Thursday, June 19, 2008

I survived the flood of 08'

Hey Kathryn,

It seems like you've been mighty busy over the past week.  I've definitely tried to decompress over the past couple of days - I've had some time off, and it finally appears that this flood is on the mend.  Yesterday, the water receded 10 inches, and more roads are starting to open up.  It is now safe to cross the river and venture over to the Iowa City downtown area (yay!  Farmer's Market, here I come!)  

I don't have any pictures of the flood, but I do have this fairly biblical/ironic/mundane photo of a rainbow framing my neighbor's home that I took last Saturday when the Iowa River rose to around 30 feet, which is 8 feet above the 93' levels.  


As far as cooking goes - I've been in quite the frugal mode, ie, trying to make as many things as possible without having to go to the store.  Some projects have been really successful, such as this pesto I made with arugula, parmesan cheese, almonds, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and a combination of olive and truffle oil (I know, this hardly qualifies as a frugal ingredient, but I've been trying to find as many applications for it as possible before it becomes rancid.)  I don't have any pictures of it, but it was rustic and sufficiently garlicky.  If I were a recipe developer for Gourmet Magazine, I would use it as a base for a grilled pizza topped with smoked mozzarella and peaches.  

However, I found that improvisation can be a bit more complicated when trying to make pancakes.  Marci and I attempted to make pancakes with a recipe that called for 1/2 a cup of plain yogurt.  After discovering that the only non-gelatin containing yogurt we had in the fridge had expired a month ago, I thought we could use a combination of ricotta cheese and buttermilk.  Due to this decision and the addition of a few too many frozen blueberries, the batter was a Bridget-Jones-cooking-disaster shade of blue and a little too watery.  The batter would flood onto the griddle, which produced really haphazardly shaped pancakes such as these ones.   



Bio-major Marci called it "imperfect mitosis."  

As hard as they were to spoon on to the pan, they were even harder to flip.  We agreed to equally distribute the more perfect ones and the "screw-up" pancakes, but as you compare the two stacks, you can clearly see that Marci who was on flip-duty has a relaxed definition of sharing.  Just teasing...



However, even though these pancakes were mushy, not fluffy, blue, not golden brown, amoeba shaped, not round, Marci and I still cleaned them off.   The real moral of the story is that there isn't anything in life that can't be fixed with a dollop of ricotta cheese and good old Canadian maple syrup.  

Missing you, and I hope that you find more great recipes from the Splendid Table cookbook.  

Allison

PS - Marci and I had the greatest idea ever for a breakfast party in Grinnell.  It'll be an ode to the character Letitia Cropley on Vicar of Dibley and the game will be called Surprise Ingredient Pancakes.  What do you think?


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

One More Post

I know I've been a posting fiend lately, but I just have to tell you about the dinner I just made. Well, actually, it was boring except for the main dish. I don't have any pretty pictures (because the tofu got eaten up too quickly), but here's what I did:

First I marinated the tofu (extra firm, drained of liquid, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices) for 10 minutes in a mixture of teriyaki sauce, sesame oil, apricot preserves, honey, dijon mustard and chile powder (because, if we've learned anything in the past six months, it's that dijon mustard makes everything better). Then I fried the tofu in more sesame oil (over medium-low heat, about 5 minutes to a side), poured the oil off, added the remaining marinade, and sauteed the tofu in the marinade/sauce for a couple more minutes.

We ate this over plain old rice, but it would also be good paired with something fancier, like quinoa or couscous.

Non-Salmonella Tomatoes

Hi Allison! I had to post again, if only to tell you about a recent trip to the bookstore, where I saw this lovely journal in the blank paper section. It's true, we can never escape the Pre-Raphaelites! I'm sure the irony of this journal doesn't escape you... since the Lady of Shalott's destiny is to float down the river to Camelot... and die... yeah, whoever made this journal probably didn't think about that.


ANYWAY. That wasn't the only thing I found at the bookstore. I also found something marvelous and exciting, something I actually purchased. None other than Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift's new cookbook, The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper. Can I just tell you how much I love this book? It's not only full of tempting-looking recipes, but also little tidbits of food knowledge and new techniques... for example, there's a section on how to teach yourself to cook without measuring spoons. Although this isn't a totally vegetarian cookbook, there is a big section of vegetarian entrees, plus lots of good-looking side dishes, salads, desserts and pasta dishes.


The first meal I tried was pesto risotto and tomato salad. The risotto was good, although it would have been better if I had been able to find fresh basil. I ended up using freeze-dried basil which was kind of like space food... and tasted a little bit like it. Luckily the onions and parmesan cheese compensated for that.


The outstanding part of the meal was this tomato salad. I made this before everyone in the country was convinced that tomatoes were carriers of disease--so I made it with plain old grocery store tomatoes, not even organic, definitely not ripe-on-the-vine. And it was still SO GOOD. I imagine that if you make this salad with actual good tomatoes it would be amazingly, unbelievably good. And I don't even like tomatoes.


Big Tomato Sweet-Sour Salad
(From The Splendid Table's How To Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift)

Ingredients:

Dressing:
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 med red onion, thin sliced lengthwise into long strips
salt and fresh-ground black pepper
8 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tight-packed tablespoons brown sugar

Tomatoes:
4 or so big ripe tomatoes (non-salmonella-ridden preferable)

Finish:
1/2 cup light-packed coarse-chopped fresh dill leaves

Make That Salad!

1. To make the dressing, first pour the vinegar into a small sauce-pan and boil it down to about 1/2 cup, about 5 minutes, set aside.

