Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Starting over

Hello? Anyone out there still paying any attention? If so, I just wanted to take this opportunity to say that I'm going to try blogging once again from yet another perspective, from yet another blog address. The reason for this is twofold. First, I am now on maternity leave again and so need a new procrastination tool. Laundry? Thank you notes? Dishes? Nope; no time for those. I was blogging! Second, I think part of the reason I haven't posted anything here in ages is because I got bored with my topic of choice. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, as I'm pretty sure it's this personality trait that made grad school take forever and that makes me actually enjoy my current job. The new blog will still cover lots of cooking-related stuff, but also my family, parenting fun, life in London and travel adventures.

So, if you're interested redirect your Google reader, RSS feeds, bookmarks or whatever to my new blog, From Caviar to Green Bits ( The name will be explained in my first post there.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Can't we all just get along?

I know this blog is supposed to be on food. But anyone who knows me will understand that I have difficulty staying focused on one topic (hence why I had three thesis projects in grad school before one stuck, and why my writing is full of parenthetical asides). I cannot stop thinking about what has just happened in the US, and what this could mean for our country and the rest of the world. Yes, I know that I don't live there right now, but I still pay taxes, I don't want to trade in my American passport for an EU one, and I plan to move back (someday). And, as I note below, what happens in the US has real ramifications around the globe.

I'm not usually one to wear my political leanings on my sleeve. Although I almost always end up voting Democrat, I would describe myself as a moderate independent. I've always felt that I have the ability to see both sides of the story (maybe I should have been a diplomat). I suspect this has something to do with my upbringing in a very conservative location (Texas) where I went to church pretty much every Sunday, followed by my move to uber-liberal Boston where I became a scientist and spent most of my time with academics, who tend to be very left-leaning. People on both sides get so caught up in the back-and-forth political rhetoric that they can't see that the other side has some valid points. Or that even if you don't believe the points the other side is making, it's their right to believe what they do. That is the definition of American liberty: freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom to believe what you want to believe, and freedom to be your own person.

Living abroad has made me realize how much the rest of the world cares about the US. I think a lot of people in the US don't appreciate this. The rest of the world really does like our country, even though they don't like Dubya or the war in Iraq, and they look to the US for leadership on global issues such as climate change, combating terrorism, and fighting AIDS and other preventable/treatable diseases in developing countries. They might blame us for problems (e.g. the economic crisis), but that doesn't mean they don't still like us and look up to us deep down (you know, kind of like when you were little and your younger sibling swore he hated you, but you knew he really looked up to you and watched and learned from everything you did). Yes, what happens in our country affects the rest of the world in ways most people, including me, can't imagine. There are just too many people outside the US who think that Americans, generally speaking, are stupid and selfish. While I know this of course isn't true, it's unfortunately how many countries perceive America and the leaders we have elected, and precisely why they have trouble seeing the US as a global leader, even though that's exactly what we are. Despite the old adage that it doesn't matter what people think of you, it DOES matter what other countries think about the US. I'm not saying that Obama will fix the US's reputation abroad, but I think he will give it his best shot.

I watched McCain's concession speech, and it was moving in a way I didn't think it would be. What really got me fired up were the boos during his speech when he mentioned Obama; those people need to learn from the man they supported. I am sad that McCain couldn't manage to run his campaign as a real independent. It's a shame that he had to pander to the religious right and the diehard conservative members of the Republican party, and that he couldn't go with someone like Joe Lieberman for his VP. I have said a million times over that I would have seriously thought about voting for McCain if he'd picked someone as VP that I felt was competent to lead the country (I'm convinced that his health isn't great and that, especially with the stress of being President, he wouldn't make it 4 more years), and not someone who would merely pull in the far-right voters, which is the only explanation I can come up with for why they went with Palin.

