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Friday, November 6, 2009

An Update...

As you may have noticed, I've not posted anything here in about a month and a half. I do have a reason for this--I'm pregnant! I am just now 12 weeks along, and as you might imagine, the last couple of months just haven't been food-centric. I'm feeling better, but still not up to my old self, so I'm hoping I get back to posting about food again in the next couple of weeks.

Thanks for your patience while I'm working on my bun in the oven!

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Monday, September 21, 2009


As I may have mentioned before, my husband is a German professor. A few days ago, he decided to bring pretzels to one of his classes, but neither of us had ever made them before! Good thing I had just run across Annie's beautiful pretzel photos over at Annie's Eats. The recipe is actually Alton Brown's, and what a yummy recipe it was!

We were a little wary at first, partially because they take quite a while to make, and partially because the dough was difficult to work with. (It was dry and difficult to stretch.) But once we baked them up, they looked and tasted wonderful! Unfortunately, the recipe only made nine smaller pretzels, and since my husband has eight students in this particular class, we only had one to share. If you're making them for a crowd, make extras so that you can eat one (or two) yourself!

Head on over to Annie's Eats or to the Food Network for the recipe.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Adventures in Okra: West African Stew

Lately, my CSA has been handing out okra like candy. I've had fried okra before since I lived in North Carolina during grad school, but had never tried to cook it myself. I'm not much of a fryer, so I went online to find something else to do with it, and came across a recipe for West African stew on Epicurious. I love peanut butter in savory dishes, so I thought this would be a winner.

I wasn't disappointed. This was a relatively easy dish, and although I'll be making some changes next time (reflected in the recipe below), there will be a next time. The okra was a little tough, but I think that could be remedied by letting it cook longer. And since okra isn't readily available everywhere or even during all seasons, my husband and I agreed that green beans would be a good substitute.

West African Stew
Adapted from Epicurious

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tsp salt
1 14-oz can whole tomatoes in juice
1/4 cup water
2 Tbl tomato paste
1/4 cup peanut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced and mashed with 1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper (You can go up to 1 1/4 tsp, but we found that 3/4 tsp gave it a nice kick without overpowering the other flavors.)
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
Soy Sauce, to taste
1 lb. squash (or sweet potato)
10 oz okra, fresh or frozen, thawed if frozen
Chopped cilantro, for garnish
Brown rice

Arrange the chicken on several plates or a tray and sprinkle with 1 tsp salt. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

While waiting for the chicken, pulse the tomatoes in their juices in a processor or blender until finely chopped. Stir the 1/4 cup of water with the tomato paste in a small bowl until smooth. Whisk together the peanut butter and 1 cup of broth in another bowl until smooth.

Heat the oil in a 6-7-quart heavy-bottomed pot and brown the chicken over a moderately hot flame in batches, a few minutes on each side. Remove the chicken and drain all but 2 tablespoons of oil. Lower the flame to a moderate heat and add the onions to the pot, and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are golden around the edges, about 2-3 minutes. **At this point you can either leave the chicken breasts whole or cut into several slivers. If serving in a bowl, I suggest the slivers.**

Add the tomato mixture, tomato paste, garlic and cayenne to the onions and mix well. Then add the peanut butter mixture, the remaining 3/4 cup broth, and a couple of splashes of soy sauce and mix. Add the chicken into the sauce. (The chicken may not be covered completely.) Bring to a boil, uncovered, and then reduce the heat and cover. Cook for 25-30 minutes or until the chicken is very tender.

**Start cooking your rice now.**

Peel your squash and cut into chunks. Add the squash and okra in the last 10 minutes of cooking and let simmer 10-15 minutes, until the squash is tender, but not falling apart. Remove the okra and cut into thick slices and return to the stew.

Serve over brown rice.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Gazpacho: A Perfect Summer Soup

Gazpacho is one of those soups that a lot of people think they don't like just because it's cold. I often serve it at summer dinner parties because it takes five minutes to make, it doesn't heat my kitchen, and it introduces people who wouldn't otherwise try a cold soup to what is probably my most favorite Spanish dish. I recently served it to my parents when they visited along with arroz al horno, and my dad, who is notoriously anti-vegetables (with good reason if you've ever heard the horror stories about my grandmother's food "experiments") actually asked for more!