2. In a 10-inch skillet set over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Stir in the onion, sprinkling it with a little salt and a generous amount of pepper. Saute for a minute, or until the onion is softened but not browned. Stir in the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds to one minute. You want to soften the garlic but not brown it. Pull the skillet off the heat and blend in the brown sugar to melt it. (You can set the dressing aside at this point for several hours, or refrigerate it it for up to a week)

3. Put the tomatoes into a large serving bowl. When you are ready to serve, warm up the onion mixture if needed--it should be warm, not hot. Pull the pan off the heat, and stir in the boiled-down vinegar and any liquid from the tomatoes. Carefully (the dressing could be quite hot) taste for seasoning and sweet-tart balance. Pour it under the tomatoes, folding in the dill.

4. Serve, warm or room temp. I ate this over romaine lettuce and it was delicious!

NOTE: According to the recipe, this can be made with bacon fat instead of olive oil but, for obvious ideology-related reasons, I wouldn't recommend that.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Summer in Oklahoma

Hi Allison! I hope you're holding it together in Iowa City--every time I listen to the news I hear more dire reports about the flooding all over Iowa, and I worry about my Under Water Iowan friends. Oklahoma is rainy and grey, but far from being flooded--and, since I live at the top of a hill, I don't think I have too much to worry about.

Anyhow, I thought it might be nice to cast our minds back to the beginning of the summer, when (here, at least) it was sunny and gorgeous everyday, and things were in bloom.


One of my favorite things about coming home for the summer is making the drive from still-chilly-in-May Iowa to the hotbox that is Tulsa, Oklahoma. My mother's garden was flourishing, the air buzzed with insects and humidity, and I was happy, happy, happy.


We have raised-bed vegetable gardens in our backyard--this tomato teepee hasn't yielded any edible fruit yet, but there are a few little green tomatoes struggling to grow--I say struggling, because we haven't exactly been attentive farmers around here.



My strawberry patch is doing well, though! Okay, not SO well... mainly because I'm too lazy to go harvest the fruit, so it all gets eaten by the rabbits, possums, armadillos and raccoons that inhabit our backyard and live under our deck. Those three strawberries were rescued before the wildlife could get to them, and man, were they delicious. It made me think of eating Amanda's strawberries and taking video of our strawberry-tasting experience. Like all home-grown strawberries, these seemed to be a million times sweeter, tarter, and sourer than strawberries you buy at the store.

Okay, now to the food part of this entry! I don't exactly have a recipe for you today, more like a suggestion. And that suggestion is: make ye some salads! For me, the quintessential summer food is a cold prepared salad, pulled out of the refrigerator whenever dinner happens. Salads are great for the summer because once they're in the fridge, they require no forethought whatsoever.


This was my dad's birthday dinner... a veggie dog, some cold cantaloupe, potato salad, macaroni salad, and pea salad. In all fairness, I should admit that I cooked exactly none of this... it was all my aunt's doing.



I think my favorite was this pea-and-egg salad. It doesn't require a recipe... just mix together some defrosted peas, chopped hard-boiled eggs, cheddar cheese, red onion, bell pepper, chopped cucumber, salt, pepper and mayonnaise. Another great thing about salads: the proportions are all to taste, so you can customize them to your heart's content.

A more real entry is coming soon, but for now I've gotta go help with dinner! This eating thing, it never ends, let me tell you.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

21st Century Sack Lunches

Hey Kathryn,

Sorry that it has taken me so long to post.  Like any true-blooded Grinnellian, I would like to take this opportunity to say that I have indeed been thoroughly busy, what with attending weddings, starting a new job at the Iowa Children's Museum, and hanging out with the 34254341234 people who decided to camp out in Iowa City this summer.  It's been fun.

It's also bizarre how much living at home makes me feel like I am in high school again.  I think it's the fact that my mom does my laundry now, and I am now spending all of my time at the Coral Ridge Mall, which is both where the Children's Museum is located and where I used shop to try to find clothes to fit in with the cool kids.     

I have also resumed one of my high school rituals, packing a lunch.  In high school, it was a necessity because the food at the cafeteria was pretty gross and not good for being a vegetarian.  Now, at the mall, I have slightly more options for food at the food court, but I often only have fifteen minutes to eat a meal during my break.  Plus, I get to take along this sweet lunch box.  Oh yeah, it's from one of my mom's Pathology Conferences.

I get really bored easily with sandwiches, so I like to take leftovers in tupperware containers.  There are certain dishes that are good to take along, like this tofu and shiitake mushroom stir fry.  It is filling and has a pleasant aroma.  I once made the mistake of packing a raddish salad, which made the entire music hallway smell like an Iowan corn field after a seeding of manure.  I'm not sure if my friends I was eating with at the time have forgiven me.  





Tofu and Shiitake Mushroom Stir Fry
Adopted from Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian

Ingredients:

1 lb firm tofu
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper chopped
1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms, chopped
1 tbsp crushed garlic
1 chopped, peeled fresh ginger
1 cup sake
2 tbsp. plus more to taste of soy sauce 
1/4 cup chopped scallions or spring garlic

Directions:

Drain tofu by wrapping it in paper towels and by placing a plate on top of it for a couple of minutes.  Then, cut the tofu into 1/2 inch cubes and set aside.  

To a hot wok or a large saut√© pan, add 1 tbsp of the oil and the onions.  When the onions begin to get soft, add the bell pepper and cook for about five minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Add another tbsp of oil and add the mushrooms.  Saut√© until they are cooked through.  Remove them as well and set aside.  Add the rest of the oil, the garlic and ginger to the pan and cook for thirty seconds.  Add in the tofu and wait for it brown.  Add the wine and 2 tbsp of soy sauce to the pan and wait for it to reduce to about half it's volume.  Add in the pepper, mushroom, onion mixture and cook for another minute.  Add the scallions and soy sauce to taste and serve immediately.  

Happy cooking and I can't wait to hear about your summer.

Love,
Allison