Archives For fun with food

Experimental muffins

victoria —  June 12, 2011 — 2 Comments

Brandied cherry muffins displayed on my faux Marimekko plates from Le Target

Young Master Julian is quite the baker. His specialty is muffins. Everytime I hit McKay, I look for muffin cookbooks. I found one aptly title Muffins which we’ve made a couple recipes out of. We can’t seem to make them straight; there’s always a tweak or twist. For this brunch experiment we subbed part of the flour with almond meal as I am forever on a quest to replicate the almond shortbread muffins they used to have a Fido.

I’ll hold off on posting the recipe as the muffins didn’t hold together well. They are however truly muffins, not cupcakes pantomiming breakfast in that they only have two tablespoons of sugar for a batch of 12. We served them as suggested in the recipe with a little sweetened whipped cream laced with kirsch. Very tasty, despite the weak crumb structure.

On a shopping note, I love the unbleached muffin papers we picked up at Whole Foods. They are parchment paper and the muffins don’t stick and leave all the good, crunchy crust stuck to the paper.

And so it ends

victoria —  October 29, 2010 — 2 Comments

Fall. Usually by now I have posted a long, contemplative post about my favorite season of cooking and well, just being. This fall has been different.

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One thing about teaching culinary arts and working in a non-related field at other times is that one doesn’t get to spread one’s culinary wings very often. Curriculum is set and I’m not the one doing the cooking in class anyway. My retail job only allows for cooking in so much as I can bring treats to work to a receptive audience, for which I am grateful. But aside from weekend dinners with leisurely cook times (ha, like that happens anytime between Halloween and New Year’s Day), there isn’t much pull or challenge for culinary imagination or menu planning.

In an effort to feel like I am doing something worthy with the talents given and to have an outlet for my creativity, I took on the job of cooking the Wednesday night fellowship dinner at my church. (For those who have been reading along you already know, but we are Unitarian Universalists.) Three Wednesday’s a week, I get to cook for a serious crowd, 50-70 people depending on several factors. No reservations, so I have to be ready to feed the max but don’t want to have copious amounts of leftovers either. A challenge I can sink my teeth into, Yay! Another challenge I have set myself for this task is to buy as much organic food as I can within the budget and to make food that appeals equally to omnivores and vegetarians.

The first foray into this adventure, I had my mom riding shotgun. Today is Wednesday, again, and I am flying solo. I have discovered that I will have to set my sights on things I can accomplish in chunks by myself until I can get it down to a well-oiled machine of deliciousness. For the first night, I did roasted fall veg with either chicken gravy or mushroom gravy and sauteed greens with add-ins (balsamic vinegar, dried cranberries, pomegranate seeds, and feta cheese) and pineapple-carrot spice cake. We very nearly didn’t have enough food. Tonight I am kind of winging it as I didn’t think I would be doing the heavy lifting. We are having a baked potato bar with homemade chili, ala Dad, with a veg version I like to call Mega-Bean chili. I also made some of the decadent brownies, in case a potato bar just didn’t seem like enough. To paraphrase Nigella Lawson, “That’s me, never knowingly undercatered.”

For your own chili-ing pleasure I am passing along the Mega-Bean recipe.

1 block of firm tofu, frozen, thawed, pressed and crumbled (optional)
6 oz. dark beer
6 oz. real sugar cola (Blue Sky is my standby, but Coke will work in a pinch)
2 Tablespoons soy sauce (or if pescatarian, Worcestershire sauce)
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
1 Tablespoon salt or to taste
3 Tablespoons chili powder (I make my own fiery blend, I just wouldn’t recommend the commercial ones with cinnamon for this application as it can make the chili have an off-putting sweetness)
3 to 4 large onions, small dice
2 to 3 cloves of garlic (or lots more if you like), minced
2 quarts tomatoes (if you don’t have home-canned, I like the Muir Glen fire-roasted ones)
3 to 4 cans beans, I like a mix of kidney, pinto, black and garbanzo (you can also add a can of vegetarian refried beans or mash a can of pintos to thicken the chili)

