Monday, May 25, 2009

grilled cheese

Happy Memorial Day, everyone! What are you up to? No cook-outs for us today - we're just lounging at home, working on our film notes (for Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry and Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind) and updating our "Six Feet Under: Death and Dying in the Movies" series proposal (first vote on Fall 2009 series takes place at tonight's meeting).


As I write this, I'm heating up the Foreman for a grilled cheese sandwich. The nice thing about using the grill for these is you don't need to use any butter, so you save some fat and calories there, and you still get a nice, golden, crunchy outer crust. Grilled cheese was my favorite sandwich growing up, and I've stayed a fan as an adult, but lately, I really can't get enough of them!


I especially love grilled cheese with ketchup. Most people think this is really strange, but if you think about it, it makes sense. What side dish do you usually get with grilled cheese sandwiches? French fries. You put ketchup on french fries, right? From there it's one step to the sandwich itself. Delicious!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

hot weather meal

Now that the weather has turned, I can barely convince myself to turn on the stove. Our kitchen has a big, beautiful skylight through which the sun pours in, which is lovely, but also hot. Once the temperatures get up above 85 or so, the kitchen stays hot. That's when I turn to our little countertop grill ( a George Foreman model we bought a couple of years ago).


Lately my standard go-to meal has been turkey burgers with crudites. The burgers only take about seven minutes on the grill, and I use that time to prep the veggies. They are nice and cool and crunchy - perfect for a hot evening like tonight.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Out to Eat: Tuckerbox

Tuckerbox
1 S. Main St.
White River Junction, VT

There's a new coffee shop in town, and boy, did we need it! Hanover coffee king Dirt Cowboy closes at 6 pm, and going there on a Saturday means finding (and paying for) parking in the congested downtown area. But newcomer Tuckerbox, across from the train station in WRJ, is exactly one mile from our place -- a pleasant walk across a bridge and through a park.

Their espresso-based drinks are excellent. On this trip , Dan got a mocha.



And of course, we had to try the peanut butter and bacon sandwich. I wasn't sure I would like it, but how could we pass it up? When else would we get the chance? It was just so odd -sounding that we had to try it.


It was tastier than I expected, but I wouldn't necessarily order it again. I think it was missing something. Maybe it would be better with Nutella? I wanted more of a jolt, more contrast between the bacon and the peanut butter. The bacon, from Claremont's North County Smokehouse, was excellent.


The star menu item, though, is the beignets. These puffy little donuts are served hot and tossed with your choice of seasoning - cinnamon sugar, vanilla sugar, or spicy chocolate powder. The texture is absolutely perfect - light and fluffy on the inside, with a perfectly crisp crust.

But, they are deep fried. So as much as I have enjoyed my visits to Tuckerbox so far - did I mention they have a huge wooden table, great for getting freelance done, and several comfy chairs? - I need to find a way to go there and not order beignets every single time. Luckily, their lunch options - salads, soups, and sandwiches - are much healthier.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

apologies

No doubt about it: I've been a delinquent blogger. I'm adjusting to full-time work out of the house again (no more freelancer schedule!) while still hanging on to a couple major freelance projects; one, a survey, just launched a few days ago. On top of that, I was planning a student/alumni retreat for my old college house, which took place the day after the launch.

Now that I've passed both of those hurdles, I'm turning my attention back to my poor, neglected blog. I'm blowing the dust off the keyboard and getting to work.

This week, I promise four (count 'em, four!) restaurant reviews, and next week I'll be back to posting actual meals that I cooked.

Thanks for sticking around. ;-)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Daring Bakers: Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake Recipe

(recipe via Jenny Bakes)

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake:

crust:
2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

cheesecake:
3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake

DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil "casserole" shaped pans from the grocery store. They're 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.

Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Daring Bakers: Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.


This is a basic cheesecake recipe developed by her friend Abbey T., who has made infinite flavor modifications to this basic recipe with great success. Basically, you can take this recipe and easily tweak it to create any flavor cheesecake you desire. I decided to go for a Neapolitan effect, inspired by the classic ice cream flavor.


I planned to make the basic batter, then split it in thirds and add strawberry puree to one portion and melted chocolate to another, but then I realized how neatly the recipe divides in to third. Since it calls for three blocks of cream cheese and three eggs, and all the flavorings are listed in tablespoons (1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons), making the batter in thirds seemed like a really easy way to ensure even flavor distribution.


Oddly, despite my equitable distribrution of ingredients, the chocolate portion came out notably thicker than the other two. I expected the strawberry puree to thin the batter a bit, but it didn't really: the pink and plain batters had the same consistency. I ended up using cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate, but even so, I used about a tablespoon, which doesn't seem like enough to significantly alter the consistency. But it did. Once baked, there wasn't a noticeably difference in texture, but the chocolate layer held up better than the strawberry and vanilla.


To top it off, I dipped some strawberries in dark chocolate. Delicious! 

I would definitely recommend this cheesecake recipe. It's definitely rich, but not so rich that just a bite or two makes you say, "Enough!" In that way, it's actually pretty dangerous - it's just mild enough to make you want one more bite. Every time. So, with that in mind, proceed with caution.

This post is already long, so I'll post the recipe separately.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sandwiches, part 2

Sandwiches again! This time on mini pita bread, but once again grilled. I had turkey with apple slices and cheddar, with more apple slices and some red pepper strips on the side.



Dan had roast beef, turkey, cheddar, and red peppers in his sandwich, with apples slices and some leftover pasta salad (orzo with olive oil, tomato, and feta). His metabolism is so fast it should require a seatbelt, so he can handle the extra carbs.

These are store-bought mini pitas. I keep meaning to make pitas - they are really simple, only a handful of ingredients - but I just haven't had the time recently. Maybe next week!

Cheese, glorious cheese!

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: we are serious cheese freaks. We LOVE cheese. We'd basically eat nothing but cheese if I didn't exert serious restraint and monitor our cheese consumption. Of course, living on the Vermont border, we have access to loads of amazing local cheeses, which we enjoy, but because we eat so much cheese, we also need a more utilitarian, run-of-the-mill, basic, everyday cheese. We call this "snack cheese" (as opposed to "special cheese" or "cooking cheese").


