Saturday, July 28, 2012

Foodie Faves: Cheesecloth

Once upon a time, I thought I’d take up faux painting as a hobby. You know, be someone who paints faux finishes on walls or chairs and gets friends and neighbors to call her for fun projects. So I took a course. And I invited my friend, Barbara, to take the course with me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Kitchen Goddess says, “Make this salad.”
What's cooking? Burrata with Shredded Sugar Snap Pea and Crispy Shiitake Salad

A writing workshop leader once told me, “In journalism, one is a sighting, two is a coincidence, three is a trend. Write about it.” So in the last couple of weeks, I’ve come across one particular item appearing on the menu at two nice restaurants I’ve been to. Then Julia Moskin, writing in the Dining section of last Wednesday’s New York Times, published a recipe by vegetarian blogger Michael Natkin, featuring that same ingredient: burrata cheese. That makes three for me, so I’m calling the trend.

It’s not a new cheese, but it’s definitely been in hiding. The first time I saw it on a menu, I didn’t know what it was, though it sounded like an Italian cheese. The second time I saw it, I decided to order it, and I’m pretty sure I heard the angels singing as I took my first bite.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Foodie Faves: Dessert Wine and Collecting the Glasses

I’ve always had a sweet tooth. So it should not be a surprise that I’m extremely fond of dessert wines as a way to top off a meal. You can serve them with dessert, or they might be the dessert itself, accompanied by bowls of nuts and dark chocolates or a cheese platter. Kitchen Goddess note: The only consideration is the sweetness – the dessert wine should always be sweeter than the dessert, or the wine will taste dull. So with very sweet desserts, just serve coffee and tea.

In the United States, a dessert wine is legally defined as any wine over 14% alcohol by volume, which includes all fortified wines, such as port and madeira; but most people think of dessert wines in a range from German wines like a late-harvest Gewürztraminer or Riesling, to sweet sparkling wines, to Sauternes or ice wine, my personal favorite, which is made from grapes that have been left on the vine to freeze.  A Sauterne is mellower, like a sunny day in springtime; while a good ice wine – served very cold – has a bracing sweetness that reminds me of the air at the top of a mountain.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Visions of Sugar Plums... in July?
What’s cooking? Cold Sugar Plum Soup and Sugar Plum-Cantaloupe Sorbet

It must be a sickness with me. I’m leaving today and will be away for 10 days, so I shouldn’t really have even gone to the farmers’ market on Sunday. But I’m so weak.

I swore to myself that I would ONLY get some zucchini and peaches. I’d have time to make my friend Laurie’s wonderful zucchini soup and freeze it, and if I didn’t have time to do something with the peaches, well then, I’d just take them on the trip with me. Sometimes I get on the plane with the most random assortment of food items – stuff I think I’ll eat for lunch in the air, or things I know won’t hold in the fridge till I get back, or even food I want to share with friends at my destination. My grandmother always used to pack a PB&J and a banana when she was taking a flight, thereby embarrassing my mother and aunt practically to tears. “Mother,” they’d say, “you’re not from the back woods. They’ll feed you on the plane.” Of course, these days, what you can get on the airplane is pretty pathetic, so I generally feel justified, even if I look like Minnie Pearl in the process.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Foodie Faves: Ginger

Color plate from Köhler's Medicinal Plants

Today’s bloguette is not only a day late, the topic is nothing new. Literally. Writing about ginger has been a foodie practice almost as old as the use of ginger itself. According to the web site for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (a.k.a. Kew Gardens), the Hindu epic Mahabharata, written around the 4th century BC, describes a meal where meat is stewed with ginger and other spices. Who knew that ancient Hindu Vyasa was a foodie?

I like ginger in almost any form – powdered in ginger snaps, pickled with sushi, grated in Roasted Sesame Green Beans, candied in Sweet Potato Ginger Soufflé,... I have an enduring memory of my mother bringing me ginger ale on ice any time I had the flu as a child. She knew ginger is a tasty way to settle a queasy stomach.

