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
yogurt)
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

Teaser

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
16.
Epoisses*
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
30.
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
43.
Phaal
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
52.
Umeboshi*
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
59.
Poutine*
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...]
74.
Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76.
Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail

79.
Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83.
Pocky
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.

(2)
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
chippy EVERY NIGHT.
-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.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Full of Beans

Note: I wrote this 2 weeks ago but kind of forgot about it (and the blog) (again).


Recently, I was watching this series of TV shows by the British multi-Michelin star chef and molecular gastronomist Heston Blumenthal called 'In Search of Perfection'. These are all a bit ridiculous but fascinating at the same time.

The particular episode I am discussing today was about chili con carne. Note that he calls it 'chili con carne' and not just 'chili' as most Texans (eg, me) would. I'm just not sure I trust a Brit's chili recipe no matter how many Michelin stars he has. Star anise? Carrots? Butter? Really? Not to mention that it contained both beans and ground beef (in addition to beef chunks). True Texas chili is cubed beef only-no beans and no ground meat. It did look pretty tasty, though.

Some day I might divulge my recipe for my award-winning chili (from the Wharton hockey annual chili cookoff 2005). But that's for another day. (I will tell you that it's based on this recipe, which was kindly brought to my attention by my brother.)

The interesting part for my scientist side was that they used MRI to look at how the brain responds to chilis and found that they activate the limbic structures, which are the part of the brain that process emotions. So, it turns out that eating chilis activates both pain and pleasure responses at the same time. Pretty cool, no?

That's it on this topic. I'm trying to think of something worth posting a recipe and photos about that doesn't involve pureed chicken. Give me another 2 weeks...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Make lemonade

Often in cooking I find that I have to make do with what I have in the house (flat) because I don't have time (or am too lazy) to walk the 5 minutes to the grocery store, or so that the things I have don't rot before I use them. I know that's not the real meaning of the phrase 'when life gives you lemons, make lemonade' but just work with me people.

Yesterday I looked at my stash and found potatoes, mushrooms, scallions, eggs and sweet potatoes. My first thought was some sort of
Tortilla Espanola/omelette or quiche, but I only had 3 eggs, so figured that wasn't going to cut it. The mushrooms and potatoes were definitely headed south the fastest, so I focused on those.

I did a search for 'mushroom and potato' on the Food Network
site and found this recipe, and then on Epicurious and found this one. I have to say both looked pretty tasty, and potato salad seemed like a good thing to have on a warm summer day. My mushrooms were just standard white mushrooms, so I didn't think they'd grill very well, and I wasn't keen on firing up the oven to 425 F given the fact noted above that it was a 'warm summer day'. Furthermore, the warm composed salad didn't seem like such a bright idea given the baby in the house. I decided to work with what I had and make up my own potato and mushroom salad. It came out pretty well (if I do say so myself). The only thing possibly lacking is some nice crispy bacon. Potato and mushroom salad

About 2 lb potatoes

1/2 T olive oil

1/4 lb white mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely or minced
3 large or 4 small green onions (whites and tops), chopped


Vinaigrette:

1 T wholegrain mustard

2 T red wine vinegar
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil


Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Peel the potatoes if you wish. An interesting aside about potatoes is that, according to the Washington State Potato Commission at potatoes.com (and who am I to argue with them), it is a
myth that most of the nutrients in a potato are contained in the skin. The skin is, however, a good source of fiber, I think it looks nice in a dish like this, and again, I am lazy, so I really tend not to peel my potatoes. Anyway, cut your potatoes into same-sized chunks and boil them until tender (for a guide, my chunks shown below next to my knife with a 5.5 inch blade took 12 minutes). Drain and rinse with cold water.
While the potatoes are cooking, make the vinaigrette. Whisk together the mustard and vinegar, and then slowly add in 1/4 c olive oil while continuing to whisk.

Heat 1/2 T olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the sliced mushrooms and sautée for about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking 1 minute more.