Season the tofu with soy sauce, cumin, coriander, chili powder and salt and saute in a large skillet until chewy, breaking it up into smaller pieces as you go. When the tofu is done add the onions and saute until translucent. If you are skipping the tofu, add the seasonings directly to the onions and start there. Scrape all of this into a deep stock pot and add beer and coke and simmer until almost dry. Add tomatoes and simmer another 20 minutes or so to break down the tomatoes and let everything mingle. Add the beans and simmer a further half hour or so. It is good at this point but is truly at its best the next day, warmed to a simmer.

Notes: If you like your chili in the four-alarm range, you can add a small scotch bonnet or habanero to the pot whole. “If it buss, it be real hot” so gently simmer the chili with this little packet of heat floating in. You can also substitute about a pound of dried beans, cooked of course, for the cans. I tend to go with one bean when doing this, usually pintos or Jacob’s cattle beans as they are easy to cook and very creamy when made from scratch. Save the cooking liquid to add to the chili. There’s lots of flavor in it and it helps thicken a little, too.

To make a little Halloween Magic

victoria —  October 29, 2008 — 1 Comment

sexy halloween cookies

I love Halloween will all the glee and exuberance of a young, sugared-up child. It is both a time to be goofy and slip into some other persona. One that is perhaps sexier than you (why so many naughty nurses?), uglier than you, bolder than you or just ballsy-er than you. On Halloween, for a few hours, you can be anything. Halloween’s roots go so much deeper though. Ancient cultures believed that the veil between the worlds of the living and dead was most easily pierced on this night. Some believed we needed to protect ourselves from the viscous and evil and came up with all sorts of ways to disguise themselves and protect their livelihoods. Others believed it was a time to celebrate those loved ones who had crossed over into the world of the dead. They decorated the graves, had parades and made foods the dead would appreciate from their time here and special ones just for this day. I choose the latter as my own ancestry for why this holiday is as meaningful as it is fun.

On the meaningful side I will create an ancestor alter to those beloved travellers in the next world and set out offerings for hungry ghosts who may not have anyone to celebrate their lives. On the fun side, I will dress up (someone much ballsy-ier than me, I think) and pass out candy to those children whose parents haven’t been brainwashed into avoiding the trick-or-treating. I also made cookies. Small offerings to those I am lucky to know.

If you would like to make your own glitteringly spooky creations, here’s what I did.

Shortbread Sugar Cookie Dough:

The best thing about this dough is it doesn’t rise very much at all, so you get a pretty flat surface to work with on the decorating end.

5 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups fine granulated sugar (I use fine evaporated cane juice)
1 pound (four sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature and soft
a pinch of salt
flavoring of your choice (optional), 1 teaspoon vanilla, zest of 1 lemon (orange or lime works, too), or a mix of spices (cardamom is nice for a mystery note)

Sift flour and sugar together into a large bowl. Work in the butter. I found that kneading it in by hand is really the only effective way to get the job done (take off your rings, though, sugar cookie dough in stone settings is hard to get out). Continue to knead until the dough cracks. This seems weird, to knead cookie dough, but skipping this step will make your cookie too tender to hold up to decorating and transporting. Roll anywhere between 1/3 to 1/2.” Bake on parchment lined cookie sheets at 325° until golden brown around the edges. Undercooking them makes them crumbly and not good for transporting. Decorate with royal icing (the Joy of Cooking one with powdered egg whites is great).

Depending on the size of your cutters this will make anywhere from 3 dozen to 100 cookies.

First gather all your cutters:
cookie cutters

Then all the crazily colored pastes and sugars:
paste & sugars

Roll out the dough and place on trays to bake:
rolled dough

On the trays

Let them cool their heels as you can’t slap icing on hot cookies:
cooling cookies

Decorate at will:
yay cookies!