Raw ginger rhizomes, which is a staple in my freezer.

But among these various forms, my favorite is candied ginger. It has the best combination of taste and portability, which is why it’s also the form most often recommended to fight nausea – with chemotherapy patients, with morning sickness in pregnancy, with seasickness, or with post-op nausea. It’s even good as a fat-free snack, though it’s definitely not low-cal.

Candied ginger from Penzeys Spices

In addition to snacking on the stuff, I use it as often as I can with other foods:

■ I sprinkle it on the whipped cream I serve atop my Aunt Marcy’s Pumpkin Chiffon Pie.

■ I mix it with sections of Texas Red Grapefruit (the official state fruit of Texas) for a dessert.

■ I add it with a teaspoon of honey to plain yogurt for breakfast.

■ I substitute it for the raisins in my mother-in-law’s recipe for Scones.

And I welcome any other suggestions!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Time for Frozen Fruit
What's cooking? Rhubarb Compote and Spiced Blueberry Sorbet

What is happening here? We left Austin for Jersey City in order to escape the summer heat, and for the last several days, the weather forecast has actually been worse in NJ. Where is the justice??!! I can’t even imagine what it has been like for all those poor souls who’ve endured this wave without A/C.

When I was in my teens, and central air was something you only got if you had a brand-new house, my parents splurged and installed window air conditioners in the upstairs of our house. And I would actually close off my room and open the windows because I didn’t like the smell of the cool air. Deep in the heart of Texas. Thinking about it now, I can only imagine it was a combination of teenage hormones and just outright lunacy. In general, I’ve recovered from that phase of my life, although there are days in Austin when my husband will return from the golf course and find me in the house with all the doors and windows open and all the fans going... at 84-85°. He would tell you I’m still a bit nuts, and maybe he’s right.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Foodie Faves: Cookwise, by Shirley Corriher

I’m such a geek. I love kitchen/food trivia, especially if it’s helpful. So it was a big day for me when I read about a woman named Shirley Corriher, in the Vanderbilt Alumni Magazine. Yes, we attended the same school, so I feel a special closeness to this woman, even though I’m pretty sure she went to more classes than I did.

Corriher got a B.A. (cum laude) in chemistry from Vandy, then worked as a biochemist in the medical school while her husband went to graduate school. They moved to Atlanta where they started a boys’ school, and Shirley had to learn to do the cooking. From the interview I read, it sounds like she knew almost as little about cooking as I did when I graduated. She eventually divorced, and while scratching around to support herself and her three sons, she won cooking classes at an Atlanta cooking school. But with her chemistry background and strong communication skills (thanks to Vandy’s excellent English department), she soon became the go-to for any oddball food science questions at the school. Perhaps the lesson here is that you may not learn how to cook at Vanderbilt, but you will learn how to ask someone to teach you.

In any case, today, Shirley Corriher is an internationally known food scientist, teacher, and cookbook writer; her book, Cookwise: The Secrets of Cooking Revealed, is a bestseller and won a James Beard Award for excellence.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Red, White, and Blueberry Syrup
What’s cooking? Uses for Blueberry Syrup

Last year at this time, I was bemoaning our inability to see the NYC fireworks celebration because the city had moved it so far north as to be out of our field of vision. Well, it’s still out of sight, but this year, I have something much more spectacular to watch. My son and daughter-in-law are invited to a party not far from us, so Grumpy and I have been asked to babysit for our 6-month-old granddaughter.

She’s not yet on solid foods, aside from her morning oatmeal, so I can’t cook anything for her. And she goes to bed waaaay before I do, so she’s not much for evening companionship. But she doesn’t seem to mind if I just sit and stare at her, which I confess that I do a lot. So it’ll be a quiet celebration of July 4th, but somehow, I don’t mind at all.