Lately our grocery store has been having amazing specials on cheese, bringing our standard snacking cheddar down to only $2.99 a pound, so of course we've been stocking up. With all that cheese on hand, however, the danger is that we'll go overboard and eat way too much cheese (yes, hard to believe, but there is such a thing). So we've rationed it. I figure that between the two of us, one 8-oz bar of cheddar per week is sufficient (especially since that's not the only cheese we eat - that's just for simple snacks). When the price drops this low, the limit is six bars at a time, so in theory, the supply should last six weeks.

We've done shockingly well with this allotment, even having some bars of cheese last longer than a week. The timing also works out well because it seems like Price Chopper runs this special around every six weeks - so right as we're running out, we can stock up again. Perfect.

When we lived in London, there was a greater variety of cheap cheeses in the supermarkets there, and we enjoyed trying out as many different kinds as possible. I especially liked to toss some Red Leicester in my mac and cheese, and we enjoyed Stilton with apricots on oat cakes. Mmmm, yummy! And of course the cheddar was great - more sharp aLinknd crumbly than supermarket cheddar here. Hard to believe it's been four years since we moved back!

What are your favorite cheeses? Anything we should try? I'm thinking a cheese taste-test series on the blog would be an excellent excuse to buy more cheese!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sandwiches, part 1

To tell the truth, I've never really liked sandwiches. Other than peanut butter and fluff, which is really more like dessert (and we all know I love dessert), squishing things between bread has just never had much appeal for me. I like a lot of the things that go in to sandwiches, but given the choice, I'd rather eat them separately. I would often do just that; when I started packing my own lunches in third grade, I'd often pack some bread, a chunk of cheese, a piece of meat, maybe some sliced cucumbers... all wrapped and eaten separately.


But there is one caveat: throw a sandwich, even one I would normally gag at, on the grill, and bingo! I'm salivating. I think I first encountered the concept of panini when I first went to London at seventeen; there were a lot of little panini shops near my fashion school in the Tottenham Court Road area, and, other than the carrot-ginger soup from Pret a Manger, the panini became my favorite lunch option.

Last week was cold and drizzly here, and one day in particular was absolutely a grilled-cheese-and-tomato-soup kind of day. (Grilled cheese, of course, has always been the one exception to my sandwich indifference.) We had neither bread nor tomato soup nor ingredients for tomato soup on hand, so I called Dan and asked him to pick up sandwich fixings; by the time we got off the phone, we agreed that some kind of deli meat would be good. My only specific request was avocado (I'm on an avocado kick again) but left the details up to him.

He brought home turkey, roast beef, provolone, a tomato, some crimini mushrooms, and the obligatory avocado, along with a nice, crusty loaf of sourdough. We used everything for the sandwiches except the mushrooms (later served sauteed with scrambled eggs). After a few minutes on our little Foreman grill, the bread was toasty, the cheese was melted, and the combination was perfect. We ate at the kitchen table while tossing the Yahtzee dice, under cover of the skylight, hammered by the rain.

Monday, April 13, 2009

This Should Help

I finally got around to cleaning out and organizing my fridge this weekend; this should help somewhat with meal planning, since it will be much easier now to see what we have on hand. I bought the white plastic baskets on the middle shelf at Walmart - only $1 for the pair. One holds deli meat, which we don't often buy, but we've been on a sandwich kick lately; the other holds some of the many, many different kinds of cheese we have. (We are serious cheese addicts.)


On Friday, I stocked up on lunch items and healthy snacks to prepare for my month-long stint in a real office. Working from home, I don't really plan what I eat, since I can just wander to the kitchen whenever I'm hungry and cook whatever I feel like. Since I won't be able to do that anymore, I want to have healthy options to bring for lunch and snacks. I splurged a bit and bought some pre-packaged items I usually avoid (e.g., individually-wrapped Laughing Cow cheese wedges, Breyer's yogurts with mix-ins, etc.), so our grocery bills will be higher this month, but I figure it's an okay price to pay in order to ensure that I don't get hungry mid-afternoon and hit the vending machine.

I also bought some Fiber One toaster pastries as a grab-and-go breakfast option; since I can no longer set my own work (and therefore sleep) hours, I may be in a rush some mornings and I figure one of those plus an apple is better (and cheaper) than heading to the Dirt Cowboy (local coffee shop) for a steamer and a pastry.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Book Review: Tender at the Bone

Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone is a fantastic read for any foodie. Reichl, the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine and a former New York Times food critic, transports us with mouthwatering details back to her most formative food experiences as she immerses herself in everything from finest French cuisine to freeganism. Through various iterations of her identity - lonely schoolgirl, rebellious teen, frugal young housewife, blossoming professional - there is one constant: her passion for good food. Along the way we meet a crazy cast of characters, and each chapter is peppered with meaningful recipes from that point in her life. Tender at the Bone is a fabulous fusion of autobiography and cookbook; I was frankly jealous of her amazing culinary experiences, and yet at the same time grateful that she has written them down for us to share. If you love to cook and eat, don't wait any longer to read this book.

Mom's Mac and Cheese

Mom's Mac and Cheese

2 cups cooked macaroni (about one cup dry)
1 cup assorted, cubed cheese
milk
salt
pepper
bread crumbs (optional)

In a lightly-greased casserole dish, mix the macaroni with the cheese. This dish works best with a mix of different cheeses; I usually use three (e.g., swiss, sharp cheddar, jack). Pour in the milk until you can see it start to rise up through the macaroni - about halfway up the dish. Salt and pepper and if you want, sprinkle bread crumbs on top. Bake for about 30 minutes ina 350 degree oven, or until all the cheese is melted and gooey and the top is golden.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I've been a bad, bad blogger.

Yes, I've been slacking on the blog front. There's just a lot going on; my newest freelance client asked me to work for them in-house, full-time for about a month or so this spring, so I'm scurrying to make headway on other freelance projects before that starts, since I'll be in an office forty hours per week for the first time in a long time. I'm really excited for the change of pace; I'll get to work on some interesting projects and put on real clothes and speak with someone other than my cat.

Anyway, I just wanted to pop in and drop a few photos before I put up some more substantial posts later this week.