Although. It has gotten me here to write a post, so maybe it isn’t all bad. This sitting with the cat asleep on half of the laptop while I type is relaxing in its way. I’ve been plotting a project to make this not so miserable. Teaching one class, one night a week isn’t enough to occupy the mind for the week. I should be working on my lecture about wine. I am just sick that I threw all my notes from my classes out, but I got tired of hauling them around every time I, then we, moved and it seemed like I would never need them. This is why people become pack rats.

I’ve also been pondering slimming my physique. Those who know me personally will be either surprised or think, “Gee, what took you so long?” But, a sweet tooth, a fairly sedentary job and being able to cook just about anything I want at any time have definitely conspired to some south 40 spread and a creaky knee. Looking down the barrel at 40 kind of shakes one up, too. So, having long ago now decided not to eat hydrogenated oil and high fructose corn syrup and to not eat out very much (and almost never have fast food, not that it is ever something I want anyway), I am really thinking about portion size and fiber and drinking more water. We have pretty good diets anyway, but I think just generally too much of good diet is still too much.

I’m sure this is terribly fascinating. Actually, I’m sure it is exactly the opposite. What all this is really leading up to is a kind of celebration (celebration in slimming? Victoria, you have gone well and truly mad.) But yes, I have a certain foodstuff which I feel needs to be commended, despite what my husband and child think of it. Are you on tenterhooks?

Rye crackers.

Yes, those rectangular pieces of Scandinavian goodness. Our pieces of cardboard, but with less taste, according the the husband and child. It is probably in my dna to love them, those nordic and teutonic genes over riding the American aversion to anything laced with rye grain. I do enjoy them. I have a few toppings I am especially fond of, but in a pinch I have used them as a stand in for sliced bread in a sandwich. I do feel they are at their finest at breakfast with a thinnish layer of toasted almond butter (I know the raw foodists would hiss and declare the raw almond butter superior but I think the toasted tastes better) and a teaspoon or two of really good jam, your choice though strawberry, black cherry and lingonberry are high on my list. At lunch, they are tasty with a good Jarlsberg or Gouda thinly sliced and draped over them with some kind of soft sliced fruit like super ripe black plums or a tart kiwi fruit. In the naughty midnight snack vein they are good with a fusion-inspired lashing of cajeta or dulce de leche, cajeta being the preferred if harder to get option.

These are my personal faves but they are also good with quark or fromage blanc and sliced fruit or nuefchatel and the fruit. Peanut butter is always an option. And decadently, Nutella or one of the slightly healthier versions without hydrogenated fats is good with sliced bananas or strawberries. You would only be limited by your imagination, or perhaps your aversion to rye crackers. But see, that’s the WASA or Ryevita brilliance. They make crispbreads with other grains that are less, shall we say, assertive. The sesame ones are especially good and lighter (though also contain less fiber if you’re concerned about that sort of thing). One of my new favorites even has dried fruit in the cripsbread itself. It’s kind of like a garibaldi biscuit without the cookie part. And seeing as garibaldi biscuits are a personal weakness, well you can see the appeal.

So there, boredom and thoughts of slimming transformed into my praise of the rye cracker. I know I won’t change the minds of die hard rye haters, but for those of your thinking about coming to the grains equivalent of the dark side…

January Goings On

victoria —  January 20, 2008 — 3 Comments

January has already been a busy month. My cooking classes started in Murfreesboro. We are doing a culinary tour of Europe and it has been a blast to prepare menus and hang out with the new crop of home cooks looking for some entertainment and new ideas. We started in Sweden, land of my foremothers, with a perfect cold weather menu. We were in Denmark last week with a revised vision of my International Class final project menu. I am doing all the cooking in about 2 and a half hours, so I couldn’t be quite as ambitious.

