just in time! I inverted the second -- now only -- cake onto the prepared parchment and, with a little work, was able to slide it around. Whew!

The four-layer cake with it's crumb coat of frosting.

I wanted to get as many layers as I could without making a silly-looking cake in terms of proportions, so I measured, made a template, and cut four long rectangles. When they were completely cool, I brought out the buttercream and frosted. I've never owned an off-set spatula before. Don't know why, but I didn't. I bought one for this challenge because it was needed for smoothing the cake batter. But let me tell you how much easier it is to frost a cake with an off-set than a knife, my normal tool. I'm still not a great cake-decorator, but it's a big step up.


The Dobos torte traditionally has a toffee-coated cake layer arranged decoratively on top of the cake. It does look beautiful when done correctly, but the concept of a soft sponge layer coated with toffee leaves me a bit cold, so I thought I'd take the spirit of that element and do something I know and like: brittle. I made a big pan of toasted almond brittle and broke it up into small pieces for the top and sides of the cake. I had hoped to make the brittle early enough that I could crush some and put a layer inside the cake, too, but given Small Girl's anti-nap stance, it wasn't to be.

The joy of this torte is supposed to be the multiple, alternating layers of cake and frosting. Other Daring Bakers have been achieving heights of twelve layers! I have four. Four nicely-flavored layers, to be sure, but it's not quite the slice of sedimentary history that it's supposed to be. If I had a sleeping toddler, I probably would have made another half-batch of cake and gone to greater heights. But I didn't, so I couldn't, and it's all good.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Isolation, Watered Down

Well, it's happened again. The very talented Husband has accepted a new and improved job many hundreds of miles north of here. Not quite Alaska (the home of Isolationville, for those keeping track), but on the coast with cool temperatures and trees and ... neighbors.

Yes, the Isolated Foodie will be not quite so isolated after we move in about two months. The town we'll be living in has a few thousand people, a couple grocery stores ( ! ), and even a small Asian market ( !! ). Hard to believe we'll have all the comforts of (semi-) urban living after the past four years of serious isolation. It will be a good thing, mostly, and the town is an active fishing port, so we will have access to great seafood again. Husband's boss told me last night that during crab season (Dungeness), he has people flag him down on his bicycle ride home to give him free crabs.

Now, picturing someone trying to hold on to a Dungeness crab (or two) while riding a bike is hilarious, but the concept of free crabs? Husband is moving to his version of heaven.

I plan to do the upcoming Daring Bakers and Daring Cooks challenges, but otherwise, I might be pretty absent as I try to purge some of the random stuff we have accumulated in the past two years. Even though Husband's employer will pay for the move, a move is good incentive to take stock of what is really needed.

So, enjoy the end of summer. Eat good tomatoes and corn and basil. In the meantime, I'll be sorting and packing and trying to decide on the next incognito place name.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Pesto!


I went to a great farmers' market on Thursday and scored gorgeous basil, so I made some pesto. Here it is, all oil-slicked in an attempt to keep the green bright and fresh. Delicious.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cookies: I Really Did Make Them

Our camera turned up in my in-laws garage. It's a good thing. Here's a belated photo of my only-partially-successful Milanos.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Post Number One Hundred


And here I am, one hundred posts later, still cooking away and writing about it occasionally. I thought a lot about what to write for this one-hundredth post. Originally, I had hoped it would be a Daring Kitchen post, but my cookies came out terribly and I'm having to sit out the current Daring Cooks contest, so that was out. Then I thought I'd make it short and sweet and just introduce y'all to Husband's and Little Girl's images. They are, after all, the main audience for my food itself. The rest of you just get pictures and descriptions. One of my current favorites of the two of them near Desertville therefore graces this post.