If you've been reading Choice of Pies, you know about my culinary slump, and the great news is I'm finally starting to crawl out of it. I decided, in a fit of frustration, to go back to the basics, and that has helped a lot. Over the past couple of weeks, I've made a few dishes that used to be old standbys for me that somehow dropped out of the rotation. Like stuffed shells:


The filling is so easy: low-fat ricotta, part-skim mozzarella cheese, maybe some parmesan or asiago if you have it, an egg, and some dried Italian herb blend (or fresh herbs, if you have them). I had some leftover spaghetti sauce that I used, but since there wasn't much of it, I sauteed a bunch of frozen spinach and mixed it in to stretch the sauce. I stuffed the boiled shells, topped them with my "Florentine" sauce, and sprinkled some mozzarella on top, then baked it at 375 for about half an hour. Easy, not very expensive, and very tasty served with a big green salad; Dan was thrilled.


I also made one of Dan's favorites: my mom's mac and cheese. It's the easiest mac and cheese ever - one dish, no white sauce - and it comes out perfectly every time. I'll post the recipe tomorrow. This is not the healthiest recipe I've got, but it's delicious and worth it and since almost all my dinners are low-fat I figure I can splurge once in a while.


And lastly, that old classic beef stew: perfect for the drizzly mud-season weather we've got now. I made this on Saturday afternoon, while we stayed home and watched movies; the whole house smelled great as it bubbled away, and I let it cook so long that the meat was falling-apart tender. We ate it while watching another movie (on Dan's laptop, since our DVD player is broken) and enjoyed sopping up the broth with spiced Ethiopian honey bread that we had picked up that morning at the farmer's market. I'm going to have to look for a recipe, because that bread was tasty.

So there you have it: there is a light at the end of my takeout tunnel, and I'm finally crawling out of this slump. Check back tomorrow for Mom's mac and cheese recipe and a review of a great food memoir that I read recently.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Best-Laid Plans...

So, as I mentioned last week, I've tried a few different techniques to shake myself out of my kitchen slump. One thing I've tried is to write down a meal plan in advance. So early last week, I brainstormed a list of about four dozen meals I can cook without a recipe (more on that later) and set to work on filling out a weekly meal plan.

The thing about a meal plan is, the planning doesn't end once you've filled in a little chart. Take last Saturday for example: I had written "squash casserole" in the box for that night. There's a feta, pepper, and squash casserole from The New Moosewood Cookbook that Dan and I absolutely love - it's amazing with pilaf or warm pitas, and it hits a dinner grand slam: tasty, easy, healthy, cheap.

So great - squash casserole it is for Saturday night. Cut to Saturday afternoon, when I realize that I didn't get the feta - or the pepper - so it's going to be hard to make it for dinner in a couple of hours.

No problem - we were planning to go to the grocery store that night anyway; we would go sooner rather than later. We go and we get various things for dinner tonight and the next few days, sticking to our shopping list (for the most part). Once we hit the checkout and we start loading the conveyor belt with all our yummy groceries, it hits me: I didn't thaw the frozen squash. "Oh, shoot!" I tell Dan, and he shrugs while I momentarily debate whether I could make something else with what we're already buying or whether I should pick up something else right now.

"I guess I'll just cook the squash before I make the casserole," I say. It's an extra step - since the frozen squash is precooked, I usually just thaw it, but I can heat it in a pan with a little water. But no big deal - that adds, what, ten minutes to the overall cooking time? It's okay. It's Saturday. We have no place to be, and we're going to have our favorite casserole for dinner.

At home, we lug all our groceries up to our third-floor apartment and I start unpacking while Dan immediately zeroes in on the sink full of dirty dishes. I put everything away except for the red pepper and the feta for dinner. I start pulling the other ingredients - plain yogurt, sunflower seeds, frozen green peppers. And the squash - where's the damn squash?

Normally I keep my freezer pretty organized - veggies on one side, meats on the other, fruit and juices in the front, tiny Tupperware tubs of tomato sauce on the right next to my frozen homemade pizza dough - but lately I haven't really stuck to this scheme and the whole thing has fallen in to disarray. So I start shuffling through, and pulling things out and setting them on the kitchen table, until suddenly, the table is full and my freezer is empty. And still no squash.

And then I realize - I've had the same box of grocery-store frozen squash in the freezer for a few months now. It kept getting pushed away as I used the homemade frozen packets that I put aside when we couldn't keep up with the endless stream of CSA squash last fall. Why use the boxed stuff when we had the local, organic kind? And then we used the last of the CSA squash in January, and still the lone box sat in the freezer.

Until I cooked it a month ago to eat with - chicken, pork chops? I don't remember. But the key point: A MONTH AGO. I had been planning all week to cook a meal based on a box of squash that had ceased to exist weeks before.

We got Chinese food from the place down the block.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Turkey Ragu Recipe

Here's the turkey ragu I made up during the March Daring Bakers challenge.

TURKEY RAGU
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 shallots, minced (or equivalent amount of any onion)
1 large carrot, minced
2 stalks celery, minced
1/2 pound ground turkey
2 hot Italian turkey sausages
20 slices turkey pepperoni, minced
2 cups hot turkey, chicken, or vegetable stock
4 whole canned tomatoes
2 tablespoons pureed tomato (optional - I was just trying to use this up, so I threw it in there)

Heat olive oil over medium in large skillet (regular, not non-stick, if possible). Add shallots, carrot, and celery and cook until vegetables start to soften. Add ground turkey and sausage, breaking up as much as possible. Once meats are cooked through, lower heat to medium-low and add minced turkey pepperoni. Cook until ground meats take on a faint golden-brown hue, stirring occasionally. You probably have a brown glaze on the bottom of the pan and some meat might be sticking. Transfer meat and vegetables to saucepan, then add half a cup of stock to skillet and scrape as much of the brown glaze up as possible, stirring it in to the stock. When you've got the pan pretty well scraped, dump the stock and brown stuff in to the saucepan with the meats and vegetables. Simmer over low heat until almost all liquid is absorbed. Add remaining stock to the saucepan 1/2 cup at a time, simmering until almost totally absorbed after each addition. Break up meats as much as possible every time you stir more stock in. Once almost all stock is absorbed, add tomatoes and break them up as much as possible. Simmer for another ten to fifteen minutes.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Daring Bakers: Lasagna of Emilia-Romana

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

In the introduction to the recipe, Kasper writes, "
Mere films of b├ęchamel sauce and meat ragu coat the sheerest spinach pasta.... The results are splendid."