I also helped host a couples baby shower for CSG and the Carpenter. Their bouncing baby boy is due on Valentine’s day and Ms. Te, CSG’s sister, another friend of CSG’s and his wife and I wanted to do something for them before CSG got too close to her due date. We had planned an English tea for a Sunday afternoon. The party was in Columbia (45 minutes to an hour out of Nashville) at the friend and wife’s lovely 110-year-old home that they have completely renovated and decorated. Ms. Te and CSG’s sister helped get all the food set up. Ms. Te frosted and decorated the cake and CSG’s sis put the fruit tray together and made duck punch (rubber duckies afloat on Sprite and blue raspberry punch). I have to admit that I am more than dubious of blue food, but it did look cute and aside from that vaguely chemical taste of fake raspberry flavor, it would be a slightly sweet fun punch for kids’ parties too. I think it might be nicer with the blue Jones Soda or something not so sickly sweet as the Blue Hawaiian-style fruit punch.

Baby Shower spread
Who really needs an excuse for currant scones and clotted cream?

My classes at the community college have started as well. That’s been a challenge. Both my classes are online, distance learning courses. One of them I taught as a ground class last semester and the other is a new course for me. The material is fairly straight forward but there have been issues with content management and deployment. That is perhaps the most optimistic way to phrase it. Things seem to being ironing themselves out for the most part and I seem to be fielding fewer phone calls and emails from students who are having trouble actually getting to the content itself. That is a happy thing.

Last Thursday I also had the opportunity to see Peter Reinhart speak and make bread at the Viking Store in Franklin. It was very inspiring in many ways. I am determined now to try to make vollkornbrot, 100% whole grain rye bread. I love those dark, dense middle and eastern European breads. We had the opportunity to head home with a whole wheat and a rye starter but I think the cold in the house has kept them from doing what they are supposed to do. I’m going to give them a stir today and try to feed them tomorrow. Reinhart was mostly as I imagined. I bought his Sacramental Magic in a Small Town Cafe book back in college and was greatly inspired by the work Reinhart and his wife Susan were doing. Along with Edward Espe Brown’s Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings, I was inspired to cook for others. I’ve always liked cooking, the space it offers for meditation. It really is difficult to be distracted with minutiae when you have a knife in your hand dicing peppers for hours at a time or even the seemingly tedious act of babysitting something that needs to be stirred continually until finished. I, not so secretly, love those things and do my best deep thinking doing prep work and handwashing dishes. Both books are infinitely worth the price of admission if you are at all interested in the deeper meaning of work in the culinary industry. They are both, in essence, about really feeding people in a way that soothes physical as well as spiritual hunger. As one is Eastern Orthodox and one is Buddhist, I don’t think you need to subscribe to a particular theology (or theology at all necessarily) to gain from their philosophies.

In that vein, I am cooking dinner for 6 people who bought a North African feast dinner I donated to the silent auction at our UU church. I haven’t met any of them yet, so it should be an interesting evening and, I am hopeful, an opportunity to make some new friends. My mom will also be here this week so I may get thrown out of my own kitchen (happily) a little bit. I am hoping to entice her to make chicken and dumplings before she goes. I have tried and tried to make them like she does and they just aren’t as good. But, I suppose that is the order of things.

If you are interested in having your very own Swedish night at home, here is our menu and recipes from class. The Danish class was very similar to the one I posted during culinary school. Just do a search in the handy box above for Denmark.

A Swedish Menu

Pickled Cucumbers
Janson’s Temptation
Äppel Fläsk

Cardamom Coffee Cake

Pickled Cucumbers

½ cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons minced dill or parsley
2 medium cucumbers (or one English cucumber)

Combine all the ingredients, except the cucumbers. Wash and dry the cucumbers but do not peel them (it’s therefore important to try to buy unwaxed cucumbers, if possible. The English ones in plastic wrap are nice for this). Slice the cucumbers as thinly as possible – they should almost be transparent. A mandolin or other type of slicer can be helpful for this step. Place the very skinny cuke slices in a non-reactive dish, glass is best, and pour the dressing over and refrigerate for at least three hours before serving. It is traditional to serve the pickles in the dressing but they are a little more refined drained. Also, a safety note: these are not preserved and will only keep a few days in the fridge, but as a new batch is easily made and there are rarely leftovers, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Janson’s Temptation
Serves 4-6

This is not an everyday dish, but something for the smörgåsbord or a holiday meal.

