Musing on food and cooking ...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


So I haven't posted in a while, but that's because I have been food busy!

First off, I found yogurt! It's this little store brand. I have to drive to Wilmette (about 20 minutes awawy) to get it, but it only has 15 grams of sugar per container so that is do-able. Plain yogurt has about 10 grams. So far, it has been pretty tasty. The blueberry is my favorite.

Then, I put to good use this book I just got. It's called A Cook's Guide to Chicago. I will have tons of little places to go to all over Chicago that sell everything from imported cheese to pierogies to ethnic foods of all types. My big trip was to Mitsuwa Marketplace. It's a mostly Japanese and a few other Asian ingredient supermarket and food court locted in Arlington Heights, which is southwest of Lake Forest. It's definitely a field trip but I was able to purchase pickled daikon, kim chee, Pocky, Japanese produce, and a bunch of other stuff, including a huge bag of brown sticky rice for $13. I was also able to have a nice lunch and I took home some dim sum for breakfast the next day, including a decent if not spectacular sticky rice in lotus leaf.

Over the weekend, I also went to the Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, WI, and got some string cheese and some cheddar with blueberry and some landjagger smoked sausage. Yum yum!

After the cheese castle, I hooked up with my aunt and uncle in Brookfield and we went to Penzey's Spice (Go everyone, or order from them online!) and afterwards, we went to the Olive Garden, where I tried the new Chicken Roma, which had good flavor but was a little heavy with the oil on the noodles.

I haven't been cooking much, however, because I made a huge soup pot of Heather's Magic Chicken Noodle Soup of Get Wellness. Here's how to make it:

Take one whole chicken and make sure it is clean. Put it in a large stock pack; I use a 7 quart one. Cover chicken with water. Throw in one bay leaf and about 2 tablespoons of coarse salt. Chop up two large onions, two carrots, and two stalks of celery and chuck it in the pot. Turn on the stove and boil it. Once it really gets going, throw on the lid and turn it down to a roiling simmer. Cook until the chicken is falling off the bones and the broth is tasty tasty. Put the whole pot in the frig over night. The next day, take out the pot and skim off most of the fat. Then take the meat off the bones. Discard bones and throw what meat you want in the soup back in the pot (freeze the rest of the met for some other use in the future). Turn the stove on and heat it until it is boiling. Throw in 3/4 of a package of country blend frozen veggies (mix of carrots, green beans, and corn) and about 8 oz of egg noodles (use more or less depending on how noodle you like it). Cook until noodles are done and then enjoy! It's good for what ails you!

I ate this soup for about a week, until I was tired of looking at it and my sniffles went away. I stuck about two large bowls worth in the freezer for future sniffle countering.

The next big cooking project (and this week's vegeterian recipe) is pumpkin curry. Take 5 small onions and slice so the onion slices look like little half moons. Saute in some oil in a large pot and then throw in 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 tablespoon ground coriander, 1 tablespoon garam masala, and 2 tablespoon of a sweet but not spicy curry (I like Penzey's Maharajah Curry. Can you tell I love me some Penzey's?). Cook until the spices are fragrant. Then throw in three cans of pure pumpkin (don't get the pie mix, that's just nasty!). Start cooking. If it looks like it is thicky and pasty, add in some broth to thin it out. This makes a hearty stew that I throw over brown rice. To add protein if I am being entirely vegeterian, I might throw in some seitan into the stew.

Also, remember, feel free to adjust the spices to your desired level. I like a little heat, so sometimes I throw in some red pepper. It's all about what makes you happiest!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Back to the Pot Roast

I was talking with mia madre the other day, trying to convince her to come and see my new digs without all the packed boxes. And she says to me, "About that pot roast..."

Yes, mia madre reads the blog! And she, being a northern Wisconsin native, is a mistress of meat and potatoes. She could make the perfect pot roast in her sleep.

After we had talked through what I had done with the pot roast, she concluded that I had probably had the heat too high, especially with using my cast iron dutch oven (or my oven heats higher than the knob says, which is entirely possible). here is her method for cooking the perfect pot roast.

Start by browing the pot roast in the dutch oven on top of the stove. Once it is carmelized, add about .5 cup water and cover. Then stick it in the oven at a very low heat. This is the key. A very low heat - like 275. Add water as needed but cook low and slow until it it is juicy and moist and falling apart.

Which is braising really. Which I had forgotten about because I was sad.

Her other option? Dump the dutch oven all together and use the crock pot. She's right there. The crock pot is a gift from the goddess.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Pea Pod Delight!