Maybe in her world. I followed the pasta portion of the recipe faithfully, letting the dough rest for as long as possible - anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours is recommended. I waited the full three hours before starting to roll it out, in order to give the gluten maximum opportunity to develop, and still, my sheets were anything but sheer. It seemed impossible: before I'd stretched it even as thin as boxed dry lasagna, holes were popping up everywhere. This was an exercise in frustration, as you can see.


I found the dough stretched a little better if I sprinkled a few drops of water on the surface. Following Daring Baker Audax's recommendation, I also allowed the stretched sheets to stick to the counter for several minutes; if you pick them up right away, they will shrink and become thick again. Still, my lasagne was nowhere near thin enough "to see color through," as the recipe calls for. Only the last few sheets even approached that level of thinness, and that was after I picked them up from where they had been resting on the counter and found they stretched very thin and long in my hands. Unfortunately, by this point, I had already boiled the rest of my (too-thick) lasagne. If I were to try this again (let's face it: not anytime soon!), I would let the pasta rest much longer - probably five hours - before I started rolling it.


Here are my (leathery-looking) lasagne, my ragu, and my bechamel sauce. Or rather, Dan's bechamel sauce - he made it! Rolling the lasagne was taking so long that I began to get frustrated and worried that I wouldn't have this mess done in time for dinner, so I enlisted his help.

Our deal is I do the cooking, he does the dishes. This works for us: I like to cook, and he actually enjoys washing dishes. To me, that is as foreign as saying "I enjoy drinking toilet water," but hey, I'm not going to argue. We 've had this arrangement for years and rarely deviate from it. Sometimes I'll fill the sink with soapy water for him or he'll put water on to boil for me, but that's about it. But yesterday, I was desperate, and he could tell, and he cheerfully agreed to help me out. So while I called out directions from my lasagne-rolling spot, Dan made the bechamel (and did a great job of it, too!).


The recipe includes instructions for a country-style ragu, and while it sounded amazing, it called for veal, pork loin, skirt steak, pancetta, prosciutto, and red wine - a definite budget-buster. So, having already spent more on groceries than I wanted to this month, I made up my own turkey ragu, using ground turkey, hot Italian turkey sausage, and turkey pepperoni that I had on hand. The turkey ragu was the saving grace of this experience for me; I rarely make meat sauce for pasta, but this ragu was so delicious that I will definitely have to make it again, and I probably wouldn't have come up with it if not for this challenge.


So here it is: the labor-intensive lasagne that ate my Sunday (completely with big, ugly hunk of ragu - yeah, at this point, I didn't really care about getting a pretty picture). Sadly, after all of that work, it wasn't even that good. It wasn't bad, certainly, but it was nothing special. Maybe if I had been able to get the whisper-thin, ethereal lasagne that Kasper writes about, I would feel differently. At least I got an awesome ragu sauce out of the deal, and Dan learned how to make bechamel. (What should I teach him next - bearnaise? Beurre blanc? Why do all white sauces start with b?)

This post has gone on long enough, so I'll post my turkey ragu sauce in a separate post tomorrow. Hope you all had a nice weekend!

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Notice a pattern?

Here's a shot of a recent meal: brown rice and lentils, topped with fried onions with garam masala and plain yogurt, served with a side of shredded root veg salad on romaine.



And here's another recent dinner: grilled cheese sandwiches, sliced cucumbers, and shredded root veg salad on a bed of romaine.


And you've seen this one before: a recent fish dinner served with - what else? - shredded root veg salad and romaine.


Yep, it's fair to say I've fallen in to a rut. The root veg salad is great, especially with goat cheese and pecans, but I've come to rely on it a little too much. And it's not just the salad: I've been in a cooking slump, which partially accounts for my light posting lately. Even Dan, who normally loves my cooking, has gently noted that my meals have been a bit boring lately. The good news is, I think I've finally - finally! - started to climb out of it. I'll write more next week about a couple of the things I've been doing to shake the dust off my shoulders and get moving in the kitchen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cake and Punch

I made a lemon cake and some chocolate cupcakes for the baby shower last weekend. I did all the baking at home, then transported the unfrosted cakes to my mom's house, because I didn't want to risk taking finished cakes on a three-and-a-half hour drive. It was a good call, because a few of the cupcakes got smooshed along the way, so I can just imagine what would have happened to a frosted cake.


I made a last-minute choice to make two cake flavors; I had originally planned to do one large lemon cake and I had a really cool crane design worked out for it. I thought that some people might not like lemon, however, so I did a regular lemon layer cake and the cupcakes. As it turns out, lemon was actually much more popular than chocolate, so it would have been fine, but oh well.


Anyway, I busted out my piping tips and this spontaneous, swirly design is what came out. Overall not too bad, although the writing could have been more centered. I had so much trouble with the frosting that day. I usually use only butter in my frosting, but for these cakes I used half butter, half shortening, as my grandmother taught me; it was my first time using the "new" (trans-fat-free) Crisco and now I see what everyone on the cake decorating boards has been complaining about. It is prone to cracking and in order to get a smooth result, I had to make the frosting softer than I normally would.

The frosting was also frustrating when it came to the cupcakes; it seemed to deflate and looked sort of sad and melted. My mom said no one would notice but me, but I was definitely annoyed - one of the few times lately when I actually get to share something I've baked with a larger group, and they weren't up to my usual standards.


The shower was nice and intimate, with just under twenty guests at my mother's house. I insisted that we have a punch bowl, which my mom thought was funny and old-fashioned - "Who drinks punch anymore?" - but it turned out to be a hit! I used this recipe, which was just right - not overly sweet like some punches - and the leftovers mixed well with rum, although vodka or amaretto would have worked, too.

GRAMMY'S BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
*A note on buttercream: what constitutes buttercream is a matter of raging debate across the internet and in various cookbooks. Many will argue that buttercream must contain eggs. I grew up calling this buttercream; it has no eggs, and is not a cooked frosting, but since you start by creaming the butter, buttercream seems like a fitting name to me.

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup Crisco
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar mil
1 tablespoon

Cream butter and Crisco together until light, fluffy, and completely blended. Add vanilla and half a cup powdered sugar and beat until well-incorporated. Continue adding sugar in 1/2 cup increments until all has been added. If necessary, add some or all milk to adjust consistency.