I make it the way I learned when I lived with a madrileño family in Valencia as an au pair. The grandmother insisted that gazpacho should be strained after blended, but if you use a good food processor and let it go for a while, you don't have to dirty another bowl/utensil. I've also heard of people adding bread to their gazpacho--this may be traditional, but not how my "family" made it. And one last piece of advice: make this only when you can get from-the-garden tomatoes--it makes a huge difference!

¡Buen provecho!

Mindy's Gazpacho
Serves 4

2 large tomatoes, quartered
1/2 large cucumber, cut into a few large pieces
1/2 medium onion, halved
1/2 bell pepper, cut into a few large pieces
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
A couple of glugs of extra virgin olive oil
1 glug red wine vinegar (start at about a teaspoon and add to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

Put all of the vegetables into a food processor and process until smooth. Add the olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper and whir again. Taste to see if you need to add any one vegetable to balance the flavor. (But don't get too crazy here...the flavors marry over the course of the chilling, so it will balance out some on its own.) Chill for at least an hour and up to a day. It tastes better the longer you can chill it. Serve with homemade croutons.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Nutella Challenge: Nutella and Hazelnut Praline Ice Cream

I love Nutella. I learned about the jar that is hazelnut and chocolaty goodness when I lived in Spain after college. Up until now, though, I've only used it to spread on bread like peanut butter (which is absolutely amazing, by the way), but when Paula at Bell'Alimento asked if I'd like to join in her Nutella challenge, I jumped at the chance to improve my Nutella repertoire.

One thing I missed while living in Europe was my ice cream maker. I decided that it's debut would be something to do with the Nutella challenge, and I will definitely be making this again. I knew the base would be the pure creaminess of a sweet cream ice cream with a ribbon of Nutella, but I wanted something more. That something came in the form of chopped hazelnuts (the only type of hazelnut I could find in the local Kroger). Thus, my Nutella and Hazelnut Praline Ice Cream was born. My taste testers were torn--either add more Nutella or leave it as is. My vote was to leave it as is, but you can add as much or as little Nutella as you'd like.

Nutella and Hazelnut Praline Ice Cream
Ice Cream Recipe from Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream and Dessert Book

1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts
1/4 cup sugar

2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cups half and half
3/4 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla

2-3 heaping Tablespoons Nutella

Toast the hazelnuts lightly. While they are toasting, lightly oil a baking sheet. Place the sugar in a dry saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a fork until melted. Swirl the pan (without stirring) until the sugar is a lovely golden brown. Add the hazelnuts and stir until completely coated. Spread on the baking sheet and let cool. Once cool, break into pieces and let cool even more in the refrigerator.

Whisk the cream, half and half sugar and vanilla in a bowl until the sugar dissolves. Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer's directions to make your ice cream. About 2 minutes before the ice cream is done, add the praline pieces. When those are fully incorporated, stop the ice cream maker, and with a small spatula or spoon, carefully swirl the Nutella in one tablespoon at a time. (Don't over stir--just stir enough to create swirls in the ice cream.)

Transfer to a freezer-proof container with lid and freeze for at least an hour, but up to a day. (This ice cream recipe is best eaten within a day.)

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes!

This year I wasn't able to grow my own tomatoes since I returned to the States in the middle of summer, but luckily I've received some beautiful tomatoes from my CSA over the past few weeks. Tomatoes are one of my absolute favorite foods, and I just hate to do anything else to them other than slice and eat them when they're this fresh. We often eat this dish when we grill after work...it's so easy to make and so delicious to boot! I debated on whether or not to post this because it seems so basic, but I remember my great grandmother making a plate like this (minus the herbs) every time we went to her house for lunch. As I get back into the swing of working and adjusting to life in the United States, I need the reminder that delicious, healthy food doesn't need to be complicated.