That's how I was leaning two days ago, but I didn't have time to post. This morning, I read Michael Pollan's latest article in the NYTimes, scheduled to appear in Sunday's Magazine. The article is about the phenomenon that is food television, perhaps particularly competitive food television like Iron Chef and Top Chef. (He neglects to mention the current Top Chef Masters, which I am loving this summer.) Pollan points out that Americans are cooking less, but watching other people cook more. His usual excellent arguments about how these habits affect both our own diets and our food system are present and insightful as always.

But as I was reading it, I had some misgivings. Like virtually all food-related things these days (apparently, anyway), one of Pollan's jumping-off points is the soon-to-be-released Julie and Julia. Pollan's mother was inspired by Julia Child to infuse experimentation and excitement into their weekly meals and he remembers it fondly. His argument is that most of the competitive food shows are more about "don't try this at home" than "hey, you can do this, too!", which was Julia's message. And maybe some of them are. Bravo's website does publish Top Chef recipes (and even published a book about them). One of those recipes, for pureed cauliflower and potatoes, has become part of my regular menu with a few changes because I'm not willing to cook the veggies in straight heavy cream. My point is that not all the food challenge shows ignore the cooking and recipes.

And, of course, Julie Powell was so inspired by Julia Child that she cooked every recipe over the course of a year. Pollan may consider her to be the exception that proves the rule, but I think he's ignoring, well, us. The food bloggers.

While the Daring Kitchen has been my most-recent love among food blog events, it is not lonely! Many weekly, monthly, and one-off food blogging events can be found listed on websites such as Is My Blog Burning? and others. I've participated in several others in the previous 99 posts. And if I wanted to and had the time, I could cook for a blogging event or challenge every day and probably not run out of choices.

Food blogs have created an entirely new way for cooks to swap recipes, share cooking experiences, make friends, show off their skills, and learn new things. While food bloggers may be a very small percentage of the American population, I like to think that we are not just crazy cooks on the fringe, but the leading edge of a new revolution in cooking. One of the people interviewed for the article asks who will teach the next generations how to cook. And I say, we will! With our hands and hearts in person, through our informative blogs, in cooking demonstrations on the web for everything from cutting an onion to flipping an omelette to making Chinese dumpling ... food bloggers are people who care about cooking. And we'll be around for a while to teach others to care, too.

There. Now I've thought deep thoughts for post number one hundred. I'll be ... hmmm ... I was about to say that I'll be out of town for the next couple weeks, but there's no town for me to be out of. So, more accurately, I'll be in town for the next two weeks. I hope to share photos of farmers markets and meals, but I probably won't be cooking much.

Enjoy the first half of August!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Garden Update

Don't you love walking into a mid-summer garden? Tall plants cascade into the walkways. You have to beat back vines, avoid tripping on baseball-sized zucchini, and generally wade through greenery and abundance. You get whiffs of basil and tomatoes and dill just by brushing up against a few leaves. It's great.

It's also not my garden. My garden, mentioned previously, is not exactly a riot of plant life. I suppose I should have expected that, being in the middle of a desert and all. But I had much higher hopes both for my own gardening motivation and skills, and for the ability of my coffee grounds and manure enhanced soil. Alas, various trips and the lack of neighbors who could babysit newly transplanted seedlings meant that I kept postponing lots of things. Like lettuce. Which I still hope to do for the fall. And when I did get tomato and cucumber plants in the ground, three of them got hit hard by some disease (all tomatoes), one of them got hit lightly by the disease and had half its leaves eaten by a still-unidentified beastie (but I'm thinking non-insect), and yet another just didn't thrive. For no particular reason that I can tell.

So I've been limping along with the remainders, trying to keep them alive. The harvest so far? Three cherry tomatoes, two of which are gracing this post.

I had a cucumber. Someone warned me, after I'd planted them, that I really should have sought out Persian cucumbers because they handle the heat well. I figured that having bought my plants in Las Vegas and them being labeled heat-tolerant and all, I'd be ok. And then I kept getting flower after flower after flower, with no fruit forming. And then I had one! I had a very, very small cucumber with its flower still attached. I showed Little Girl. I tried to show Husband, but he was weary of admiring the garden, having admired the almost-ripe cherry tomatoes the day before. I was very pleased.