These are the quantities my grandmother dictated to eight-year-old me when she gave me the recipe, but it's really only enough to frost one layer. For 8" or 9" layer cakes or a 9"x13" sheet pan, double the quantities.

SARAH'S BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
Follow directions for Grammy's buttercream, but substitute butter for Crisco (so instead 1/4 cup butter, 1/4 cup Crisco, use 1/2 cup butter). This frosting will have a slightly stronger butter flavor. What can I say? I love butter. Not everyone does.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Serendipitous Design

This weekend we went home to Maine for my sister-in-law's baby shower. We had a nice, small shower at my mom's house. My mom is an artist (check out her art education blog) and her painter's eye carries over well to food presentation. Take, for example, this veggie platter:


She used a melamine set of one large platter and six removable paisley-shaped sections. A really neat touch, though, was the celery "flower" in the middle: while prepping the celery sticks, she chopped off the bottom in one fell swoop and was going to toss it when she noticed that it looked like a flower, so instead she placed it in the center and instantly added more visual interest. (She also commented on how cool it would be to use the celery "flower" as a printing block, as detailed in her post about vegetable printing.) This is just one example of how the most mundane objects can be beautiful if you stop to look at them, and it was a cheap (free!) way of adding a little more spark to the decor.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Time to Get Growing

Due to the tough economy and rising food prices, more people are turning to gardening as a major food source. I want this economic slump to end as much as anybody, but I'm happy to see a silver lining: more Americans will be eating fresh, local (as local as it gets!) food - good for our budgets, our waistlines, and our taste buds, too.

According to this article, flower seed sales are down, but vegetable seed sales are way up, and the National Gardening Association predicts that there will be 40% more homes with vegetable gardens this summer than there were two years ago.

Even the White House is getting its own vegetable garden (for the first time since World War II): an 1100-square-foot plot will host 55 varieties of plants, including spinach, chard, collards, kale, lettuces, hot peppers, tomatillos, berries, and herbs. The total cost for seeds, mulch, etc: $200.

Are you planning a garden this year? What will you grow?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Making Progress

Remember my New Year's resolutions? I'm not doing so well with the tea, but I am making progress with the fish. Last week I stocked up on frozen fish fillets, buying swai (Asian river catfish) and Cape Capensis (South African hake). I realize that both selections are about as far from local as you can get; I've got to do some research and see if I can find a store that sells affordable, local fish. In the meantime, I've got enough fish for the time being to last several weeks; I'm trying to start us off at fish dinner once per week and work our way up to twice weekly. Hopefully then we can maintain the habit.


I dipped the swai in a blend of fine cornmeal and Old Bay seasoning, then baked it at 450 for about twenty-five minutes - until cooked through and flaky. I also baked some potatoes from our latest CSA share and served the shredded root veggie salad on a bed of romaine. The fish was okay, but a little bland. I'm looking for more interesting ways to cook it, since it's apparently not the most flavorful fillet. Any ideas? I'm open to suggestions.

P.S. Happy St. Patrick's Day! Last year I made corned beef and cabbage. This year I'm making barbecue ribs, for no particular reason at all.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sunday breakfast

We had a lovely weekend here at Chez Choice of Pies. For once, we didn't have to go anywhere or do anything; Dan didn't have to put in any overtime hours, and I didn't have any deadlines. So we slept in, lounged around, caught up on some television shows, and took a nice long walk together. Sunday morning - actually, Sunday noon - we enjoyed a big breakfast.

I made biscuits (have I mentioned how much I LOVE BISCUITS?), using my usual King Arthur white whole wheat flour, and served them up with fluffy scrambled eggs and cantaloupe slices. If I were more a morning person, I would love to make us a big breakfast every day, but as a night owl and an insomniac, I'm usually getting my best sleep just as Dan is rolling out the door. Thank goodness for weekends (and 24-hour diners).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I yam what I yam...

... and that's a lady who loves her spinach. Baby spinach, especially. Fresh, local, organic baby spinach for the first time in months! This salad was amazing - just spinach, a shredded carrot, and some sprouts with a very lemony dressing (lemon juice + salt + EVOO). I had some last night with homemade cheese pizza (this dough recipe is still amazing - I made another quadruple batch yesterday and froze three extra balls).


I buy shredded mozzarella in a big two-pound bag for $7.99. Two pounds yields approximately eight cups, which is enough for at least eight pizzas, depending on how cheesy I'm feeling. I use tomato puree (one 28oz can has enough for at least twelve pizzas) and I buy the flour and yeast for the dough from the Coop bulk bins, so pizza is a very cheap meal (and if you go easy on the cheese, it's pretty healthy paired with a salad). Each pizza provides dinner and lunch the next day for the two of us, so I'd wager it comes out to less than fifty cents per serving. Even when we have to buy lettuce from the grocery store, I'm pretty sure pizza and a salad comes out to around $1.00 per serving. Definitely thrifty, tasty, and easy!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Winter CSA - March

Here's the March share that we picked up a few days ago. Notice anything... unusual?


That's right! GREENS!!! That's a bag of fresh baby spinach in the top left. Thank goodness for greenhouses (the ground's still frozen here). There's also a bag of alfalfa-radish sprouts, which have a slightly spicy bite. Other than that, we've got the winter usual - potatoes, carrots, daikon, celeriac, beets, and rutabagas. A few of the potatoes are huge, so I'm thinking they are good candidates for baking. Maybe we'll top them with some veggie chili.

Does anyone have any rutabaga recipes to share? I'd like to try something a bit different with these. I'll use most of the carrots, celeriac, and beets to make more of that amazing shredded salad, and I'm toying with a few different options for the daikon.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

mini-break

I've got a lot going on this week, including some deadlines for work, so I'm going to take a few days off to rest and give my food brain a chance to come alive again. I've really enjoyed the books that I picked up last week: they are so interesting and I'm getting some really fun recipe ideas! I think that they are just what I need to help rouse me from these mid-winter doldrums. I'll be back next week with a shot of our March CSA pickup and a book review or two.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cooking with Sarah: Bourbon Caramel Sauce

Here is video number two, in which I make the bourbon caramel sauce that I served with the chocolate cake and ice cream from my first Daring Bakers challenge. (I think it's better than the first video - what do you think? I know I felt more comfortable in front of the camera the second time around.)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Oops!