Just slice your tomatoes, sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper, add some chopped fresh basil (or other herb of your choice) and drizzle with some good olive oil.

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Summery Peach Tart

When we returned to the U.S. about a month ago, one of the first things we did was make a trip to Williams Sonoma with a gift card we received to stock up on the cooking supplies we had in France, but lacked in our kitchen here. I now have three tart pans in different configurations--round, long rectangular, and wide rectangular!

When some friends asked us over for dinner the other night, I jumped at the chance to use one of my new pans, and offered to make dessert. Peaches are cheap and plentiful now, so I decided to try my hand at a peach tart. I also decided to try out the recipe for a pressed (not rolled) tart crust from David Lebovitz's blog. Nothing like taking experiments to friends to try out!

The crust was delicious and easy to make, if a little crumbly and full of cracks. I've since decided that the American butter that is available to me is just not good enough and I have stocked up on French Président butter in my freezer. (The butter, by the way, does make a difference. I used the Président today, and with less cracking. I've heard that American butter has a higher water content, so will cause cracking in recipes like this.)

I am now officially a butter snob.

Anyway, the peaches were great in this, and it was so simple to make. Just pre-bake the tart crust according to the directions on David Lebovitz's website (although I suggest you slightly increase the recipe to 1 1/4-1 1/2 times so that the crust isn't too thin.) Then bake again once you've arranged your peaches. Et voilà, a beautiful and tasty summer dessert!

Summery Peach Tart
Makes one tart

1 tart crust or pie crust
5-6 large peaches, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 tsp mace (or 1/4 tsp nutmeg)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8-1/4 cup sugar (I used 1/8 cup, and the result was good, but there wasn't much "sauce" for the peaches.)
4 tsp flour
2 tsp lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and toss to coat. Arrange the peaches in the tart crust (or just dump them in). Make sure to pour any juices leftover in the bowl over the peaches. Bake in the oven for about 35 minutes or until the juices are bubbly. If the edges of the crust start to get too brown, place foil over the edges part-way through cooking. (I didn't have this problem at all with this crust.) Allow to sit before serving.

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Eye Candy: 7two7 Glass

We interrupt the regularly-scheduled programming today with a spotlight on 7two7 glass. I recently reconnected with a high school friend, Vicki, through Facebook, and found out that she's become a wonderful glass artist. And lucky for us, she sells a lot of her work (especially jewelry and ornaments) on Etsy. Her prices are extremely reasonable ($5-$30)--and I know this because we have a top glass-blower who teaches at the college where I work. Her items would make great gifts...for someone else or for yourself! Check her one-of-a-kind work out on her Etsy page...

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Arroz al Horno in The FoodieView Weekly Meal Plan!

My recipe for Arroz al Horno has been featured in The FoodieView Weekly Meal Plan! Thanks to Paula at Bell'Alimento for including me!

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Smashed Veggies: Potatoes and Peas

A couple of weeks ago, we got the cutest little baby red potatoes with our CSA box. I wasn't sure what I'd do with them, but I was sure that I wanted to keep their shape (so no mashed potatoes). I decided to roast them in olive oil, salt and pepper, but when I took them out of the oven, I decided that they weren't crisp enough on the outside for my taste. What to do to make sure to get all sides nice and crispy? Smash them down and fry them up in a little butter! This was so delicious that my daughter (who loves veggies, but has a middling relationship with potatoes) begged for more. These potatoes were perfectly crispy on the outside and velvety on the inside.

We also had some frozen peas and some lovely fresh basil from the CSA box on hand, so I decided to create a plate of smashed veggies. :-) We actually had had something similar when we were in Stockholm in March, and all of us loved it, so I tried to recreate it at home. It was a smashing success! (Terrible pun intended...) This dish was so easy to make and really brightened up the plate. Just boil the frozen (or fresh) peas in some salted water for a few minutes. Drain them, add a tiny bit of milk or cream, some salt and pepper, and some chopped basil (maybe a teaspoon or two, depending on how much you like basil). Then smash away until they're as smooth as you'd like them. And voilà! An easy, healthy weeknight side.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

When Life Gives You Crumbled Cookies...