Put the warm potatoes in a large bowl and pour the vinaigrette over them.

Mix in the mushrooms and green onions and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
I let mine sit for a couple of hours and served it at room temperature, but it tasted pretty good warm, and I'm sure it would cold as well. (I've just tried some of the leftovers out of the fridge - it is fine cold!)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Retro yumminess

No procrastination on those homemade Oreos (a la Smitten Kitchen) that I mentioned in my last post. I could not get these things out of my head, so I decided to make a batch! I even remembered to take pictures for your viewing pleasure this time (although Smitten's are much better than mine...) I even learned something about cocoa powder in the process, and so there will even be a science-y tip for you.
Are Oreos really retro? I certainly think of them that way because I used to gobble them down when I was a kid but haven't really eaten them in years (except for when they are in cookies and cream ice cream). Do kids still eat Oreos? Judging from the paranoia over giving kids processed foods, I wouldn't be surprised if Oreos up and became extinct (unless Nabisco can find a way to make them organic with added wholegrain and no trans-fats), but then again I wouldn't be that surprised if I saw a 7-year-old eating sushi either.

On to the goodies. I followed the recipe more or less exactly as written, so I won't plagiarize it here. My notes/tips are below. Oh, and to answer the burning question, yes, they really do taste like Oreos (but better)!

(1) The recipe calls for 'Dutch Process' cocoa powde
r. In the US I would likely have just grabbed my can of Hershey's cocoa powder and not thought about it again. However, here in the UK I'm always triple-checking ingredients because, well, things are often just different here in ways you never would have expected. I had a can of Green and Black's cocoa powder but it was almost empty, so I headed to the store and found only the generic brand. When I compared the two cans at home, I discovered that Green and Black's is 100% cocoa powder, while the store-brand is 93% cocoa powder and an acidity regulator (calcium carbonate). Based on my reading of the Joy of Baking's page on this, the store-brand was a neutralized (or at least less acidic) cocoa, and therefore most like Dutch Process. If you read the comments on the Smitten Kitchen post, you'll see that several people noted their cookies were too puffy. I suspect it has to do with the use of non-Dutch Process cocoa, which, along with the baking powder, would also be able to react with the baking soda and create additional rising. In any case, I didn't realize there were important differences in cocoa powders until today.
(2) With just the butter added to the dry ingredients it seemed like the batter would never come together (see note 3 below), but add the egg and Bob's your uncle. (I LOVE this phrase. You should have seen the look on my face when someone said this in my office during my first week in London. I had not a clue what he meant, and everyone thought it was hilarious.)
(3) I think a food processor would have been the smart choice rather than a hand mixer over an open bowl. Our kitchen is coated in a fine layer of cocoa/flour/sugar. Good thing we've got someone coming to clean on Monday!

(4) I went with Smitten's suggestion to cut the sugar to 1 c rather than 1.5 c in the cookie dough and am glad I did. With the filling as cloyingly sweet as it is, I think it would have been way too much if the cookies were any sweeter (and I like cloyingly sweet).
(5) The filling smooshes out of the cookies, making them a bit messy (but delicious) to eat. Also, if you aren't planning to eat all of the cookies within about 24 hours, I would suggest filling them as you eat them (store the filling in the fridge and then warm to room temp), otherwise the cookies get a bit soggy (but they're still good that way too).

Monday, July 7, 2008

Shouldn't you be doing something else?

Procrastination. What's not to like about it? (Except for the feeling that you got nothing done despite the fact that you pulled an all-nighter.)

How did I ever procrastinate before the ubiquitous internet?? Come to think of it, how did I procrastinate before blogs and social networks? Let's see... In college I used to procrastinate by checking email using Pine in the computer lab (only 1 of the 6 roommates had a computer with an ethernet connection in our room), or by watching The X Files and The Simpsons recorded on a worn VHS tape. Dare I think back to my pre-email days? I really don't have a clue how I procrastinated then. I suppose it was just watching whatever was on TV and talking to friends on the phone (a landline phone with a cord plugged into the wall of course). Ah, the good old days.