Just like the Dems have had to live with Dubya for 8 years, now the tables are turned, and we can learn a lot from both Obama's victory and McCain's concession speeches. We all need to stop threatening to move to other countries or quit our jobs and live off welfare because we're unhappy with what happened (throwing tantrums and making irrational threats is more suited to 4-year-olds than adults). We (Republicans and Democrats alike) need to stop booing everytime the opponent's name is mentioned, and come to grips with the reality that the only way to make this country a true world leader again is to stop being so petty and work together. I can only hope that Obama WILL 'reach across the aisle' and bring some moderate Republicans in as advisors or Cabinet members, that he will be true to his word that he is the President of all of us, no matter how we voted yesterday, and that he can heal a country that has been so bitterly divided, for the sake of the nation itself and the rest of the world.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Not just for eating with mini marshmallows

I am referring, of course, to sweet potatoes. This tasty vegetable is good so many other ways, and now that I have a lot of them floating around the flat (they are in LOTS of baby food recipes), I'm always trying to figure out ways to use up the leftover ones.

I kept thinking about something I am pretty sure I once saw on a restaurant menu - sweet potato and goat's cheese quesadillas. I tried to find a recipe online, but didn't come up with much. That idea and this recipe inspired this dish, which, although it is most certainly NOT conventional Mexican or Tex-Mex cooking, is spicy and tasty and a great easy weeknight meal.

Is there any science in this? Well, not really. But I will explain why I chose to use grated sweet potatoes instead of boiled and mashed, as in this recipe. Basically, it was down to a texture thing. When you boil potatoes they get very mushy and sticky, and although I LOVE mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, having a paste spread over my quesadilla just didn't seem right. Grating the potato and letting it steam with the onion, jalapeno and spices not only gives a firmer texture but also allows the flavors to blend together in the pan.

Sweet potato quesadillas
1 T olive oil

1/2 a small yellow onion, chopped (about 1/2 c)

1-2 jalapenos, chopped

2 medium-sized sweet potatoes (about 1 lb total weight), peeled and grated

salt and pepper to taste

chili powder to taste (1/8-1/4 tsp)

2 green onions, chopped

About 3 oz soft mild goat's cheese (chevre), sliced or crumbled

2 large or 4 small flour tortillas

sour cream (or
salsa (I used regular tomato salsa, but I think a salsa verde might have been really good)

Sautee the onion in the olive oil over medium heat for 3-4 minutes (use a non-stick pan that has a lid, and if you can one that can also accommodate your tortillas when folded in half). Add the jalapeno and sautee an additional minute. Then add the sweet potatos and sautee yet another minute. Cover the pan with a lid and let the potatoes steam for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so they don't stick.

Cover half of each tortilla with the sweet potato mixture. Sprinkle with green onions and goat's cheese. Fold the tortillas in half and place in a frying pan over medium heat (for ease in cleaning up, I suggest just using the pan you cooked the sweet potatoes in). You really don't need to add any oil or cooking spray if you use a non-stick pan, but you can if you want. Cook until golden brown on each side (about 2 minutes per side), cut into wedges and serve with sour cream (yogurt) and salsa.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Avoid the Noid

I admit it. I am a terrible blogger. And going back to work hasn't helped, especially since my job involves lots of writing and staring at a computer screen, so that's kind of the last thing I want to do when I'm not at work. But I'll do my best.

Pizza is my favorite savory food. (I say savory because I think ice cream and cupcakes might have it beat in a favorite food contest.) I could seriously eat it every day. But it has to be GOOD pizza. The frozen, grocery store varieties can sometimes suffice, and I have definitely made pizzas using bagels or English muffins for crusts, but homemade pizza crust it my favorite. Unfortunately, I haven't had much luck with the ones I've tried to make.

A few weeks ago, I made yet another attempt. I have tried no fewer than 10 different recipes and variations on them to try and find pizza dough that was good. When I lived in the US, I used to just buy pizza dough from the grocery store, but they don't have that here in London. Apparently most pizza places will sell you raw dough if you ask, but I've never tried that. I had a couple of recipes I used in the US with my breadmaker, but those weren't that great - the crust always ended up too tough, didn't rise enough, didn't roll/stretch out well, was too yeasty, or just somehow wasn't right. And then I stumbled upon my new favorite cooking blog (seriously, it is my go-to cookbook now), and it had a recipe for pizza dough, as well as a pizza 101 posting that gave me the brilliant tip about warming up the oven and turning it off to reduce the time it takes for the dough to rise.