...make parfait! This month's Daring Bakers challenge was truly a challenge. After moving back to the United States, finding out that our oven didn't work, cleaning up the house and the aftermath of a winter ice storm, and having to attend a memorial service in Baltimore, we've been busy, busy, busy!

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. Since we had the option to only make one, I chose the Milanos, a family favorite. Unfortunately, though, when I went to bake them, I thought I didn't have any parchment paper, so I just baked the cookies directly on the cookie sheet. If you ever make these, parchment paper is not optional. They stuck to the sheet, and since I baked two sheets at once, I had a lot of cookie crumbs to deal with.

Not to be daunted, I used the leftover cream and chocolate and made parfaits for dessert that night. The funny thing is that the parfaits were more popular than the cookies themselves (which I finally baked correctly when I found a hidden roll of parchment paper)! The cookie recipe can be found at the Food Network site, although I don't highly recommend these cookies (unless you'll be making parfaits). I substituted creme de menthe for the orange zest in the chocolate, which was yummy, but I felt that the cookie itself was a little too lemony and tasted too much like powdered sugar.

They sure do make a pretty cookie, though:

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Cherry and White Chocolate "Perfect Pound Cake"

Right as we left Strasbourg, cherries were coming into season. I bought a huge amount of them, and since I knew we wouldn't be able to make our way through all of them, I decided to try a quick bread with cherries. I also needed to use up some white chocolate we received as a gift, so I thought I'd throw that in there too. The result? An easy and adaptable pound cake with lots of flavor. Thanks to Food is Luv for the foundation of the "Perfect Pound Cake!"

A friend of mine requested the recipe after having some, and she then passed the recipe on to others, who used dark chocolate. They loved it that way too...feel free to substitute whatever fruits and chocolate works for you! I also tried this as a muffin, and it worked great. Just adjust the time in the oven until they are baked through.

Cherry and White Chocolate "Perfect Pound Cake"
adapted from Food is Luv

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups cake flour, measured and sifted**
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4-1/2 cup pitted and chopped fresh cherries (depending on how much you like cherries...)
1/4 cup chopped white chocolate

Butter and flour a 9" loaf pan. Make sure to tap out any excess flour.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour and salt and set aside. combine the cream and vanilla in a cup and set aside. Put the cherries and chocolate in a bowl, sprinkle with a little bit of flour (to help the cherries not sink to the bottom of the cake) and mix until everything is covered in a light coating of flour. Set aside

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a handheld mixer), cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture becomes pale, light and fluffy. Add the eggs and yolk, one at time, making sure each one is well incorporated before adding the next. Add the flour in three batches, alternating with the cream, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix until everything is well incorporated but do not over mix. Add the cherries and chocolate (holding a handful out to sprinkle on top) and stir just enough so that it's mixed in completely.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and smooth out the top with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle with the leftover cherries and chocolate. Put the loaf pan in a COLD oven. Turn on the oven to 350 degrees and bake for 60 - 70 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Cool in the pan, on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes. Invert and cool completely on wire rack before serving.

**I used all-purpose flour and went with Baking Bites suggestion of taking 2 tablespoons of flour out per cup of all-purpose flour as the substitution. It seemed to work for me!

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

An Easy Weeknight Side: Asian Green Beans

I have a new go-to method to cooking fresh green beans. When I was in France, one of our students (who refused to eat vegetables) had a roommate who could cook green beans in a way that she loved. I was intrigued, so asked the roommate for her recipe. It turned out not to be so much a recipe with measurements, but more of a method, and my version of the recipe has become a regular in our household. It's an excellent side for almost any meal, not just those with Asian flavors, and may just convert the vegetable-challenged in your household!