My new procrastination tool is the subject of this post. Food blogs! The one in particular that I'm in love with now is Smitten Kitchen. Her writing is funny and interesting, the pictures are beautiful, and the recipes look fabulous. My mouth was watering and my stomach growling for these in particular. Another recipe on the 'must try ASAP' list. Her latest is that she made a wedding cake for some friends' wedding this weekend. I am waiting with bated breath for the final installment! I found the site somewhat randomly last week. Daily Candy sent me to this food blog for a white sangria recipe (also on the 'must try ASAP' list), and Smitten was on his blog roll.

Enjoy blog hopping around my links on the right. And don't blame me if you spend 3 hours reading them when you're supposed to be working...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Baby food

No, this is not about actual food for babies, although I've started to have fun with that now that the O-man is on solids. However, this post is about food that works for adults when there's a baby in the house. That's not to say you can't make it if there isn't a baby in your house (which is probably the case for 95% of my readers). It's just that about 2 months after the O-man was born, I realized that baby-friendly dinner is not the same as working-until-8pm friendly.

Let me explain. Now I actually want things that take an hour or more to bake in the oven or simmer on the stovetop so that we can concentrate on feeding and bathing the baby and getting him to sleep just before we eat rather than cooking something that's fast, but takes a lot of prep time at the end and/or is best eaten as soon as it's ready (eg, sitr fries). I've also learned that prepping as much as possible ahead of time when the baby is napping is key, but more on that in another post I think.

Today we're going to concentrate on things that cook slowly in the oven. Lasagna is one of my favorites of these, but again, I have planned that for another post about making over your leftovers. I'm thinking about this yummy cross between mac and cheese and tuna casserole that I made a few weeks ago.

First, a slight digression about tuna casseroles. My parents are from the Midwest. I grew up eating my Grandma's 'Friday Tuna Casserole' (she wasn't Catholic so I suspect the recipe wasn't actually hers), which included a can of Campbell's cream of mushroom soup and a large quantity of crushed potato chips both inside the casserole and sprinkled on top for crunch. When I lived in the US, I am almost ashamed to say that a regular staple in our dinner rotation was a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese (you know, the one with the powdered, radioactive orange cheese) with tuna-in-a-can and a handful of frozen peas thrown in. This is inspired by that, but is slightly less processed and definitely more homemade!

The recipe is a blend of two from the Food Network, one from Ina Garten (again) and one from Dave Lieberman. Those recipes are here and here. I couldn't quite fathom the amount of butter and cheese in Ina's recipe, but I liked the idea of the tomatoes on top.

Cheesy pasta with tuna, peas and tomatoes
1/2 lb pasta (I suppose macaroni is ideal, but I only had farfalle so used that)
1 1/4 c milk (I used skim because I had it and it tasted fine, but I'm sure it would be creamier with whole milk)
2 1/2 T unsalted butter, divided
1 1/2 T flour
1 3/4 c shredded cheese (I used 1 c mature cheddar, 1/2 c mozzarella and 1/4 c Parmesan)
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
Yellow mustard (or mustard powder)
1 can tuna fish, drained
1 c frozen peas
Tomatoes (I used halved cherry tomatoes but slices of big tomatoes would be fine)
1 c fresh breadcrumbs (I used wheat sandwich bread because it was all I had, but I think day-old baguette or something similar would probably be best). If you've never made homemade breadcrumbs before, it's really easy-just cut the bread into chunks and process in a food processor for about a minute. If you don't have a food processor, a blender might work.

Cook the pasta to al dente according to package directions (see TIP below). You want it to be a bit under-cooked since it will get softer in the oven.

Melt 1.5 T butter in a pot and whisk in flour. Cook for 2 minutes (stir frequently if not constantly). Add milk, whisking to prevent any lumps, and cook for 1-2 minutes until thick and smooth. Take off the heat and stir in the cheeses and pepper. Add in the red pepper flakes and a squirt of mustard.