So I made Smitten's pizza dough (doubled the recipe and used half wholemeal flour) and had pizza dough for two thin crust pizzas. Each was enough to feed 2 hungry people. This is fast food and make-ahead because you can make the dough ahead of time and store it in the fridge. I thought maybe overnight would be all you'd want, since the yeast keeps on working and the dough rises more, but after a look around the internet, I see that apparently you can store it for longer - different sites say anywhere from 3-6 days. Just put the dough in a resealable plastic bag sprayed with cooking spray. You can also freeze it; from what I've read it seems like the best thing to do to preserve the texture is to roll out the dough and par-bake it before freezing.

We chose to top our pizza with an American classic, and my favorite pizza topping combination: pepperoni, mushrooms and mozzarella. Slice the mushrooms very thinly, and with pizza topping, less is more definitely, otherwise you end up with a watery, gooy mess.

I also made my own pizza sauce, but you certainly don't have to. To do this, I sauteed some onions and garlic in olive oil and added jarred pureed tomatoes - what they call passata in the UK (I guess in the US you could use tomato sauce or canned pureed tomatoes, depending on how chunky you want your sauce to be). I let it cook for a while, seasoned as needed, and added chopped fresh basil in at the end. I've also done this with peeled fresh tomatoes, which I think is better, but is more time consuming and requires good tomatoes.

Once your pizza crust is rolled out and topped, pop it in a pre-heated oven (my pizza stone lives with my brother in the US now, so I just put it on parchment paper, sprinkled with cornmeal, on a baking sheet) at HIGH heat and cook for about 10 minutes (but check it often starting at 5 minutes because ovens vary a lot and you don't want it to burn).

Mmmmmm....I want to make this again NOW...

Friday, October 24, 2008


So, I went back to work a month ago. Things have been hectic since then, so that's my excuse for not posting anything. However, I actually have two half-written posts and three sets of food-related photos in our digital camera. The goal is to post all of those in the next two weeks before we head to South Africa for 10 days for hubby's cousin's wedding.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Foodie Meme

This time I didn't forget about my blog. I have just had too much going on.

We went to Portugal on holiday for 10 days, which was nice (although not quite as warm and sunny as I wanted). Unfortunately not a trip that inspired a blog post on food. Basically, Portuguese food is one big meat fest. Some of it was really yummy, but mostly it was just loads of grilled meat, and nothing super inspiring.

Then, for the week following the holiday, I had some kind of stomach bug (possibly from the pounds of meat I'd eaten the previous week?), and for 5 days couldn't manage to eat much more than dry toast, noddles cooked in chicken broth, handfuls of Cheerios, apples and the UK version of Gatorade. I'm finally back on the wagon (the eating one, that is), and am able to do more than lounge on the couch groaning while I am awake, so without further ado, the point of this post.

It may (or may not) shock you to hear that until about 2 weeks ago I had never heard of a
meme. Well, thanks to my friend 'Fayrene' who posted this meme on her blog a while back, I was prompted to ask my more internet-savvy husband about it. He, of course, was amazed that I didn't know what it was, but whatever. Apparently this one is making the rounds, and I thought it was perfect for this blog. I've included some links to Wikipedia for some of the things I had to look up! How many have you eaten? I've got 57...

The Omnivore's Hundred is a list of foods the gastronomic Andrew Wheeler thinks everyone should try at least once in their lives.

The rules of the meme:
Bold those you have tried.
Strikethrough those you wouldn't eat on a bet.
Italicize any item you'll never eat again.
Asterisk any items you'd be interested in trying but have not yet.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
17. Black truffle*
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly
[I have assumed that this is more or less a vodka-based Jell-O shot]
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
44. Goat's milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald's Big Mac Meal [Odd, but true. Big Macs gross me out.]
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
60. Carob chips [Uh, I know I’ve tried carob, not sure if it was in chip form, though.]
61. S'mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin [I actually couldn't even figure out what this was...]
64. Currywurst
65. Durian*
66. Frogs' legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
[I had something claiming to be absinthe once, poured over the sugar cube and all, but I suspect that it was the version sans the hallucinogenic compound...]
Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail

Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant*
85. Kobe beef*
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers

89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate*
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox

97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee*
100. Snake [rattlesnake, specifically, but only one bite. I recall that it kind of tasted like chicken.]

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is it weird that I'm eating baby food (and liking it)?