6 medium baking potatoes
10 anchovies in brine
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2-4 tablespoons butter
generous 1 cup of heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 325°F and lightly butter a 8 x 8” baking dish, preferably something attractive enough to go to the table. Peel the potatoes and cut into thin strips, similar as to how you would cut them up for fries. Soak the potato strips in cold water for about 30 minutes to help remove some of the starch. This will make the potatoes crispier. Meanwhile, cut the anchovies in half and reserve the brine. Fry the onions gently in half the butter until golden brown.

Drain the potatoes and dry with paper towels or a clean dish towel. Layer the potatoes with the anchovies and onions, beginning and ending with the potatoes. Pour over half the cream over and dot with the remaining butter. Drizzle over about 4 tablespoons of the anchovy brine. Bake for 25 minutes. Pour over the remaining cream and the remaining anchovy brine up to a tablespoon, then bake for another 20 minutes. This is traditionally served with ice cold beer to cut some of the richness.

Äppel Fläsk
Smoked bacon with onions and apple rings
Serves 4

2 to 4 tablespoons butter
1 pound Canadian bacon
2 large red, tart cooking apples, unpeeled, cored and cut into ½” rings
2 large onions, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a heavy, preferably cast-iron, 10 or 12” skillet, melt a tablespoon of butter and fry the bacon until lightly browned. Remove from the skillet and set aside on paper towels to drain. Sauté the onions in the butter remaining in the pan until soft and translucent. Add the apple rings to the pan and cover. Simmer over a low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, shaking the pan at intervals to prevent the apples from sticking.

When the apple rings are sufficiently cooked (they should offer little to no resistance when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife), return the drained bacon to the skillet. Cover the pan and simmer an additional three to five minutes to warm the bacon through. Grind pepper liberally over the contents of the pan and serve immediately. Traditionally this dish is served right from the pan, so a cast iron pan is especially nice. This is a great lunch dish or an easy weeknight supper with a crisp green salad.

Swedish Meatballs
Serves 4-6

There are as many recipes for meatballs as there are cooks so feel free to improvise as you feel. Make them small for a starter or buffet and larger if for an entrée.

2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup onion, finely chopped
½ to 2/3 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
1/3 cup light cream or half and half
¾ pound ground beef (round steak is a good choice)
¼ pound veal
¼ pound ground lean pork
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/3 cup butter
¼ cup boiling water

Heat the 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan large enough to later cook the meatballs in (it’s nicer not to half to wash all the pans). When the butter has melted and the foam has subsided, add the onion and sauté until soft and golden. Meanwhile, soak the breadcrumbs in the cream. Combine the onion, breadcrumbs and cream, meats, salt, pepper and cloves and blend thoroughly but with a light hand. Overworking the meat mixture will result in tough meatballs with an unpleasant chew to them. Shape the mixture into small, evenly-sized meatballs, wetting your hands as necessary to prevent the meat mixture from sticking (ladies and gents, I also recommend taking off your rings for this as well). Heat the remaining butter and again wait for the foam to subside. Add the meatballs and sauté until browned on all sides, shaking the pan to turn the meatballs and keep them from sticking. When they are well browned, add the boiling water and simmer over the lowest possible heat for five minutes. This helps to insure that the meatballs cook all the way through. If serving as an entrée, make a cream gravy in which to serve the meatballs, otherwise set them out with toothpicks for a buffet.