Today, I am posting about a little snack I hope to steal and make my own.

Each month, on a Wednesday, there is a meeting at the College of the professional staff (I am part of the professional staff - isn't that frightening?). It's really a little snack fest, but usually someone comes and gives a little speech and everyone drinks and noshes. The nosh is quite excellent.

My personal favorite are these little pea pod delights. I could eat the whole tray. Screw the bruschetta and the little chicken roll-ups. The pea pod is da bomb.

They are so simple. Basically, you take cream cheese, add some onions, add some herbs, mix, and pipe inside of a snow pea pod. It is creamy and crispy and oh so wonderful.

Now, I want to take this basic recipe and run with it. How about pea pod wonton style with crab? Or pea pod with curry cream cheese? Hopefully, I will be able to find some fresh pea pods around so I can give it a try!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Back in the Mood

Well, I have started cooking again. Not every day. For example, tonight was a popcorn night again. But after my recent post about how I am a meat idiot, I remembered something.

It's called braising.

Getting towards the end of my sad, dry, greasy roast, I decided I had to use it up somehow. So I chunked it up and then threw in some prik king sauce, which is a spicy Thai condiment. I use the version that comes in the bag of prik king green beans (frozen food aisle at Trader Joe's). I let the meat and the sauce simmer together - which is braising - the meat cooks slowly in a sauce that allows it to become tender and the flavor of the sauce to penetrate. I then threw in the green beans, and served the whole mess over brown rice.

My god, it was delicious. The meat tasted good and was moist and tender.

I can't believe I forgot about braising. I must be a bit down. I mean, duh, it is a bassic of poor person's cooking. You get the cheapest cut of meat you can find and you work with it until it is not only edible but delicious.

Anyway, the braising got my juices going again and since then I have been cooking up a storm. I currently have a whole chicken in a pot with celery, onion, carrot, salt and a bay leaf (Greek, from Greece, sent to the state by my friend Ruth's mom who is very cool and I want to go visit her. In Greece) making a rich stock that I will use tomorrow to make Heather's extra magical chicken noodle soup of get wellness (I have the sniffles. I keep saying it is allergies but a soup remedy is never a bad thing).

A couple of days ago, I made the following recipe, which I have been eating for a couple of days - spinach in tomato sauce with mozarella.

Take a 1 pound bag of frozen spinach. Throw it in a sauce pan with about .25 cup of water and start cooking. Then throw in about .5 cup of green onions and 2 cups of tomato sauce. Cook until bubbly delicious. Then turn off the heat and throw in about .5 cup of mozarella cheese. I had some mozarella pearls, but if you just have a block, go ahead and chop it into pieces about the size of the tip of your pinkie. Serve with a nice crusty whole wheat bread to soak up the juice.

Anyway, a side note. Some folks, noting that only one of the original seven wonders of the world still exist, have decided to have a contest to pick a new seven wonders of the world. Sadly, all of the candiates are human-made, but still if you get a chance to go to the website and vote, please do. Here is the website and the list of candidates. it is going to be hard for me to choose. I personally think it would be cool if they would include natural wonders and then we could pick one from each continent. My current choices? Angkor Wat temple, Easter Island statues, the Great Wall, Petra, the Great Pyramids, Stonehenge, and one that isn't listed Serpent Mound in Ohio.

Votes can be made online, at

The 21 finalists for the New Seven Wonders of the World, alphabetically:
1 Acropolis, Athens, Greece
2 Alhambra, Granada, Spain
3 Angkor Wat temple, Cambodia
4 Chichen Itza Aztec site, Yucatan, Mexico
5 Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
6 Colosseum, Rome
7 Easter Island Statues, Chile
8 Eiffel Tower, Paris
9 Great Wall, China
10 Hagia Sophia church, Istanbul, Turkey
11 Kyomizu Temple, Kyoto, Japan
12 Kremlin/St.Basil's, Moscow
13 Machu Picchu, Peru
14 Neuschwanstein Castle, Fussen, Germany
15 Petra ancient city, Jordan
16 Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
17 Statue of Liberty, New York
18 Stonehenge, Amesbury, United Kingdom
19 Sydney Opera House, Australia
20 Taj Mahal, Agra, India
21 Timbuktu city, Mali

Monday, October 16, 2006

Moving Frustration

As my many dear readers (all two of you) know, I recently moved from Foxboro, MA, to Lake Forest, IL. This has involved oh so many changes and adjustments - including getting used to living in upperclass-obtuse-topia, getting rid of a lover (be nice), selling the rollerskate, and other very stressful things. But of all the things I knew I would have to get used to, all of the changes, I never expected that I would have so much difficulty with grocery shopping.