Asian Green Beans

1 lb. fresh green beans, washed and trimmed
1 Tbl. olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 inch fresh ginger, minced (optional)
Red pepper flakes, to taste
Soy Sauce, to taste
Water or white wine
Pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes and cook until softened, but not browned. Add the green beans and stir to coat with the oil. Add some soy sauce (start with just a little bit, maybe a tablespoon, and add more as needed for taste). Cook while stirring periodically, adding a little water or white wine if the soy sauce starts to evaporate. (You want to end up with a little bit of "sauce" at the end.) Cover the pan and stir occasionally until the green beans are cooked, but still have a crunch to them, about 5-10 minutes. Serve hot.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Zucchini for Zucchini Haters: a Tutorial

I am not a fan of "hiding" ingredients I don't like in recipes. I typically just won't eat it, and I think that we're doing out kids a disservice when we hide vegetables so that they'll eat them. I understand that there are just some picky kids out there, and that we need to do what we can to keep them healthy, but with my daughter, we just make her try foods she's picky about periodically in different styles. (Full disclosure here: my daughter will eat just about anything, so perhaps I'm just lucky.) Kids' tastes change, and I feel that I'm teaching my daughter to be adventurous with her food when I tell her what she's eating...

That being said, I have never liked cooked zucchini. So when I received three zucchini two weeks ago in my CSA box, I was a little put out. I really wanted to try to use everything (including the parts we don't normally eat) in my box, and part of the fun, I thought, was to try new fruits and vegetables in new preparations. So, I took my challenge again to the Twitterverse. The suggestions varied, but my favorites were FoodBat's Zukey Muffins and Jen from My Kitchen Addiction's suggestion of Zucchini Parmesan Hummus. Both recipes "hid" the zucchini, but I've come to terms with doing that every once in a while...especially if the results are this good!

The zucchini muffins were great--and my daughter became addicted to them! The hummus was good, but I think that the parmesan hid the lovely flavor of the roasted zucchini, so perhaps next time I'd leave the cheese out. And there will definitely be a next time for both of these recipes...

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Friday, July 17, 2009

CSA: Week Two and Turnip Mash

I am so behind on my posts! And I was concerned that I wouldn't have much to post about when I returned to the States...haha.

Although I have more posts in the works from our trip to Germany and Austria, I'm going to try to alternate those pictures with posts about my adventures with my CSA. Above you'll see what we got this week: 2 pounds each of tomatoes and potatoes, 1/2 pound of salad greens, a bunch of basil, a cucumber, a green pepper, 3/4 pound of peas, and 1 pound of green beans.

So far I have made or plan to make the following: (I'll link them as I post about them.)

Pasta alla Puttanesca (Tomatoes and basil)
Arroz al Horno (Tomatoes and Potatoes)
Roasted Baby Potatoes
Fried Rice (Green Pepper and Peas)
Asian Green Beans

As you know, I received turnips last week. Up until this point, I had never bought or cooked a turnip, so this was a challenge. After sending a request out to the Twitterverse, I decided on mashed turnips. Since we didn't have quite enough turnips to make a side dish for three people, I added some potatoes to the mix. The turnips gave the mash an earthy, rooty, and at the same time, sweet flavor that I really enjoyed. I love mashed potatoes, but the turnips added just enough flavor to make the mash unique. I also saved the greens and made some old fashioned southern turnip greens--and although they were a little too salty, they were definitely worth saving and cooking down.

The mash was easy enough. I peeled and cut equal amounts of potatoes and turnips, boiled them in salted water until soft, and mashed them with a little cream, milk, butter, and salt and pepper. They turned out beautifully:

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

100 Post Blogiversary and an Interview with Kathy of Panini Happy and Cooking on the Side

A few months ago, I was paired with a blog mentor through Dine and Dish's Adopt-a-Blogger #3. I was so lucky to be paired with Kathy from Panini Happy and Cooking on the Side. She was so great in helping me work on an identity for this blog, getting my technical stuff together, and in overall support for this whole adventure. If you follow either of Kathy's blogs, you'll have noticed that she's been off the grid for a while, but you'll be happy to know that she's back to her wonderfully scrumptious blogs now that she's past her first trimester. (Yes, that's right, she's pregnant! Congratulations, Kathy!)