Mix the cheese sauce with the pasta and add the tuna and peas. Put in a baking dish (I used a 10x7 inch oval gratin dish, so an 8 inch square would be similar). Top with the tomatoes (cut side up for cherry tomatoes) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix the bread crumbs with 1 T melted butter and some pepper and then sprinkle these on top of the tomatoes.

Bake at 375 F (190 C) for 30-35 minutes.


NOTE: The leftovers weren't as great as I was hoping, so it's good if you can use it all up the same day. This makes 2 REALLY generous servings, but probably more like 3-4.

TIP: Always add salt to your pasta water (I don't think oil is necessary). Apparently if you have pots with stainless interiors, salt will mark and pit your pot, so you should add it just before adding the pasta. I was always under the impression that it makes sense to wait until the water's boiled to add salt since the salt will raise the boiling point of the water, and therefore make it take longer for your water to boil. However, the change is apparently insignificant, and interestingly the same volume of 20% salt water boils faster than pure water owing to heat capacity. Ah, chemistry...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Oops

I sort of forgot I had this blog. The nearly-mobile O-man has me busy when he's awake, and when he's asleep I'm always cooking and pureeing new foods for him to try.

I actually have a post I started 3 weeks ago that is 95% finished; hopefully I'll find time for the other 5% soon!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

CUPCAKES!

My hubby's birthday was last weekend, and I made him carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting that turned out quite well (if I do say so myself). The tip here is that, although these in no way can really be considered healthy or low fat, I have reduced the fat by replacing half of the oil in the cupcakes with natural (no sugar or sweetener added) applesauce. You can do this in other baked items that use a lot of oil (muffins and banana bread are two good examples).

The recipe itself is actually a cross between my friend M's carrot cake recipe and
one for carrot cake cupcakes from Ina Garten. They were quite similar, and the only major change I made is really the addition of the applesauce. A note for readers in the UK: In America, applesauce is everywhere. Here, not so much. I bought a jar of Bramley applesauce, but it just wasn't right. So I went to the baby food aisle and found little pots of apple and pear puree that were mostly apples, with nothing else added to sweeten. It worked great!

I made 1.5 times the original recipe because it was only supposed to make 22 cupcakes. However, out of the 1.5x batch, I ended up with 40. The amounts for 40 are below and the original amounts (I guess that will give you about 26) in parentheses.


Without further ado, the recipe:

3 cups sugar (2 c)
1 cup vegetable oil (2/3 c)
1 cup natural/unsweetened applesauce (2/3 c)
1.5 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (1 t)
5 large eggs (3)
3 cups all-purpose flour (2 c)
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon (2 t)
3 teaspoons baking soda (2 t)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt (~3/4 t) [Note: this is less salt than the Ina recipe called for, as many reviews said the cupcakes were too salty.]
4 1/2 cups grated carrots; about 1.5 pounds (3 c or about 1 pound)
1 1/2 cups golden raisins (sultanas for those of you in the UK) (1 c)
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts (1 c); pecans would be good as well


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Beat the sugar, oil, applesauce and vanilla together in the bowl of an electric mixer (or with a hand mixer). Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and mix well. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add 1/2 of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix just until combined. Add the grated carrots, raisins, and walnuts to the remaining flour, mix well, and add to the batter (this will prevent the goodies from sinking to the bottom of the cupcakes). Mix until just combined. [Here is where the tip I mentioned in my very first post comes in handy - don't overmix once you've added the flour!]

Line muffin pans with paper liners (turns out that in the UK these are called 'muffin cases'). Scoop the batter into the muffin cups until each is ~2/3 full. [TIP: Use an ice cream scoop that holds about 1/4 cup of batter for this, and they will all be even, and hence bake evenly.] Bake for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. [NOTE: Keep a close eye on them because the original recipe actually called for 40-45 minutes of baking time, which is WAY too much. Mine took about 30, but yours could be faster. I would check after 20 and then again every 5 minutes.] Cool on a rack.