Grocery shopping here is excruciating and involves multiple trips to supermarkets that are very far away. Yes, I know that there is a Jewel Supermarket and Don's Finest Foods (little boutique market) here in Lake Forest, but neither can really met any of my food needs. I am fussy about my produce and neither local option is acceptable to me (yes, I am a fruit snob). So, I end up heading south to Sunset Foods, which is ok, but fairly limited, west to Dominick's which is cheaper but the fruit and produce doesn't last very long, or even further west to Cub Foods, which has a good ethnic selection but is otherwise a crapshoot and about to besold to Garden Fresh locally (maybe I will get lucky there). I can also go even further south to Whole Paycheck and I even found a Trader Joe's, so at least I can get good frozen stuff. I certainly miss Russo's in Watertown. I regularly cry because I can't go to Russo's on a regular basis.

All in all, though, as much as I whine, I can get by, even if my diet is heavy on apples, which I don't much like. But what has really been bothering me is that I can't find yogurt here.

See, I have to really watch my sugar intake and most yogurts have too much sugar. In Boston, I used to get the Columbo Light, which was decent and low-sugar. Here, there is no Columbo. There is Dannon (full sugar and fat), Yoplait (ditto), and Stonyfield (ditto but with the added evil of inulin, which I am allergic to). Even going to Whole Paycheck is not a treat. Compared to the 100s of varieties at Whole Paycheck in Boston, there are only about dozen choices, many of which are soy or goat milk - almost everything has full sugar, full fat, and/or inulin.

I may have to breakdown and start making my own again.

Yes, yours truly makes yogurt. This causes a lot of surprise. For example, a lover was once visiting me at my place in Foxboro. While sitting at my kitchen table reading the newspaper, he looks up and goes, "What's that?" Well, that was my yogurt maker.

"You make your own yogurt?" This was said in a tone filled with both respect and surprise. But the look on his face was saying something different. That look said "What is this? Little House on the Praire? Has she fed me any of that stuff?"

But, I may just have to suck it up. Plain yogurt is no fun for plain eating; I generally use it only for cooking. But dammit, I need my yogurt fix!
One of these days, if I get a camcorder, I will win America's Funniest Home Videos

So, in my townhouse, I have this great patio door that opens out into the huge backyard. It's a great window, and I have a ton of wildlife - birds galore, squirrels, even a deer or two that visit once in a while. There is also a family of busybody chipmunks who have claimed my little back cement slab as their home.

They are quite bold and brazen and provide many hours of enjoyment, I must say.

Anyway, this weekend was one of those glorious fall weekends. It is sunny and the sky is sapphire blue. It is warm but there's just enough of a breeze so you aren't hot. The leaves are at their peak colors and, really, everything is right wth the world. I opened the glass door on the patio, so the breeze could come in the house while I read on the couch. All of a sudden, Leo goes streaking through the living room toward the screen door and I think "Oh great, here we go again."

Now, I love Leo dearly, but he is most definitely a special needs child. Not much brain to speak of. He has been known - on more than one occassion - to get too excited by a squirrel or a humingbird and brain himself on a window going after it. Well, in this case, he was heading toward the screen as he had seen the sassy chipmunks out there doing their little chipmunk taunting dance of the fall nuts. No danger of injury to poor kitty brain but it was going to be a mess.

Well, one of the chipmunks heard his little bell coming, turned toward the door, puffed up, and emited the most evil hissing growl I have ever heard, and started hopping toward the screen door. Leo put on the breaks, skidded, did a somersault, and reversed his trajectory so fast, I think he broke the time-space barrier. He went screaming - and I mean literally screaming and howling and yowling up the stairs and hid under the bed, where he refused to come out for about an hour.

The little chipmunk just did a little shake of his fur and went back to eating as if nothing had happened.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

When it comes to meat, I'm an idiot

You might think from the few actual food related items I have posted on my blog that I am a vegetarian. I actually am not. But after this weekend's disastrous pot roast attempt – and long reflection on other disastrous attempts at meat cooking – I realized that I just am not that good at cooking meat.

What!?!?! I can see my friends now – what do you mean? What about that roast chicken? What about that time you grilled? Why the hell did I have you come to my friend's house and cook the Thanksgiving turkey if you aren't any good at it? Huh? Huh?