Since we're about to wind up this Adopt-a-Blogger event and since I'm celebrating my 100th post here, I thought I'd share a little interview I did with Kathy about her blogs, cooking in general and a little advice for us newbie bloggers. Enjoy!

What are the names of your blogs and how did you come up with those names?

With my first blog the idea was that I was going to be making lots and lots of panini - going "panini happy" - so that's where Panini Happy came from. I guess it could have just as easily been called Panini Crazy or Panini Overboard. I do like seeing the word "happy" in the title, though.

Cooking On the Side actually has a few different meanings. It's my second blog, which I created so I could share the cooking that I do outside of panini-making. The more literal interpretation is that the recipes actually come from the side of food packages.

When did you start blogging? What compelled you to start blogging?

I started Panini Happy in January 2008, when my daughter was about 2 months old. I had decided to step out of the workforce for a while to stay home with her, but I still had a desire to keep a toe in the online world, where I'd been working for many years. Blogging appealed to me because I could get up and running relatively quickly on my own and I could work at it as much or as little as I had time for, while balancing baby duty. I'm asked "Why panini?" quite often. The simple answer to that is that I received the panini maker as a gift and needed motivation to make sure I put it to good use. Suffice it to say, the blog has definitely provided plenty of that motivation!

How do you keep up with both blogs?

It's a bit of a challenge. I usually do most of my cooking and photography over the weekend and work on writing up the posts during the week. It often means I don't post quite as frequently as some food bloggers but it's what works best for me. My readers don't seem to mind!

Has blogging changed your life at all?

I don't know if blogging has changed my life per se, but the opportunity to get to know so many other bloggers and food folks in the process has certainly enhanced it.

Which post (on either or both blogs) has been your favorite? Why?

My favorite post on Panini Happy was this year's Grilled Cheese Pageant roundup. I wasn't entirely sure how many folks would get on board for a pageant featuring grilled cheese sandwiches but I decided to just go big with it and have fun. The response was really positive. On Cooking On the Side I'd say the Matzo Ball Soup post was my favorite because 1) it gave me the opportunity to try out a decades old recipe that my mother-in-law has always used and 2) my first-ever matzo balls came out light and fluffy!

If you were stranded on a desert island (with a fabulous kitchen and regular drops of your favorite foods, of course) and could only have one cookbook with you, which would it be?

The Joy of Cooking - it's got everything I could ever think of wanting to cook. It might be a little heavy for me to lug around the island, but at least I'd have a comprehensive resource!

What is your favorite kitchen tool/appliance?

It probably ought to be my panini maker, but actually it's the toaster oven. Aside from using it every morning for toasting bread and bagels it's my favorite appliance for baking, broiling or reheating small quantities.

What is your favorite food to eat?

Fries. I can never resist.

What is your favorite food to cook?

I'll always love the whole process of baking chocolate chip cookies - from "sampling" the dough, to smelling the cookies while they bake, to enjoying the final results fresh out of the oven, to packaging up little gifts to share with friends.

Tell us a little bit about the food from your part of the world.

San Diego is probably best known for its Mexican food - no surprise, as we're right on the border. Fish tacos are a local favorite - I'm not sure if they're as big in other parts of the country. One of my other favorite local specialties is Julian apple pie, made from apples grown in the Julian area of San Diego County. They sell them in grocery stores but it's a real treat to drive out to the mountains in the fall and enjoy a warm slice there.

What advice do you have for newbie bloggers like me?

I've got some general pieces of advice, but if anyone is looking for detailed specifics on food blogging issues I highly recommend visiting (and bookmarking) the Food Blog S'cool and the Food Blog Alliance websites.

Keep focused on your content. Get clear in your own mind what your blog is truly about. If you can find a unique point of view that no one else has tapped into yet, all the better. Read lots of other blogs. Images speak louder than words - and good-quality images speak louder than lackluster ones. Get to know other bloggers, through local meetups, Twitter and Facebook. Be open to trying out new ideas and changing course if you need to. Enjoy blogging - if it ever starts to become a chore, take a step back and reevaluate things.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Festival in Regensburg, Germany = Music, Sausages and Beer!