When the cupcakes are cool, frost them generously and serve.


Cream cheese frosting:

[This is MORE than enough for the batch that makes 40 cupcakes. I have no idea why this was meant to be frosting for 22 cupcakes unless you want more frosting than cake.]

12 oz cream cheese (This isn't quite equivalent, but I used 1.5 200 g packages), at room temperature [Note: You can use light if you want, but I wouldn't recommend fat free.]
1/2 pound (225 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature [Don't sub anything - real butter is SO much better than anything else - and be sure it's unsalted.]
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pound confectioners' (icing) sugar

It is very important that the cheese and butter are at room temperature! Leave them out for several hours before making the frosting.

Cream the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer (or with a hand mixer). Add the sugar and beat until smooth. More or less sugar can be added if you prefer a more or less sweet frosting.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Mmmmm...Pintxos...

One of the lovely pintxos (Tobogan de Mar) at Aloña Berri


It's been a while because I've been a bit bus
y. We went to the Basque region of Spain for the bank holiday (Memorial Day to those of you in the US) weekend, and then the baby (hereafter to be referred to by the nickname O-man) came down with a cold AND an ear infection at the same time. Joy.

This post is inspired by the trip. Again, not really a tip, and only a tiny bit related to science, but definitely interesting from a foodie perspective.


When I travel, I love to experience the culture of a place through its food. The Basque region of Spain, especially San Sebastian, is known for its food. There are a plethora of multi-Michelin star restaurants that you have to make reservations for
a year in advance (including two of the top 10 restaurants in the world according to two lists--see them here and here).

But what many people flock to the area for are pintxos ('tx' is pronounced 'ch'), this part of Spain's version of tapas. And that's exactly what we ate when we were there because (a) we planned the trip a bit last minute, so probably couldn't have gotten reservations and (b) the best restaurants in the world probably frown upon a 5 month old baby coming to dinner in his pram.


Pintxos are such a brilliant idea. I just love the idea of eating 12 different littl
e things so you can taste the entire menu, and since each item is only 2-3 Euros, it doesn't kill you if you take one bite of something and decide you don't like it (although that didn't happen to us). And these are so much better than most traditional tapas, mostly because the traditional way of presenting them is a small bit of stuff on top of a small slice of baguette, rather than an entire plate (or racion) with 10 pieces of jamon Serrano and queso Manchego. Plus, they are all spread out along the bar for you to look at - you just point to the ones you want (or in some cases just grab them yourself and save the toothpicks so they can see how many you had and charge you accordingly).

We went to many good places, and two awesome places, both of which we found thanks to friends who'd been there before and this blog. One of these was La Cuchara de San Telmo, which apparently was opened by a guy who used to be a chef at El Bulli (the number one restaurant in the world). So this is where the science comes in, although it's admittedly a bit of a digression. The head chef at El Bulli, along with a couple of others whom I might discuss in a future post, is known for molecular gastronomy. This is a fascinating thing to me given my scientific background. I mean, who wouldn't think it was cool to capture the smoke from a fire and use it to flavor your ice cream, turn everything and anything into a froth, or use dry ice to make a chilled sauce 'boil'? (Possibly this guy.) But really, how can you argue with someone who is using nuclear magnetic resonance to analyze carrot-based soup stocks?

Back to
La Cuchara de San Telmo. Let's just say this place was so good that we had a few dishes there on Saturday night, and then went back and ordered practically everything on the menu and ate our entire dinner there on Sunday night. Not really in the spirit of pintxos bar hopping, but we couldn't resist! There was some sort of beef cooked in red wine that I swear was the best beef I've ever eaten - it just melted in your mouth. And there was pork, and cod, and some sort of meat creamed up and put in a croquette (it was 'crema de asados' which we have only been able to translate into cream of grilled meat). If anyone else has a better translation, I'm happy to hear it (or maybe not, depending on what it is). Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures of the food here!