And then down came the rains. Massive, flash-flood-producing rains came two days in a row. I wanted the rain, don't get me wrong, but my cucumber plants most clearly did not. And now, I have no cucumber.

Always optimistic, I hope for another one. I have more flowers. They're bright and sunny and cheerful. They seem optimistic. Why shouldn't I?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Orange Milano Cookies

July 12th

10:21 am: Looking ahead to the rest of the month, I realized this morning that I have very little time to make this month's Daring Bakers challenge.

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

Nicole very kindly allowed us to make either both types of cookies or just one. I'm not a big marshmallow cookie fan and in July, the idea of having to properly coat something in melted chocolate is just insane here; I'm sticking with just the Milan Cookies. So I am taking the plunge and my butter is in a bowl softening so that it will be ready when Little Girl starts her nap.

2:27 pm: I'm about to start separating eggs, a task I don't really love, but at least I'm not trying to whip the egg whites to some meringue-type stiffness, so if I break a yolk in the process, I won't ruin anything. I'm also realizing that I must be certifiably insane to be doing this today. It's definitely the hottest day we've had so far this summer. Even with the swamp cooler on high, I can't get the house below 82F. But hey! My butter was very well softened -- that's the upside!

Why am I doing this again?

3:09 pm: Oh. My. I thought I had such a nice plan to make a few round cookies from this, but my plan has gone a little awry. I just turned my sheet pans and I'm not sure this is what the cookies should look like. We'll see after another five minutes, but in the meantime, the rest of the batter/dough is in the fridge to make it firm up a little.

3:30pm: Right. I am now ready to accept that these cookies will not be going in my raging success category of new recipes. They had better taste delicious because, so far, at least, they are not very attractive. I've just popped the next batch in the oven and I'm mixing some cinnamon and cayenne into the remaining batter/dough to make a slightly more "grown-up" version.

4:33 pm: I just realized that I'm an idiot. It never feels good to come to that conclusion, but there's really no escaping it. The filling for these cookies has three ingredients: chocolate, cream, and orange zest. Really, how hard is it to get three ingredients into a bowl? Apparently, too hard for me. Because as I was spreading the chocolate onto my next-to-last cookie, I suddenly realized that I hadn't put in the orange zest. I hadn't zested the orange. I hadn't even taken the organic orange I bought especially for this challenge out of the refrigerator.

Well. Ain't that a kick in the teeth? To add insult to injury, as I was having this revelation, I stopped paying attention to what I was doing and put the topper cookie on backwards, so now I have a half-inside-out cookie.

Sigh.

July 27th

Apparently, I was so disappointed with my outcome in this challenge, that I didn't even properly finish the post before realizing this morning that it's time to post it. My culinary pride already has several cuts in it, but just to make this challenge more of a big fail, the camera I used to take pictures of the cookies (some of which, both cookies and pictures, were quite pretty in the end) has gone walkabout. So a poor showing on the challenge and the post itself. A photo-less Daring Bakers post ... grumble, grumble ... be sure to check out some other Daring Bakers so you can see how beautiful the cookies can be.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Wandering In Search Of Food, Part 2

The outdoor patio at Root 246.

I woke up the day after my birthday with a small plan. It involved spending the day mostly away from the coast and eating at a restaurant I'd seen an ad for in a local magazine. Root 246 sounded lovely from what I'd read and I really wanted one sort-of-fancy meal. So in a round-about way, I headed out of Santa Maria to Solvang. Along the way I saw a lot of vineyards and mountainsides of grape vines. Very beautiful country.

I miraculously found street parking with a bit of shade in Solvang, just off the street the restaurant is on. I forgot to look at the street address before I got out of the car, but I didn't have to wander too far before I found it. As I walked up the stairs past the patio seating, I knew that if I looked at the menu and decided to eat at Root 246, I'd be eating outside. I looked, I saw they had perfectly fine veggie options (but not many -- be warned), the prices were within my mental budget, and I stayed.