I know I promised to post the caramel video today, but life got in the way. Specifically, Dartmouth announced their next president today, which means my poor hubby had to work all weekend to get video material ready for the announcement. He was spirited away to Boston on Friday (under cover of a signed confidentiality agreement) to tape an interview of the new guy, Dr. Kim, and then worked all weekend to edit the clips. So while he was racking up loads of overtime pay (yay!), my video is not quite yet ready to go. See, I do the first edit (the "rough cut"), but I'm reliant on Dan to finish it up by mixing the sound and correcting the color. (Since we shoot in our kitchen, which has only one window - a large skylight - the light color and quality can change drastically over the short period of time that we are actively shooting.) My saint of a husband is now putting on the finishing touches (instead of catching up on sleep, as he should be) so hopefully I can post the video tomorrow.

In the meantime, however, let's take a tea break.

Remember my resolution to drink more green tea? I'm not doing so well with that. I'm still drinking mostly black tea. I think I've had three cups of green tea so far this year. Bad Sarah! (I've also made no progress with the fish resolution, but that should change soon - pollock filets are on sale this week and I plan to stock up!)


But can you blame me, really, when such delectable teas as this Twinings Lady Grey are tempting me? The decorative flecks of cornflower almost make this too pretty to drink. I'll have to use this tea in some scones or tea cookies soon. I picked it up right after Christmas. Dan loves the tins that Twinings loose tea comes in because they are so useful for storing small items; we keep our laundry quarters in one.


The little tea house was a Christmas gift from my Aunt Gail. It's perfect for brewing a single cup and comes with a tiny tray to set it on when you take it out. The enormous round cup was a Listen Center find; after trolling Home Goods, the Christmas Tree Shop, and numerous other stores in search of the perfect oversized mug, I gave up - and promptly found this beauty for only a quarter.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Daring Bakers: Chocolate Valentino with Ice Cream

Here it is - my first Daring Bakers challenge result!


The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. They have chosen a chocolate valentino cake by Chef Wan, a vanilla ice cream recipe from Dharm, and a vanilla ice cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.


The flourless chocolate cake requires only three ingredients - chocolate, eggs, and butter - and pretty much tastes exactly like the chocolate that you use. I selected Scharffen Berger 70%, which is dark and not very sweet, with subtle fruity hints. The cake is supposed to be very dense and fudgy, but I'm sorry to say mine came out rather dry. There could be a few reasons for this. I've heard that the cake is best after sitting for a day, but I ate my first serving the day I made the cake, and my second serving straight out of the fridge. Other servings (which we gave away) that weren't straight out of the refridgerator looked a bit more moist, but I can't say for sure. The other possible cause for the dryness might be the egg whites; the recipe calls for stiff peaks, which I thought I had, but notes that overbeating may cause a dry cake. I guess my peaks should have been a little softer.


The challenge hosts, Wendy and Dharm, each provided a vanilla ice cream recipe (one custard-style, one Philadelphia-style), but they also stated that we didn't have to make vanilla - we were free to experiment. I made a custard-based coffee ice cream (since Dan loves coffee!). I hobbled together a recipe (included below) after looking at dozens of non-coffee recipes (every coffee recipe I could find used instant - yuck!). After spilling half of the ice cream mix (oops), I dumped the rest in my ice cream machine only to discover that the motor had died. It wasn't completely gone - a sickly hum emanated from somewhere within - but it couldn't summon the power to turn the paddle, so it was useless. I had to pour the mix in to a Tupperware container and use the old "take it out of the freezer to stir every half hour" method, which worked fine, but it wasn't as smooth as it would have been with a machine.


I also made a bourbon caramel sauce, which was fantastic. I used Bulleit, which has undertones of tobacco and coffee, so it worked very well with the coffee ice cream. The caramel sauce is the subject of my next video, which will be posted here Monday, so come back then for the recipe. (If you haven't seen the first video, click here to watch it.)


CUSTARD-STYLE COFFEE ICE CREAM
2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 cup 2% milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup coffee

Put milk, sugar, and 1 cup of the cream in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until just before boiling. Do not let it boil! Remove from heat and let cool for five minutes. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, then slowly add a small amount of warm milk mixture (about 1/2 cup) while whisking rapidly to temper the eggs. Add egg mixture to the saucepan with the remaining milk mixture and stir. Return to moderate heat and cook (without boiling) until thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat and stir in coffee and remaining cream. Place custard in refridgerator for several hours or overnight. For freezing, if using a machine, follow manufacturer's directions; to freeze without a machine, follow David Lebowitz's directions here.
The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Most Important Meal

Remember how your parents and teachers would say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? I firmly believe this. Chances are you haven't eaten in at least eight hours - of course you need to refuel! I'm always ravenous in the morning, so I start almost every day with oatmeal. I always add milk (to boost the protein), and usually fruit and nuts. Some of my favorite combos are dried cranberries and almonds or applesauce with cinnamon and walnuts. I hardly ever use brown sugar or maple syrup anymore - fruit is usually sweet enough. I always use old-fashioned oats, not quick or instant, which cook faster because some of the fiber is removed; old-fashioned oats take only a few more minutes (about five, as opposed to two or three) but they have a lot more fiber so they will keep you sated for longer.


On weekends, however, I try to make something a little special, and I'm a little more lenient on the health front. One of my favorite breakfast treats is the popover. I've written about these before; they still fall flat some days (as seen below) but they taste just as lovely. I like to put out a platter of popovers, a pot of tea, and some toppings like butter and jam. (Once we used lemon curd, which was spectacular!) One recent Sunday morning, we slathered our popovers with Stonewall Kitchen Blackberry Jam, a gift from our landlords (hi Holly!). This jam was so delicious that we used it all up within six weeks - it usually takes us a year to use up any given pot.

See the Yahtzee score sheet in the background? This is the other part of our weekend breakfast ritual. We've fallen in to the wonderful habit of playing Yahtzee while we eat on weekend mornings. It's a nice game of chance and strategy, and it takes us back to our first year of marriage, when we played endless rounds of Yahtzee, Uno, and Sequence on the fold-up table in our shoebox-sized studio apartment in London.