I did, however, get a few shots of some of the food at
Aloña Berri (unfortunately the website doesn't have an English version), the other place we loved. We hung out there for about 2 hours on Sunday afternoon, and even met the chef and his wife (who decided that it would be fun to take O-man back into the kitchen to meet everyone). I don't think I really need to describe the food here, because the blog mentioned above and another one here have pretty much done it for me. The Chipiron en Equilibria del Mar (pictured below) was superb. There was also a seared tuna pintxo that I think must be new since it isn't mentioned anywhere. I can't remember what was in it exactly, but it was excellent (the 3 people at the table next to us went through 4 orders of it). We also loved the pigeon bastilla.

All in all, a fabulous trip that I would highly recommend to anyone (especially if you live in London), but even if you are in the US and want to tour Spain, you must go to Bilbao and San Sebastian!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Re-branding

I started this blog without putting much thought into the name. Actually, I lie. I did put some thought into it, but every half-decent cooking pun of a name I could come up with already seemed to be the name of someone else's blog. So since this is supposed to have something to do with science and food, I started thinking back through the words I associate most with the lab and with cooking. I thought maybe I could go with something like 'Dinner's in the Incubator' or 'Cooking protocols' or something like that.

But then I remembered the time back in grad school when I happened upon a large group of people (hippie-ish music students mostly, no offense to hippies or musicians) protesting GM (genetically modified) foods. I myself haven't really thought about my opinion on GM foods recently, but the thing that got me during this protest was that they were chanting 'No DNA in my tomatoes.' Now, I'm pretty sure that in my first biology class they taught us that plants, as well as animals, have DNA. It turns out that these guys were protesting fish genes in their tomatoes (and to their credit, some of the signs did say
'Keep your fish DNA out of my tomatoes.')

That phrase stuck with me, however, and I just pulled it out of the depths of my brain today and decided it wouldn't be such a bad name for this blog. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the new, re-branded 'No DNA in My Tomatoes' blog. Someday I'll figure out how to change the URL and/or migrate the posts over to a new address...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hummus and pesto and bread, oh my.

The topic of the day is making things at home that most normal people buy at the store. Again, I think this all started with my parents. Dad makes homemade spaghetti sauce from his garden tomatoes. Mom used to bake fresh bread all the time when I was in pre-school and early elementary school (before she went back to work). I of course used to want the 'floppy bread' the other kids had for their sandwiches, much the same way that I never wanted an afternoon nap when I was 3, but man-oh-man do I want one now!

What do I make at home that might seem a bit odd to some people, and why do I bother? Hummus, salsa, pesto, mac and cheese, Chex mix, pizza dough, bread (though I did the latter 2 far more when I lived in the US and had a breadmaker), the list goes on. I've even been making milk at home for the past 4 months (ew, gross, I know). Seriously, though, I once even made my own ketchup, and experimented with flour tortillas but for all the work they weren't really that great. One day I swear I am going to try making my own bagels (my friend A gave me a recipe about 8 years ago...) and doughnuts (I just saw what sounds like a brilliant recipe for baked doughnuts and can't wait to try it...), granola and pasta. I suppose I should make my own mayo (and bacon/pancetta as one of my friends is doing) as well, but who has time for that?

So why? Well, sometimes because I wanted a healthier version of something (eg, lower-fat hummus and pesto), sometimes because I couldn't find a version to my liking in the UK (eg, the salsa), and sometimes just because I wanted to see if I could (and if my version would taste better than store-bought).

And now the fun part. The tip of the day. Well, it's actually a recipe of the day. But, there are a couple of tips buried within it.