I did love the sound of any of the vegetarian main courses, so I decided to have a cheese plate and a salad. They brought a separate cheese menu along with their lunch and wine menus, so they seemed fairly serious about their cheeses. All the cheeses sounded good to me; I had a lot of trouble choosing three. In the end, I asked my waiter (very friendly, not hovering, but always there if I needed something) for help. I wanted to try the St. Pat, a raw cow's milk cheese cured in stinging nettles. It was described as having a smoky artichoke flavor. I asked for someone else to choose two cheeses that would complement the St Pat and so ended up with a cow's milk tasting. The two other cheeses were Red Hawk, which was by far my favorite, and Beecher's Flagship, a one-year aged cheese.

The cheese plate, as you can see, was lovely. Nice portions of the three cheeses, with a little dish of local honeycomb, a fresh fig, champagne grapes, and almonds. It came with toasts of a raisin bread, which didn't do anything for me. I hate raisins, but I gave it a try and it just didn't work. I ate most of the cheese by itself or on the crusty bread that was on my bread plate. I enjoyed the whole thing immensely, bought a round of the Red Hawk at a store in Santa Ynez to take home, and served it with honey because the combination is so perfect.

I have a complaint about their cheese menu before I move on to my salad. When a restaurant goes to the trouble of having a separate cheese menu, with a short paragraph describing each cheese, and giving the cheese's origin, it should mention the cheese maker. When I found the Red Hawk in the store, I was very surprised to see that it was a Cowgirl Creamery cheese. It's such a well-known cheese maker and it is not in San Francisco, as stated on the menu, but in Point Reyes, one of my dream vacation spots. I would not have picked the Red Hawk from the description, but I would have picked it first if the menu had stated that it was from Cowgirl Creamery because I've wanted to taste more of their cheeses. (As it happens, I tasted two of their cheeses in this meal because the St. Pat is also one of theirs.)

But anyway, on to the salad.


My salad's name (nickname, really, because there was more to it) is Babe Farms Garden Party. And it was a party on the plate. So many different veggies! Roasted red and golden beets, carrot, summer squash, a radishes, broccoli rabe, and a variety of different greens. I ordered it in part because I loved the sound of the goat cheese croquets, but they were very dry and a little chewy and my least favorite part of the salad. My first bites lacked a little something and I almost considered requesting a salt shaker, but then I discovered two small puddles of creme fraiche hiding under the greens and tossing the salad with that solved my flavor problems. I loved this salad.

Overall, I loved this restaurant. It was a beautiful place to sit and eat. The food was interesting and beautifully presented. I'd love to go back with Husband and Little Girl. When I said that to my waiter, in response to his "I hope we'll see you again sometime", we ended up having a short conversation about child-friendly food. I said that I wasn't sure there was a Little Girl-friendly dish on the menu and he said that the kitchen is always happy to accomodate a child's taste, with a pasta or a sandwich or whatever it takes. That alone makes me hope that we can visit there sometime in the future.

My trip continued after lunch and I wound my way through more winding roads to Ojai. Ojai has a lot of artists and craftspeople and therefore, a lot of interesting stores. I had hoped to find a gift for Little Girl there and found a store with a t-shirt I wanted to buy her, but the sign said, "Closed for Grandpa duty". Can't argue with that.

I think there was an iced coffee somewhere in that day that I missed, but I did actually skip breakfast when I got to Los Olivos and found no little cafe hiding among the 17 (give or take) wine tasting rooms. I had hoped for something there. I made it back to my girl and Husband in time to have some good pizza with them and my in-laws, and then polished off my very last piece of birthday cake.