Swedish Cardamom Coffee Cake

1 ¼ cups milk
1 package (scant tablespoon) dry yeast
¼ cup lukewarm water
¾ cup sugar
6 ¼ cups sifted flour
½ cup room temperature butter
¼ teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks
2 to 3 teaspoons ground cardamom

For the topping:
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup chopped nuts

Put the milk in a small saucepan and heat it just until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan (this is called scalding the milk). Remove from the heat and allow to cool to lukewarm. Dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup of lukewarm water and allow to proof for five minutes or until bubbly. Add the cooled milk with 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Beat in 3 cups of the flour. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until double in bulk or about 1 to 1 ½ hours. After the rise, add the butter, remaining sugar, salt, egg yolks, cardamom and 3 cups of flour. Reserve the ¼ cup of flour for kneading the dough.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead with floured hands until smooth and elastic. Place in a buttered bowl and turn to butter all sides of the dough. Cover and allow to rise until doubled in bulk, again about an hour to an hour and a half. Divide the dough in half to make two cakes. Divide each half into 3 equal portions and roll each of those portions into 16” long snakes. Pinch the three strips together and braid then pinch the braided end together. Place cakes on an ungreased baking sheet. Let the cakes rise until doubled in bulk or about 45 minutes. Set the oven to 375°F about 20 minutes before the braids finish their rise and make the topping. Combine the cinnamon, sugar and chopped nuts and set aside. Brush the braids with milk, gently, and sprinkle over the topping. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool completely and serve with milky coffee.

Spooky Halloween Cakes; or,

victoria —  October 29, 2007 — 1 Comment

Zombies and Mummies and Ghosts, Oh My!

I spent the better part of the weekend putting together three small cakes for a friend for Halloween gifts. Having completed them late last night, but with time to spare to watch Nigella Express from the DVR (my previous opinion is solidified) and put together my recipes for my class tonight, I find I am fairly pleased with my first effort with fondant. Admittedly I have a long way to go. But as pastry and cakes is not my specialty area, I don’t know that there will be loads of additional practice.

Of the three cakes, one is orange with orange buttercream, one is spice with maple buttercream and one is chocolate with ganache. The orange and spice are covered with white chocolate fondant (purchased) and the chocolate is covered with dark chocolate fondant. The fondant itself is not terribly “all natural” though it is at least made with couverture chocolate and not “chocolate flavored.” Which is good, as it was bloody expensive. I made the cakes and buttercream from scratch. I forgot how time consuming making real buttercream is but it tastes really good and buttery where as, I am certain, if I had made the decorator’s buttercream suggested to me where I bought the fondant, my cake would taste like plastic nastiness. I know that “buttercream” made with shortening and powdered sugar is easier to work with but, yuck, it tastes like shortening with powdered sugar in it. Though I wanted them to be spooky and beautiful, I wanted them to taste good as well.

I was a little disappointed with the chocolate and orange cakes. They both had issues in the recipe & method which I recognized but trusted the cookbook writer. I know better. I think we would all like to believe all cookbook recipes are tested and retested, but they are not. Typos can also creep in that significantly change the equation, especially when baking. The chocolate one-bowl cake from The Martha’s baking book had too much water and it rose very fast and cratered in the center. Easily leveled when I torted the cakes, but still annoying. The orange cake was from a British cookbook collection that generally has been very good, but the method was completely wrong and even realizing that, I followed it anyway and the center of the cake had more butter than the edges and when I torted it there were hard spots in the center that were just butter, I think. It also tasted a little doughy from the trimmings. I tried to console myself with the fact that I really don’t like orange flavored anything and moved on. The spice cake was perfect, looked perfect, tasted perfect and had enough leftover to make a few cupcakes along side.

Zombie Hand Cake

Overall, I think this one is my favorite. Simple. A little spooky and, well, chocolate.