Lower-fat homemade hummus
2 small cans of chickpeas (each 410 g/240 g drained), drained and rinsed (not sure of equivalent American can sizes - should be about 14-15 oz)

1/4 c plain lowfat (or fat free) yogurt
2-3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
juice of 1 lemon
1 T sesame oil
2 tsp olive oil

salt to taste (1/4-1/2 tsp)
freshly ground black pepper (about 1/8 tsp)
pinch of cayenne pepper (to taste; I use about 1/8 tsp)
Put the chickpeas, yogurt, garlic, lemon juice and oils into a food processor and whiz everything up for a couple of minutes until it's fairly smooth. Add more yogurt if needed to thin it out. Taste, and then add seasonings. Taste a few times while adding the seasoning to be sure you don't get too much. Also, some chickpeas come canned in salted water (rather than unsalted). If there is salt in the chickpeas, be sure to rinse them well, and start out easy on the added salt.

Enjoy with pita bread or, if you're trying to be really healthy, fresh raw veggies (carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, snap peas, green beans).

For a fancy touch, drizzle some good olive oil over the top of the hummus in the serving bowl and sprinkle with some paprika or cayenne pepper. You can even add a sprig of parsley or a few whole chickpeas to the center of the dish.

Finally, t
he tips. This hummus is lower-fat because the large quantities of olive oil and tahini traditionally found in hummus is replaced with yogurt and just a small amount of oil (sesame for a tahini-like flavor). In all, there is about 20 g of fat in the whole batch, and since it makes so much, it works out to about 2 g per serving, I think. Lowfat plain yogurt is a great way to reduce the amount of fat in other dishes as well. For example, it can replace sour cream when used as a condiment (like on your tacos or baked potato), not in baking. It can also be used in place of some or all of the mayo in things like tuna salad.

The other tips involve juicing the lemon. Before cutting the lemon (or other citrus fruit) in half for juicing, roll it on the counter under the palm of your hand to get the juices flowing. Also, when you juice the fruit, you can use a fancy gizmo, but you can also just squeeze the lemon in your hand, letting the juice run through your fingers to catch the seeds.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Have some tacos and beer and let ourselves go

OK, this post is about neither tacos nor beer. But it is about my near obsession with good Tex-Mex food, and the title is from a song I like, so deal with it. "But wait," you say, "you live in London. How could you possibly get decent Tex-Mex there?" The truth is, you can get acceptable Tex-Mex here (and there are good burritos here and there) but until we found these places, I had to rely on my cooking skills to get us through.

The first thing I had to master was salsa. This is not my recipe - it's my friend H's (actually I believe it's her stepmom's). I've been making it so long from memory now, I think my proportions might be a bit different, but for all intents and purposes, it is hers. This is my first foray into blogging food photos, so bear with me if they suck...

Homemade Salsa

What you need:
1/2 medium yellow onion (I used about 2/3 of the one pictured because it was a bit small.)
About 3 medium jalepenos (You can use fresh, but I like the canned ones that have the carrots and onions in them. I used La Preferida brand this time, but others are fine.)
2-3 cloves garlic
About 1/4 c cilantro leaves (called coriander in the UK)
4 400 g cans peeled whole plum tomatoes (In the US, I used 2 large cans - can't remember the weights of those!)
Salt to taste (about 1 1/2 tsp)
Splash cider or white vinegar (about 1/2 tsp)

Food processor

Cut the onion, garlic and jalepenos into chunks and whiz in a food processor into small pieces. Add the cilantro and process a bit more (you don't want to obliterate the cilantro, so wait until the other stuff is pretty much done before adding it).Transfer the onion, etc. to a bowl.






Begin processing the tomatoes; I do one can at a time (about 4 tomatoes). Just pulse them 3-4 times so that they stay a bit chunky. If you overprocess, you'll end up with "salsa water" (as H says). As each batch is finished, add it to the onion, etc. in the bowl.






Stir everything up, add the salt and vinegar, and taste. Remember you can always add more jalepeno (tip: use the liquid from the jalepeno can to add a bit more spice without having to process another chili), cliantro, salt, etc. Store in the fridge, and it should last for a couple of weeks. Also, the flavors will blend as the salsa sits, so let it stand for at least a couple of hours before making any final adjustments to the taste.