It was a good birthday.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Two Days Of Food Wanderings Or, My Husband Is Awesome, Part 1

So I turned forty last week. To me, it marks another good year of life; I'm not worried about the whole 4-0 business. Husband felt somewhat differently. He started asking me what I wanted to do for my birthday months ago. And I wasn't sure and I wasn't sure and then I had a thought. I haven't spent a night away from Little Girl since she was born. I love her to pieces, but a little time away seemed like a good thing, so I asked for two days all to myself. And Husband agreed. He's a good husband.

The remants of my lovely birthday cake.

The evening before my birthday, I shared a truly delicious cake (and my favorite champagne!) with my extended in-law family. Husband did good procuring the cake: almond cake layers with a chocolate mousse filling and a praline layer for some crunch, topped quite dramatically with white and milk chocolate curls. People moaned as they ate it.

I woke up on the great day itself, opened a few presents with Little Girl's help, ate breakfast (leftover birthday cake, of course!), kissed Little Girl and Husband good-bye, and hopped in the car that Husband had gotten scrubbed inside and out the day before. Again -- I've got the best husband in the world. Y'all can just be jealous.

I had almost no plans except that I wanted to eat some great food and do whatever else seemed good at the time. The exceptions to the "no plans" were that I wanted to have lunch at a great sushi place we've been to a few times in Santa Barbara (my in-laws live outside of Los Angeles, so that was my starting point) and I wanted to hit the evening farmers' market in San Luis Obispo. One out of two is what I got. "Our" sushi place doesn't exist any more and I settled for a good-but-not-great Vietnamese lunch a couple blocks away. I had some very nice shrimp spring rolls, but an oily and not especially flavorful crispy tofu with lemongrass for my main. It was a wash.

After that, I drove up the coast to Pismo Beach where I tried to get a picture of the display case full of chocolate-covered grasshoppers, bacon-and-cheddar grasshoppers, white-chocolate-covered grasshoppers, etc., but there were inconsiderate crowds in the way of my photo.

Some of the gorgeous produce at the market.

I arrived in San Luis Obispo (SLO) a couple hours before the farmers' market started. I needed some extra change for my parking meter and came across Cowboy Cookies within a block of where I parked. What's a girl to do? I had a chocolate-chip/walnut cookie that was delicious, with almost enough walnuts to satisfy my walnut-tooth. Don't laugh. I have one. I wandered the main shopping district for a while, drank an iced coffee while I watched some of the vendors set up, and then was ready for the farmers' market to start!

Fire! Meat! Artichokes!

It was some market. It covers six or seven blocks of the main commercial street in SLO, with live music at every intersection, bicycle valet parking, and thousands of people. I couldn't, of course, buy anything really because I was staying in a hotel. I was hoping to see bread and cheese and fruit for a picnic or breakfast, but bread and cheese were largely absent from this market. BBQ, on the other hand, dominated the two ends of the market that showcased ready-to-eat food. Not being a meat-eater, this didn't interest me except in the sense that seeing a few hundred people in line to buy BBQ is a fascinating thing. Oh, and I like fire. A lot.


For dinner, my interest was caught by a booth at the market that served only to lead people half a block away to Bel Frites, a small storefront cafe that serves Belgian fries and Belgian beer. And that's all. They offer traditional plain fries and a variety of seasoned fries, and a selection of dipping sauces. I chose plain fries with a chipotle aioli and was not disappointed one bit until my fries ran out and there were no more. Then I was disappointed. Honestly, I would go back to SLO just so I could take Husband to eat these fries. I might owe him that much after this trip.

I wandered the market for a while after my fries were gone, drove out to the coast to see the fog roll in instead of a sunset, and then headed back inland to my hotel for the night. I might have had a few small pieces of chocolate before bed. One should always eat healthy, balanced meals on one's birthday, after all.

Stay tuned for Day 2, which featured a lovely lunch in Solvang, the Danish capital of California.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Daring Cooks Play With Powders

I know that most mothers tell their children not to play with their food. Lucky for me, my mother wasn't much for the traditional childhood prohibitions, so I feel completely free to play with my food and talk to strangers. Good thing, too, because today's meal requires a well-developed sense of play. Without an appreciation for a little wackiness, the challenge could easily turn into many hours of tedious preparation.