Maybe I should qualify. Yes, I do make an excellent roast chicken, and my turkey is never over or undercooked and it's really very easy to get good flavor with the addition of a few simple herbs. But that's because I cheat. If the cooking of meat or fowl involves a Crock-Pot or an oven roasting bag, I am magic.

And I am a Grill Mistress. Maybe that's because I am in touch with my masculine side (the grill being a traditionally male form of cooking – how silly is that?) or maybe it's because as long as you are patient and have cool friends to spend time with whilst grilling, grilling is easy. Stick the meat in a marinade, light the charcoal, wait until the coals are the right temperature, slapped the meat on, wait, and you are good to go. Grilling is really a no-brainer.

In my attempt to make a pot roast this weekend, I thought it would be simple – some salt and onions and a bit of broth in the cast iron Dutch oven and voila! So not voila. It was just bad. Dry and greasy (at the same time – incredible). I think I cooked it for too long or maybe my oven just heats too high. It tasted so salty although I did not use that much salt on it. I can hardly stand it for cold sandwiches, but I'll be damned if I will throw it out – it's $7 of good beef, and I hate to waste it. Maybe I will throw it in the freezer and use it for soup or something – just to see if I can salvage it.

I think part of the problem is that I cooked it for myself. I hate cooking for myself. I admit it. In the summer, if it's just me, I will live on corn on the cob, tomatoes, microwaved "baked" potatoes, and a little steak cooked in the toaster oven. In the winter, I will make a big pot of soup on a Sunday and eat it all week. Otherwise, I find myself eyeing the Sapporo ramen and thinking, "well, I will just cook that and nuke some veggies and maybe a frozen chicken thigh and eat that." Or I will eat cheese. Just cheese, which isn't bad per say but is very calorie dense and you need to eat a lot of it to fill you up. When it's just for me, my cooking is so boring. Which probably explains why I have gained some weight in the last year. When I cook for just me, I cook boring and boring food – I have often found – tends to be the least healthy unless you are a strict vegetarian who eats no dairy, nuts, or oil.

Sadly, I don't think I am going to get another chance to cook for anyone other than myself any time soon. My coworkers are all married or in relationships and tend to go home and spend time with their families. I try to tell myself that if I cook something cool, I can write it up on the blog and share it with all my friends around the world, but it's just not the same – and involves way too many dishes to wash afterwards, especially when I don't know if anyone even enjoys anything I am posting.

So what is a girl to do? Go raw?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Another Certain Sign of the Impending Apocalypse

Forget the moon turning to blood and the dead rising from their graves. The last true sign of the apocalypse

Eeeeekkkkkkk! Excuse me. I was just attacked by a ladybug. Earlier today, I was attacked by a male member of the European Earwig species, which the Internet informs me, are not poisonous and are actually helpful insects in spite of their terrifying appearance and their tendency to reside in every possible room of my townhouse.

Anyway, the last true sign of the apocalypse is not so much that I have learned to sew (kinda), but rather what I am about to attempt to sew and then wear in public.

See, I started trying to sew this last spring. I've been buying fabric forever, because a former roomie was going to help me sew some things, but we know how things always seem to go with former roomies. So I figured I better do something with all that material rather than just chuck it.

I started out by buying some interesting patterns and then getting them home and realizing I had no damn clue how to read them. Or if they would ever really fit. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to do some freestyle stuff and started with the basic potato sack skirt. Which I can sew. Kinda. Well, at least it doesn't fall apart, even if it is way shapeless and hands on my as if I am a skeleton (which I am not, those of you who know me can attest).

Buoyed by my somewhat success in the potato sack skirt arena, I went this weekend to the huge Jo-Ann Fabrics near Lake Forest (man, does it put the ones on the East Coast to shame! It's huge! As big as the Super 88 Market in Allston) and purchased a pattern that claims to be very easy. And it is not just a pattern. It is The Pattern. The Pattern of the Apocalypse.

For with The Pattern of the Apocalypse, yours truly shalt maketh The Dress to End All Dresses.

See, a while ago, I hit this huge sale. I mean huge. I got like 6 yards of fake black snake skin material for about a $1 a yard. And, I tell you, I am making me a tight leather dress! That emphasizes the boobs. And I am going to wear that sucker, preferably on a date.

And I will certainly be wearing my new black leather boots, which make me feel tres sexy.

Poor date won't know what hit him……..

Anyway, what does this have to do with the coming Apocalypse, you might ask? Um, let's see – Heather, a pair of sexy black boots, a bosom-enhancing fake black snakeskin dress, and a possible date? Come on people! It very well might be the end of civilization as we know it! And won't it be fun!?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Chipotle Potato and Lentil Ragu

This week's vegetarian recipe is still a work in progress. So if you try it, please let me know if you like it.