Most of my cooking the past month has been making purees for the O-man. I sometimes think that he gets more home-cooked foods than my husband and I do. My probably irrational and somewhat hypocritical (you should see some of the junk I eat) paranoia about what's in the food he's eating certainly plays a big part in that.

Before I get to the actual recipe here, please allow me to rant a bit about two things I have seen recently.

(1) A woman feeding a baby of, oh I don't know, about 9 months, McDonald's french fries.

This TV show that takes people who don't know how to cook and teaches them to make high end restaurant-quality food. So far, I've seen:
-a woman who couldn't even cook a frozen fishstick for her daughter without burning it so they ended up eating fish and chips from the
-a family (with 11 year old son) who managed to have a PUB inside their home (complete with draught beer) but mom was TOO LAZY (her words) to cook 'fresh food.' Their fridge and freezer had nothing but ready-meals and chocolate bars (um, you do know you don't have to COOK lots of fresh fruit/veg in order to eat it, right?).

-a single man with 4 kids who hadn't had a working stove or oven in his home for 4 years.

PEOPLE. What is WRONG with society? I know some people don't have time or money for fancy-schmancy food or that they weren't lucky enough to learn how to cook when they were young, but COME ON. Couldn't you just replace some of your chips and chocolate with a fresh apple, banana or orange? And to that woman feeding the baby Mickey-D's, you can buy a whole bag of baby rice cakes for 99p at Boots, Tesco or Sainsbury's. And it will last longer than those fries that cost the same price. And not be loaded with fat and salt.

OK rant over. Back to the point.

The O-man's tried all kinds of goodies, and loved pretty much all of them - even green veg. I'm somewhat horrified to admit that I've liked pretty much all of them too, including the pureed chicken (OK, it's mostly sweet potatoes and apples), avocado mixed with banana, and this little gem of a recipe for a spinach pasta sauce (called
Popeye Pasta of course). So I decided to make it a bit more adulty and have it for dinner last night.

The recipe is from a book I got called the
'New Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner' by Annabel Karmel. She's kind of a baby food guru here in the UK, and while some of her recipes are a bit ridiculous (eg homemade low-salt stocks so you can put 2 oz in a baby puree), the book has been a great help to me with this whole weaning thing.

Popeye Pasta (the adult version)

250 g (1/2 lb) pasta (I used farfalle, aka bow-ties)

200 g (8 oz) frozen spinach

85 g (3 oz) Pancetta, cubed (I am sure bacon would be just fine here)

1 T unsalted butter

1/2 a medium onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

red pepper flakes to taste (be careful-a little goes a long way)

1/4 c milk

1/4 c (4 T) cream cheese

1 c grated cheese (I used strong/mature cheddar because it was all we had)

salt and pepper to taste

Cook your pasta in boiling salted water until al dente according to package directions.

Meanwhile, thaw/cook the spinach for about 3 minutes in the microwave. Squeeze out as much excess water as you can. Note: It's always difficult to get the water out of spinach, especially when it's hot. I find that, while it makes a mess, it is somewhat easier to put it in a wire-mesh strainer (
like this one) and push some of the water out than it is to squeeze it with your hands.
Cook the pancetta in a skillet until crispy, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels and pour most of the fat off from the pan.

Melt the butter in the same skillet used for the pancetta.

Sautee the onion in the butter. After about 4 minutes, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sautee a further 1 minute. Add the spinach and sautee another 2 minutes.

Sitr in milk, cheeses and reserved pancetta. Add the pasta. I like to use my skimmer to pull the pasta directly from the boiling water into the sauce so that a bit of water comes with it, which helps bring the sauce together. I'm sure a slotted spoon would work as well. Or you could just drain and reserve some pasta water to add back to the sauce.

Add salt and pepper to taste (be careful about adding too much salt too early since the pancetta, cheeses and pasta water are all salty).

A note about the cheeses and fat. I found that my parmesan had molded, so couldn't use part parmesan and part cheddar as planned. The baby food recipe in my book called for gruyere (although the online one I linked too uses parmesan), which I'm sure would be yummy as well. As for fat, I used reduced fat cheddar but full-fat cream cheese and whole milk (because I had bought full-fat versions of those for the baby's portions). I am sure you could use all reduced-fat cheese and skim milk and it would still be yummy.