What kind of meal inspires thoughts like that? A Daring Cooks challenge that skirts the non-chemical side of molecular gastronomy, that's what! Sketchy (from Sketchy's Kitchen) has a small obsession with the scientific side of cooking and dared the rest of us to enter that world. If you're unsure about just what molecular gastronomy is, think foams, gels, and caviar from foods not usually associated with such forms. It is play with food at an intricate level. If that doesn't help (which it probably doesn't), a browse through Sketchy's MG-related posts will show you what our host has been playing at. Wikipedia has a pretty nice discussion of molecular gastronomy, too. If you follow links to some of the chefs mentioned, the Great Wiki will give you even more information.

The challenge recipe comes from Grant Achatz's cookbook, Alinea: Skate, traditional flavors powdered. I'm not going to reproduce the entire recipe here, but at its heart, it's skate, poached in a beurre Monte sauce, green beans, bananas (I'm banana-phobic; I can't even discuss it's intended role), and several flavorful ingredients dehydrated and powdered. The potentially-tedious part of the whole thing is dehydrating, crushing, and sieving of multiple foods.

Lemon and lime zest before poaching and dehydrating.

We were given some license to play, so my dish was Pacific cod (more environmentally-friendly than skate) with green beans and powdered mango, cilantro, basil, red onion, lemon and lime zest, and chipotle pepper. The mango and chipotle were already dried. The rest was up to me.

The zest after microwave-dehydration was complete.

My reaction to this challenge was mixed. On one hand, I loved the whole concept of having a luxurious, butter-poached fish (beurre Monte is an emulsion of a tiny bit of water and a whole lot of butter) dipped into the powders. On the other, dehydrating multiple foods without a dehydrator was daunting and the whole thing was way outside my normal comfort zone. So I did my homework. I read through the recipe's directions for microwave-dehydrating. Read some more directions online. And read the whole recipe-experience via Alinea At Home.

And then I got Husband to buy the fish when he went to town, so I had no choice but make it the next day.

I started around nine in the morning, getting my powders in order. The onions seemed like the longest project, so I got them small-chopped (should have minced them properly) and into the microwave at low-medium power (4 out of 10) for ten minutes. Then I stirred them and gave them another ten. It wasn't working very well. Over the next couple hours, in between dehydrating other things, I'd pop the onions back in on very low (2 out of 10) for three minutes at a time. Eventually, they were dry little nuggets and ground up to a very flavorful powder. (Sorry for the blurry photo; things were a little chaotic.)

Onions, finally dry, in the coffee grinder.

Freeze-dried mango, ready to pulverize. Beware! It gums up the works!

Other than the onion, which probably had an extra half-hour in the microwave, the dehydrating went pretty well. The citrus zest required poaching in simple syrup before it was dried. The basil and cilantro, in order to keep their color, got a second-long bath in boiling water, followed by the traditional post-sauna ice-bath. It worked. Both zest and herb retained their color once powdered.

Herbs in their refreshing ice-bath.

So then, the powders were all done. Whew! It was surprisingly early in the day. As in, still before the small one's nap. Instead of saving this for a post-Little-Girl-bedtime-dinner, I decided we'd eat it for lunch during her nap. So I moved on to the later stages of the recipe, which required me to keep kicking Husband off the computer so I could look at just exactly what I was supposed to do next.

Powders, clockwise from far left: lemon/lime zest; mango; cilantro-basil; red onion; chipotle.

First, I cut my green beans into cute teeny rounds. Then, I tackled my last powder. The fish is supposed to have one edge dipped in toasted spray-dried cream powder. Uh-huh. Like I have access to that in Desertville. I don't even have access to cream in Desertville. But the always-clever (and very fast) Daring Cook, Audax, came to the rescue with his idea to use powdered coconut milk for this part. And that, I do have in Desertville. It's an artifact of my life in Isolationville. The concept of paying shipping for cans of coconut milk was too much, so I started to rely on the powder instead. I sifted a packet's worth onto a Silpat and baked it for just over four minutes, until it just started to turn brown. One more step closer.