For my aunt and uncle, I decided to try this slightly spicy casserole. Their daughter is a vegetarian, and I thought it would be a good dish that she could eat that they would also enjoy.

I used 5 medium red-skinned potatoes, chopped fairly small. Remember, the smaller you chop them, the faster they cook. I then boiled the potatoes until fork tender in salted water. I drained the potatoes and set them aside. I then cooked 8 oz of crimson or red lentils according to the package directions (this mostly involves simmering in water and then draining). I then diced one medium onion finely, 1 spear celery, and one carrot and sauted them in about 2 teaspoons of olive oil. I then added 2 teaspoons of granulated garlic, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon of ground chipotle powder. Cook until the spices bloom, then mix in about 2 cups of crushed tomatoes. I then mixed the tomato mixture, the potatoes, and the lentils together. I added a few green peas for color. As always, salt and pepper to taste.

The taste was pretty good, but I didn't like the texture or the color. The crimson lentils too easily go to mush. I think if I made this again, I would dice the potatoes very small, use green French lentils, and add some additional veggies and tomatoes to make it more of a chunky vegetable stew.

Options - if you don't like heat, feel free to use some smoked paprika instead of the chipotles. You will still get a good smoky flavor.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Hello. I am the Popcorn Bandit.

So I know it's dangerous to blog about work and all, but it is food related, and frankly, I just can't resist.

Part of starting any new job is adjusting to the new work culture. Never, ever, though, did I think that my late afternoon snack of choice could set up such a ferment of unhappiness.

I love popcorn. Truly, I do. Some nights, that's all I will eat for dinner. Popcorn. It's good for you. It's full of fiber. It fills you up without a huge amount of calories (well, as long as you aren't eating that movie theater crap or loading it with butter). It's a fond reminder of my Native American heritage. It seems to regulate my blood sugars. Everywhere I have ever worked, a late afternoon popcorn snack was almost expected. It was an excuse to share both snack and conversation with co-workers. It held you over in that long long 6-8 hour stretch between lunch and homecoming.

At my new workplace, however, popcorn is forbidden fruit.

The first time I made popcorn at my new job, I made it in the second floor office, which is my official home base although my office is currently on the 4 th Floor and the *** office is on the second floor. Since we have no kitchen facilities on the 4th Floor, making it in my home office seemed to make sense. And no one said I couldn't. And no one complained.

The next time I made popcorn on the 3rd Floor because I was too lazy to walk to the 2nd Floor. And no one said I couldn't and no one complained. So I made some again, and that's when I became the Popcorn Bandit.
"You know. You gotta be careful with that. The 1st Floor can't make popcorn. The !!! complained about the smell. So no popcorn in the building."
Really? Is this a joke?
"Well, just be careful. Especially none on the 1st or 2nd floors"
Well, ok then. So I made my fourth batch, again on the 3rd Floor. No problem. So then I made my fifth bag today, again on the 3rd floor. And all hell exploded.
I was careful. I popped in under 3 minutes, kept everything all wrapped up, and ran to my office and shut my door. I couldn't smell anything, but apparently someone from the 1st floor did – or they came up to the 3rd floor and smelled the after-scent of delicious popping and threw a fit. There was a call to the 3rd floor from the 1st floor in something of a panic, ramblings about the loss of microwaves, etc ad naseum. All of which resulted in a call to me.

"You can't do that. No more popcorn. We're going to lose all the microwaves."
"Well, if it's an issue, just have them blame me as the stupid newbie."
"It won't work. Just don't do it."
um, well, ok? Not really. I find this all very silly. I believe that I have – at one point early in my banditry – walked past the !!! with a bag of popcorn and was not called on it. There are no signs anywhere that popcorn is forbidden. I didn't get anything in my employee handbook. None of the office workers on the 2nd Floor , where the !!! is, seems to know anything about a popcorn embargo. And of all the possibly offensive smelling things in the universe, I find it very odd that only popcorn is banned. What about pizza? What about fish? What about curry? What about perfume and aftershave? What about all the paint and new carpet adhesive smells? I am certain that there are people out there who find those smells disgusting. Or maybe there are some deeper reasons why a popcorn embargo would be started. Maybe an early childhood popcorn assault?
And I don't even know if there really is a popcorn embargo, or if someone has just made it up.
Either way, I guess my days of banditry are over. I would feel terrible if everyone lost the microwaves because I needed an afternoon snack.