Graveyard Cake

Mummy Cake

I hope everyone has a Happy Halloween with the desired balance of tricks and treats.

*edited for retouched photos (tech guy)

In order to thoroughly warm our new casa, we had a Cinco de Mayo housewarming/Vic’s culinary school graduation party. We knew we wanted to have the party about a month after we moved and we wanted it to be on Saturday, and it turned out May 5th was the first Saturday in May. My love of themed menus took over and ta da, Cinco de Mayo housewarming party. We were very lucky that my mom stayed on a week after the move. Unpacking in such a short time would definitely not have happened without her and without CSG and J helping me unpack the kitchen that first night.

To celebrate our new digs and the fabulous friends we have, I planned a vegetarian-friendly with carnivorous option menu:

Sugar and spice peanuts
Jícama salad
Green, white and red salsas (tomatillo, chayote with honeydew, and pico)
A giant corn pudding with roasted pablano peppers and serrano ham
Saffron and black bean tamales
BBQ chicken tamales with chipotle crema
Roasted squash salad with green beans
Goat cheese and chorizo quesadillas with carmelized onions
Chocolate and pepita shortbread
Almond cinnamon cookies
Dulce de leche cake
A store-bought case of Jarritos sodas in various flavors like tamarind, mango and guava
Friends also brought lots of Mexican beer and lawn chairs to warm up our back yard

Friends from culinary school came and brought goodies as well. M brought a slow cooked pork shoulder and spicy cornbread, both of which were amazing and disappeared quickly. I know Keifel and The Carpenter were really happy to see the pork shoulder.

It appeared a good time was had by all, our house felt absolutely toasty after being warmed by friends near and far. And though I was feeling all over protective of my shiny new floors, clean up was a snap the next day, even outside. We still have two bags of tamales in the freezer and I keep finding little bits of leftovers in the fridge. I haven’t quite perfected the art of not over cooking. In fact, I was still worrying there wouldn’t be enough food right up until people were arriving. Silly me.

Chayote Salsa (adapted from Mark Miller’s Great Salsa Book)
1 chayote squash, peeled and diced
3/4 cup, about 1/4 of a large, honeydew melon, diced
3/4 cup fennel bulb, diced
2 teaspoons fennel frond, chopped
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
juice of two limes
pinch of sugar
salt to taste

Combine everything in a non-reactive bowl and chill until ready to serve. This is especially good as an accompaniment for fish but was interesting just with chips. The original recipe also called for some heat in the form of green habanero chile sauce. That or a fresh pepper of your preferred heat would be good. I needed a mild to nothing salsa to go with medium and scorcher salsas.

Goat cheese and chorizo quesdillas waiting for the corn pudding to appear on the hot pad next door

Jicama salad with spicy peanuts in the background

Roasted squash salad with a corner of the salsas peeking in

Guacamole in my molcajete (say that three times fast)

Blurry green, white and red salsas… I need to work on this photography thing

Blurry cookies as well, erm. Hrmph.

Though I have been spending the last three weeks scoring standardized tests, my calling still calls and, I am thankful, my phone is still ringing. We have a small catering gig on the 24th (baby shower, 20 guests). I also have three series of classes coming up at various points around Nashville. If you are in the area and want to take a class with me you have some options.

I will be teaching classes in Green Hills beginning April 3 and following every Tuesday 6-8 PM until the end of May. I will also be teaching a class on cooking with herbs, vinegars and oils at the Tennessee Technological Center in Murfreesboro. I don’t have dates and times for this class yet but it will start in May and be on Monday nights and be a 10 week course. I will also be teaching some stand-alone baking classes at Nashville State Community College. Those will be Saturday mornings beginning in May or June. I will post more specific dates and times for the last two when I get them. If you are interested in any of these classes please call the appropriate establishment or institution, as they handle registration and payment.