Time to make the beurre Monte. I was making so little -- just over a quarter of the full recipe -- that my water was evaporating before it could really boil. Slightly problematic, but I worked around it and ended up with a lovely emulsion. A little went into a pot with an equal amount of water for the green beans, and the rest went into a pan, again with an equal amount of water, for the fish.

The cod in barely-simmering beurre Monte sauce.

My cod was thicker than skate would have been. A bit denser, too, from what I remember of the only time I've eaten skate. So I wanted to be sure it got cooked through and the beans didn't get soggy. So once the fish was in the pan, I plated my powders (not entirely successfully, from a purely aesthetic view) and got the beans into their butter.

The plate awaiting the cod.

The beans didn't take long to get to crisp-tender. And luscious. Definitely luscious. I got them on the plate, ready for the fish. My powders were supposed to be a little more dramatic in their presentation, but I don't have a lot of dish-choice and my fish was big for the plate. I thought I had a good compromise, but it was lackluster in the end.

The final product might not have had the presentation wow-factor, but the flavors made up for it. The fish and beans were rich and buttery, while the powders, quite obviously, weren't. But they interacted with each other very nicely, almost like putting a post-cooking rub on the fish. I loved the brightness of the citrus when the bite included a good wallop of the lemon-lime powder. I loved the toasted coconut flavor and wished I had both toasted it a bit longer and used a little more.

For a dinner, it would definitely need something more. Cooked potato slices under the fish, perhaps, or a mash of cauliflower and potato. If it were one course of many -- say appetizer, salad, this, a cheese course, and a dessert, it would stand fine alone.

I don't know that I'll make this particular dish again. It was a lot of work. But I'm already finding other uses for the powders. I added the leftover onion, citrus, and herb powders to my standard flour/nutritional yeast breading for tofu. Tonight, we'll have those fried slices stacked with grilled eggplant, onion, and zucchini, with a tomato sauce and parmesan cheese.

It was a good experience and definitely a challenge, which is what I was looking for when I joined the Daring Cooks! Thanks, Sketchy!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

More Gnocchi

We enjoyed our first meet-and-greets with the ricotta gnocchi from my first Daring Cooks challenge so much that I made them again last night. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the Fresh and Easy ricotta I used last time and although the substitute I found claimed it was also fresh ricotta, it didn't get dry enough after a lot of squeezing and weighted draining. So my gnocchi were very tender. As in, fell apart if I touched them the wrong way. They were tasty because I had strained in some leftover pesto, but the texture was nothing like the clouds I had produced the first two times.

Still, they made for a tasty light supper for a hot night when served with a garlic-laced veggie broth and leftover creamed spinach. I made just fifteen of them because they tried to disintegrate in the water. I have to figure out what to do with the leftovers today. It's just nice to know that some of the Daring Kitchen challenges will become part of our regular meal rotation.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The First Corn

Our "neighbor" who lives a mere 20 miles away has a wonderful garden. He's lived in the same house for over a decade now, so he's had a chance to build up good organics in the soil and to experiment to find what works and what doesn't. His experience is only partly helpful to me because we're more than 2000 feet higher in elevation than he is, so our temperatures and frosts and such are completely different. However, we do benefit from his generosity. Last week, he sent bags of produce home with Husband. Loads of onions and green beans, smaller quantities of other lovelies, and a big bag of corn, picked that afternoon. You can imagine that my dinner plans suddenly involved corn.

I shucked the husks into my sink while boiling the water.

After a very brief bath in the pot, the corn was ready to eat. Some of the kernels were tiny, but still packed great flavor. Butter, salt, and pepper were all they wore. And because corn was the star and Husband loves fake bacon, we just had simple fake bacon sandwiches with the corn. Summer must really be upon us now.