I've been making quesadillas in various forms for ages. But they are perfect with the salsa, and also helped us get our Tex-Mex fix when there were no restaurants for us to frequent. Plus, I promised them in my first post about fast food.

Easy Cheese Quesadillas
Flour tortillas
Shredded cheese (I use mature/sharp cheddar here, but Pepper Jack, Jack or a Mexican blend would all be fine.)
Non-stick spray (e.g., Pam) (You can use vegetable oil, but I prefer this lower-fat version)

Heat a skillet (big enough for the tortilla to lie flat) over medium-low heat (if it's too hot the tortilla will brown and burn before the cheese melts). Spray with non-stick spray and add the tortilla. Cook for about 10 seconds on one side to soften, then turn over. Add the cheese so it covers half the tortilla, then fold the tortilla over. Cook until brown on the bottom, then flip and continue cooking until the other side is brown.

Serve with salsa, guac (see below), sour cream (or plain yogurt for a low-fat sub if, like me, you live in a place where low-fat sour cream doesn't exist) and refried beans.

Variations: Make these slightly less easy, but certainly more nutritious, by adding some chicken breast chunks sauteed with onions (and peppers if you like them) and chili powder. Sauteed spinach and/or mushrooms are also a good filling.


Since I also promised quick-fix guac in that first post, here it is:

Guacamole
Mash up a ripe avocado (if it is not ripe when you buy it, stick it in a paper bag for a day or so to speed up the ripening). Add a squeeze of lime juice (lemon will do, or really you can leave it out altogether), some salt and pepper, and a couple of spoonfuls of salsa (homemade if you've got it; if not jarred is certainly fine). That's it!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Foodie wannabe

I feel like such a foodie. Two weekends ago we went to Borough Market, where I had wild boar sausages and sea salt caramel fudge and bought all those tomatoes. Then Sunday we went to Whole Foods for lunch and browsing. And yesterday I stopped by Gail's Bread and bought a yummy granary bloomer loaf instead of my usual grocery store wheat sandwich bread.

Sean bought me a book recently called 'How to be a Better Foodie'. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, but don't exactly follow all of the advice in it, hence I feel like a foodie wannabe. For example, I usually can't bring myself to pay 3 times the price for organic home grown veggies from the market when they're so much cheaper at the grocery store. However, I will say that to be the best foodie that your budget (and shopping time) will allow is a tip that I should be following. What I mean is, buy the best ingredients you can and your food usually tastes better. Also, despite what the higher prices might lead you to believe, organic, free range, blah, blah, blah is usually better, but not always. So do a taste test and decide for yourself!

To help you get started, I highly recommend the book mentioned above. For those of you in the states, you can get it from amazon.com.

Friday, April 18, 2008

There's something fishy about this

Yesterday I was craving a tuna melt (I know, who craves tuna-from-a-can?), and it got me thinking about fish. When I was younger (as in until about the age of 26), I swore that I hated fish, except for tuna-from-a-can. My boyfriend (now my husband) told me that that was ridiculous and that I really should try 'real' fish. After several tentative bites of his salmon at a restaurant, I decided that he might be on to something. I did this again several times before being brave enough to order salmon for myself. Then I started cooking it at home in a pan on the stove but set off the smoke alarm in our tiny apartment the first few times.

This brings me to today's tip. To avoid setting off the smoke alarm when cooking an oily fish like salmon indoors, and also to help curtail the inevitable smell of fish that can linger for several days, start in a pan on the stove and finish in the oven (a pan that goes from stove to oven is one of my 'essential tools' - a future blog post idea that's on my list to write about someday). This only occurred to me after I saw the technique in a recipe, and I wondered why I'd never thought of it myself. Of course, if you're lucky enough to have a grill (which we FINALLY do after 5 years of living in apartments without outdoor space), clearly you can just cook the fish on it, and prevent both odor and smoke problems.