Ahhh....summer in Europe, and in Germany in particular, is rife with outdoor festivals full of food, music and, of course, beer! Before moving back to the United States, we took a two-week vacation (for me) and work (for my husband) trip around Germany and Austria. Luckily we rented a car, so we were able to stay in a few larger cities and make several day trips. One such trip was to Regensburg, a beautiful little city on the Danube. At first, we couldn't figure out why the parking lots were jam packed, but once we drove past one of the main streets in the old town, we realized that they were holding a summer festival that day! (My husband, who spent a summer in Regensburg a few years back, says that there are many, many festivals that are held throughout the summer months there...)

The festival had food, drink and wares booths as well as several music venues set up all over the old town. One of my favorites was this juice/wine booth, where you could get several flavors of non-alcoholic juice or wine mixed with juice. The punch bowls were just beautiful!

There were also several outdoor ovens where they would make your pizza for you right then and there:

And of course, there were oompa bands--which my daughter thoroughly enjoyed!

We went for the traditional sausages and beer...all freshly grilled and tapped.

And if that wasn't enough, my daughter begged for one of these gigantic donuts! I just couldn't resist... (She never finished this monstrosity, thank goodness!)

I'll be posting more of our German fare in the next week or so, along with some of the recipes for my CSA veggies, so come back for more!

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Friday, July 10, 2009

My First CSA Box and Sauteed Kale

While I was in France, I became accustomed to buying very fresh produce (even from the supermarket!). The philosophy there seems to be to only sell fruits and vegetables that are in season. I learned to love this, and although I did pine away for a peach or two in the middle of winter, waiting until they were in season was totally worth it.

Early in the fall, I read an article about a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) called Rolling Fork Farm near my small town in Kentucky, and decided to go for it. I picked up my first box on Wednesday, just two short days after I arrived home...and I already can't wait for the next one next week! This week we received a bunch of carrots, a bunch of turnips, a bunch of spring onions, a bunch of kale, a quart of green beans, a cucumber, and two pounds each of tomatoes and zucchini. (To find a CSA near you, go to LocalHarvest.)

In the next few weeks, I'm going to try to do a cost analysis, but my feeling so far is that even if it costs a little more than the grocery store, it's totally worth it. Can you imagine those colors (and flavors, I might add) in grocery store veggies?! And not to mention the fact that I have to come up with ways to cook veggies that I might not otherwise buy in the grocery store. I don't really like cooked zucchini, so have never bought any. I have also never bought turnips. And my one attempt at cooking kale was disastrous.

So far I have made or plan to make the following with this week's veggies (I'll link them as I blog about each recipe):

Sautéed Kale
Potato and Turnip Mash
Asian Green Beans
Turnip Greens
Zucchini Muffins
Zucchini Parmesan Hummus
Roasted Carrots (if my oven ever gets fixed!)

I decided to start with the kale and did a simple sauté based on a recipe I found at Epicurious. For some strange reason, I completely forgot to buy garlic at the grocery store, so I left that out and it was fine, but I will definitely put it in next time. And there will be a next time...kale is one of those veggies that I discovered after moving to the South, and am very glad I did...

Sautéed Kale
from Epicurious
makes two small servings

1 pound kale, tough stems and center ribs cut out and leaves cut into 1-inch-wide strips
2 Tbl olive oil
1 small red onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 garlic clove, minced
Pinch of dried red pepper flakes
1 Tbl red-wine vinegar, or to taste (I put in a little less than this)
1/4 tsp salt

Cook kale in a pot of boiling salted water, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 10 minutes, and then drain in a colander.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and sautée onion until softened. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for about 1 minute more. Reduce the heat and add kale. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale is heated through. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar and salt.
And instead of throwing away those stems and little leafy bits that were left over, I cleaned them, dried them, and put them into a freezer bag to use in my next chicken or veggie stock!

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