Here are some chocolate-chip pancakes - a very rare indulgence. I actually haven't made pancakes in quite a while because we're just about out of maple syrup and I've held off on buying more since the next sugaring season is just a few weeks away. We've actually been invited to a maple sugaring weekend in Vermont, which I'm really excited about.

Have a great weekend, and check back here tomorrow for the big reveal of my first Daring Bakers challenge!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Time to wake up!

Readers, I'm tired. Whatever this bug is that I have, it is draining all the energy from me. I'm a night owl and an insomniac. Usually it's very difficult for me to fall asleep before two or three in the morning. But all this week, I've been asleep by midnight, and last night, I could have easily fallen asleep at eight (but I made myself stay up to watch Lost!).

I'm also tired in the kitchen. It's that time of year when we've used up all the lovely CSA produce that we froze during the summer months. We have no squash, no kale, not even any pesto left. But we're three and a half months away from the start of the summer harvest, so for the time being, we're stuck with purchased frozen veggies and some not-so-fresh, definitely-not-local produce from the grocery store.

I need to shake myself out of this slumber, and so I'm looking for new inspiration in the kitchen. Today I went to the library and checked out several food-related books, including one on fads, one on local eating, and one memoir. I'm hoping that by looking for new ideas and new perspectives, I'll be able to reinvigorate myself. I also realized today that we're almost through the winter, but I have yet to make three of my winter staples: beef burgundy, chili with polenta, and squash casserole. I'm planning to make these in the next few weeks so I can post about them here, and I'm also going to make a real effort in March to try out some new recipes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pizza Party

One of the nice things about living near our alma mater is that when college friends come back to campus, a visit with us is usually on their itineraries. The weekend before last was Winter Carnival, so several of our friends came back. A cup of coffee with my friend Emily on Friday afternoon led to an impromptu pizza-dough-making session that night and a pizza party at our old college house Saturday evening.

We used the pizza dough recipe from the Williams-Sonoma Savoring Italy cookbook. It's a very simple recipe - only yeast, water, flour, and salt - but it was fantastic. We actually made a quadruple batch in my stand mixer (using the paddle hook for the initial stirring and the dough hook for the rest of the stirring and kneading). I've since made another quadruple batch and found that this dough freezes and thaws well. (A single batch of dough, as listed below, makes one 12" thin-crust pizza). For the crispiest crust, I bake the pizza at the highest heat possible (my oven goes to 550) for a short time (about nine minutes). I bake the plain crust first for about five minutes, then top it and put in back the oven - this way, the crust doesn't have a chance to get soggy.


With four pizzas to play with, we used a variety of toppings; the best combination by far was one that Emily suggested which was based on a recipe in the Cheese Board Collective cookbook. The Cheese Board Collective is a cooperatively-run company in Berkeley that produces cheese, pizza, and baked goods. All of the employees own an equal stake in the company and receive the same hourly wage. Emily highly recommends the cookbook, so I plan to check it out soon. Anyway, the Cheeseboard pizza combines kale, walnuts, and white sauce; we used the last of my frozen summer kale and pecans that I had on hand. Emily made a basic roux, spiced with paprika, nutmeg, cardamom, and pepper. We sauteed the kale to remove as much of the moisture as possible, then layered the roux, kale, mozzarella, and pecans on the parbaked pizza. For a final touch, we brushed the finished pizza with garlic-infused olive oil. Although I love kale, I've never before had it on pizza and was surprised by how wonderful it was. I was especially pleased by the surprising crunch the kale took on the edges. We also made a pesto, chevre, and mushroom pizza (with the last of my frozen pesto), as well as a few other veggie combos. We rounded out the meal with a salad of romaine and shredded root veggie mix.



Stand-Mixer Pizza Dough
adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Savoring Italy, by Michele Scicolone

1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 cups flour *recipe calls for unbleached all-purpose, but I use King Arthur's white whole wheat
1 teaspoon salt

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let stand until creamy, about five minutes. Stir until dissolved.

Add yeast mixture, salt, and half of flour to stand mixer bowl and stir at low speed with paddle attachment until blended. Switch to dough hook and add the rest of the flour. Stir on low until well-blended. If you are making multiple batches at once, add flour one cup at a time, stirring after each addition until thoroughly incorporated. Switch to medium speed and kneed until smooth and elastic, about seven minutes.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk. The recipe says this should take about two hours, but I've found that most of the rising happens in the first forty-five minutes.

Punch down the dough and knead breifly on a floured work surface to remove any air bubbles. If you are going to freeze any dough, now is the time to do it. I wrap each ball in plastic wrap and then put the wrapped dough balls together in a Ziploc freezer bag. If you are going to cook the dough today, leave the ball on the floured surface and invert a bowl over it. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about one hour.

Bake at the highest heat possible for four or five minutes; remove from oven, add toppings, and bake for a few more minutes, until crust edges are golden.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

a slight delay

Just popping in to apologize for the lack of posts this week. I've been feeling lousy for a few days now (some sort of stomach bug) but I'm working on some posts for tomorrow, Thursday, and Friday - and don't forget to check in Saturday for my first Daring Bakers challenge!

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Few Announcements

--I've joined a challenge group called The Daring Bakers. Every month, The Daring Bakers tackle a specific recipe and post pictures and write-ups on the designated "reveal" day. I can't say what this month's recipe is until the reveal, but I promise that it will be decadent! I'm making it today and we're having friends over to share the spoils (because honestly, the amount of butter and cream going in to this thing would be criminal if split between only the two of us). This month's challenge will be revealed on February 28th, so check back then for pictures and a description of what I've made.

--I'm working on a recipe index for Choice of Pies, which will hopefully appear in a sidebar within the next few weeks.

--Dan and I are shooting the next Cooking with Sarah video this Saturday! I'm excited about the recipe and I hope we can make this video look better than the last. I plan to post it in early March.

That's all for now. I still haven't posted about the amazing impromptu pizza party we had last week because there are so many photos to sort through - I just haven't been able to narrow them down yet. I promise to post about that (including a fabulous pizza bianca recipe!) next week.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Food Budgeting

Yesterday I mentioned that I had budgeted $10 for nice cheese for Valentine's Day. It's been at least two years since I've done any formal food budgeting - I usually just keep a rough estimate in my head and try not to go over a target - but since we're really trying to save money, I decided to try a new and very formal budget. At the beginning of the month, I sat down and wrote out a list of all the food I thought we might need to buy in February. I then assigned a dollar amount to each category; for example, I budgeted $15 for salad greens for the month. I gave us a little leeway with an "other" category that would bring the total for the month to $200. It's not an extremely thrifty amount for two people, but for the first month, I wanted to make sure the goal was realistic.