I also offer personal lessons in your home, either one-on-one or as cooking parties. You can email me at victoria at foodieporn dot com or at victoria at arsculinaria dot net, depending on how strict your net nanny or firewall service is. Joie de Vivre (the catering side of my life) also offers catering for cocktail or buffet parties up to 50 and personal chef services for dinner parties from 2-16. My personal strong suit is Mediterranean rim but I am happy to do everything from authentic Mexican to Southeast Asian curries. If you are craving something authentic from your far flung childhood, we’ll do our best to hit the mark. JC (again, the catering partner, not the Big Guy) and I are also academic geeks girls and happy to do research for historical recreations and authenticity, if you are dreaming of a Victorian Sunday brunch fully catered and serviced or a chuckwagon-style picnic on the grounds, we’re your new best friends.

Happy Valentine’s Day

victoria —  February 14, 2007 — Leave a comment

Ah, a day for lovers and friends, or something mushy like that. I am a romantic at heart, anyone who knows me knows I can be a little silly about love though Valentine’s Day still tends to rub me the wrong way. It’s the greeting-card hype of it, the diamonds are the only way to really say I love you of it, the single rose at the gas station check out of it. Granted, all the major holidays in our consumer culture have been eaten alive by the spending-money-is-the-only-way-to-say-you-care beast. Whatever. I love the sweetness of a hand made card and a home cooked meal (don’t make the mistake of trying to eat out on Valentine’s Day). I also think that books (though, yes, they are purchased for the most part) are always appropriate. Buying a book for someone is a very intimate endeavor, or should be. I’m not suggesting you run to your local book megamart and purchase the most interestingly clad read on the New Arrivals table. When you give someone a book you are saying a great deal about yourself, what you think of that person and what your relationship means to you. If you give the love of your life Sex for Dummies for Valentine’s Day, I can guarantee a statement is being made loudly and clearly.

All this talk of books and love brings me to my real topic at hand today. Ten years ago I bought Intercourses: an aphrodisiac cookbook at my favorite bookstore haunt in Knoxville. I was 25, a grad student and, perhaps most importantly, a single mother with a toddler. I am probably still paying for it, considering I am certain to have paid for it with student loan money. I didn’t have anyone to make sexy food for. I was a fairly accomplished cook though with a much smaller repetoire than I have now. I bought it for the photographs and the stories of the recipe testers enjoying the food and each other. Let’s just be honest here and say when you are a 25-year-old single mom, no one, but no one, is interested in getting frisky with you. I recall more polite “ohs” about the kid factor than actual running away screaming moments, but… still. I poured over this lovely book and dreamed of having someone with whom to share all these delectable goodies and my charms.

Flash forward 9 1/2 years. The daily output of 27 Niagara Falls has passed under my particular bridge and I am a happily married woman with a tween son and culinary school project due. During his daily internet wanderings, Keifel stumbled over a blurb on a website asking for volunteers to test recipes for a new, tenth anniversary edition of Intercourses. I, of course, dashed off an email to the author and crossed my fingers. The reply to my email came quickly and Keifel and I received three recipes to test: black bean empanadas with mango salsa, fish tacos and coffee meringues. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, though the meringues wouldn’t set in our then sticky clime.

We dashed off our testing and tasting notes and waited. Last week a box arrived with copies of the new book, our gifts for having tested and tasted. And there we were in black and white above the recipes for the empanadas and the tacos. In some small way, it was completing a circle for that lonely 25-year-old. There is also the joy of having shared something fun and meaningful with someone who understands you and what makes you tic in the deepest possible way. Now that we have the new edition, I am certain there will be more cooking from it. It isn’t just a novelty idea, the recipes are for some amazingly sophisticated food and for some especially simple carbohydrate-filled snacks to replenish a tired, but still willing, body.

If you’d like to purchase The New Intercourses: an aphrodisiac cookbook for your very own library click on through and give foodieporn 2 cents in the process. I can guarantee you will enjoy the photography, the recipes and, very probably, yourself.