I then put the whole list in Excel, as shown above. (The graphic shows a total of $155 because we had already spent $45 stocking up on February 1st.) Whenever I buy food, I save the receipt and enter the amount in each category. The column on the right shows me whether or not I've gone over budget for that item. You can see that my estimates were not perfect. Because of Dan's birthday and Valentine's Day this month, there were some more extravagant purchases than usual. Also, because of a food challenge I'm doing (more on that tomorrow), I'll definitely go over budget in the "other" category. However, I'm pretty sure that I'll be able to stay within the overall budget and not go over $155/200.

Having a strict budget like this has been helpful for me because I'm less likely to toss random things (like, say, kalamata olives) in to the cart if I know I'll have to account for them later. You may have noticed that there is no meat on the list; that's because I fill the freezer when I find a good deal and such purchases usually last for a long time, since we don't eat much meat anyway. I think the only meat I bought this month was two slices of deli ham (accounted for under "other") for a macaroni dish we had a couple of weeks ago. We've had chicken a few times, using frozen breasts that I bought in bulk. Mostly, however, we get our protein from beans, cheese, or nuts.

What's not in this budget? Household items like cleaning supplies - we haven't needed to buy any this month. Personal care items - I did buy a toothbrush this month, but that's it. I didn't include personal care as a category in the budget because we spend so little on stuff like that anyway. We buy the cheapest shampoo and we stock up on things like shaving cream and soap when they are on sale, so we only have to restock every few months. We also buy toilet paper and tissues in bulk, and it's not like we could cut back on that sort of thing, anyway. Really, I built the budget around food because a) we already spend minimally on non-food groceries and b) food is where we can easily spend in excess; if we aren't careful, we can add $100 or more to our monthly bill by tossing stuff like crackers, wine, and cantaloupe in to the cart.

The list above clearly does not include everything that we are eating this month; it's just everything we are buying. We won't eat all of it (for example, the tomatoes and lentils should last us at least another month) and what we do eat will be supplemented by food we already have on hand. Our CSA provides us with all the root vegetables we could ever hope to eat and we also have a lot of frozen vegetables and fruit (put aside last summer or bought in bulk on sale).

I've started the list for March:
  • milk
  • cheese
  • butter
  • yogurt
  • eggs
  • salad greens
  • frozen broccoli
  • canned fruit
  • dried cranberries
  • flour
  • yeast
  • oatmeal
  • nuts
  • whole chicken
  • turkey sausage
  • 12 pack beer
So far I've budgeted $115 for the items above. I'm trying to think if there's anything else I will need. If this is it, I'll add an "other" category for $35 and see if I can try to keep all food costs in March down to $150.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Salad Days: Root Veg with Chevre and Toasted Pecans

This week's salad is without question the best salad I have ever had. The recipe for the shredded root veg slaw came via email from a fellow CSA member after several people had asked for recommendations on how to deal with all the root veggies. The root veg mix is delicious and keeps well in the fridge for several days; I've enjoyed having it on hand so I can serve it as a side dish, add some color to a tossed salad, or, as in this case, make it the centerpiece of a hearty salad entree.

We enjoyed this salad on Friday the 13th as part of our early Valentine's celebration, since we had plans with friends on the day itself. For the past few years, our Valentine's routine has been to pop a bottle of champagne, order Thai or Chinese, and make creme brulee (Dan's favorite). However, this year, since we're trying to spend less, I nixed the takeout and budgeted $10 for good cheese instead, planning to serve it along with a salad. We also postponed the creme brulee since this month is packed with desserts already (some of which you've already seen).


Picking the cheese was hard because there were so many amazing selections at the Coop. I went in thinking I'd like something local and made from raw goat's milk. Since we live right on the border with Vermont, the local options are abundant. However, some of the imported cheeses looked so tempting that my resolve wavered. Ultimately, I decided to split the budget, selecting one imported, semisoft, raw, cow's milk cheese and one local, soft, pasteurized, goat's milk cheese. We snacked on the imported cheese, a Morbier from France, while I grated the veggies for the salad and Dan did the dishes. Morbier is a creamy, slightly bitter cheese with a pungent smell but a mild and faintly nutty taste. It is made of two layers, separated by ash; traditionally, farmers would pour leftover curds from Gruyere de Comte in to a mold in the evening, then cover it with a layer of ash to preserve it, and top it off with more curds from the next morning's batch. Now it is generally made from one batch but the ash layer is kept for tradition. We both enjoyed this cheese very much, but I'm not sure I'd buy it again soon; there are just too many cheeses out there that I haven't tried yet.


The local chevre went on top of the root veg slaw, along with some toasted pecans, all with a bed of mesclun. The combination was simple but fantastic. You know how when you taste something delicious, the first few bites taste the best, but then you sort of get used to it? That didn't happen with this salad. With every bite, I was surprised; every forkful was bursting with flavor and new taste. I think it's just the perfect balance of earthy, tangy, sweet, and nutty flavors, and the mix of textures - smooth, crunchy, crisp - offers so much variety that it stays interesting even if you eat a huge platter. We've already repeated this salad and I know it will become a regular menu item for us.

Judi's Winter Root Salad

8 cups grated root vegetables (beets, turnips, carrots, daikon, celeriac, etc., plus one garlic clove)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
1.5 tablespoons vinegar

Mix it all together. Lasts in the refrigerator for several days. I omitted the garlic and used a German stone-ground mustard instead. I only used beets, carrots, and celeriac in mine. Grating all these veggies by hand would be a pain (literally, for my bad wrists); my yard-sale Salad Shooter does the trick in two minutes.
Best Winter Salad

4 cups mesclun (rinsed and spun)
3 cups Judi's Winter Root Salad
2 oz chevre (about half a small log)
1/3 cup chopped pecans

Set oven to 300. Spread pecans on an ungreased cookie sheet and toast in oven until they smell wonderful (about eight minutes). Divide mesclun between two plates. Scoop half of the root veg slaw on to each plate. Top each serving with dollops of chevre and toasted pecans. Serves 2.